Enhanced EU Defense Cooperation: Good News for NATO?
Despite recent commitments, it is unlikely that many NATO members will reach the 2% target on defense spending by 2024. While some seek to project their power globally, others are comfortable in their role of regional powers, or suffering from sluggish economies. Thus, the potential of Europe as an agent in international security remains largely untapped. Enhanced defense cooperation at EU-level might encourage better engagement with international security by some EU powers.
The Wales Summit of 2014 addressed what was then (and still is) one of the most pressing and potentially divisive issues in the context of the NATO Alliance: the problem of uneven burden-sharing among alliance members. At the time of the Summit, only 3 out of 28 Member States were complying with NATO's non-binding guideline to spend more than 2% of their national GDP on defense (the US, the UK, and Greece).
NATO defense spending in Europe has decreased drastically since the end of the Cold War. Between 1990 and 2014, the combined defense budgets of the European Member States has dropped by almost 22% from USD 314 billion to USD 245 billion. Today, despite having a combined GDP greater than that of the US, European allies together still spend less than half of what their American counterpart spends on defense. In addition, much to the annoyance of American officials, European powers are still reluctant to undertake military operations without US leadership.
Since 2014, 18 Member States have increased their defense spending by a very meagre 1.5% and the the outlook remains bleak at best if the ultimate goal is for most NATO Member States to reach the 2% guideline. With the exception of the US, the UK, and France, the defense budgets of NATO countries are more geared towards self-defense, perhaps because NATO's most powerful pull-factor was always Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which grants NATO members the protection of the US while spending half as much as their North American ally on defense.
Last summer, the governments of Germany, France, and Italy have all called for enhanced European defense cooperation and integration. Unsurprisingly, such proposals were met with hostility by British defense minister Michael Fallon, who declared in September that the United Kingdom will oppose "any idea of an EU army" on the grounds that it would undermine NATO. While many top EU bureaucrats have publicly wished for the creation of such a force, recent proposals do not make it any more likely, at least within the next few decades. While British opposition will only last as long as their membership in the European Union, other central and eastern European countries have openly criticized such a policy fearing that it would eventually spawn a rival to NATO, on which they rely to counter increasingly aggressive Russian posturing.
However, I believe that increased EU defense integration and cooperation, even if they one day led to a tangible integrated force, would not undermine the NATO alliance neither in principle nor in practice. Firstly, this force would coexist with national European armies for the foreseeable future. Secondly, only a handful of countries have voiced their support for the recent proposals and the eventual creation of a EU military force would not undermine the appeal of NATO's Article 5. Indeed, NATO may be a tiered alliance - with the US bearing the brunt of most of the spending and hard combat operations - but it is in the interest of Europe to remain under the protection of the US through membership to the alliance.
Furthermore, NATO and US leadership have not yet spoken out against increased defense cooperation and integration in the EU, perhaps realizing that a hypothetical EU army is very unlikely to become a rival to NATO, even in the long run. In fact, recent discussions on enhanced defense cooperation and research within the EU might be a sign that European powers such as France, Germany, and Italy are becoming more conscious about the economic potential of increased investment into defense and security.
In fact, I argue the US and other NATO members should not fear increased attention to EU defense integration and cooperation. Far from posing a threat to NATO, the creation of an EU force, however small, might signal a resurgent will by NATO's European members to become agents in international security once again, despite economic challenges or ontological limitations. The US in particular should openly welcome such efforts. Indeed, they may (in time) lead to more coherent and less fragmented European foreign policy, which could help NATO get out of the current situation of economic and political over-reliance on the United States of America.
Elio Calcagno holds masters in international relations and conflict management. He has experience working in the United Nations system.
- Atlantic-Community.org in Transition
- Towards a More Inclusive Transatlantic Partnership: Update on the 2nd Atlantic Expedition
- Topic of the Month: The Future of Health Care
- Do We Need Data Donations?
- eHealth - Tele-Monitoring and Tele-Medicine - Digital Innovation in the Life Science Sector in Germany