The EU realizes that it cannot rely on the US for protection. It now has a blueprint for a new joint military force

Recent geopolitical crises, most notably the messy withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, have reinforced the idea that the EU cannot rely entirely on the United States or NATO for its protection.

Coincidentally, the initial blueprint for such a plan was presented to EU member states this week. The “Strategic Compass for Security and Defense” is a loose sketch of how inter-blockchain cooperation might work. The entire document was leaked to CNN.

The main proposal is for the EU to gain the ability to rapidly deploy up to 5,000 troops to deal with a variety of potential crises. Instead of a standing force reporting to the commander in Brussels, these rapid-deployment groups will be a collection of troops from across the participating member states, set up to tackle a specific mission and assigned command from the EU level on that task. Those missions can range from evacuation missions, such as in Afghanistan, to border peacekeeping or humanitarian missions.

The document also talks about the need for an integrated approach to defense procurement, research and intelligence, making the bloc more competitive and efficient. It acknowledges that for this, national and EU spending will have to increase and focus on filling the gaps that currently exist across the EU.

Not all 27 EU countries are required to join; however, deploying troops on behalf of the EU would require the signature and participation of member states, and details of how that would work are yet to be confirmed.

While mocking Europe at the idea of ​​”EU Army” means that this latest proposal is a far cry from the 1999 goal of having up to 60,000 troops ready to deploy at any given time, it is still ambitious. Ambitious and unusual for a top-down multilateral EU. proposal, which is widely supported by all 27 member states.

However, these are early days and reaching agreement on anything costly from 27 countries facing different security and fiscal concerns will not be easy.

Polish soldiers are seen on the other side of a barbed-wire fence during clashes between migrants and Polish border guards at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, on Tuesday, Nov. year 2021.

To get an idea of ​​who is at the top at this early stage, CNN spoke with more than 20 EU officials, diplomats and politicians from across the bloc with the aim of answering questions many have posed. for years: Will the EU ever have an army to call its own?

The big picture is that everyone agrees on a central point: Something must be done if Europe is to be kept safe.

Pietro Benassi, Italy’s ambassador to the EU, told CNN that while the Compass has to be agreed to by 27 countries – some are “constitutionally neutral, [and] others have diverse constitutional and military views” – he believes that the EU can “build a common strategic culture” and this plan will give impetus to that goal.

This opinion, or some version of it, was shared by almost everyone CNN spoke to. However, long-standing divisions are bound to slow that momentum.

The most important country is not France. President Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of his dream of a stronger Europe with greater integration on foreign affairs. He has even called for a “real European army” to reduce Europe’s need for US-led NATO protection.

The current target is the Compass Strategy agreed in March, while France holds the rotating EU presidency. But Macron may want to emphasize champagne on ice, as many of his European counterparts are less gung-ho when it comes to defense.

Most notably, a number of countries in the eastern EU – countries such as Poland, Estonia and Lithuania – support the plan, but only if a formal agreement specifically addresses the threat posed by Russia and to a lesser extent. to a lesser extent than that caused by China.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 25, 2016 in Beijing, China.

For now, the document deals with the EU’s deteriorating relationship with its neighbour, but also says that “common interests and a common culture have practically linked the EU and Russia”, and will remain engaged. The Eastern nations also expressed concern about any plan that could weaken NATO.

Scandinavians are similarly worried about Russia. Diplomats and officials from these countries explain that “we are in real danger from Russia in this part of the world” and make clear that “the transatlantic alliance needs to be strengthened as part of any broader EU plan.”

Many officials, diplomats and politicians said they believed Macron was the key figure and therefore did not want to point the finger at Russia.

Next, the so-called “silver protein”. This is not exactly the “Frugal Four” – Denmark, which opted out of the Compass Strategy, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden – made it difficult for the EU when it signed the Covid package last year.

However, officials from some of these countries expressed concern that troops assigned to rapid deployment teams would never be used, that action would be vetoed, and the whole affair would lead to to a waste of money, weakening NATO, and severing the transatlantic alliance.

The final piece is Germany. The EU’s richest country is still negotiating its next coalition government, and officials say it is difficult to predict exactly what Berlin will look like next year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and then Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyenat of the Lower House on Germany's participation in the coalition-led military intervention in Syria on 4 December 2015. Von der Leyen is currently the President of the EU Commission.

A German diplomat told CNN: “We still don’t know who will run the defense. It seems likely that it will be the socialists who will be willing to make small contributions to things like hospitals. field and not participating abroad like France, I think, might want us. That could be a real disagreement.”

Despite all the potential pitfalls, there is a sincere optimism that these differences can be bridged if people are realistic and serious.

Rasa Juknevičienė, a member of the European Parliament and former Lithuanian Defense Minister, said that “only the EU can solve” the hybrid threats it faces from hostile parties in Russia and China. However, she expressed concern that if the bloc could not agree on issues ranging from cybersecurity, military capabilities, a “more realistic view of Russia” and, above all, spending, it “would be like Greta Thunberg said, just blah blah bla bla.”

Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb believes that Brussels’ renewed enthusiasm for security is “timely, important and real. America will not support European security forever.”

He said that if Europe is serious about defending itself “it must be understood that the line between war and peace is blurring … soft power has been weaponized and turned into hard power. We see it with asylum seekers being used as weapons. . We see information, trade, energy and vaccines being used as weapons.”

President Macron is the loudest cheerleader for an integrated EU foreign policy

The EU has largely been applauded for the sincere scope of its ambitions and analysts hope it can strike a meaningful deal on one of the most complex issues in European diplomacy.

Velina Tchakarova, director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, admits that finding consensus will be a long process but positive movement could be seen.

“Once it is approved… there will be concrete directions that the EU and its member states must take when it comes to building partnerships and alliances, building capacity, creating resilience in the region. key areas and areas, and ultimately achieve rapid and effective crisis management based on a shared strategic assessment of common threats.”

That would be an extraordinary achievement. While not the EU Army that many longed for or feared – depending on your perspective – it was interesting to see member states on the same page on the same page on an issue that clearly needed be solved.

However, this is really the beginning of the process and there are many political issues to overcome – including next year’s elections in France that could see Macron, the cheerleader, step down.

And politics is often what spoils Brussels’ best-laid plans. Steven Blockmans, research director at the Center for European Policy Studies, says that “for rubber to hit the road, member states will have to put aside concerns about blood and domestic treasures and let the common security interests prevail. Any member state could therefore delay or veto implementation because of so-called ‘significant’ national security concerns.”

For all the current positive sounds, it is entirely possible that once all 27 leaders are locked in a room to discuss the proposal, naked national interests and previous animosities will be lost. that will take over and the plan is cooled down or shelved.

And while their top counterparts in Brussels remain optimistic that the plan is enough of a compromise to avoid such a hit, when so much money and political capital is at stake, diplomacy, compromise and union are at stake. Links can easily go out the window.

This is a first for the EU.


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