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Let’s Call Time on National Armies

This is a counter-opinion to our previous post “Sorry, Macron, but a European Army is not happening”. Our friends at the Young Federalists Maastricht took up the pen to write a guest-piece. Yay for debate!

By Thilo Buchholz

A single European Union Defence Force is the best guarantee this world could get that there won’t be any war on EU soil among Europeans ever again. It provides stability, and it assures peace within our continent. To overcome nationalism and to achieve a cohesive Europe, uniting the armies and defence forces will be the crucial step of European integration which we can’t allow ourselves to miss another time.

European cooperation on defence issues already exists – but it is not sufficient to guarantee peace in the future. Indeed, a European Defence Force can become the cornerstone of convincing citizens of the importance of supranational democracy. If one institution exists upon which a population of a country ultimately relies, it is its military. It is the army, it is the people who (were) signed up to defend them without limitations. In the worst case, it is the people who are going to die. But even if single forms of cooperation already exist, armies and defence forces are training to defend the population only under the command of their own nation in general. The nature of war as tangible outburst of group-based hatred, stereotypes, cruelty and inhumanity and a fear of potential enemies eventually draw people to their safeguards symbolising security and stability, i.e. the armies and defence forces. The common notion of personally identifying with the national identity in the first place which can be observed even among many pro-Europeans can be overcome mainly through an official proclamation of a European Defence Force serving its citizens. Sustaining a transnational democracy will, as a result of that, become a self-apparent interest of the citizens, more than concerns such as climate change or human rights elsewhere in the world could ever be. When the fact that the European Union protects its citizens is not an international relations theory but very obviously embodied in one single defence force, the importance of transnational collaboration and a proper European democratic civic culture isself-explanatory.

Nevertheless, a European DefenceForce will always be perceived as an imposed and artificial construction unless all European citizens can relate to it in the same manner. This is why a European Defence Force should in any given case entail the same rights and obligations for the European people – which may or may not include compulsory service. In fact, a European army in which citizens from Maastricht were obliged to serve for one year, but citizens from Aachen not, would be absurd and perceived as yet only another example of a Brussels-based bureaucratic project which lost the connection to the citizens on the ground. Likewise, members of this European Defence Force should be trained in international teams from the beginning of their professional career on in order to sensitize its members inherently. What the Erasmus+ programme delivers in the academic and youth exchange sector can, if correctly implemented, be achieved through a European Defence Force for the military sector: Building mutual friendships and trust towards people around the continent, learning in an international context, and support indeveloping intercultural competences. A first easy step to make the national defence forces more European? Allowing all EU citizens to serve in an EU army or defence force of their choice, given the fulfilment of certain language requirements. This European Defence Force is not as impossible as it seems.

At the same time, it is self-apparent that the aim of ever-lasting peace in Europe under one European Defence Force could only be fulfilled when all states in Europe – including these who are not members of the European Union at this moment – would be included and integrated into this structure. The aggression originating from the Russian military as can very recently be seen in its attack on Ukraine, and the crumbling reliability on global partners such as the US sustain this necessity. A European Defence Force would finally show that Europe is ready to stand on its own and act as one global player, and is not primarily a subject of foreign control. Frankly, a European Defence Force would not rival NATO, but blunt US-American dominance within NATO by design, and that makes quite a difference.

Initiatives such as the 1GNC, a German-Dutch corps, already demonstrate that the different defence forces can work together very well. The majority of the European people are even in favour of the creation of a European army already[i]. Now, it’s up to political leaders to be courageous; and with a little amount of self-confidence we can be positive that yes, a European Defence Force is possible, and by implementing it, we can get one step closer to reaching the shared goal of global peace andstability.

[i] Special Eurobarometer 461: Designing Europe’s future – Security and Defence (European Union, 2017). ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/78778

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