Photograph: Flickr / Anders Sandberg
Can the EU maintain peace in Europe, or is an 'EU Army' necessary for it to do so?
To many, it may seem somewhat ludicrous to suggest that the European Union (EU) could possibly maintain peace among its member states. It was, after all, founded for primarily economic and political reasons, so it seems only logical to suggest that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) - a fundamentally military alliance - should take the credit for the 23 years of peace. It is not sufficient, however, to dismiss the EU as a purely economic and political conglomerate with no involvement in peace-keeping. There is a correlative - though not necessarily cause-and-effect - relationship between the creation of the EU and peace within its borders. There is, moreover, evidence to suggest that it has had general involvement in this process.
The single market, the (largely) common currency and the perhaps ironically named European Stability Mechanism (ESM) are bones of contention for many of the EU’s agnostics. Nevertheless, they are conducive to a significant level of economic inter-dependency among member states of the EU, and therein lies a key aspect of the rationale for the EU's very creation. Broadly speaking, the EU's system of free trade, unimpeded by tariffs or stringent border controls, incentivises internal trade, ensures standardised regulations, and as such engenders inter-dependency. It is unlikely that a nation would declare war on its economic partner.
It is important to recognise also that the EU is not an exclusively introverted organisation. Take the ‘Everything But Arms’ (EBA) policy, for instance. Under this legislation, the EU gives duty-free, quota-free treatment to all imports except arms that come from any nation that the United Nations (UN) classifies as one of the world's 'Least Developed Countries' (LDCs). The effect of this is two-fold. First, these countries - that are all outside of the EU - are provided with a whole host of customers for their exported goods, and secondly, both the EU member states and the LDCs have a massive dis-incentive to buy or sell arms. There is evidence that this is working. With the exception of 2009 and 2010, the EU has run an annual trade deficit with the LDCs for every year since 2004.
Yet, is there still a case for the EU to adopt an army? Perhaps. It is worth noting however, that despite the furore created by Jean-Claude Juncker - the President of the European Commission - by suggesting such an idea early last year, this is in fact not a new phenomenon. Winston Churchill alluded to the need for the creation of a pan-European army in a speech to the Council of Europe shortly after the creation of the European Economic Community (1958), when he called for the UK to declare itself 'in favour of the immediate creation of a European army under a unified command'. Nonetheless, Mr Juncker’s reasoning for the creation of an EU army does not bear scrutiny. His argument in an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that ‘a joint EU army would show the world that there would never again be a war between EU countries’ is trying to address an issue that simply does not exist. Nobody is suggesting that the EU’s member states are on the brink of war with one another. More importantly, there is minimal potential of war occurring between member states, because – as explained – the EU’s very structure engenders internal peace.
Moreover, Mr Juncker’s perhaps more central suggestion, which he mentioned to The Guardian in 2015, that a continental army would ensure that the EU is ‘taken entirely seriously’ is only convincing if we assume that the administration of such an army would be efficient. When considering this proposal, we must remember that the EU is a broad church. It is certainly not homogeneous, and the interests of its member states are vastly divergent. The bureaucracy which plagues the EU under the status quo is unlikely to be stemmed in the case of the administration of an army – we can only assume that, as with most national armies, an EU equivalent would require consent from the convoluted version of democracy which currently muddles along in Brussels. For the time being at least, an EU army seems somewhat unfeasible.
Ultimately, when searching for the roots of peace, we must recognise that they extend beyond purely military factors. Of course, our ability to count the number of wars that could have started but did not is somewhat limited. But, the fact that it is ‘nearly-wars’ that are the only events available to count is surely commendable. The best deterrents are, after all, invisible.