BRUSSELS — New efforts to create a group of mini-armies under the command of the unified German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have reignited the debate over the role of NATO and the European Union.
In a program known as the Framework Nations Concept, the Netherlands, Romania and the Czech Republic have all integrated brigade-level forces with Germany.
In Romania, the 81st Mechanized Brigade will join Germany’s Rapid Response Forces Division while the Czech Republic’s elite 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade will join forces with Germany’s 10th Armored Division.
The Dutch military has already integrated one of its brigades into the same division as well as combining another brigade with Germany’s Rapid Deployment Brigade.
Those who predicted that Brexit, the U.K.’s departure from the EU, would give France and Germany the green light to press ahead with their ambitions for an armed forces system that is under one command cite such recent moves as vindication for their fears.
The U.K. has long maintained its preference for NATO, but with the U.K. set to leave the EU by 2019, there appears to be little standing in the way of the EU marshaling its own army.
Indeed, recent publication of the European Commission’s paper on the future of European defense would appear to suggest that is exactly what the EU intends to do.
Under one ambitious proposal, EU countries would pool together “certain financial and operational assets to increase defense solidarity,” according to the paper. A follow-up paper says “EU countries must be in the driving seat of enhancing European security.”
German efforts to integrate units from other member states are seen as direct examples of this EU objective being put into practice.
In an article for Foreign Policy, Elisabeth Braw suggests that such a force could eventually grow or evolve into a more capable pan-EU military.
Some, such as former Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, see no clash of interest or conflict with the role currently played by NATO.
Paet believes there is political momentum for making progress on European defense. “I really hope that with defence cooperation and a defence union we can be more pro- active so that we anticipate developments and needs before they occur,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial that [the] EU and NATO cooperate and make the maximum out of that cooperation.”
“Stronger European defence cooperation will not weaken NATO,” he added. “On the contrary, both organisations will strengthen each other.”
His comments are endorsed by German Member of Parliament Roderich Kiesewetter, the foreign affairs representative of the country’s Christian Democratic Union: “The aim of a European Army is not to make the EU wholly independent of NATO. Instead, European efforts should contribute to more ambitious burden sharing between NATO and the EU.”
Britain, almost alone among EU member states, has in the past used its influence to block any moves toward a common European defense system.
It fears that slowly and quietly the EU countries, from which it will soon extricate itself, are building an integrated military force that will soon be an EU military in all but name.
U.K. Conservative defense and security spokesman, Geoffrey Van Orden, sees a direct clash with NATO, saying: “The European Commission’s proposals show once again that the EU is on an ego trip, motivated by its own ambitions rather than security needs.”
Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.