Should the EU Have a Common Military? (event archive)

June 27, 2011 by  

The final debate of this season centered around the question of  European security. Arguing in the affirmative were Lt. Zoltán Szenes (Zrinyi Miklós University) and Zoltán Gálik (Corvinus University). Arguing in opposition were former US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker (SAIS, CTR) and Csaba Törő(Hungarian Institute for International Affairs).

Special thanks to the Allianz Kulturstiftung for sponsoring this event.

Scroll down for the edited transcript of the event!

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ANNA STUMPF: This is our last Europe debate since the Hungarian EU Presidency is about to end in a couple of days. And this is the last debate featuring the military topic. We thought this is the most forceful and powerful topic, so why not doing it at the very end.  Shall we start? Should the EU have a common military?

ZOLTÁN SZENES: Yes, the EU should have a common military. European integration in security and defense was for a long time seen as impossible or at least unlikely. Even otherwise contradictory theories of European integration [assumed] that the specific character of this field explain the absence of integration. However, some developments challenged these assumptions. According to the Treaty of Lisbon the common security and defense policy is an integral part of Common Foreign and Security Policy. It includes the progressive framing of a common union defense policy which relates to a common defense when the European Council acting unanimously so decides. Decisions relating to the Common Security and Defense Policy are adopted by the Council acting unanimously on a proposal from the High Representative for Foreign Affairs or, and this is very important, at an initiative from a member state.

The Treaty of Lisbon introduces the solidarity clause and the mutual assistance clause. The solidarity clause affirms the Union and the Member states shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a member state is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The Union shall mobilize all the instruments and its disposal including the military resources made available by the member states. According to the mutual assistance clause if a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory the other member states shall have toward it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power. This clause is very similar to the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.

The Common Security and Defense Policy provides the Union with an operational capacity, capability drawing on civilian and military assets, which it may use the mission outside the Union for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security. All this task may contribute to the fight against terrorism including supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories. The EU is increasingly capable of defending itself under its Common Security and Defense Policy. The EU has already deployed 27 military and civilian missions from Asia to Africa and just approved the 28th military force for Libya that is ready to be deployed as soon as UN asks for it. Those member states whose military capability fulfill higher criteria which, have made more binding commitments to one another in this area. The permanent structured cooperation [in the EU framework] shall be open to any member state which proceeds more intensively to develop its defense capabilities in national framework, when appropriate multinational forces in the main European equipment programs and the EU battle group concept program. We can mention the UK and France Defense Cooperation Agreement signed last November.

I identified four very important institutions – already existing institutions – which could be a framework for further development of the European Common Defense Policy. The first: the Eurocorps may be seen as a forerunner of permanent structured cooperation. In 1993 France, Germany and Belgium took the important initiative of placing under common command certain units of their armies. Spain joined the Eurocorps in 1994 and Luxemburg in 1996. In 2002 and 2003 Greece, Poland, Turkey and Austria integrated personnel in to the Eurocorps staff. The Eurocorps which is placed under the authority Common Committee made up the heads of staff and political directors of the participating countries is now a Rapid Reaction Force at the disposal of NATO and the EU as well. It has participated in several joint missions of the two organizations. And right now approximately 1000 soldiers are stationed in the Eurocorps headquarters in Strasburg, while up to sixty thousand troops are pledged for [deployment] in the EU or NATO rapid response missions. I should add that Eurocorps was deployed in Afghanistan for half a year to command and control the NATO troops as well.

The second very important body which can help supporting the common military is the European Defense Agency which should promote common military in Europe. It was set up in 2004 in order to develop projects and programs aimed and supporting the development of European Security and Defense Policy. Its task is to identify operational requirements, promote measures to satisfy those requirements strengthen the industrial and technological base on the defense sector, participate in defining the European capabilities and armament policy and assist the Council in evaluating improvement in military capabilities. The Defense Agency plays an important role in pursuing aims at the gradual creation of a single European defense equipment market thereby enforcing the competitiveness of the European defense industry.

And finally I should mention the European Security and Defense College which was established in 2005 as a network dealing with security and defense policies of the European Union. The purpose of the College is to provide education and training in the field of ESDP or the common Security and Defense policy and to promote and a common understanding of European Security and Defense Policy among civilian and military personnel. It is extremely important because to achieve the Common European Defense we need new generations educated in the common European spirit.

EU member states face the same security threats so they should work together to protect each other. CSDP allows Europe to pursue [its] own defense agenda rather than that [which was] laid down by the USA. And Americans can no longer carry the majority of the burden of defense so NATO and EU need to pull its own weight.

KURT VOLKER: The goal of having a common EU military is thrown out there a lot. Anna, you mentioned Günter Verheugen who said “if you wanna be a global player you gotta have a common military”. Well think about that. The reason the EU is not a global player is not because it doesn’t have a common military. It doesn’t have a common perception, it doesn’t have common policies, it doesn’t have capacities. And when you think about the security sphere, it is not that Europe doesn’t have an integrated defense capability. The problem is Europe doesn’t have much defense capability at all. And what countries need to do is invest defense spending building capacity, training in order to produce real capacity. If you do not do it, then it doesn’t matter if you all stand together, it is still not there.

So the issue of trying to create a European defense capability actually does a disservice. Because what it does, is it masks the fact that no one is doing anything. If a country says that I can’t afford it but I stand as part of the EU, it lets them off the hook, because they can say, well the EU is doing something. And the reality is that no one does, and it just sinks. And you can see this over time. So if you look at, starting from 1989, where European defense spending and European defense capability was, it has been a straight shot to the bottom for the last 20 years. The countries are not investing, they’re not producing the capabilities, they say along this line that well if we did it for the EU, we would do more. It’s because it is NATO or it’s something else.

But if you look at that in reality in 1999 the British and French launched the same model imitative where they said they are going to have a headline goal of 16 thousand troops at the disposal of the European Union. A few years later they decided they couldn’t make it the headline goal, so they created the battle groups and they brought that down to small groups of fifteen hundred each, and then most of those don’t get filled out either. The target of defense spending had been the 2 percent of GDP during this period of time. The average among the non-US NATO countries is less than 1% now. It is not going to go up, given the euro crisis, and the financial crisis.

The Libya operation where France and UK would have taken the lead is exposing all the weaknesses. In fact the UK is running out of precision guided ammunitions after having an operation for a couple of months. So the point is to focus on actually building capability. Trying to say that well we’ll do it together in the EU actually covers up the fact that no one is doing it together. It introduces one other problem too. Because if you do make it a common EU capability then decision making wretches down to the lowest common denominator. Whatever country least wants to do something sets the high bar for what the EU will actually do.

[It would be] much better to have the capacities organized on a national basis so in a contingency they can be put together in a flexible way. You need an interoperability capability, you need exchanges but you don’t want common control because you make your instrument less and less usable because it depends upon a consensus to use it. And the proof of that is actually NATO: because NATO has exactly the same problem. Look at the Libya operation: we can’t agree that the operation is to remove Gaddafi from power which is what would have actually solved the problem, so we agree that the operation is instead to protect civilians and delivering military assistance. And then, even with that not everybody takes part: some because they don’t want to, like Germany or Turkey, and some because they can’t. Hungary, for example has a fighter aircraft but doesn’t have the trained pilots, can’t put them into operation, doesn’t have the inner interoperability on an aircraft. So by worrying about putting things together in a multilateral framework, you actually end up disguising what the real problem is which is actually to build the capability. I will pause there and yield the balance of my time.

ZOLTÁN SZENES: The first point: European Union wants to be a global player. And if European Union wants to be a global player certainly to influence and to contribute to peace and development you should have complex, not just the so called ‘soft power’ instruments but the hard power instruments as well. Furthermore if you read the new Lady Ashton interview: the European Union wants to be a ‘smart power’. [This] means to combine taking into consideration the current financial situation in Europe and in the world, and to combine the hard power instruments with the soft power instruments.

KURT VOLKER: The question really being debated here is [whether] it is better to do things separately or do things collectively. And most of the arguments that I’ve heard don’t actually address why collectively is better. It’s really about developing the capability and I think doing it collectively creates new problems. Third thing: the best argument is the last one you have just made. Which is the efficiency. If countries were able to pull all the resources they put into defense and have a single set of decisions about how to use those resources you could have more efficient defense capability. But that is first off entirely unrealistic in terms of nations giving up control of their defense and security spending.

And secondly when you put that in the context of budget cuts, what we’ve seen time and again is that when nations are forced to decide what to get rid of, it is the defense budget [because that is] what they consider to be nonessential and they stick with the most essential national interest, which tend to be very national. So while it is a great argument that in a period of a declining budget we put our resources together, the reality is that everybody does the opposite. And so again focusing on trying to do it collectively becomes a smoke screen for not actually developing the capabilities that are needed.

And to agree with Zoltán [Szenes], I think the same [is true for] NATO. That’s why I am very worried about NATO because the US is really the only country putting in a lot of resources into the defense now and the US is getting fed up with NATO because no one else is [contributing] so why go to NATO? And I think that’s a dangerous problem, so it is better for nations invest in their own national capabilities and bring them to the table and then have something to negotiate about.

ZOLTÁN GÁLIK: First I would like to argue not for the yes but I would like to argue against the no. So you must understand that if you think about the European Common Military then the question is whether we can allow ourselves not to develop a common military. And the question is partly answered because as you said the EU currently does have a common military structure and it is not a new thing. It was developed since the beginning of the last decade and the EU has soldiers, the EU has instruments used by the EU and used by the EU forces and the EU has a very serious institutional capacity. And now with the Lisbon Treaty the EU has a legal framework

The EU always said that the transatlantic relation is a very important thing. And we must ask: what’s the reason for a common military? And if we said that just some kind of common defense then we must add some very important roles to that. The role of the United States was always important during the 90’s of course. And why? Because after the Cold War, the security situation around the world changed a lot. A new security framework was created, you know about hard and soft security issues, you know about the humanitarian security which was put in the center of the security system. And of course the cooperation between the different institutions which created military strategies or military actions were shared. The European Union created a framework in the beginning of the 90’s but of course it was not the military structure which we hoped will replace the NATO or will replace the Western European Union. It was just not the task of that.

The next thing is that military structure must be always supported by the United States and I agree with you because if you listen to [what] Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on the 10th of June, he has warned that the new post Cold War generation of leaders and America could abandon NATO and the 60 years of security guarantees to Europe exasperated by Europe’s failures of political will and the gaps in defense funding needed to keep the alliance alive. It was very hard after the II World War to persuade the United States to say in Europe. And after the Cold War we must assure of course the United States to stay in Europe and I think maybe you have seen the signs that the EU and the capabilities of the European Union is not at the level at which the United States must accept.

The main question is not whether we need a common military, we need a common foreign policy, we need a common security policy, we need a common defense policy maybe and of course the European Union now is at the stage to have a common solidarity clause not a common defense policy. It will remain in the NATO. But to support a common foreign policy a common security policy we must do something and we must have some plus in the military field.

I do not agree with you, you said that the EU is not a global player. Of course the EU is a global player and the EU’s foreign policy was always, – and the EC’s foreign policy was – very important during the last decades. As you remember the Common External Actions of the EU which will continue nowadays must be supported by a military. Of course we can not expect the United States to support the EU’s global trade policy, the EU’s global external actions in this way. And finally the final argument is that the EU is not an institution. The EU is not a state. If you think about common military then you must understand that the EU always will develop something of its own, something we say it sui generis, because the EU will never have a common defense policy. The EU will never play the role of the common and hard security player. The EU must not have a federal structure, if we are thinking on the military structure. Everything which is created by the EU can be characterized by different institutional forms. Which is very unusual in the international system. And military could be just one thing, which can be added to this process.

CSABA TÖRŐ: Staying with the military jargon, after the opening barrage I would continue with more targeted strikes. First of all, in one dimension military policy if its part of the European Security Policy can be useful as long as it serves the purpose that it can coordinate the efforts and the capabilities of member states which are available for certain missions. This is what happens, it is called in the European Union the Clearing House process, that countries offer what they can contribute for example to a UN Peacekeeping Mission. Like in 2006 Lebanon most of the UN peacekeeping forces are European offered by the Europeans but it is not a European mission. That’s a useful function. You coordinate and you collect what member states can put together and then you offer it to the UN. That’s fine. That’s military policy within the security policy.

Military institutional capacity is redundant. We don’t need that integrated command structure it is already there in NATO. The European Union has no army because practically, legally and technically there is no EU standing army. All military capability, which the EU can mobilize are components and contingent of the EU member states. And even if they are assigned for certain periods [as] part of battle groups, it means that still before the deployment they must be politically approved by the member states. So nothing is automatic, they are not available for instant deployment, and again comes this cumbersome political decision making process in the European Union whenever it undertakes a military mission it deploys forces which the member states are so generous to offer for certain very benign, very progressive, enlightened European missions. At the end it means that the European Union hasn’t developed anything, [it just] added to what was already available at NATO.

So after all – and here comes one of my major points – why the EU still needs this kind of politically motivated enterprise which you call Military Security and Defense Policy is for political purposes [because] the European Union is a very image conscious, postmodern political actor in the international scene, a real truly metrosexual participant. Absolutely after the fashion, in line with the very kind of central arguments of the progressive intellectual mainstream discourse, and it really likes to play to the international audience.

And the European Union offers EU capabilities only for those missions which are actually quite popular. Very nice, easy missions in the sense that no combat missions, always consensual mission, where we did deploy the forces the locals were always there [saying] please come and help, we are eager to accept you because you still can do some good. Fine! Very expensive missions. They consume a lot of the budget of EU member states, these military missions. Some of them undeniably useful in Africa and other places, where they are deployed but they don’t really contribute anything original. It can be also carried out either as NATO operation or as part of the UN Peacekeeping Missions.

So the European Union just wants to show the EU flag which is already found successful in the sense that many countries are aware that there is some EU version and EU form of these crisis management missions. But it is not really a substantial contribution to the already available options. And what the EU common military enterprises serve is a kind of dangerous distraction. It’s a substitute for real commitment. So it’s a kind of a surrogate, it’s not real coffee it’s a decaffeinated version of real coffee which is NATO.

The EU member states are ready to say, yes we commit resources and we already declared several times that we will adopt EU military capability, but it is after all ‘sorry, certain delays but next time we will really make up to the headlines and deadlines’. So I think it’s the constant promises, repetition of promises but no delivery upon the promises. So that’s unfortunately again symbolic politics. The EU military policy and capability exists  in the symbolic sphere.

ZOLTÁN GÁLIK: It’s a very interesting thing if we are speaking about NATO. NATO is the most successful international security organization of the last 60 years. And NATO during the Cold War did not have any serious military actions and NATO won the Cold War without anything. So without anything in the military field. Military action field, not the military field which I must emphasize in the case of EU. So if we are developing an EU which is militarily successful then we just do not have to think that we should create some instruments, soldiers and equipments which could be used in big scale wars. Maybe we just have to cooperate on certain fields which were the most successful during the Cold War in NATO.

The next thing is whether it is redundant or not. Yes it is redundant but it’s not a problem for the EU, I think nobody believes that the current security framework could just suddenly be replaced by a European one. And that’s exactly what is happening since the beginning of the 1990s. The EU developed from step to step a new military and security framework. It did not exist until 1999 but with the ESDP it gained some momentum and now it has some capabilities. And the last thing is you said that the EU does not have a common military in legal terms. Yes, that’s what I argued before. We do not have to think about the military in Europe as military structure in the nation states. Europe will do the military work in an other way in a sui genesis way always.

CSABA TÖRŐ: Alright, in magic words EU is always very original whatever it does it is always strange and unusual and perhaps inefficient but certainly very originally innovative. But in case of the military field when you talk about real capabilities and needs, other than just declarations and posturing, then you would need something more substantial. And to what the European member states do, they have a certain number of soldiers. You don’t have soldiers ready to wear the EU badge and walk into battle under an EU flag and perhaps the better part of the army or the different part of the army is available for NATO. The European member states when they declare that ‘yes, we have some soldiers that we can deploy in expeditions and missions in Africa or perhaps in Libya after the conflict, or maybe in case of humanitarian action to support somehow NATO’, then it would be deployed but again, from the very limited pool of capabilities, and it is what is already trained and prepared to act under the guidance of NATO.

So practically the preparations for decades which have been built up, were always guided my the logic and expectations of NATO, which means all the member states acting together with one very principal actor, the United States. And again the Libya Unified Protector mission demonstrated to European countries that if it was an EU operation, the operation would soon run to a halt. It would really grind and stop because if there is no support from the US, it doesn’t work.

So again, it demonstrates that even within NATO it’s difficult, but at least in NATO you can always call upon the Americans after all, and they stand ready and the political administration, the leadership supports the action to kind of assist to the operation, escalate the operation what’s going on now in Libya still need a crucial element. And this is what is missing from the EU capability and here is the very substantial bottom line: that we need one additional element which will be never exist in the EU military capability, the United States.

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