Written by Adrian Kokk
The institutions of the European Union face a difficult task in guaranteeing the financing for the Union’s defence fund, as the raging economic pressure caused by COVID-19 demands the reallocation of monetary resources to more urgent issues (Emmott, 2020). While combating this pandemic lies in the interest of all European citizens, the situation regarding the security strategy of the EU poses an utmost important question to the fate of the Union. It is crucial that the EU continues to strive for a unified defence policy for its member states that could ensure peace and cohesion in the continent and its immediate neighborhood. This issue needs to be prioritized despite the economic crisis prompted by COVID-19, as Europe still faces security challenges and threats such as those coming from the growing influence of Russia in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the stability of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is teetering as the U.S. continues on the path of populism, making the need for a common European defence strategy more critical than ever.
Firstly, there are tangible threats to the sovereignty of some Eastern European nations, where Russia’s re-emergence as a great power has become more visible, illustrated by its interventionist policy against Ukraine in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also putting pressure on Belarus to further integrate the two states’ politically, by withholding gas discounts until the establishment of a union state (Soldatkin, 2019). And this is not to mention the growing Russian influence in the Baltic states. According to a report from RAND International Security and Defence Policy Center, the Baltic states are already subject to Russian influence and toxic propaganda in various forms on a daily basis. To counter this threat, a common European defence policy is the only solution, as Russia tends to ignore diplomatic disputes when they come from one country alone. Only when the frontiers of autocracy and militarism are pushed ever further away can the safety of the EU be ensured, and that can only be achieved through cooperation at the European level.
Secondly, as the growing doubts and distrust between the EU and the United States put the future of transatlantic relations into question, the need for a European military partnership is more urgent and visible. NATO, despite having long been a defender of Western democratic ideals and counting with a strong membership among EU member states, is now indirectly questioned by the “America First” doctrine of the current American administration. As the U.S. foreign agenda increasingly shifts towards protectionism and unilateralism, the need for a more credible commitment to defence cooperation among European countries has grown exponentially. Such partnership, resting upon the values embedded in the very foundations of the EU, would enable an increased geographical focus on Europe in particular, something that is clearly relevant as tensions rise between Europe and Russia. Given the void that has been left by the expiration of the Pax Americana and the omnipresence of Russia and other authoritarian state actors in its immediate neighborhood, European cooperation on defence policy seems to be the best path for achieving credible security (Ibrahim, 2019). Despite the difficulties of establishing a European army, further cooperation is a natural step for the EU to take, as no other actor in the current geopolitical landscape is more suitable to defend peace and prosperity in Europe than the European Union.
This argument for greater defence cooperation is not an implicit call for a militarized Europe but a call for quite the opposite. For decades, the EU has, in one shape or another, been a world leader in areas such as human rights, democracy and peace. By strengthening its armed forces, the European Union would be more effective and successful at maintaining those ideals and allowing them to spread. The EU is no longer a community based on coal and steel. In this new century, Europe is also a partnership based on shared visions and values. Thus, a stronger European Union would result in a more peaceful environment and in the further consolidation of these principles, since if Europe prospers, freedom will prosper as well. Critics will surely claim that this puts the European project on route for the so despised supranationality, reallocating power and sovereignty from member states to the Union. However, the very treaties that established the constitutional basis of the EU leave no doubts on this matter: according to the principle of subsidiarity, decisions made within the EU will be made on the most immediate and suitable level. Therefore, an increase in cooperation should not be perceived as being at odds with the principles of EU law. In fact, a more unified defence policy should be regarded as the guarantor of the survival of the EU: united we stand, divided we fall.
In conclusion, there are many answers to the question of “why” the EU needs a common defence policy but fewer to “how” it should be done. Russia’s growing ambitions in Eastern Europe and its indifference towards international law, added to the fact that the U.S. is no longer as reliable as an ally as it once was, justifies stronger European defence cooperation. It is now the turn for future EU officials and lawmakers to start such enterprise in a way that ensures a robust and long-lasting security in our continent. At the end of the day, what matters the most is the safety of European Union citizens from external threats.
Emmott, R. (2020, May 12) On budget eve, EU defence money at risk from coronavirus. Reuters. Retrieved May 16 2020, from https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-health-coronavirus-eu-defence/on-budget-eve-eu-defence-money-at-risk-from-coronavirus-idUKKBN22O1DC.
Flanagan, S., Osburg, J., Binnendijk, A., Kepe, M., & Radin, A. (2019). Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States Through Resilience and Resistance. RAND Corporation. Retrieved May 17 2020, from: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2700/RR2779/RAND_RR2779.pdf
Ibrahim, A. (2019, September 5) Europe Is Ready for Its Own Army. Foreign Policy. Retrieved May 17 2020, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/09/05/europe-is-ready-for-its-own-army/.
Soldatkin, V. (2019, December 19) Putin to Belarus: No gas discount before union state is advanced. Reuters. Retrieved May 17 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-belarus-union/putin-to-belarus-no-gas-discount-before-union-state-is-a dvanced-idUSKBN1YN1Y1.