The Offensive-Defensive

My last post talked rather a lot about nationality and how we are always trying to define ourselves by the other. This phenomenon seems to be increasing with nationalistic rhetoric growing in many countries, in spite of globalisation. The trouble is, once you have that identity, you can immediately begin identifying threats to it. Perhaps more worryingly therefore, is how rhetoric has been mounting everywhere for ‘security’ and ‘protection’ from these menaces.

Since its creation, the EU has continuously been defining itself. That process is not complete. However,  some elements of its character do seem to be widely agreed upon, including a commitment to democracy, rule of law and (slightly fuzzy, but) fundamental rights. As this identity has crystallised, we now, naturally perhaps, perceive threats to it.

Why are we so obsessed by threat?

Security was the subject of a recent student-led conference in Warsaw. The conversation was surprisingly balanced and I was amazed by how much my colleagues knew and how clearly they articulated their ideas in such a  grand setting as the Łazienki Palace. But what also struck me was how the conversation focused almost exclusively on identifying the threats to Europe and, to a lesser extent, how Europe should respond (with greater coordination of military forces).

Whilst some of these threats undoubtedly are real, by building up our own defence, we will only heighten the threat we pose to others, who in turn will see their identity threatened and respond accordingly. It is not uncommonly argued that the EU’s huge successes at the recent Paris Climate Summit, and as an economic and normalising power, largely stem from it not being a military bloc. It embodies its own principles. Whilst of course this could be seen to create weaknesses, in no cases are other major actors on the world stage truly overawed by the prowess of other powers. In any case, Europe could not rival the other big powers but can definitely act as a powerful mediator. By contrast it is a huge economic power. And money and wealth themselves can do more than just talk.

My point is that if Europe goes down the road of seeing itself as threatened, it will go on the offensive. Indeed, there are already huge calls for a ‘European Army’ to compensate for the threat of the withdrawal of support by the USA from NATO, and to capitalise on the potential loss of resistance following a Brexit.

Going on the offensive will only aggravate the problem.

An offensive Europe will be perceived differently – and not in a good way. The EU will no longer carry the same ‘righteous weight’ as it did before and will be seen as ever more hypocritical.  But beyond this, 2 stronger reasons lie behind my fears about the impact of an EU-led European Army.

First, I fear that any EU army would simply not be strong enough to have a real impact on conflicts (as member states wouldn’t even commit 5% of their armies: they contribute about 3% of their GDP to the EU budget and complain at this as too much) and they could never decide quickly on courses of action.

Secondly, a European Army would cost too much. The Horizon 2020 Programme commits the EU to provide 80 billion euros over 7 years to excellent science, research and innovation. Research and Development funding is estimated to have a return of at least 30-40%: that is, more money comes out than goes in. By contrast, military spending adds nothing to prosperity. Moreover, it drains it.

The problem is, if we spend more money on defence, we spend less on promoting prosperity and store up more discontent. Politicians inevitably look for scapegoats to explain the dire economic situation (as is happening now) and we ramp up further our protectionist and defensive policies.

The logic that prosperity increases stability is not new: just look at the Marshall Plan which gave 5% of US GDP just to stabilise Europe.

I may be considered too soft. I pre-empt that some will say I’m too far away from the hostpots where decisive EU military action would be welcomed to have a realistic view on the usefulness of a European Army. However, I simply do not believe such an army could ever be large enough, or well-governed enough to be effective. A military alliance in its place would duplicate NATO (with or without the Americans involved), impeding any reform or possibility of greater European leadership there, and would irreversibly change the perception of the EU by others. The EU was never conceived as a military bloc. Unless there is a drastic change in its circumstances, it probably shouldn’t be.


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