In the run up to the EU referendum on the 23rd June there has been much talk in the media of the formation of an EU Armed Forces; if it will be formed, when shall the inception take place and has this process already begun?
Many of these answers can be found in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union) and the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon (TEU) but the seeds for an EU Armed Forces were sown decades earlier. This vision could even be said to go as far back as Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet the fathers of the modern EU who laid down their vision in the Schuman Declaration in 1950.
In the modern EU, one of the most important moments was the meeting in Brussels in 2003 where France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg met and agreed on the formation of the “European Defence Initiative”, whereby the armed forces of each nation would in future work closer together in cooperation.
This meant reinforcing the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) which lead to the formation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Though both policies serve the same purpose, there are major and important differences in how they each go about achieving that goal.
Primarily it is the Treaty of Lisbon which has accelerated the immediate likelihood of seeing an EU Armed Forces come to fruition. The reasoning for this is at the Treaty of Lisbon under Article 42 it was agreed for the upcoming CSDP to pool the resources available to the European Defence Agency (EDA) and form a “Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence” within the EU. In effect this was the license granting the EU to form a combined EU Armed Forces enshrined as a directive in EU legislation. However, this is only possible because at the EU’s inception at the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (TEU) under Article J.4 it was agreed for the EU to form a common defence policy, with the aim to go on and form a common defence, i.e. the basis on which to form the inception for an EU Armed Forces. This proves unequivocally, since the very birth of the European Union in its current form in 1992, the desired goal has always been to see an EU Armed Forces and therefore their desired goal is also to see the EU transformed in to a single federal nation.
For this to come to fruition the Common Security and Defence Policy was required to supersede the European Security and Defence Policy. It is vital to understand the differences between the two. The main points of the ESDP are:
- The ESDP though being of Europe was not operating under direct legislation from the EU.
- The ESDP was enacted under the organisation of the Western European Union (WEU). Though the WEU’s Council and Assembly operated from a headquarters in Brussels, the organisation was in fact a part of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the Allied Command Operations headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
- The remit of the ESDP was enacted under NATO protocols.
- In 1995 a European multinational rapid reaction force, the European Rapid Operational Force (Eurofor) was set up by the WEU. The deployment of Eurofor was a joint NATO and EU action.
By comparison the nature of the Common Security and Defence Policy brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon differs greatly to the previous European Security and Defence Policy. Those differences are:
- The CSDP falls entirely under the jurisdiction of the European Union. NATO has no say and plays no part in the policy.
- The WEU embedded in NATO was abolished to be replaced by the European Defence Agency (EDA) as early as 2004. The EDA is answerable solely to the EU Council and has no links with NATO. The EDA is responsible for a remit that covers everything from defence think-tanks to research and development, from operational planning to tactical deployment.
- Eurofor the joint NATO and EU European multinational rapid reaction force was replaced by the EU Battlegroup (EU BG). Again, this EU Battlegroup is solely answerable to the Council of the European Union.
The EU Battlegroup is also complemented with the European Corps (Eurocorps), the European Gendarmerie Force (EUROGENDFOR or EGF), the European Maritime Force (Euromarfor or EMF) and the European Union Force (EUFOR). All are joint EU operations.
The process of implementing an EU Armed Forces has steadily increased apace twofold. Firstly, the EU member nations have the perfectly feasible excuse of citing joint collaboration being due to EU wide cuts in the defence budget. Therefore, they claim the only way these countries can maintain the same levels of defence is to work in partnership with other nations, each bringing together their own specialities, thus ensuring there is no wastage of funds due to duplication. At face value this seems perfectly feasible and sensible.
However, the EDA has completely removed all EU military operations from NATO. This was carried out under the pretext that the EU wished to ease the cost of the defence burdens placed upon the USA and Canada. Yet there is a hollow ring to this statement. The USA is constantly taking the European members of NATO to task for not spending enough on the NATO defence budget, indeed they are consistently berated for not achieving the correct levels of expenditure.
This tears apart the reasoning for joint collaboration being due to defence budget cuts, as now thanks to the EDA, many EU nations are now doubling up and deploying two armed forces, one to meet the needs of the Council of the European Union and one to fulfil the duties required by NATO, more so now with less joint deployments from the USA and Canada. It may even be possible to claim that the actions of the EDA are in fact weakening NATO Forces and placing NATO members in increased and unnecessary danger. This does not even take into account the extra duties required to be undertaken when carrying out UN Peacekeeping Operations.
Secondly, the implementation of an EU Armed Forces has steadily increased apace due to the recent migrant crisis within Europe. At present, the European Council and the European Commissioner have agreed to accelerate plans for an EU combined Coastguard and SAR service. The EU is citing the migrant crisis as another valid reason to speed up the formation of joint European Armed Forces.
Whatever pretexts the EU wishes to choose, the inescapable fact is that EU nations are experiencing an acceleration in the policy of amalgamating and merging military forces. As touched upon in an earlier article Britannia and Her Hearts of Oak, where I wrote:
“Since 2013 Germany has begun the integration and amalgamation of its Deutsche Marine with the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine, including their respective Marine forces, the German Seebataillon and the Dutch Korps Mariniers, along with all submarine operations…..”
Further to add to this, an 800 strong German army battalion will be integrated into the Dutch Navy. This battalion will be subordinate to the Dutch Navy until 2018. This is very interesting. One can only assume that the circumstances shall have changed after 2018. Will that battalion be reassigned elsewhere, or will they take precedence over the Dutch Navy afterwards? Or by 2018 will the presence of this Bundeswehr battalion in the Dutch Navy be a moot point due to the fact that an EU Armed Forces will already be in the processes of being formed?
For now this collaboration between Germany and the Netherlands has seen over 2,000 Dutch soldiers from the 11th Airmobile Brigade (11 Luchtmobiele Brigade) integrated into the Rapid Forces Division (Division Schnelle Kräfte) of the German Bundeswehr. In future the 43rd Mechanized Brigade (Gemechaniseerde Brigade) of the Royal Netherlands Army will be integrated into the 1st Panzer Division (Bundeswehr Panzerdivision), but the Bundeswehr 414 Panzerbattalion has at this time already been merged with the Gemechaniseerde Brigade. These troops are assigned to the EU Battlegroup.
Add to this the desire from the Deutsche Marine to create and take command of an EU combined Auxiliary Naval Fleet which would include the British Royal Navy. Also, the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe of the Bundeswehr showing a keen interest in merging with the French Air Force, the Armée de l’air.
Where does this leave the British Armed Forces? It could be claimed that the British Armed Forces have been overstretched to beyond their full capacity. Currently, the British Armed Forces are deployed in order to defend the UK, the Commonwealth of Nations, the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies which have been discussed at length in my article Great Britain, the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Union. The British Armed Forces are also deployed in service as members of NATO, are a part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) along with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, also the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) along with Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, and also with France a member of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF). Not forgetting of course the British Armed Forces commitments to UN Peacekeeping Operations.
While the forces of other nations within the EU may be in the process of becoming more specialised so that duplication can be avoided when merging forces, the British Armed Forces occupy a very different position. Once the Royal Naval is in possession of the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and she is deployed with fixed-wing Joint Strike Fighter Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft, which is expected to be by 2020, the British Armed Forces will be in the position of being able to deploy every conceivable specialisation for any and all contingencies that may arise. The British Armed Forces, no matter how overstretched will be in that enviable position of being able to deploy a complete sovereign combat force at will. Very few armed forces in the world, never mind the EU can claim such a feat. The size and range of the British Armed Forces even in this reduced state must be a troublesome concern for those in the EU who wish to speed up the process of forming an EU Armed Forces.
So what future awaits the British Armed Forces? This rests entirely on whether the UK votes to remain or leave the EU. If the UK chooses to remain in the EU it is difficult to see beyond Article 42 and the “Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence”. No matter the protestations or denials from concerned parties, this can only mean unequivocally one day in the future the British Armed Forces will form a part of the EU Armed Forces. Like a society member invited to the ball, if you spend the entire evening at the ball, no matter how many times you refuse an excuse-me, eventually you’ll end up on the ballroom floor irrespective of your protestations. The same goes for the EU. So long as the UK remains a member of the EU, no matter how many times the British Armed Forces protest and refuse the offer to amalgamate and merge with foreign forces, one day in the future that opportunity to decline will be refused and by then it will be too late. The British Armed Forces will be on that path to becoming a part of an EU Armed Forces.
The problem today is that far too many people focus on the “here and now”, and so long as there are no immediate issues they are able to ignore any matters of concern. What must be remembered is that the “here and now” is completely and utterly irrelevant as far as the EU and defensive strategic planning are concerned. The founders of the EU had the foresight to see 50 to 60 years in to the future, to the present day of “now”. For those concerned with the EU, they must do so likewise and predict all of the eventual outcomes 60 years hence. How will the future EU Armed Forces look? What shall be the objectives of this EU Armed Forces? These are the questions that need to be asked.
There are many differing permutations to predict but it is difficult to envisage anything other than a dystopian future. It may be a case of fearing something that may never come to pass. It is quite possible in the future the German economy may overheat and the Eurozone collapses, leading to the end of the EU dream. But it is equally plausible that given time the EU or, certain nations of the EU will eventually go on to form a single federal nation.
Back to the present and near future. What are the possibilities of an EU Armed Forces being realised long before a single federal nation becomes an actuality? As German and Dutch Armed Forces are already merging, the chances of witnessing an EU Armed Forces sooner rather than later is all the more likely and inevitable.
Returning to the future possibilities of an EU Armed Forces, how will this affect the British Armed Forces?
- Firstly, if the British Armed Forces are merged in to an EU Armed Forces this shall mean a loss of sovereignty of the British Armed Forces, which shall mean a loss of sole control of the UK’s defences and military deployment.
- With the British Armed Forces merged in to a European-centric EU Armed Forces and with the loss of sovereign control over the British Armed Forces, the UK government shall be incapable of deploying a military force at will. This will inevitably leave the Commonwealth of Nations and British Overseas Territories exposed and in several cases undefended. To many this inability to continue the protection of those peoples shall be an unforgivable act of betrayal.
- To save on defence expenditure the armed forces of member nations within the EU are specialising so, when these nations’ forces merge, duplicate resources are surplus to requirement. With that being the case, as the British Armed Forces are capable of deploying every kind of combat force whether by air, land or sea, it would seem inevitable when the British Armed Forces were merged in to an EU Armed Forces, so as to cut out duplication many of the British Armed Forces units and therefore their personnel would no longer be required.
- Once the EU Armed Forces become a reality what shall become of what remains of the member nations own armed forces? It is difficult to envisage anything other than the EU viewing them as a perceived threat and rival to their own EU Armed Forces. If tolerated at all, at best these armed forces will be reduced in size and stature to little more than bit part players, akin to the USA’s National Guard at best.
- Taking the last two points into account, with sections of the British Armed Forces merged in the new EU Armed Forces and any remaining residue either heavily constrained or stood down, there is the very real threat in future of massive job losses. The British Army was initially shaken to the core in the mid 2000’s when venerable regiments were reduced in size and amalgamated in to new smaller regiments. This will seem like window dressing compared to the potential future cuts. Right across the board covering the British Army, the RAF and Royal Navy, in future years the cuts to their budget may seem utterly incomprehensible when viewed in today’s world.
The future social integration and organisational structure of an EU Armed Forces must also be considered when in comparison to the British Armed Forces. For the majority of the population in Britain Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are beloved, respected and trusted; knowing that their service personnel bear allegiance to the Crown and have sworn an oath to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and by doing so are ensuring the protection of the people of Britain. For the main, British people feel safer when in the company or vicinity of members of HM Armed Forces. It is an inherent trait bred in to the psyche of the British population. As long as there is continuity with loyalty to the Crown, even non British forces earn the loyalty and trust of the British public, be they Australian, Canadian or New Zealand or based in the UK, the Brigade of Gurkhas. All are cherished and revered because they come with history and their track record of bravery and loyalty is legend.
For the British people we also know that by acting on behalf of the Crown, HM Armed Forces are representing a known quantity. Incumbent governments, their Prime Ministers and the sitting Cabinets along with Parliament as a whole may order deployments of the British Armed Forces in to combat, but these are all Ministers who have been directly elected by the British public. If mistakes are made they can become public knowledge and the British electorate hold the power to vote that incumbent government out of office. By comparison, the EU Armed Forces shall be deployed by the European Defence Agency (EDA) which is answerable to the European Council and therefore the unelected European Commission. This is all well and good for so long as the European Union remains in its current form. However, with dynamic entities such as the EU their processes are not set in stone, they are fluidic, always vulnerable to change and once a single federal nation comes to pass they may be subject to pressures from political forces who wish to exploit these weaknesses.
In the far and distant future who knows how much power shall be gained or rescinded by the European Council, Parliament or Commission? In a European single federal nation how much sovereign power will be yielded by its incumbent President? In the future, no matter how small, is there a plausible possibility in this European single federal nation of a tyrannical despot being swept to power as the President of a continent sized nation? If so, and they are able to deploy the armed forces of the federal nation at the will of their whims then British personnel serving in those armed forces shall be held prisoner to give sway to those whims and allow themselves to be deployed in to combat wherever their President deems necessary. Granted this is a vision of a dystopian future at the extreme end of the scale but there is no reason to dismiss this outcome out of hand, as one day in the distant future it may potentially become an actuality.
Lastly, what of the dynamics of the structure of an EU Armed Forces? Which nation or nations shall take precedence over the other nations, if any? Will the merging of forces be biased towards enabling a structural system to be built around a single federal nation? If this is the case, in future how shall battalions be deployed and how shall their ranks be filled? Will there come a day when Dutch-German battalions are based on British soil in the same manner as British and US military bases operating from West Germany? If in this future there is mass civil unrest could we potentially witness non British personnel being deployed on to British streets in British cities to quell the people?
Or rather, if the EU Armed Forces are to be biased towards enabling a structural system to be built around a federal nation, does this mean in future so as to dilute the ideals of national identity at a state level will the EU Armed Forces operate on a level akin to the French Foreign Legion? In future when young hopefuls present themselves to their local army recruitment officer, will there be every possibility that new recruits shall be expected to complete their basic training in another member state to make them feel more European?
If in future personnel of the British Armed Forces are required to pledge an oath of allegiance to the President of a federal nation rather than to the Crown would this guarantee a drop in new recruits? If so and if this were to be mirrored by other nations would a federal Europe out of necessity be forced to bring about federal wide conscription? Of course there are far more questions to be asked than there are answers on the formation of an EU Armed Forces.
If the electorate of Great Britain decide to vote to remain in the EU on the 23rd June, there is every chance in the coming years thanks to Article 42 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon (TEU) and the “Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence”, that HM Armed Forces shall be merged and lost to the EU Armed Forces.
However, as one EU Article seeks to remove the sovereignty of the British Armed Forces and the sovereignty of Great Britain, there is another EU Article which can restore that lost sovereignty. Under Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon (TEU): “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
It is as if Brussels and the other members of the EU have always realised that Article 42 would be far too bitter a pill for the British Armed Forces and her nation to swallow. Being amalgamated and merged in to an EU Armed Forces or a European single federal nation would prove to be more than a step too far. For this very scenario, solely for the British, the EU appears to have created Article 50 so that Great Britain can escape the clutches of Article 42. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; embrace this offer from the EU graciously and on the 23rd June vote to leave the EU and vote for Brexit!