Growing distrust between Europe and the US government has led European governments to renew their commitment to building an autonomous and common defense policy. The idea of building a European military is as old as the idea of European integration itself. But in 1954, France refused to vote in favor of the European Defense Community project it initiated.
This is why the idea of European defense had been abandoned until 1992. The Treaty of Maastricht has created a “Common Foreign and Security Policy” to help Europe to build its own military. But this project is no longer necessary to keep Europe secure.
Joining Forces is Unnecessary and Unrealistic
Like NATO, a group European defense policy might have been justified when Western Europe faced an existential military threat from the Soviet Union (although some Western European countries - like Switzerland - have proven their ability to remain safe by staying neutral). But the end of the Cold War has reduced the utility of military alliances.
Europe has never been as safe as it is today.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Donald Trump suggested these alliances were obsolete. If his unpredictability has led European leaders to relaunch the project of a European defense, notably against islamic terrorism and a resurgent Russia, this political will is based on a foolish analysis of the dangers Europe is facing.
The terrorist threat is exaggerated. Indeed, the figures show clearly Europe has never been as safe as it is today. Recent attacks do not change these facts, since studies show that the world is also becoming less violent. Even though terrorism is a serious issue, centralizing security and defense policies on the European level isn’t a useful way of fighting such a diffused and complex threat.
Moreover, European countries don’t share the same strategic priorities. For example, Austria, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Malta have chosen to pursue neutrality. It is highly improbable that these countries which don’t even belong to NATO will enroll their citizens in an European military alliance. Besides, Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil has spoken out against the creation of an EU army and Austria’s participation in it.
Security concerns are different depending on whether one lives in Paris, Berlin, or Warsaw. This also applies to the nation-states: there is no consensus in France, Germany, or elsewhere about the acceptable level of risk or what civil liberty concessions are bearable in fighting terrorism. Without group security goals, building a common defense policy is neither realistic nor useful.
Since the end of WWII, Europe has relied on trade integration to ensure its own security.
Peace through Trade
More fundamentally, the idea of a European military power is an unjustified break from the traditional European security doctrine. Since the end of WWII, Europe has always relied on trade integration to ensure its own security – this strategy is inspired by a classical liberal vision of international relations. It rejects militarism – which tends to weaken governments’ discipline on the international stage – to rely more on cultural and commercial affinities that are advanced by free trade and multilateralism.
The goal of this approach is to reduce the probability that violent behaviors and ideologies arise between interdependent populations. Far from naive, this method has been successful at repairing relationships between European countries in the second half of the 20th century.
Indeed, European integration’s success proves trade is a powerful method to pacify international relations. After all, let’s remember its success was not obvious, beginning with the Treaties of Paris (1951) and Rome (1957). Europe had just emerged from the most deadly war in human history. Nationalist feelings were still strong and the fear of a continent dominated by Germany remained until its reunification in 1990.
This tense environment didn’t stop European leaders from carrying out the ambitious vision of a durable peace based on commerce instead of militarism. Security expectations have been met: hostilities which have characterized European geopolitics for a long time vanished. These results, based on successful past experiences, should lead us to think about implementing similar policies to solve contemporary security issues, whether they come from Russia or the Middle East.