European defense: outline for a compromise

Strade, October 2, 2015, Le HuffingtonPost.fr, October 2, 2015, European Sotnia, October 9, 2015

Let’s celebrate a little bit. Alain Juppé’s vigorous plea in favor of European defense constitutes a turning point. For the first time in a long time, a French politician of the highest level is highlighting the need to move from “word to deed”. 1

Precisely when a great European State, Russia, is renewing practices that we had hoped banished from modern Europe – wars of aggression, the forceful annexation and occupation of a neighboring State as a war of unprecedented violence rages in two large Middle Eastern countries, and as a portion of the Maghreb and the Sahel are turning into havens for terrorist movements – this firm political stance is not only welcome, it is necessary for the public good. All the more so because another, more insidious threat, is weighing on Europe: the slow, silent gulf that is developing between Germany and France on the matter of strategic approaches.

On the one hand, as Justyna Gotkowska has shown 2, « Germany will attempt to implement the Framework Nations Concept in the EU which it has already been put forward in NATO. As part of this concept, Germany wants to be the country that will integrate the armed forces of smaller partners from the Benelux, the Nordic-Baltic region and the Visegrad Group. » If such a political project were to take root, it would be tantamount in the medium term to a large portion of northern and north-eastern Europe submitting to tacit servitude.

For its part, France has long been pursuing an ambiguous policy regarding its adherence to NATO. It has been questioning its own participation in NATO’s integrated military command, and still believes in the structural incompatibility between NATO and a policy of common European defense, while fostering bi- and multi-lateral initiatives with no real political future. 3

Current state of affairs

There are only two countries in the European Union that are still realistically able to carry out unilateral low-level military interventions: France and Great Britain. In practice only France actually still does, in Ivory Coast a short time ago, and currently in Mali, the Central African Republic and Operation Barkhane in the Sahelo-Saharan band. As the intervention in Libya and the aborted mission in Syria indicate, no European Union country is able any longer to carry out a mid-level operation without the support of the United States or of NATO. As for high-level operations, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is there to remind us, if we needed reminding, that the defense of Europe rests largely with NATO.

As General Vincent Desportes has stated, “Right now it is imperative for us to begin building European defense, while remaining realistic: everything that has thus far been done has produced limited results at best ». 4 In other words, we must change our paradigm. Europeans must abandon the cooperative model and follow Jean Monnet’s suggestion that we band together in constructing a common tool in the hands of common institutions: the European army that Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, recently wished for. Repetition is useful. A common army. And not a single army. For Ursula von der Leyden, Germany’s Defense Minister, this is a distant target; for Alain Juppé, a largely unrealistic one. But isn’t a common army really the starting points for the long journey towards such strategic autonomy?

NATO versus Europe defense

Is there any more hardened myth than the supposed incompatibility between NATO and a European defense policy? This hashed and rehashed truth nevertheless cannot stand up to an analysis of the facts. France’s participation in NATO, even after its return to the integrated military command in 2009, has never prevented it from intervening on its own in Africa. So what mysterious obstacle prevents a common European army from acting similarly? Moreover, why should Europe not be able to negotiate an ad hoc status for such a common army? For example as a reserve force of NATO that would only participate fully in the integrated command in cases of a threat to one or more members of the Alliance (Article 5 of the Treaty)?

The question of Great Britain

We need to face the facts. The British are undergoing a bitter moment of questioning concerning the entire process of European integration. And Britain and the other Member States of the European Union must first of all attempt to find an answer to this questioning, whose primary objective is to give it time. In the short term, there is no alternative to reorganizing the European institutions that allow the British, and those who, like them, are motivated solely by the large European market, to take their rightful place within the Union. It will already be enough of a task to ensure that the fourth freedom of movement – that of people – remain one of the foundations of this greater Europe. So there is no alternative at this stage to recognizing that a plan for common European defense goes well beyond what the British are currently ready to accept, and to preserving the future by guaranteeing Her Gracious Majesty’s subjects that they will be able to join at any moment.

Germany’s reluctance

Germany’s reluctance to intervene militarily in external conflicts is an undeniable reality. Thinking that we can deal with this issue through intergovernmental cooperation is, in the short and medium terms, completely illusory. The only possible solution is to alter the particulars of the question. And that is what a common European army makes possible, as long as it is clear however that such an army is imagined not as a regrouping of parts of existing national armies, but rather as an army composed of European soldiers, answering to European institutions. A real Europeanization of this tool would work moreover as an effective protection against the fragility of many Member States under actual fire, facing blackmail and threats (in Srebrenica, Rwanda, Afghanistan…)

As for Germany’s institutional barriers, the history of European construction teaches us that they will only be opened through institutional European channels. And this is a requirement that is not limited to Germany. Contrary to a certain popular opinion which would have us believe that the “small” Member States demand the same sway as the “large” States, the reality of Europe is that the small States plainly recognize their difference in “status”. The real question remains guaranteeing the real (if differentiated) participation of all, “great” and “small”, in the decision-making process. The mechanism of voting by double majority (a majority of States and a majority of citizens) makes this possible.

The European defense industry is in danger

The European defense industry is still largely 5 a collection of national industries. In order for Europe to maintain a valid, autonomous industry, the only path open is to encourage the development of European industrial groups, particularly in the naval and aeronautic sectors.

Not doing so means quickly depriving the European Union, and by extension, its Member States, of expertise in areas where individual Member States are no longer in a position to allocate the necessary resources (R&D in military aeronautics, cyber warfare, etc.). Not doing so also means perpetuating mechanisms within certain Member States whereby the costs of such operations are borne collectively while the benefits are privatized 6, in other words, facilitating the existence of States within the State, and by extension, perpetuating the existence of veritable bastions of resistance to any plan for European integration.

French autonomy

The question of France’s enduring strategic autonomy – or, more exactly, of some autonomy – a question that remains shockingly unstated, is without a doubt the most crucial point in the debate on a common European defense. Our conviction is that establishing a common European army is not only compatible with France maintaining its ability for autonomous intervention in external situations, but that it is moreover very likely a condition for such an ability. By distributing among many countries a portion of the defense responsibilities, which often become unbearable from a financial point of view and debatable from a military point of view 7, France could keep and in fact reinforce its ability to intervene on its own in low-level conflicts, in those cases when its European partners choose not to intervene.

The moral of the story

Alain Juppé is both too daring and not daring enough. Too daring when he suggests « accepting the notion ‘of strategic autonomy’ for the Union » 8, when a first segment of strategic autonomy would by itself constitute a genuine revolution. Not daring enough when he suggests moving forward by keeping the same (intergovernmental) approach that has bolstered the Union’s strategic void. There will not be a common defense if the large defense companies are not Europeanized and if this policy is not inscribed within the heart of European institutions. But there will also be no European defense without a strong political will, foremost in France. In this sense, the Mayor of Bordeaux’s words are of the utmost importance.

 

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Notes:

  1. « L’Europe de la Défense : du projet à l’impératif », Alain Juppé, Le Figaro, 26 June 2015
  2. « Germany’s idea of a European army », Justyna Gotkowska, OSW, 25 March 2015
  3. Brigade franco-allemande, Appel de Saint-Malo, …
  4. « L’armée française n’a pas les moyens des missions qu’on lui confie », interview with General Vincent Desportes, Le Figaro, 13 juillet 2015
  5. With of course some notable, if partial, exceptions. MBDA in the missile sector (Germany, France, Italy), the A400 for military transport (Germany, France, Spain), Eurocopter (Germany, France, Spain), and, in the works, in the armored car sector (Germany, France), …
  6. In Rafale’s case, public funds on the order of one billion euros per annum were injected over the course of thirty years, in addition to the costs of « commercial promotion » that were largely borne by the French Foreign Ministry.
  7. Having one small aeronaval group (near Charles de Gaulle) is a good example of this when one considers that one needs at least three aeronaval groups (or four in the United States) for at least one of them to be operational.
  8. Alain Juppé, op. cit.

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