- Vincent Kessler/Reuters
- President Donald Trump insulted France and French President Emmanuel Macron over his idea for what he calls a “real European army.”
- But some are convinced Macron’s idea is “illusory,” “counterproductive,” or just plain “nonsense.”
- Europe already has the EU and NATO to help coordinate defense.
- Macron said the “real” European army would protect the continent against the US, without explaining why it needed defense against a treaty ally.
- An expert told Business Insider Macron may just want the broader coalition to continue its military efforts in its former colonies under a less conspicuous EU flag.
President Donald Trump insulted France and French President Emmanuel Macron over his idea for what he calls a “real European army,” but some are convinced the idea is “illusory,” “counterproductive,” or just plain “nonsense.”
In early November, a coalition of 10 countries ready to react to crises launched in Europe, but much of Europe already belongs to an established military alliance – NATO.
While Trump has fiercely criticized the alliance, European leaders have clung to it as an important guardian of peace and an essential force to counter Russian aggression after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently announced her looming withdrawal from politics, threw her support behind Macron’s idea, using his words “a real European” army, on Thursday.
Macron said the alliance would protect Europe “with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” but the US is a treaty ally, and he didn’t explain why he’d like to defend against a country he already extensively shares intelligence and bases with.
Business Insider asked Anand Menon, a Chatham House expert and a professor of European politics at Kings College London to help make sense of Macron’s idea, but even he could not.
A ‘nonsense’ army that never deploys
“The notion of a European army… it’s nonsense,” said Menon. “If you mean anything like what most people mean by an army, it’s nonsense.”
The European Union already oversees a group of 28 small countries and works to help them integrate economically and militarily. The countries, mostly NATO members, already train together and, with EU help, standardize practices.
But as Menon points out, “at the margins, there’s loses of a country’s autonomy.” If small European countries pool resources for a joint venture, like an air transport fleet for example, they lose the ability to use that fleet whenever they want, Menon said.
Importantly, the cooperation that happens today is bottom up, or with countries individually choosing to cooperate on projects and then creating a leadership structure to facilitate that. But a European army is “much more top down,” said Menon.
“A European commander tells European troops when to go to war… it’s absolutely not happening,” said Menon.
While European countries may be unnerved by Trump’s NATO-skepticism, their individual security needs and wants only really align on deterring war with Russia. Otherwise, each of the 28 EU members really have different goals, and Menon says it’s almost impossible that the countries could ever agree on an objective.
“Given divergent national interests such a force, if created, would certainly almost never be deployed,” Franz Stefan-Gady, an Austrian-born military analyst tweeted. “[S]uch a force will just create additional layers” of red tape, wrote Stefan-Gady.
“The EU can bring together foreign policy, policing policy, and intelligence coordination. If EU states want to have genuine coordination for security,” doing that within the EU “would make sense,” said Menon.
“But it doesn’t make sense to spend money twice,” as the EU countries already do those tasks within the EU and NATO, Menon said.
“Apart from the fact that we do not want that, we can not do that”
It’s entirely unlikely that Germany, or anyone else, is really game for Macron’s plan. Germany is “rather suspicious of French initiatives,” said Menon.
France has one of the bigger and more active militaries in Europe. While Germany may be up for increasing cooperation and forging closer ties, Macron’s vision has “been about sending troops to places, and that the Germans aren’t so keen on,” said Menon.
“Germans are worried about being instrumentalized by the French as the French send troops off to their former colonies,” in Africa, said Menon. “There is a suspicion that the reason why France is so into EU defense cooperation is it allows France to do what it wants to under an EU flag.”
A Reuters report quoted German military personnel as generally saying of Macron’s initiatives :”Apart from the fact that we do not want that, we can not do that.”
Instead, many have suggested that if Macron wants to protect Europe, he can focus on protecting the EU and NATO, as many European leaders and former US officials have all but begged Trump to do.
Arnaud Danjean, a member of the foreign and defense committee at the European parliament, basically said turning away from NATO to create a slogan-heavy new force amounted to little more than a dream.
“Pragmatic advances and patient construction with those who are ready and willing for a political convergence in defense are infinitely preferable to totally illusory and even counterproductive slogans and incantations,” said Danjean.