A European Army: Is it a viable project?

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani

Published: Updated:

French President Emmanuel Macron wrongly timed the announcement of the idea of forming a European army to protect Europe from Russia, China and the US and to reduce reliance on the US for maintaining European security. The timing was wrong because the French president had to meet leaders of the concerned states the very next day, at the commemoration ceremony marking the end of World War I. He had to diplomatically correct what he said a few days ago to the European radio station.

The idea is not new as even Macron himself had actually presented it two years ago. Before him, Charles de Gaulle had proposed it. It was also Napoleon’s project to fulfill his dream of dominating Europe. What are the Europeans’ real concerns that are pushing them to form a continental army? Have things changed from the time of De Gaulle to Macron?

The French president specified countries, which he says Europe is afraid of. These include China, Russia and the US. As for Russia, President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the idea of a European army. Perhaps, he hopes that the idea would result in the dismantling of NATO

Amal Abdulaziz Al-Hazani

Europe’s grudge

After World War II, General De Gaulle felt that the victory gave him the opportunity to have a place among the top four powers that control the world and that the defeat of Nazi Germany was thought of as a declaration of the emergence of the most powerful state in Europe, France. France intended to be at the core of the formation of this army, not as a defense for the continent as much as a mechanism symbolizing a unified military force that is compatible with the new EU power. Britain was and still is against the formation of this European military union at a time when NATO still exists and includes the US.

According to Macron, Europe has faced two instances that have adversely affected the continent. The first is Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, wherein Britain has not clarified the procedural mechanisms for its withdrawal plan yet, which would impact European markets. It looks like Britain is paying it back to France, which opposed the British joining the EU until 1973. The second setback was the re-imposition of US sanctions on certain countries for political reasons and which Europe will pay for indirectly.

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The US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement has embarrassed the European governments with their private sector that had signed many contracts with Iran when the nuclear agreement was signed. Washington now threatens any companies which may continue to work with the Iranians.

European governments seem incapable of compensating companies for their losses and of standing up against US President Donald Trump over his decision. This setback is on the economic side, but it also has political and military implications. The French army, which is considered the fifth strongest army in the world, is the strongest in Europe. Germany, despite its economic might and superiority in military industries, is still semi-occupied by about 40,000 US troops across several military bases, and is not ready for the withdrawal of the Americans who provide protection for it from the side 0f Eastern NATO countries.

Russia upbeat

The French president specified countries, which he says Europe is afraid of. These include China, Russia and the US. As for Russia, President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the idea of a European army. Perhaps, he hopes that the idea would result in the dismantling of NATO, which was established to defend European states from the erstwhile Soviet Union. From his point of view, a military alliance without the US is in his interest. It is noteworthy that the separatist revolution in Crimea, which was backed by Russia, led to tough US sanctions – that are tougher than the European ones – on Moscow.

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I believe that Macron raised the idea of establishing a European army to confront the danger of growing US dominance over Europe and the feeling among Europeans that the US is forcing them to take the direction it chooses according to its policies. Even Germany, despite the large presence of US military on its territory, is trying to involve small European states — such as the Czech Republic and Romania — for building a military bloc from which an inter European military alliance would be launched. Not all European countries accept the idea of a European army, as they see the NATO as a military entity that’s enough in warding off threats.

Europe must come clean

The problem of modern Europe is not related to Trump, China or Russia. Its main issue is that it has kept itself away from major issues of the world and at the same time it wants, due to its role in history, to gain the upper hand in decisions pertaining to certain issues, mainly those related to combating terrorism.

The world is open nowadays. It is no longer accepted or understood, how major countries in Europe would defend their relations with countries and groups that support terrorism, though its countries, especially France, are among the most affected.

All that Trump’s administration has done is that it has gotten more involved in various theatres; in relations with North Korea, competing in the Syrian arena and limiting Iranian activity that threatens world peace. Meanwhile, Europe abandoned Libya at a crucial time after the overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and its positions are also not clear with respect to the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Houthis and their supporter, Iran.

To conclude, Europe without a powerful NATO that is supported by it and by the US would be considered a weak spot by its real enemies. The idea of a European army on which there is no harmony over would be another failure that would add to its political failures in major issues.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Amal Abdulaziz Al–Hazani is a professor at King Saudi University and a writer for al-Sharq al-Awsat. She tweets @Alhazzani_Amal.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.