January 10, 2019 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads: Should the European Union Have Its Own Army?

 

President Donald Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw from Syria and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' subsequent resignation, compounded by Trump's earlier declarations that the European Union was a "foe" and NATO "obsolete," have added new urgency to an old debate: Should the European Union have its own army?

France and Germany seem to have determined that the Trump administration will continue to call US support for Europe into question. As a result, President Emmanuel Macron warned Europe could not be protected without a "true, European army," and Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the idea by declaring that "the times when we could rely on others are over."

To some, the concept of a European army—a single military force unified under the command of the European Union—contains an interesting Catch-22. A retreating American security umbrella might mean Europe needs to step up and do more to defend itself in case the United States ends its seven-decade commitment to Europe’s security and defense. But moving too quickly might cause a backlash and ultimately accelerate an American withdrawal from European defense. As Francois Heisbourg, former defense advisor for Macron's presidential campaign, put it, “We have to hedge. But it is a very tricky situation: When does the hedge become a wedge?”

While Europe needs to be careful in how it moves forward with defense cooperation, fears that improving European defense capabilities would cause a backlash from the United States are misplaced. Increased European defense spending has been a US goal for decades. In 2014, NATO members committed to bringing their defense spending to two percent of national GDP by 2024. Though it's a relatively modest goal, all European allies are increasing defense spending and most are slated to meet the commitment.

What’s important is for Europe to do more on defense—and if it does so within a European context, even as a hedge, then that is fine if it in fact leads to real, additional capabilities. Anything that gets the Europeans to take their defense seriously, in my book, is a good idea. And anything that strengthens Europe’s capacity to defend itself, in the end, will enhance the overall transatlantic alliance.

To be clear, I do not think we have to worry about Europe actually succeeding in building a European Army any time soon. None of the EU members, starting with France, is ready to give up the national autonomy over military decisions that a “true, European army” implies. But that does not exclude closer cooperation—on developing and buying weapons, training and deploying forces, and operating in actual combat situations—all of which would add real defense capabilities.

A stronger, more capable Europe will lead to a stronger, more capable NATO—so long as both sides of the Atlantic remain committed to their collective defense.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. If you haven't done so already, please click here to subscribe to This Week's Reads.

Is Europe Ready to Defend Itself?

Yaroslav Trofimov / The Wall Street Journal

As Donald Trump’s America pulls back and Vladimir Putin’s Russia looms, France and Germany are leading a renewed drive for a common European Union military.

How Trump Made War on Angela Merkel and Europe

Susan B. Glasser / The New Yorker

The German Chancellor and other European leaders have run out of patience with the President.

‘America First’ Is Only Making the World Worse. Here’s a Better Approach.

Antony J. Blinken and Robert Kagan / The Washington Post

Kagan and Blinken offer a foreign policy mixing preventative diplomacy and deterrence, trade and technology, allies and institutions, and immigration and refugees.

Trump Didn’t Kill the Global Trade System. He Split It in Two.

Greg Ip / The Wall Street Journal

Allies find relations modestly tweaked, despite the president’s rhetoric, while relations with China are entering a deep freeze.

After a Rocky 2018, Populism Is Down but Far From Out in the West

Max Fisher / The New York Times

The West’s populist leaders and parties have grown defensive, retreating into ever-starker messages of us-versus-them. The approach excites their most dedicated followers. But it can be risky, forcing voters to pick sides at a moment when the populist right holds declining appeal.

RIP, Axis of Adults

Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay / POLITICO

It was never a real thing. But with Jim Mattis’ exit, the idea that Trump’s advisers could restrain the president is finally dead.

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