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Debate: European Defence Force

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Should the European Union have its own standing army?

Background and context

In recent years, there has been much discussion regarding the concept of a European Defence Force (sometimes referred to as the “Euro Corps” or EDF). Such a standing armed force would be drawn from EU member-nations and operate under EU control, in contrast to the existing NATO grouping which has the United States as a prominent and influential member. As is often the case with matters of national and regional defence, there is much controversy as to whether the European Defence Force is a good idea. Debates on the Euro Corps can often revolve around the proposed role of NATO in the post-Cold War era, and it is important to realise that the significance of the EDF may resonate beyond the borders of the European Union.

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Independence from NATO: Is it important that Europe have a defense force that can act independent from NATO?

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Yes

  • It is important for the EU to have a defence policy independent of NATO. With its origins in the Cold War, and its preponderance of American influence, NATO carries a great deal of historical and geopolitical baggage. This means that NATO cannot easily intervene in Eastern Europe without incurring the displeasure of Russia. The European Defence Force will allow us to deal with crises in Eastern and Central Europe more effectively, as we will not have to tiptoe around Russia as much.
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No

  • NATO has successfully defended the interests of Western Europe for several decades now – why rock the boat? It is hard to see a problem which NATO cannot solve, which the European Defence Force could instead. In any case, we will always have to consider Russia’s sensibilities when engaging in peacekeeping operations in Eastern Europe, and it is far better to have America’s bargaining power and geopolitical clout backing us when we negotiate with Russia. If we create a European Defence Force, we will marginalise NATO and the United States. This will lead to a reduced US engagement in Europe, which may in turn diminish our influence when having discussions with Russia over security issues in Europe and beyond.
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Logical next step: Is the development of an European Defense Force the logical next step for a federalizing EU?

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Yes

  • The trend is toward greater European unification on all fronts. The European Union has significant integration and convergence of the political and economic spheres. Integration of defence policy and the establishment of a European Defence Force should be the logical next step.
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No

  • The EU is not on a clear path of convergence on all matters, and particularly not on defense. We have seen variations in opinion regarding political and economic issues (e.g. monetary union) in the EU. In the far more thorny area of defense policy, the EU member-nations’ interests are even more divergent. For example, the French position on Algeria may be different from the United Kingdom’s. This difference in priorities will ultimately lead to deadlock, as no country wishes to see its soldiers dying on a battlefield that provides no direct strategic interest to itself.
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Feasibility: Is an EU defense force a feasible notion?

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Yes

  • NATO has shown us that a standing multinational defense force is possible. The proposed European Defence Force could follow its example and complement it.
  • It is financially feasible. With the growing industrial and economic maturity of the European Union and its members, it is now financially feasible for the EU to have its own standing defence force. The proposed EDF would also create a great many jobs as European defence contractors could be recruited into supplying equipment and weaponry.
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No

  • A European Defense Force would only approach minor conflicts that are less likely to receive the necessary consensus received by NATO. NATO and the proposed European Defence Force are designed to address very different concerns. NATO exists to deal with situations of such magnitude that the nations of Western Europe are likely to adopt a common defence policy. In contrast, the EDF is targeted at smaller geopolitical incidents which would otherwise be ‘beneath’ the notice of NATO. Unfortunately smaller incidents by their nature do not have uniform effects on all EU member-nations, and are therefore unlikely to generate a consensus of policy among EU nations.
  • Political barriers exist. Even if we assume that the massive costs of a standing military force can be borne by the EU and its members, the key barriers to establishing a standing defence force are often political. Creating a European Defence Force de novo would require us to decide on several thorny questions, namely the command structure, whether the role should be merely defensive or include peacekeeping, the choice of equipment and supplier, creating a common defence policy, and choosing a language of communication. All of these questions involve political considerations or economic vested interests, all of which are likely to result in ongoing wrangling that will yield a stillborn EDF.

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