Dying for the European Union?

Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

Can a national soldier be asked to die for the European Union? In other words, can a Hungarian soldier be sent under an EU flag on the battlefield for another national and/or European cause?

With all the recent talks about the creation of a EU army (read here a recent analysis on Juncker’s proposal), or a European Defense Union, and the perpetual French calls for increasing burden-sharing in defense spending and actions, one variable is missing, would it be acceptable for Member States and European citizens to let their soldiers die for the EU? Can national Member States require their soldiers to fight on the battlefield exposing them to possibility of death for the EU? Would European citizens support such idea? Such questions may appear as a futile intellectual exercise, when in fact it is at the heart of the overall issue of European integration in the realm of security and defense.

Geopolitical Realities

There is no army without a demos, an identity, shared symbols and a common national vision (see the excellent book by Christopher Bickerton on the subject of integration from nation-states to member states). The Europeans and Americans have now since the end of the Cold War tried to create armies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Mali, Niger, in the Balkans, and other countries around the world. This is a complex and lengthy process requiring specific criteria such as a state, a national identity, and a will to defend the values and institutions of such state. The recent examples of the Iraqi and Afghan armies are demonstrating how difficult it is and in some instances unrealistic. In the case of the EU, the talk of a European army goes back to the failed attempt of the European Defense Community (EDC) in 1954 foreseeing the creation of a European army composed of 100,000 soldiers (read here a book review of Debating CSDP). Since then, the topic reappears and disappears as quickly as it emerges. The question of a European army is directly intertwined with the old-federalist vision.

Additionally, the case of the EU is a little different from the other regions of the world. The EU has grown under the protection of the nuclear umbrella of the Americans for the entirety of the Cold War. With the implosion of the Soviet Union, the EU was for over 20 years leaving with no major direct threats to its survival. With today’s reemergence of a more aggressive Russia, NATO has re-become the primary instrument for defense. Ultimately, the core perception of European security and defense incorporates two dimensions: American protection and lengthy regional stability. But with the collapse of world markets and the Arab Spring, the EU is now encircled by serious threats with Russia, the Islamic State (IS), mass-migration and rogue regional countries. The European reactions have been to ignore the realities and instead focus on domestic problems.

In some ways, the Europeans have to re-learn in accepting the threats affecting one’ security requiring the use of force. For decades, Europeans did not have to worry about basic existential survival. Europeans were instead deploying forces based on liberal beliefs. Today, the world and Europe are much different places. Despite the lethality of the regional threats, most European leaders and citizens are unwilling to consider the use of military force. For instance, in dealing with Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Europeans have never mentioned the deployment of troops on the Eastern European borders and even less the use of military force in stopping Russia. Europeans are not thinking in terms of hard power on their owns, only with NATO.

European Demos, Identity and CSDP

In most EU Member States, the mandatory military draft has been abolished. The military conscription policy in most EU Member States, at the exception of Austria, Denmark, Greece, Estonia and Finland, does not exist or is possible only in case of emergency. Most European armies are in fact composed of professional soldiers.

Military Conscription Policy by Country

ChartsBin statistics collector team 2011, Military Conscription Policy by Country, ChartsBin.com, viewed 4th April, 2015, <http://chartsbin.com/view/1887&gt;.

Additionally, since the financial crisis, EU Member States have seriously cut their military expenditures at the national and european levels. As illustrated below, the military expenditure of the EU in 2012 (with 1.5% of GDP) was one of the smallest in comparison to the other world powers. Taking into account to overall proportion of the percentage in the overall world economy, the 1.5% seems inappropriate. As per, many institutions (World Bank, European Commission) and agency (CIA), the overall GDP of the US ($16.7tn)  and EU ($15.8tn) in 2013 were almost equal, but not their military spending.

Source: SIPRI 2013

Source: SIPRI 2013

Certainly, the US is a unitary state (in terms of national security), while the EU is an international organization composed of 28 Member States. The US has its own yearly federal defense budget, while the EU does not have an united defense budget, but rather 28. But with 28 Member States, it is difficult to claim that solely 1.5% of the EU’s overall GDP is a fair share in military expenditure.

In January 2015, the European Parliament (EP) published a report about European perceptions on a variety of policy areas (access the report here). This report permits to shine a light on the perceptions of EU citizens on policy areas related to the eventual creation of a EU army.

European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. "Analytical Overview". (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.

European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. “Analytical Overview”. (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.

Based on the figure above, the strongest factors in composing the European identity are the values of democracy and freedom and the Euro. Interestingly, the three least recognized elements are in fact the ones that are the most symbolic in the formation and fostering of national unity: the anthem, the flag and the motto. Europeans principally feel united through the common share of beliefs – democracy and freedom – which are strongly ingrained in the membership process, the Copenhagen Criteria, in order to become an EU Member; and the currency, which is visible on daily basis in 19 Member States. However, the symbols remain strongly national. European citizens are in fact keeping their allegiance to their national symbols: flag, anthem and motto.

These symbols are necessary to be Europeanized in order to create a European army. Until European citizens do not envision the European symbols over their nationals, the creation of a European military allegiance won’t be possible.

Euro policies

European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. “Analytical Overview”. (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.

 The figure above illustrates the policies wherein European citizens feel that the EU should prioritize. In the case of high politics (defense, security and foreign policy), most Europeans disagree with a common policy. For instance, in the development of a ‘security and defense policy […] to face up to international crises’ EU citizens oppose it at 74%. In combating terrorism, once again the EU citizens are opposed at 71%, and in shaping a common foreign policy, 81% of EU citizens are opposing it. With such numbers, several explanations can be drawn: first, they consider high politics a national priority; second, the national governments are fighting in order not to loose the grip over the control of these policy-areas; third, citizens are overall against foreign, security and defense policy, caused by a certain power-aversion.

A United States of Europe?

All EU Member States are neither risk- nor power-averse. For instance, France since the turn of the century has not shied away from its rank of middle-power. In a matter of five years, it has waged war in Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, Iraq, the Sahel region, and almost in Syria. The United Kingdom was a very active international actor and French partner, but has been less interested in military action since the coalition in Libya in 2011. The UK is still dealing with the Iraq syndrome and lengthy Afghan war. Since the opposition of the legislature to go in Syria, the UK has been irrelevant in security and defense affairs at the great concern of its American partner. Other Member States have been more vocal. With the Arab Spring, the Russian incursions in Georgia (2008), Crimea, and now Eastern Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State (IS), the Europeans may be united in rhetorics, but are neither willing to deploy forces nor empower the EU in doing more.

Ultimately, the creation of a true European army would require two things: first, theChurchil creation of a clear European demos; second, a federal entity where most European interests are common. The creation of a United States of Europe will be necessary. In the US, the Congress or the President, under special circumstances, can declare war to other states. The different military branches – Army, Navy, Air Force – are all regulated under the Department of Defense (DoD) and can be deployed at anytime even if a Governor of a state is opposed to it. The Federal government is in charged of world military operation. In the case of the EU, there is no such thing as a European DoD. The European External Action Service (EEAS) is a ‘service’ in charged of shaping a common European Foreign policy with the consent of the Member States. Only the Member States can decide on using military force. A European army will remain a topic of discussion, nothing more.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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About politipond

Author - Maxime H. A. Larivé, Ph.D., is a European and transatlantic expert. His book, titled 'Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity,' is published with Ashgate.
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