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A European Army – Has the Time Come?

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A European Army

Has the Time Come?

For decades, there has been talk of a unified European army. We may be close to the time when it finally occurs.

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“No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” This paraphrased quote from Victor Hugo speaks to the power of innovation and contemporary thought. But for European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the army itself is the idea that is becoming increasingly difficult to withstand.

During a March 2015 interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Mr. Juncker, a longtime advocate of a unified European army, articulated his vision.

“A common European army would show the world that there will never again be war between the countries of the EU. Such an army would help us to shape a common foreign and security policy, and take up Europe’s leadership in the world. With its own army, Europe would be able to react credibly to any threat to peace in a country abutting on a member state of the European Union.”

The statement brimmed with implications—including a reference to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in neighboring Ukraine.

John Thys/ AFP/Getty Images
European unity: EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gives a joint press conference with EU Council President Donald Tusk (March 20, 2015).

When asked if an integrated fighting force would impact the dispute, the former Prime Minister of Luxemburg continued with a measured yet pointed response—even mentioning Russia by name.

“Military answers are always the wrong answers,” he said. “They are an admission that diplomacy and politics have failed. A European army would not exist for the purpose of being deployed immediately. But a common army of Europeans would convey a clear impression to Russia that we are serious about defending European values.”

Reactions to Mr. Juncker’s comments were varied. To some, they amounted to political posturing prior to critical defense policy discussions at a June EU summit. Both Mr. Juncker and Donald Tusk, his counterpart over the European Council, are looking to make their own marks on EU foreign policy.

Russian officials were likewise dubious of the remarks. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov told Russia’s ITAR-TASS News Agency: “It would be great to understand what they [EU officials] are talking about because European politicians have touched upon the subject at different levels over the last 30 years…It is hard for us to guess what Jean-Claude Juncker meant this time.”

To Russians and other skeptics, these statements are just more bloviating about forming a wholly European army that never seems to materialize.

Yet proponents of a combined military believe “this time” circumstances are different. They see that the European Union has emerged over the last 10 or so years with growing economic power and immense political influence. For them, the next natural step in the coalition’s development is the formation of a single fighting force—not an assortment of national armies operating under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known commonly as NATO.

Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images
Training: Armored vehicles take part in a NATO exercise at a military shooting range in Romania (April 21, 2015).

Cries for military unification have also been boosted because Europe is not only facing a resurgent Russia, but they now must cope with a destabilized Middle East, hostilities from extremists inside and outside their borders, a frail global economy, and an increasingly reticent U.S.

Europeans more and more are starting to believe that their future—some go as far as saying their existence—lies within them taking defense matters into their own hands.

Mr. Juncker’s selection as EU Commission President, the position in charge of the EU’s government, sends a strong message that Europeans may be ready to see his vision of a joint army materialize.

“Ring of Fire”

A unified army is what EU founders had in mind in the early 1950s with the plan for a so-called European Defence Community. They wanted a pan-European military force following World War II to unify Europe and protect the region from a powerful Soviet Union.

The idea, however, never fully took hold due to national sovereignty concerns and the fading Soviet threat. While the concept of a single army never fully dissipated, it was significantly reduced in priority.

Today, conflict and destabilization in the area are causing troubles to spill over into EU territory. Unity and security are once again being pushed to the fore. The region’s hand is being forced due to a convergence of inside as well as outside threats.

“Extremism in the neighborhood and radicalization at home are blurring the difference between what is internal or external to the EU,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “Rather than being surrounded by a ring of friends, the EU is surrounded by a ring of fire stretching from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, through the Middle East, the Caucasus and up to the new frontlines in Eastern Europe. No other global player is facing so much mayhem in its strategic neighborhood.”

Unlike people living in an actual neighborhood, moving is not an option for Europe. It cannot simply pick up and leave. The collection of nations is forced to coexist among hostile neighbors not of their choosing.

Consider Russia, with whom European nations share a continent. While three-quarters of Russia’s landmass lies on the Asian side of the Ural Mountains, nearly 78 percent of its population is on the European side. Its two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, are in Europe and alone account for 12 percent of the nation’s population and 25 percent of the country’s GDP (The Globalist).

Russia is also the EU’s third largest trading partner and a large supplier of oil and gas to the energy-deficient region. Whenever Russia asserts itself, Europe is forced to react.

Moscow says making them the catalyst for an EU army is “extremely suspect” and they are adamant that “all threats to European security, without exception, are external in nature rather than internal.” Yet EU officials cannot help but view Russian encroachment, even against non-EU member-states such as Ukraine, as an affront to the region’s overall security.

Russia’s comments about “external” threats to Europe’s security are not completely without merit. Dangers from neighbors to the south and further east are equally if not more troubling. Many of them do not even pretend they are a non-threat to European safety.

Acts of violence such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France by Islamic extremists or the beheading of Christians by ISIS, staged specifically on the coast of northern Africa so their blood would flow into the Mediterranean Sea toward Europe, were direct provocations against EU nations. Conflicts in nations such as Syria and Libya are also causing trouble to drift into European territory.

While Europe is being forced to deal with these issues, The Wall Street Journal article showed that security and defense are the “weakest links” in the entire European Union venture. This is despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty, the document which binds the union, actually allows for greater unified security and defense activities. On top of this, the majority of the European public, 70 percent, are consistently in favor of a “broad European defense project,” the article maintains.

So why has the EU been unable to consistently come together when it comes to defending itself? It has generally been because of disagreements among its nations on matters such as which outside nations should be considered an enemy to the power bloc, how would a common defense project be structured, and which EU nation should take the lead.

The enclosing ring of fire, however, is causing Europe to more seriously entertain the idea of a single army.

Current European Defense

For decades, the status quo defense strategy for Europe was seen as adequate by the majority. But, with dissatisfaction increasing, the idea of an EU army has become more favorable.

Presently, EU member-nations rely heavily on NATO for protection. The 28-country alliance, formed in 1949, was developed to safeguard the freedom and security of its members by either political or military means. NATO, a combination of nations from Europe and North America, represents the world’s premier military coalition.

An opinion piece in The Irish Times bolstered sentiments that a move away from NATO and toward a unified EU army is unnecessary: “…with 22 of the EU’s 28 member states already belonging to [NATO], and happy to rely on it to provide a collective defence shield, and with firm neutrals such as Ireland, Austria and Sweden unwilling to contemplate commitment to mutual defence obligations, Mr. Juncker will have difficulty demonstrating what added value a European army could bring and finding a consensus for his project. He would have some support in Germany, France and Italy, precious little elsewhere and strong hostility from states that would see such a project undermining [NATO].”

NATO’s most dominant member is the United States, whose vast political influence and powerful military do a great deal to support the coalition. According to NATO’s 2013 annual report, America was responsible for 73 percent of its defense expenditures.

But the fact that Europe’s primary defender is an alliance led by a non-European nation is what troubles proponents of an all-EU army. Mr. Juncker reiterated that NATO’s membership is an inherent part of the problem, noting that the organization “cannot fully cover the tasks of protecting European values” because “not all the region’s countries belong to it.”

Currently, the use of what are known as battlegroups is the closest thing Europe has to a standing army. These small military units, consisting of about 1,500 soldiers, are usually from multiple EU nations. They are under the direct control of the Council of the European Union and are responsible for ad-hoc EU military missions. These units generally fill defense gaps within the region left by NATO, which by its very nature focuses beyond the shores of Europe.

While these battlegroups are generally inadequate for larger missions, they remain a product of EU cooperation and prove that the success of European coordinated military efforts is not just a theory.

Another current form of European defense collaboration is the European Defense Agency (EDA). Instead of pooling troops, however, the EDA pools other assets.

Founded in 2004 and based in Brussels, Belgium, the EDA seeks to provide the EU’s national armed forces and its battlegroups with the best capabilities in the most cost effective manner. Its 27 members merge their resources including money, research and training. This allows them to avoid unnecessary duplication and therefore realize cost-savings.

By combining finances, members can leverage funds far beyond what would be possible with their individual national budgets. This is critical as an increasingly cash-strapped America is pushing its European allies to step up in spending and influence. The EDA is a lean organization with very little red tape. It has the ability to make high-level decisions on defense with agreement from as few as two participating EU members.

A strong case can be made that between the assortment of soldiers provided by multiple nations under the EU battlegroups program and the provision of military equipment and funding by the combined efforts of EDA members, that a unified EU army is technically already in place. What remains for full implementation is to combine the capabilities of each program into a single entity.

Reaction to Announcement

While the EU has been flirting with the idea of a unified army for some time, has the time come for an official European Army?

Mr. Juncker certainly seems to think so. Yet the rest of Europe must sign on. The response to Mr. Juncker’s comments from various nations show many are interested in the idea. The major exception is the United Kingdom.

  • United Kingdom: “Jean-Claude Juncker’s suggestion that the EU should create an army ‘to defend the continent from Russian aggression’ ignores the existence of [NATO], which was formed for that very purpose.

“The fact that such a force, powerful enough to defeat Russia’s army, would take time to recruit, train and equip; that it would be superfluous to [NATO]; and that it would cost untold billions of euros, makes it not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense, since it only serves to increase existing tensions” (The Sunday Telegraph).

“Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister of UK has branded Jean-Claude Juncker a ‘dangerous fantasist’ over his suggestion that an EU army should be created. The Liberal Democrat leader insisted on his LBC radio show that the force was ‘not going to happen’—but called for more military cooperation between France and Britain” (The Independent).

“Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, says that the EU needs its own army. It doesn’t. He says it would not compete with Nato. It would. He adds that it would show Vladimir Putin that the EU means business. It wouldn’t. So, instead of daydreaming about such folies de grandeur, Mr. Juncker could better spend his time getting to grips with the regulatory burdens that continue to stifle business across the growth-starved EU and which the Commission he appointed promised to bring under control” (The Daily Telegraph).

  • France: “Among America’s European allies, only the British can match France’s ability to project significant military force overseas. However, not even they have much experience operating in the string of former French colonies across North and West Africa—where the recent rise of Islamist groups is posing the international community’s latest security threat.

“French troops have deployed in more than a dozen African missions during the past two decades. French and British planes took the lead in NATO’s air campaign over Libya in 2011, when French forces also successfully intervened to halt a civil war in Ivory Coast. Three years earlier, they spearheaded a European operation to prevent Sudan’s conflict from spilling over into Chad.

Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images
European militaries: French tanks are unloaded from a train in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland (April 28, 2015).

“Despite their confidence, however, the French are aware that a prolonged conflict against well-armed and well-motivated Islamic opponents could stretch their forces and their finances. Like other European countries, France has been cutting defense budgets as it grapples with staving off economic crisis. ‘We’ve got a pocket-sized army of great quality, but ultimately vulnerable,’ said a senate report published last year…Although the French government has been quick to thank allies for such support, there’s resentment that other European countries haven’t been more forthcoming with help.

“‘Europe cannot always give responsibility to one member state,’ Arnaud Danjean, a French politician who chairs the European Parliament’s subcommittee on security and defense, said…Even though European countries agree the threat from Islamists in Africa’s Sahal region concerns them all, he complained, none have offered combat troops, leaving France to singlehandedly serve as Europe’s army.

“French officials have long complained that efforts to give the European Union a defense role have floundered because members have lacked either the resources or the political will to send troops into the world’s hotspots.

“‘France has intervened because the problem in the Sahel threatens to blow up into a serious threat to Europe. It has gone in alone because the other Europeans have shirked their responsibility,’ the Germany daily Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote last week. ‘That says a lot about the state of the common European security and defense policy. And none of it is good’” (GlobalPost).

  • Latvia: Baltic News Service summarized Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma’s comments on European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s idea by stating that “this is an idea how to protect Europe and European values, but that it is still subject to discussion and that member states’ response to the proposal has been mixed.”

He stated: “It is necessary to assess whether this [project] might be doubling NATO. There are countries that are not NATO members, but this is certainly not a matter of the next year or the year after the next. This is an issue of a more distant perspective. As far as I know, member states have mixed attitudes. For us in Latvia, it is important to be a NATO member and to provide 2 percent of GDP for NATO’s needs.”

  • Germany: Politicians who shape Germany’s defense policy are supportive of a combined force. The nation’s defense minister noted: “Our future as Europeans will at some point be with a European army.” He added its formation would “strengthen European security.” The German head of the parliament’s foreign policy committee said an EU army “is a European vision whose time has come” (Baltic News Service).
Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images
Working together: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande inspect a military honor guard in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany (March 31, 2015).

“Germany’s Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen called for the creation of a European army that is capable of swift reaction anywhere in the world.”

“As reported by the UK’s Daily Express newspaper, the German minister discussed the matter with her Dutch counterpart, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who also backs the idea.

“The German minister said crises like the outbreak of Ebola in Africa and the advances made by Islamic State in Syria and Iraq require a joint military response by the EU” (New Europe).

  • Italy: A BBC commentary described the wholesale changes necessary for a European alliance to be effective: “EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal for a European army has hardly been debated at all in Italy when in fact the issue deserves far greater attention.”

“The 28-strong EU is incapable of having a strategic vision of its objectives, not only on account of the constitutional differences such as neutrality and of the differences in defence policy…but because a shared concept of the EU’s common political identity, above and beyond the modicum of technocratic integration that has been so laboriously implemented to date, is missing at the very root of the whole thing.

“If the European blueprint is to survive, it is going to have to reinvent itself in political terms, and that is not going to happen at the current 28-strong level. We shall have to achieve a breakdown of the present Union capable…of identifying different paths of integration and different levels of sovereignty. The euro is a trailblazer in that sense: Without a quantum leap forward towards true monetary union, the common currency’s fate will be sealed for a long time to come.

“And what applies to the common currency applies even more strongly to defence. Talking about a common army will become realistic once the group of those prepared to pool their sovereignty in order to achieve greater overall power and efficiency has been defined.”

  • Estonia: Estonian Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus says that the “European Union should be more ambitious in its neighborhood,” which would send “an important message from the EU” (Baltic News Service).

When it comes to establishing a greater regional presence, the article continued: “When speaking about the relationship between Africa and the EU, the minister said that the EU contributes to improving the African security situation through different military and civilian missions, and by financing the military missions of the African Union through a fund.”

He stated, “At present Estonia is taking part in the EU and UN missions in Mali…This year Estonia is to increase its contribution in the composition of the EU military training mission EUTM Mali as well as the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA.”

  • Finland: Finnish officials support an EU army: “Finnish President Sauli Niinisto…backed the concept of developing a European Union army.”

“Niinisto told Finland’s STT news agency it would be good for Finland to support the idea put forward by the European Commission president and described the proposal as very interesting.

“The European Union is founded upon peace, which is a key value, and it is strange that there is no support behind this to provide assurance, said Niinisto.

“Niinisto said that as head of state he has been consistent in advocating this kind of idea. The president also said he hadn’t heard about the proposal before it became public.

“‘It would be good for Finland to support this. It would be a serious and genuine expression of the EU defending its values,’ said Niinisto” (Baltic News Service).

While there are lingering disagreements on exactly what are the next steps for Europe’s defense, signs are pointing to eventual EU military collaboration. This final piece is considered the missing link to true European dominance on the world stage. Once it comes to pass, the world will not be the same.

This reality describes world conditions just over the horizon. Yet it should come as no surprise because this subject was addressed long ago.

Sign of the Times

Over two thousand years ago, a group of men presented a seemingly simple question. Their inquiry opened a window into the future—a look into our present time.

When asked by His disciples what they should look for to know whether His Return was approaching, Jesus Christ, after warning of possible deception concerning the matter, painted a crystal-clear picture of the type of world that would come at the end of the present age. Among the litany of descriptions, He detailed a world filled with conflict, a world where “wars and rumors of wars” would be prevalent, and one in which “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Mark 13:4, 7-8; Luke 21:7, 9-10).

The entire world is undeniably in a time of war and peoples and nations are coming against each other. This environment is forcing Europe to unite against very real threats to its existence. Currently, the EU is relevant, but for it to truly become a force to be reckoned with, it must not only dominate economically and politically, but it also must address the world as a unified military power.

Despite doubts that remain about whether EU nations will be able to ultimately put aside their individual differences and come together militarily, world conditions seem to leave them with little real choice.

All signs point to a soon-coming EU army. Bible prophecy confirms that it is simply a matter of when. 

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