Why Europe Needs a Common Defense Policy

By John F. Phillips, MA

Defense issues and the subsequent push, especially by France, for a common European defense policy are more important than they have been in the past. Because of the dynamic changes that are taking place in the international community, a common defense policy is something that makes more sense than ever before.

A recent survey released by the European Council for Foreign Relations (The Big Engine That Might, How France and Germany Can Build a Geopolitical Future, Puglierin and Franke, July, 2020) shows that the European Community (EU) relies on Germany and France to lead in the effort to develop common EU policy. While cooperation has been fruitful in areas such as the Covid-19 recovery package, common consensus on a EU common defense policy has been much more difficult.

Why is that? The survey indicated that France was the only EU country who ranked common defense as a high priority. Depending on the country, the other EU countries, including Germany ranked common defense as a lower priority than other issues. However, German support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was much higher in Germany than France. This significant diversion of opinion makes it difficult to form consensus on common defense.

Common defense makes sense for a number of reasons. First, the Russia threat is a clear and present danger. Russian military incursion into Ukraine, the continued threat toward the Baltic states, and Russian efforts to interfere in the domestic politics of EU nations, especially the UK, indicate that Russia is pursuing a disruptive strategy on the Continent. The countries on the eastern edge of the EU, especially Poland and the Baltic states, view Russian activities a viable threat that has to be met.

Second, Brexit has contributed to the anxiety of the EU and threatens to weaken UK participation in EU defense. As the UK/EU split reaches its conclusion, will the UK continue to contribute resources to common defense? While they won’t leave NATO, the economic and budget stress that currently grips the UK because of Covid-19 could lead to more severe reductions in defense spending.

Third, the cohesion of the NATO alliance is being threatened by the “America First” foreign policy of the United States. The recent decision to withdraw/redeploy over 10,000 US troops currently deployed in Germany is just the latest in a series of events that have weakened NATO, calling into question America’s commitment to the alliance. President Donald Trump has also been highly critical of NATO members, especially Germany, who do not meet the 2.0% GDP defense spending commitment. This “America First” transactional approach to NATO, coupled with the tariff wars between the US and the EU, has been highly counterproductive and threatens to weaken NATO and the EU as it continues to face threats from both Russia and China.

Given the threats, it is in the EU’s interests to develop a common defense policy in order to maintain its own security. While the German and French approaches to common defense differ in many ways, nothing can be accomplished in this area if France and Germany continue to take divergent approaches. The moral suasion of both countries is required to bring the other EU members along.

Germany and France are asked to lead. It is important that they do so in such uncertain times.

Is a common defense policy important to the survival of the EU?

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