Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


Christian MöllingAssociate in the International Security Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)

Europe (not the EU) will soon have only one army left. Yet this might be not the result of a conscious and normative choice but the outcome of further uncoordinated capability cuts combined with an obsolete understanding of sovereignty. And quite ironically, those who insisted the most on their national sovereignty will, in the end, have done most to bolster the setup of a European army.

European states are caught in a web of lies and self-betrayal.
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European states are caught in a complex web of lies and self-betrayals: They want to believe that they are independent in defense matters. At the same time, they cannot defend themselves alone, because none of them is sufficiently capable any longer. Because Europeans cling to their illusion of autonomy, they refuse to cooperate with each other, for example through initiatives such as NATO’s smart defense and the EU’s pooling and sharing. While such cooperation would certainly improve European nations’ defense capabilities, it would also reveal their mutual dependence.

As a consequence, Europe has lost substantial amounts of capabilities: about 20 percent over the last five years. This reduction has made European countries even more mutually dependent. They are forced to interact and rely on each other ever more if they want to engage militarily. Even now, military operations function only if they build on multilateral structures. As nations keep cutting nationally (that is, without consulting their EU and NATO partners) to demonstrate sovereignty, interdependence will grow.

Therefore, the real question is whether this evolving multinational structure—some may call it an army—will be powerful because Europeans start developing it by design. Or will it be a tiny little bonsai army: still good looking, but incapable of doing much more than a national parade? Congratulations, Europe—this is the army you wanted!


Marietje SchaakeVice chair of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the United States and substitute member of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee

The current debate about European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent idea to create an EU army risks becoming bogged down in semantics. The real debate Europeans should be having is not whether the EU should have an army but when European states will finally start intensifying their defense cooperation.

When will European states start intensifying their #defense cooperation?
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A new report by former EU high representative Javier Solana and former NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on the creation of a European Defense Union offers concrete steps forward. Many studies list concrete efficiency gains to be made from initiatives such as pooled procurement or shared defense planning. It is high time for political leadership on these issues, otherwise the EU risks becoming an irrelevant player on the global stage.

Increased defense cooperation should be accompanied by two additional measures. First, the European Parliament Subcommittee on Security and Defense should have a strong voice and access to all relevant information. It should cooperate with national parliaments to guarantee the balance of powers that is fundamental in any democracy.

Second, given the changing nature of conflict, pooled procurement might involve the development or acquisition of cyberdefense weapons. A number of key concepts in this new field need to be clarified before any common initiative could be undertaken. In this relatively new field, the EU needs to get it right from the start.


Daniel FiottFWO fellow at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and a senior editor of European Geostrategy

Europe has been here before: in 1950, then French premier René Pleven proposed a plan for a European army as part of a European Defense Community. Then as now, the idea is unrealistic.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s call on March 8 for an EU army came from a sensible place—yes, Europe does need to send Russian President Vladimir Putin a strong signal about its resolve, but the EU also needs to secure its Southern flank (something Juncker did not stress in his recent remarks).

Sure, Europe is threatened by instability and crisis, so it seems natural that the EU should be more united on defense. This is perhaps what Juncker was really getting at; more union at a time when threats on Europe’s borders challenge European unity. Fine.

It is much easier to call for an EU #army than to create one.
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In reality, however, it is much easier to call for an EU army than to create one. Beyond troops from various EU member states marching to a single European drum, any EU army would involve the creation of a single European defense market, a unified defense planning process, and a united approach to defense investments and research. Even if these steps are needed for the benefit of the EU and NATO, they will not happen anytime soon.

Finally, the only people Juncker is likely to rally with his call are the Euroskeptic press in London. With Britain on the cusp of a general election and a potential referendum on the country’s continued EU membership, Juncker’s call for an EU army is poorly timed.


Nick WitneySenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations

Whatever was Jean-Claude Juncker thinking when he called for the creation of an EU army? The notion may have appeal in Germany (where, bizarrely, it features in the government’s 2013 coalition agreement), and perhaps in Luxembourg, too. Elsewhere, it serves only to supply Europhobes with more evidence of Brussels’s reflexive urge to expand its power. Has the European Commission president already forgotten the part played in Ireland’s initial no vote to the 2007 Lisbon Treaty by the scare story that a yes would lead to Irish citizens being conscripted into this mythical force?

Whatever was @JunckerEU thinking when he called for an EU #army?
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So Juncker’s intervention was inept—and intellectually incoherent, too. For the concept of an EU army is literally without meaning unless it entails supranational control of the funds and troops contributed by member states. This, of course, is not something any EU member state is now ready to contemplate—least of all Germany, with its fondness for emphasizing how its armed forces go nowhere without the authority of the Bundestag.

Indeed, the German coalition agreement explicitly notes the need for parliamentary control of the envisaged EU force. So how is that meant to work? Simultaneous votes in up to 28 national assemblies? Or just a vote in the European Parliament?

Calling for an EU army may sound good, but it makes no sense. Instead, the proposal damages the real cause of achieving greater defense cooperation among sovereign European states.


Henrik HeidenkampSenior research fellow for the Defense, Industries, and Society Program at the Royal United Services Institute

A reassessment of Europe’s strategic environment appears to have prompted the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, to conclude that the gradual buildup of an EU army is an adequate answer to the security and defense challenges of the twenty-first century.

The prospects for a European #army appear highly uncertain.
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The prospects for a common European army appear highly uncertain when assessed against the constraining elements of the current political, economic, and societal environment—and against past experience. It seems much more realistic to argue in favor of an EU army by stressing the evolutionary nature of its formation.

But even with such a rationale, the conditions for the creation of an EU army as a substitute for national armed forces—shared command structures and political control procedures rooted in common legal, strategic, and operational foundations—will not be achieved quickly or independently of the broader European policy context.

Indeed, these conditions are integral parts of Europe’s political, economic, societal, and cultural development. Their realization depends on the degree of future European integration in nondefense sectors and can only be acheived over the long term.

More fundamentally, if one accepts that sovereignty in a postmodern sense—namely, the capability to act internally as well as externally—must be part of a multilateral framework, then the project of an EU army cannot be completely dismissed.


Daniel KeohaneResearch director at FRIDE

For many federalist politicians, a European army would be the ultimate expression of an EU superstate—surely common defense is common sense? For some economists or management consultants, an EU army would be the rational option—surely spending almost €200 billion ($211 billion) a year (the combined defense expenditure of EU governments) on one army instead of 28 different armed forces would be more efficient? While they have their merits, both the federalist and efficiency arguments miss important political and strategic realities.

Arguments for an EU #army miss important political and strategic realities.
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The strategic reality is that NATO already defends EU territory, even if not all EU members are also NATO members. The EU is many things, but it is not a military alliance like NATO, and the primacy of the Atlantic alliance in collective defense is confirmed in the EU treaties.

The political reality is that armed forces are the core expression of national sovereignty. This is why NATO has no army of its own, only national forces. For most national defense ministries in Europe, EU defense policy is exactly that: a policy, not an integrationist project. Moreover, acting militarily through the EU is an option—not a given—for national governments, alongside acting via NATO or the United Nations, through ad hoc coalitions, or nationally.

However, while EU governments are not prepared to share the power to deploy armed forces, with falling defense budgets they do recognize that they increasingly need to share their military resources. In this sense, there is a slow emergence of European armies, with various groupings of countries exploring deeper cooperation and even integration of some military assets (for example, among the Benelux countries or between France and Britain).

The key question, therefore, is not whether the EU would create its own army, but whether EU governments would agree on the use of robust military force if the situation demanded it. The record of European military operations so far would suggest not.

But usually, politics eventually catches up with strategic realities, and the EU has never before faced such a convergence of security crises on its doorstep. The ongoing combination of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, a crumbling Middle Eastern order, and an oscillating U.S. presence in Europe and its neighborhood may yet produce a much greater convergence of European military thinking.


Ulrich SpeckVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

The original goal of NATO was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” in the famous words of Lord Ismay, the alliance’s first secretary-general. Now, the Germans are up, but economically, not militarily; the Americans are still around, but much more distant; and the Russians are again trying to get in, by establishing clients within the EU.

Today, NATO is important again for keeping the Americans engaged in Europe. Without U.S. military power in the background, Europeans wouldn’t feel strong enough to stand up to Russian revisionism. Without the U.S. presence in Europe, the EU would risk turning into an open playing field for autocratic powers like Russia and China. Such powers would feel free to advance their economic interests with few restrictions, neutralize the EU politically, and draw individual countries into their spheres of influence.

An EU #army would make sense only if the EU turned into a federalist entity.
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An EU army would make sense only if the EU turned into a federalist entity capable and willing to play in the world league of powers. Creating an EU army would be the last step, not the first, in such a journey. But there’s no political will to build such a state-like entity.

Instead of evoking federalist fantasies, EU member states should focus on their own military strength and intensify military cooperation inside the EU and NATO. The challenge for Europeans today is not to build an EU army; the challenge is to learn that military power cannot be wished away but must be dealt with.


Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Yes, absolutely, it is high time after the failed attempts in the early 1950s, when six nations aborted efforts to launch a European Defense Community, and in the early 1990s, when the Maastricht Treaty was supposed to create a common European defense.

Twenty years ago, the United States was not thrilled about the EU having its own defense. Today, by contrast, the U.S. administration is interested in Europe shouldering more of the burden for its own security. Europe’s self-proclaimed soft-power leadership—which some observers praise as complementing U.S. hard power in a supposed informal division of labor—has reached its limits, and Europe is condemning itself to increased irrelevance.

Yet, European public opinion, vexed by Europe’s economic crises, is strongly against any increased spending on defense. European leaders are more concerned by the immediate level of their domestic popularity than by the medium- to long-term effects of their decisions. Europe is investing less in both security hardware and research into security-related technology. As a result, Europe is lagging behind.

An EU army would allow for savings and increase efficiency and technology.
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An EU army would allow for savings while increasing efficiency and technology. Together with the EU’s Erasmus student exchange program, it would contribute to forging a true European identity. There are of course many problems to be solved—not least, what to do with British and French nuclear weapons—but the Europeans have been able to solve worse problems when they wanted to.

The insurmountable problem might be one of political will. European leaders must take the time and energy to explain to their national electorates why an EU army matters and why it would be the right thing to do.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

Who will die for the EU? The union is not a nation-state and will not support an army. Rather, the EU is a close association of nation-states, most of which are not military powers. The two key powers, France and Britain, have diminished their militaries and strategic roles, while the third, Germany, prefers to be a commercial power with an undersized military.

The EU is not a nation-state and will not support an #army.
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The U.S. role in European security is likely to continue to diminish while the strategic environment around the EU becomes more unstable and threatening. This requires a European response but not a European military. The only realistic option is to integrate military planning and procurement, including agreed divisions of labor that reflect member states’ different regional responsibilities and military roles.

The EU already has the tools it needs to take these steps. The European Defense Agency can coordinate procurement. Perhaps the EU should consider establishing a new high representative for defense as the hard-power partner to the current high representative for foreign policy, who is more of a diplomat than a defense official. Governments will have to allow defense-industrial consolidation to move forward and be less protective of national defense industries.

Most of all, EU member states must increase defense spending, with the justification that spending will go to European companies and to the development of a more high-tech defense-industrial base. The organization of military forces will remain national, but the EU has all the prerequisites to be the global leader in coalition warfare if it so chooses.