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Europe’s Military, Stronger Together?

Parliament welcomes Croatia to the EU with a special flag ceremony at the entrance of the EP in Strasbourg. Source: European Parliament, Flickr.With the crisis in Ukraine and the growing antagonism between Russia and the west, security and defence is an increasing concern for many in the European Union. The EU was created as a peace project after the two devastating World Wars. In this mission it has been remarkably successful, so successful that the 2012 Nobel Peace prize was awarded to the EU precisely for its success in creating peace within Europe. But as it did during the years of the Balkan war, the shadows of war seems to once again loom close to our borders; the situation in Ukraine has reminded Europe that peace must not be taken for granted. While national defense forces and NATO are still the cornerstones of Europe’s security, the EU is starting to play an increasingly important role when it comes to military matters. The EU has an extensive military cooperation, with its own standing armies. In the face of conflict, how will the EU as a joint security and peace project develop in the future? Your vote decides on the 25th May 2014. 

For a long time any extensive military cooperation within the EU was mostly a vision; ideas with little concrete substance. But today military collaboration and integration are in many ways a reality: the EU has created a common security and defense policy (CSDP) and has its own military forces such as the Battelgroups, Eurocorps and European maritime force. The EU is also increasingly acting together when it comes to missions abroad; a total of 30 different missions, mostly peacekeeping and training, have previously and are currently taking place around the world.

But what are the benefits of European military integration? There are of course several advantages of deepening security collaboration. In the world of military; bigger makes you stronger. European military cooperation means more soldiers, more technology, a stronger voice in international forum and, perhaps most importantly, more money. Money talks when it comes to military; huge sums are required if you want to be on top. Cooperation is the only way for Europe to rival the strength of the United States, but also Russia and China. All three are far bigger military spenders than the biggest countries in Europe. USA spent $640 billion in 2013 (3.8 % of GDP), China is estimated to have spent $188 billion (2 % of GDP) and Russia is estimated at $87.8 (4.1 % of GDP). France, with the highest expenditure in Europe, spends $61.2 billion or 2.2 % of GDP. But, by pooling the costs, Europe could be a military powerhouse.

The share of world military expenditure of the 15 states with the highest expenditure in 2013. Source: SIPRIBut then what is the downside to military integration? There are of course the practical issues such as who will pay? There are concerns that some countries will see cooperation as an opportunity to cut costs and leave the countries that are already big players, such as France and Britain, to foot the bill. Another concern is what would happen to national defense and security organisation. European cooperation might mean that national producers of e.g. tanks or airplanes will move or close down, endangering jobs, income and the ability of the country to defend itself, if the cooperation fails.

But besides these practical issues there is also, what we might call a normative dimension. While military cooperation might make us stronger; does such strength create peace? In the EUs infancy peace was to be created by trade and interdependence and Europe’s integration has indeed resulted in peace. The question then becomes: is military spending and joint military forces a good way to continue that legacy? Many would see a military EU as a deviation from the peace project that it originally set out to be, and would rather see the EU influence the world through the promotion of trade and human rights.

Regardless, the security situation might become an important topic in this election. There have been many warnings that there might be a higher number of of eurosceptic and nationalistic parties in the parliament after this election. Some of these politicians have their hearts set on undoing decades of European integration. But some hope that the crisis in Ukraine might remind voters of the merits of cooperation, military and non-military, in creating peace. Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg and currently a candidate to become the president of the European Commission, in an interview with Reuters said:

“For years, I’ve emphasized that Europe, the European Union, is primarily a peace project and I kept being told that was old talk … Now we’re discovering, in close proximity to the EU, that the issues of war and peace have not resolved themselves.”

Should Europe go the down the road of nationalism and stop all integration? Should we build peace with trade and interdependence? Or is military cooperation necessary to protect peace in the face of conflict? It is up to you to decide which road Europe goes down.

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