Leaving Nato is key to a European defence policy

French troops are almost alone among European countries in their ability to intervene abroad (photo: dpa)
French troops are almost alone among European countries in their ability to intervene abroad (photo: dpa)

Europe remains a major player in the global balance and its voice still matters even though it no longer dominates as it once did. A common foreign policy with an articulated, over-arching, shared vision of its place in the world is key to Europe developing a common defence policy. A grouping of six or so EU countries - excluding the UK because of its divergent interests - could be the way forward.

EUROPE’S defence policy and its striking absence of military power is failing to frighten anyone while it seeks to be a world leader. Its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) reassures nobody including the stakeholders themselves.

The crisis in Ukraine, following French operations in Mali and the Central African Republic in 2013 and 2014, attests to this striking absence of military power.

Political wrangling in Ukraine, for example, is playing out between Russia and the United States directly, completely bypassing the European Union which, in a sense, is actually the source of the turmoil, because of the EU’s desire to integrate Ukraine into its economic sphere.

It is as though we had returned to the calamitous times of the Warsaw Pact and Pershing missiles in 1979, when the frightened West - the 'free world' - took refuge under America's wings.

Europe is condemned to bow to US policy, which does not necessarily line up with its interests, in the face of Russia's current interference in Ukraine

Defence spending of the 28 EU member states is 40 per cent that of the United States, but barely achieves 10 per cent of America’s operational capacity. Europe’s policy of going it alone leads to powerlessness and justifies bloated budgets at a time when top European authorities talk of nothing but austerity and bringing down costs.

Leaving Nato

It is common knowledge that only France and the United Kingdom, out of all the European countries, have the capability today to deploy military forces on their own outside their territories. Traditionally though, the UK is so integrated into Nato that it refuses to participate in a European force and even opposes the creation of one in which it would not be involved.

The result is that Europe is condemned to bow to US policy, which does not necessarily line up with its interests, in the face of Russia's current interference in Ukraine. Europe has been ordered by Washington to impose economic sanctions which will damage Europe’s economic area far more than the US, which has looser ties with Russia.

Europe’s Common Security and Defence Policy, supposedly enacted by signing the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, has gone largely unheeded to this day. It has achieved nothing apart from some election monitoring in Africa.

Its actual creation would require two preconditions: the willingness to create a European political entity based around a core of six or seven countries - basically the founding members of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - and departure from Nato’s military command.

These preconditions are themselves, in turn, subject to another, psychological, precondition: Europeans must realise finally that they too - like people throughout history - are surrounded by competitors, adversaries, and even enemies, and that 18th century French political philosopher Montesquieu's cherished 'doux commerce' or gentle commerce does not solve everything.

Weak and incapable

Europeans are accustomed to living in peace since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent dismantling of the Soviet empire in 1991. They believe peace will last forever. The terrorist attacks on America’s twin towers and Washington on September 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people, barely managed to shake Europeans from their trance and alert them to the Islamic terrorist threat.

Public opinion considered the wars in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 and Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 to be almost foreign to the 'civilised' European continent and remnants from another time, rather than as posing a threat to general peace.

There can be no common defence without a common foreign policy. What is the point of creating a common economic area if not guided by an articulated, over-arching, shared vision of its place in the world?

The underlying conflict with Russia - already foreshadowed by the 2008 crisis in Georgia, which was officially resolved by the intervention of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but in reality remains utterly unresolved - should finally alert Europe to the fact that it is weak, and incapable of imposing its decisions on its immediate neighbours.

Europe's desire for indefinite expansion and its methods of sizing up Ukraine for its economic area were, at the very least, tactless as well as making no geopolitical sense. However, after offering a treaty to a peripheral country, you cannot reasonably shy away at a rival power’s first grumblings - in this case Russia - or ask your American big brother to help resolve the situation. Or, perhaps, Europe is now nothing more than we suspect - a vast supermarket which is wide open, where everyone is serving themselves, with no political, historical or even geographical cohesion guiding its destiny.

Shared vision

It is not a matter of wanting war, but rather of preventing it through thorough preparations. This may be a cliche but it remains true.

Europe has shown in the relatively recent past that when there is a desire among its member nations to intervene, it is capable of doing so. The Rapid Reaction Force deployed to Bosnia in 1995 is a good example and inspired the European Rapid Operational Force (Eurofor) as a multinational rapid reaction force using troops from Italy, France, Portugal and Spain until 2012.

Eurofor is now defunct and the 'battle groups' created in 2004 and never used, do not demonstrate a common European will today.

There can be no common defence without a common foreign policy. What is the point of creating a common economic area if not guided by an articulated, over-arching, shared vision of its place in the world?

Europe is not some tiny corner of the world which can do its own thing without worrying about the rest of the world. It lies at the crossroads of different civilisations historically and has made its mark on the rest of the world, more than any other. It remains a major player in the global balance and its voice still matters even though it may not dominate as it once did.

It has been called upon to intervene actively in the conflicts currently shaking Africa, the Middle East and on its own doorstep in Ukraine.

Political will

It will only succeed by creating several circles of integration of European countries. It is vital to exclude the UK from the first circle because British interests are too divergent from those of the continental sphere. This would not rule out other bilateral exercises and operations.

However, Europe would do well to start by giving its inner circle of France, Germany, Italy, the Benelux countries and Spain, common foreign objectives, particularly towards the Mediterranean and the Arab world in general, and towards Russia.

Europe would do well to start by giving its inner circle of France, Germany, Italy, the Benelux countries and Spain, common foreign objectives, particularly towards the Mediterranean and the Arab world in general, and towards Russia

Europe’s initial goal, as it fancies itself as a defender of liberty, democracy and human rights, would be working to pacify its close neighbours. Modern Africa, however, which is engulfed in numerous conflicts from South Darfur and Nigeria, to the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali, cannot remain the hunting ground of the old colonial powers. Europe is deeply concerned about the future of Africa because Europe remains the preferred outlet for African immigration.

Common European defence does not hinge first and foremost on the technological development of a common arsenal or in creating shared standards, as has been thought for decades, but rather on the political will to intervene in the wider world, in the name of superior values. The means to achieve this will follow.

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