Farewell to NATO? The European Union is developing its own military force since the 80s

A new dispute has erupted between the United States and its European allies over core defense and political issues in the backdrop of the landmark 100th anniversary of the end of First World War

Farewell to NATO? The European Union is developing its own military force since the 80s
NATO and U.S. flags flutter as U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter flies over a military air base - Photo: Ints Kalnins/REUTERS
English 16/11/2018 15:48 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 15:48

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A new dispute has erupted between the United States and its European allies over core defense and political issues in the backdrop of the landmark 100th anniversary of the end of First World War, after the White House threatened to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), nevertheless, Brussels has been quietly developing its own military structure since the 80s.

“Never easy bringing up the fact that the U.S. must be treated fairly, which it hasn’t, on both military and trade. We pay for large portions of other countries military protection, hundreds of billions of dollars, for the great privilege of losing hundreds of billions of dollars with these same countries on trade,” wrote in Twitter U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday.

Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron had remarked in front of Trump and other world leaders gathered in Paris that “old demons are reawakening,” and said that “patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By pursuing our own interests first, with no regard to others,’ we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values.”

Two days before, Trump, who declared himself a “nationalist” in the run-up of his country’s midterm elections, tweeted that Macron “has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China, and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”

In spite of Trump’s demands to ensure that all NATO members spend 2% of GDP on defense—in 2016 the figure in the U.S., France, and Germany was 3.6%, 1.8%, and 1.2%, respectively—the fact is that the European Union is building its own defense force, a process that Washington itself accelerated in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq opposed by the French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, and the German Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

At that moment, less than three years after Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the alliance’s clause that guarantees a collective response to an attack on a member state was invoked for the first and only time in history, due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld excoriated Germany and France as the “old Europe,” in comparison with the “new Europe” made up of Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary, which supported the Iraq invasion.

The Russo-Georgian War and Brexit

More recently, the Russo-Georgian War (2008), the Russian annexation of Crimea (2014) and the British withdrawal from the EU, expected for March 2019, strengthened in the European bloc the sense of urgency to develop an autonomous force capable of protecting its strategic interests.

The seeds of this military unit were sown in 1989 with the creation of the Franco-German Brigade.

Its roughly 6,000 soldiers are stationed in four locations in Germany and three in France, and they have been deployed in Lithuania, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Mali.

The binational brigade is also the nucleus of the European Corps (Eurocorps), an intergovernmental military unit of approximately 1,000 soldiers stationed in Strasbourg, France, since 1995.

Apart from Germany and France, Belgium, Spain, and Luxembourg are members nations, while Italy, Greece, Poland, Romania, and Turkey are associated nations.

In 1995, Germany and the Netherlands established another binational corps, which commands a Dutch General and is composed by a division of just over 40,000 soldiers.

This unit was followed in 2013 by the Framework Nations Concept, in which, explained the University of the Bundeswehr (Federal German Armed Forces) in Munich, two mechanized and rapid reaction brigades from Romania and the Czech Republic joined the German army last year.

The latest step in the integration process is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), an agreement signed on December 2017 by 25 of the EU’s current 28 member states.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the move, declaring “she is awake, the Sleeping Beauty of the Lisbon Treaty: Permanent Structured Cooperation is happening.”

The alliance was first set out in the Lisbon Treaty—in effect the EU’s constitution—and will allow member states to jointly develop military capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance their respective armed forces.

Money for PESCO will be provided by the European Defense Fund, while the initial 17 projects were formally adopted by the European Council in March.

These projects include a pan-European military training center, an initiative to build up faster crisis response forces, intelligence exchanges on cyber threats and submarine drones.

According to a Carnegie Europe report, France—the only remaining nuclear power in the EU once Britain leave the bloc—and Germany—its major economic power—could consolidate their defense industries, representing the engine of regional integration in several areas, both countries make up about 40% of the industrial and technological base in Western and Central Europe, as well as 40% of the EU’s overall capabilities and of combined defense budgets.

“The opportunity for cooperation is born out of distress and necessity, not enthusiasm. Citizens’ appetites for more Europe are vanishing, and populist and nationalist movements are giving European grand bargains a hard time,” the report stated.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen