Push for military unity

Push for military unity

POST-BREXIT European Union : Even if the EU builds a military arm that fulfills every French and German dream, it won't affect the threat of terrorism

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union comes as the 28-nation bloc is grappling with more than its usual economic issues. The union is also in the midst of deep ideological divisions over the major diplomatic and security issues of the day.

The body has traditionally been an afterthought in such matters, with individual states or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a strictly military alliance, taking the lead. But that is slowly changing. Britain’s departure, analysts say, could shift internal debate on not just individual issues but the very nature of the union’s role in diplomacy and security.

As France and Germany fill the leadership void, they will have an opportunity to pursue a shared goal that Britain has blocked: expanding the European Union’s integration to include military policy.

This ambition, which some union officials are already pushing forward, would expand the bloc’s ability to act as a unified diplomatic body, and allow it to put muscle behind its increasingly prominent role in the world. It would give Europe a greater ability to confront security challenges, particularly the threat that many Eastern European members perceive from Russia.

But this would do little to address Europe’s other major security challenge, terrorism, underscoring the body’s tendency to emphasise big long-term projects over more immediate and politically charged crises.

A New European Project: The European Union already has a military affairs office, known as the European Defence Agency, but it is weak and decentralised, lacking even a permanent headquarters. Britain has long opposed strengthening this arm of the union, preferring that all military coordination go through NATO, where its voice is amplified by its close alliance with the United States.

Days after Britain’s referendum, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, presented a long-awaited memo articulating the body’s “global strategy.” At its centre is a call, long sought by French and German officials, for beginning to integrate Europe’s military policies.

The memo did not call for unifying Europe’s armies, despite rumors to the contrary in the British news media. But it did say that the European Union should develop the institutions to act as a coordinated bloc in military matters.

Britain’s departure from the European Union could “be an opportunity for further defence and security integration, as the French are already advocating,” said Benjamin Haddad, a French analyst at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

While a post-Brexit European Union would represent a smaller share of the world’s military power — Britain has the largest military budget in Europe — it could come to wield that power in ways that would be more consequential. Mogherini is calling for the European Union to consolidate authority on military procurement and deployments abroad, according to The Financial Times.

The union runs several peacekeeping operations, mostly in Africa, as well as an anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. Such missions could expand under a more militarily unified bloc.

Mogherini emphasised that military unity would be not just to defend Europe from foreign militaries — a role that NATO plays — but also to strengthen the European Union’s diplomatic role in the world.

The Russia question

Europe’s greatest diplomatic and external security challenge — and the most immediate test of French and German ambitions to remake it as a strong global player — is Russia.

European Union sanctions against Russia, imposed after its March 2014 annexation of Crimea, have already made it a major centre of gravity for Western policy. Expanding that role could be particularly important for bloc members that are not part of NATO, namely Finland and Sweden, which are concerned over perceived Russian threats.

Western European leaders tend to be most concerned with migration and terrorism, and some question whether continuing sanctions against Russia are worth the economic cost and political headache. Britain, by aligning with Eastern European leaders who see Russia as a dire threat, has helped maintain the European Union’s hard line against Moscow.

Britain’s departure would put more pressure on Germany to manage European disagreements over Russia, said Stefan Meister of the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations. It is a sensitive subject within Germany, touching on the country’s history of militarism as well as its hesitation about assuming a strong leadership role in Europe.

The Unresolved Issue: Even if the European Union holds a united front on Russia and goes on to build a military arm that fulfills every French and German dream, none of this will do much to affect the security threat that most concerns the continent’s citizens: terrorism.

Europe’s terrorism problem is largely an internal one. Attacks have mainly been conducted by European citizens, though many were trained by the Islamic State in Syria, and experts have deplored the union’s failures to share intelligence and monitor suspects. These problems are complicated by Europe’s open borders, making a counterterrorism shortfall in one country a risk to them all.

Brexit would have little direct effect on these problems, analysts say, because Britain would most likely continue cooperating with the union on the issue. But if Brexit worsens European infighting and political paralysis, Haddad said, that could further distract from counterterrorism.

So Brexit may give momentum to European ambitions to take on external security challenges, but not to confront its internal one.

This underscores a recurring issue with European Union leaders, who are often more focused on big projects than on meeting the concerns of citizens. Few voters in France or Germany are clamouring for a greater union footprint in global affairs or for military integration.

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