EU army; nothing to worry about 13-May-2022

There’s been a little excitement. It’s poorly founded.

The Conference on the Future of Europe, a typical sort of EU creation, approved the launch of a Joint Armed Forces of the Union (JAF) (Twitter 30-Apr-2022). This will also doubtlessly be a typical sort of EU creation. It has long been a typical sort of euro-person’s dream to create a single European government, something which stands peer level to the US or China. Or Russia, now that it’s taken a full-on land invasion for them to finally notice.

It will take decades, if ever, for the EU to properly create its own military. The best it can hope for even in the medium term is perhaps a small token force with niche capabilities, and which is more symbolic than militarily threatening.

There is no real European unity. There is no military culture. It doesn’t have enough arms industry expertise and what it does have is really mostly concentrated in France. It has low to no control of its key militarily strategic territories. The cost of overcoming all of these would be enormous.

If the EU is serious it has a lot of work to do.

European Disunion

There is no real European unity. That’s the largest barrier to creating a functional EU army.

Where does real political and economic power sit in Europe? Certainly the EU bureaucracy has a lot of power but the EU does not yet fully function like a nation state. There is still a lot of power in the member states. Enough for the EU to lose member states by their own free choice. Catalonia is still part of Spain, by contrast. Catalonia can’t just choose to leave. The US also still has a lot of power over Europe. European countries are almost forced to remain civil with each otherwise it would displease the US, going against its trade and political interests. How quickly would European states be back to squabbling among each other if they were not all pressed into NATO?

The EU does not yet function like a nation itself. It is very artificial and pushed together by a small number of internal and external forces. This affects the kind of military the JAF could be. Militaries are not just offices full of generals. They’re young men who are willing to sign up and fight and suffer and die. They’re made up of sergeants and warrant officers. In an EU army who are these people prepared to go out and die for? What would they go into battle for? A treaty?

France, which has the EU’s most advanced military now that the UK has gone, has just faced a presidential election where an increasing number of voters are backing the eurosceptic, nationalistic “France first” Marine Le Pen. She is carrying a larger number of younger voters. Young people form the bulk of any military force. Can the EU rely on France to go into battle for everyone else?

What about the rest of the countries in the EU for that matter? What are relations really like between France and Germany, or Poland and Germany, or Greece and Germany. Even Germany seems to be trying to forget itself. In a cobbled together JAF, what happens when a French general orders a Hungarian captain who orders a Swedish private to do something? If Russia invaded the Baltic countries would the Portuguese really rush from the other end of Europe to defend them? Would the Irish? Does Ireland even have a military it could send soldiers from? That one doesn’t count.

On the EU frontier with Russia, the Polish are busy calling for more US troops, not Europeans (Reuters 03-Apr-2022) and they accuse the French and Germans of being too close with Russia (Barron’s 02-Apr-2022). They have a point. It looks like France and Germany used legal loopholes to evade sanctions on selling arms to Russia after the Crimea annexation (Telegraph 22-Apr-2022). European countries have radically different interests.

Europeans do not speak the same languages, cannot all be paid in euros, and they all use different equipment. This is not a good starting point for creating a unified fighting force.

An EU army is nothing to worry about because there is no real European unity.

No military culture

The Europeans do not have any real military culture.

It’s understandable. A lot of them were either on the losing side of WW2 and now reject their previously militarised cultures, or otherwise were squashed under communism for decades and are still struggling to rebuild better governments. Europe has also relied on the US since 1946 in the face of the Cold War, even after the collapse of the USSR. Perhaps Europe fell for the so-called end of history type thinking. Has it recently changed as evidenced by the creation of the JAF? There’s a strong contingent who always wanted to create a European superstate regardless, so perhaps it’s entirely self-fuelled. Still, will the JAF be compelling outside of the most hardcore euronationalists? The European NATO allies mostly failed to meet their 2% military spending pledges. Why would they be any more eager to meet similar obligations under a JAF?

Whatever the case, the Europeans are going to have to spend a lot of time rebuilding any sort of military culture. In the US, first class and members of the military get to board planes first. That would be unthinkable in the EU.

If the EU wants a proper military it will have to figure out how to create a military culture. Weapons are only as good as the people who wield them.

No arms manufacturing

The US has a vast military industry and a lot of talented people capable of building more and new weapons and rolling them out. Not even Europe as a whole, including the UK and France which have the highest capacity, comes close.

Warfare is esoteric. There is a lot of technology which is not widely well known or used in civilian life because it is either unnecessary or restricted. A lot of the best military technology needs an entire industry around it. Fighter jets are just one example where everything from the weapons on the plane to the computers in it to the pilots’ helmets are customised and specialised, and not conveniently replicable. Even apparently simple things like certain kinds of radar systems can be significantly different to their civilian parallels.

It’s not just a question of throwing money at the problem. Europe does not have the necessary infrastructure and expertise to support a military like the US, or even the UK or France.

The EU doesn’t even have the UK any more. For its domestic efforts the EU relies mostly on the French military and its military industry. Otherwise it is still heavily dependent on countries outside of its control.

Building this kind of industry will take many years, even assuming a concentrated push and a lot of dedicated resources. In any military your people are your best resource. Today the EU does not have the resources.

No control of militarily strategic territories

The EU army is not a serious threat because the EU does not control many, if any, of its own military strategically important territories.

The UK controls the sea lanes around most of Europe. The UK controls Gibraltar, which is heavily fortified, on the mouth of the Mediterranean. It has a base in Cyprus to the east, and Cyprus itself as an EU country relies on the UK to keep the peace in its dispute with Turkey. Ireland also might as well rely on the UK military. It has very minor armed forces and would reasonably expect the UK to defend the Republic on the premise that its own interests in Northern Ireland would be under threat. In general, why would the UK necessarily side with the Europeans unless it was in their interests? Perhaps for a fat fee? 

Also to the east, how would the EU’s JAF handle the Black Sea? Russia still has a powerful navy there, nevermind its land and air forces, even if it is preoccupied with Ukraine right now. There is no way that the EU could do anything in the Black Sea without Turkey. Would they be inclined? In Turkey’s view the EU has mistreated it for years over EU membership, with a lot of EU snobbery over its politics.

On land in the east, if the EU does fear Russia, it is oddly reliant on Poland. Poland has more tanks than Germany. It’s not so long ago that the Germany military was so poorly equipped that it used painted broomsticks as pretend-rifles in NATO war drills (Independent 18-Feb-2015). Is 7 years long enough to build up a proper national military, let alone pan-European? There’s something a bit twisted about the idea that Germany relies on Poland for its defence from the east.

To the south, France withdrew from the Sahel region in Africa (BBC 26-Apr-2022). France either gave up or was pushed out of Mali. If Europe is relying on France for southern security this doesn’t look very good. Europe as a whole might as well be on the retreat. Long gone are the days where Rome controlled Mare Nostrum.

The EU is in a weak position. It’s not a good place to start for their JAF.

What is it for and what could it do, anyway?

The EU is very good at creating new offices, committees, forums for people to talk and theoretically do things that matter. In the short term that’s probably what the JAF will do. A top heavy committee which makes proclamations about things.

That’s probably all it will be able to do for some time. Where are the men going to come from to fill its ranks? It seems very unlikely that EU countries will give up their time, money, and people for this in any large way. That would also likely be very unpopular in the voting population and with the rank and file who signed up for their own country, not a bureaucracy.

At best it’s likely to cobble together a small expeditionary force. A thousand or two people it could deploy? Perhaps it will be about as active as the European External Action Service (EEAS) or the European Defence Agency (EDA) or whatever other offices it already has which are not really on the radar.

Unfortunately, that’s not really the show of strength the EU aspires to create.

Through a combination of the EU’s known MO and obvious real-word concerns, it’s hard to see how the JFA will be anything more than unremarkable, another entry on the long list of EU alphabet agencies, at least for a good while.

Where do they go from here?

The clue is probably in the list of other things the Conference on the Future of Europe approved.

Removal of unanimity and the veto.

Europeans right now seem to think that they can have their cake and eat it.

If they want a proper army they’ll have to really make themselves into one country, with one loyalty, one organisational structure, with the resources to build.

And then it will have to ruthlessly suppress any and all previously national feeling and promote the military in a way it does not now.

Europeans don’t seem to want to pay the price for doing this. Not doing this means they continue to rely on the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK and, within its own borders, solely France.

The Europeans don’t seem to want to pay the price for relying on external partners either. At some point they will have to make a decision. Perhaps it will take something drastic to push them one way or another.

Until then, it’s perfectly possible for the idea of an EU army to stay totally harmless through indecision for a very long time.