On November 19, European foreign and defence ministers gave the green light to a whole set of military initiatives, including intelligence training, the development of a prototype of the European armoured infantry fighting vehicle, cyber response teams and a high-atmosphere aircraft for intelligence gathering under the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). While the creation of a full-fledged European Army remains a distant goal, the EU is taking small steps to achieve it.
Sputnik reached out to Glenn Diesen, professor at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, asking him to comment on the much-discussed European initiative.
Sputnik: French President Emmanuel Macron has taken up the torch from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promoting the creation of the so-called European Army. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently endorsed Macron's initiative, calling upon the EU to create a "real true European army." What's your take on that? Does the EU really need its own defence forces?
Glenn Diesen: The EU's motivation for developing an army is to augment its independence, not security. An EU army would have less capabilities and influence than NATO, but it would be instrumental for the Europeans to obtain greater autonomy from the Washington. The Europeans initially reached an agreement to develop common military capabilities in June 1992 — less than six months after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Furthermore, the US expressed apprehensions about the Europeans venturing out on their own and diminishing the leading role of NATO. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright demanded some limitations on the EU's military ambitions by outlining the three conditions for American support — no duplication of NATO capabilities, no decoupling from NATO, and no discrimination against NATO members that are not part of the EU (Turkey).
A division of labour was agreed between NATO and the EU to avert completely independent EU capabilities and an EU army. NATO was tasked to do the heavy lifting in terms of interventions and invasions, while the EU would do the softer tasks that included peacekeeping and the nation-building tasks that followed. This division of labour is now challenged by three major events — the growing rift between the EU and the US, the UK's (possible) departure from the EU, and the economic and political chaos within the EU.
First, the split with the US has intensified under Trump, albeit the US changing its geostrategic focus and pivoting to Asia is a trend that preceded Trump. Second, Brexit removes an important obstruction, as the British have been the main opposition to an EU army since they are better positioned in a Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Third, the EU's function as a source of political stability and geo-economic prowess as the principal reasons for its existence is undermined as the bloc stumbles from one political and economic crisis to the next. A militarised EU could provide it with a new purpose and breathe new life into the bloc.
Sputnik: While speaking to the Europe One radio station on 6 November, Macron stressed that Europeans "have to protect [themselves] with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America." In response, Donald Trump tweeted that Macron had "suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the US subsidizes greatly!"
Did Macron really mean that the EU sees Russia and China as a potential military threat? What's behind the French president's "rebellion" against the US?
Glenn Diesen: The focus on standing up to great powers definitely demonstrates a departure from previous assertions that the EU is a normative or civilian power. The EU has been very vocal about the threat it perceives from Russia, so this should not come as a surprise. The EU has never taken any responsibilities for provoking the conflict with Russia with its zero-sum expansionism to the east and unwillingness to harmonise interests with Russia.
The reference to China as a threat is the most peculiar comment as the EU has never expressed fears about a direct military threat from China, and it does not make much sense considering the geography. However, the EU's security concepts rarely refer to the threat of a direct attack and the EU is mostly preoccupied with security issues beyond its own borders.
Macron's assertion that the EU is building an army for protection from the US represents a dramatic shift in rhetoric, but it does not reflect actual fears of a conventional military threat from the US. Macron's "rebellion" was probably intended as a deliberate insult to Trump due to the arrogant US posture towards its European partners. The French are mostly concerned about US hacking, its inability to uphold international treaties and agreements, and the intrusive influence and interference in the EU.
Sputnik: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is not enthusiastic about Macron's idea. Stoltenberg noted that "more European efforts on defence are great but it should never undermine the strength of the transatlantic bond." For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that it was "natural that [Europe] wants to be independent, self-sufficient and sovereign in matters of defence and security." What's your take on these opposite views and why, in your opinion, did Putin hail the EU initiative?
Glenn Diesen: Stoltenberg is the secretary general of NATO and he is not enthusiastic about an EU army as it would diminish the dominant role of NATO and the US in European security. President Putin is favourable to the idea of an EU army for the same reason that Stoltenberg opposes it — as NATO is recognised to be the greatest threat to the security of the Russian Federation.
The problems between the West and Russia derive from the failure in the 1990s to establish a common European security architecture. An EU army does not address this fundamental problem, but compared to a NATO-centric Europe, it is the lesser of two evils.
Glenn Diesen is a professor at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow), and author of "The Decay of Western Civilisation and Resurgence of Russia: Between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft," (2018) and "Russia's Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia (Rethinking Asia and International Relations)" (2017).
The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.