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An Italian General has suggested that now is the time for the EU to realise the ambition of a European military now that Brexit is underway.

General Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the general staff in charge of Italy’s military, has elsewhere asserted that building an EU Army would be easier now that Britain had decided to opt out.

He told La Repubblica newspaper:

“Every step forward was blocked by the British. The British position was crucial – everyone knew that without London, you couldn’t even begin to talk about a common European defence policy.”

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has insisted that an EU Army is required:

“I am convinced that in the long term we won’t be able to do without a common European army,” he told a meeting of Czech diplomats in Prague on Monday, the Daily Mail has reported. He added that the new army must not compete with NATO, but should aim to be a more actionable and reliable partner.”

According to DefenseNews, Camporini also said that declining UK capabilities meant that a lack of British involvement was no longer a problem.

“If anyone had proposed building a European capability in 1999 without the UK, I would have said they were crazy, but during the last few years, UK governments have been greedy with the peace dividend and they gave up their sea projection capability, which they will not get back before their new carriers arrive.”

It should be noted that the British Armed Forces comprise the Royal Navy, a blue-water navy with a comprehensive and advanced fleet; the Royal Marines, a highly specialised amphibious light infantry force; the British Army, the UK’s principal land warfare force; and the Royal Air Force, with a diverse operational fleet consisting of modern fixed-wing and rotary aircraft.

The country is a major participant in NATO and other coalition operations and is also party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements. Recent operations have included Afghanistan and Iraq, peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Cyprus, intervention in Libya and again operations over Iraq and Syria.

Overseas defence facilities are maintained at Ascension Island, Belize, Brunei, Canada, Diego Garcia, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Kenya, Bahrain and Cyprus.

25 COMMENTS

  1. This could be good news for us.

    Right now the only real country we have to buy high tech gear from is the US due to economy of scales. A EU army would no doubt mean common purchases and so EU based defense gear, allowing us to choose between home grown gear vs us and eu options.

    • The only really advanced European project I can think of is stealth drones, which are a bilateral project between the UK and France that would go forward with or without the EU.

      With all due respect, I think this a non-story. Some Italian General talking about an EU army isn’t all that significant.

      • Just for your information Mr Livesey. The MALE project is a joint German-France-Italy project and most of the UK industrial military assets (Selex and Westland) are owned by an Italian company (Leonardo, former Finmeccanica). BR

        • I tnink you might just be forgetting the largest defence company in Europe (amongst other companies) and of course the UK is one of the few European countries to be devoting 2% of its GNP to defence. Only France is comparable in what it can offer all round and seriously an Italian General is hardly one to speak of relative military contributions.

    • This is not at all good news for us.

      For hundreds of years Britain’s foreign policy was to support the weaker powers in Europe against the strongest to maintain a power balance insuring that no one country/entity would control the whole continent. Once a country was at that stage they would be too powerful for Britain to deal with.

      We fought wars upon wars upon wars for this to be maintained.

      Now it is going to happen without a bullet being fired, written in to law by some pencil pushers in Brussels.

      Of course we are close friends and allies with European countries. At the minute. No one can say for sure that our interests or priorities will not diverge from each other in the future.

      If this goes ahead, at that point…we will be in a real sticky situation.

  2. I don’t see why some of the press are so outraged about this. UK won’t be part of it, wouldn’t have been even if no Brexit because we had an opt-out, but it would give us a single command structure to interface with on joint exercises rather than lots of different national forces. It sounds like good news to me. Reports I’ve seen have even mentioned English as the working language if it ever happens. What’s not to like from a UK (or USA) perspective?

    • What’s not to like from a US perspective, is that a european army could challenge the US role as the king of NATO and be a serious challenger to US general position as the sole global superpower.

      • I guess the same is the case why the UK wouldn’t want it, as it would make the UK less important on a global stage. The involvement of the UK would not be interesting, since europe could operate on its own and when coalitions are needed the US and EU would be strong enough not to need the UK.

        • Re your first comment about the USA I think you might have fallen into the same trap that I was in myself when I first started looking at defence issues and that is to not fully connect with just how dominant the US military is. It used to be the top 20 but now I think it is “only” the top 15 or so. Take the top 15 countries in the world ranked by defence spending. The USA is the biggest. If all the other 14 countries were to combine into a single force (which includes China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, Israel & Australia) the USA would still be bigger in terms of budget. US dominance is overwhelming and wouldn’t be threatened by a few little European countries combining.

          Re your similar comment re the UK. Hmmm…. OK, that’s a good point and maybe naive of me to neglect it although the optimist in me hopes that it might spur the UK government into starting to reverse the last few decades of cuts and actually start expanding capabilities again.

          • For starters defense budgets are insanely misleading, as you have to adjust them for cost of living in the local country, cost of production etc etc.

            Then you have to consider things like Afgan/Iraq war where a considerably less advanced opposition effectively won the war. Or look at our own Falkland war, where on paper we should have walked it but in reality we were very close to losing.

            There is also the reality that its a big planet. Look at what is going on in the south china sea, today the US is losing its ability to enforce its will over the area and is having to pull equipment away from Europe, where it would be useful for countering Russia.

            Another less obvious example is Russia, if Europe is able to defend itself and no longer needs the US to help defend it, then the US loses this carrot when it comes to trade agreements. Same if the US loses its ability to counter china, where countries in Asia would be more inclined to trade with china than the US.

            Defense as a political tool, which effectively what the US uses it, is a difficult topic.

            The US is already losing its power in the world, it doesn’t need for this to be weakened further.

          • p.s. don’t get my wrong, today America is still the most powerful nation and is able to a point to enforce its will on any other country, but this isn’t about today, its about 10 or 20 years in the future.

        • There is no chance whatsoever that a European army would be anywhere near on the scale (in so many measures) of the US of even Russia in any foreseeable future. Britain always opposed it despite a certain logic because it saw it as a weakening of NATO without any potential to Mach its impact of firepower. It would only be a perceived unity with very little likelihood of political let alone structural unity when put under pressure. This would stretch from decision making strategically or even on who or how material would be produced and by whom, as nearly all euro wide defence projects have shown. France would wish to dominate design and leadership at every level so cracks would form at almost every level if it were ever under pressure to perform. Only if and when a singular European Government or at least something very close could it even contemplate being a significant force able to operate without US or even UK support. The dangerous aspect is if in the meantime it ever deluded itself otherwise rather like the Austro Hungarian Empire did when contemplating its strength through unity.

    • What’s not to like from a UK/US perspective is that in NATO, European armed forces can be held to some level of performance and doctrine. If a European Army worked the same way, that would be OK, but there are people in the EU whose ambition runs ahead of their ability to perform.

      • Ambition is as worrying as ability though.

        The big question is whether the EU countries really could integrate fully. Having a EU standing army where each country retains also its own independent army, will result in something that is smaller than the sum of its parts, because you will end up with a lot of duplication. For them to to be able to create something, that is bigger than the sum of their parts, they would need to go all in and fully integrate, resulting in loss of individual control and realistically loss in employment in certain countries.

        The idea of an EU army is interesting on paper, but politically it could never work, for example could you see France agreeing to cutting french soldiers because for example Polish ones were cheaper or better skilled in a certain set of abilities.

        • There is also the amusing part that Czech Republic and Hungary are calling for this, both of which are spending almost half of the NATO 2% requirement on defence. So what they want is an effective defence but for someone else to pay for it.

  3. It’s always been slightly odd why Britain was so opposed rather than one of the leading supporters.

    In the days when there were significant colonial commitments and especially post 1945 when th Indian Army was no longer available it would be understandable, as we would have had to have a second force available for purely UK interests but post pull out from Aden in 1967 they were pretty much gone, (we were never going to seriously defend HK, and the Islands that must not be named are the exception).

    After that a fully integrated EU force would have benefits to UK and Francee, who otherwise pay for most of the defence needs. The devil is of course in the details but standardise on Leo 2 for Tanks, is not a bad idea. Even with us out there will still be disagreements, the East wants defence against Russia without paying for it, the French want support in Mali or Central Africa and there the Hungarians et al are less keen.

  4. There’s a Spaniard,a Frenchman, An Italian and a Greek, all in a European army and all their governments have to decide is who is in command. Interesting politically!

  5. As to the Falklands war and “walking it” where did that come from? Everyone else including the US at the time thought it was impossible

  6. The only way to have a proper integrated EU army is for the 27 remaining EU members to renounce their individual identities and become The United states of Europe, have one government and no internal borders. As if that is ever going to happen

  7. What do we care if they do go down this road. The EU cannot afford to do it. It would require countries to increase their defence spending quite considerably, something they have been unprepared to do under Nato. As to the accusation that the UK has over played the peace dividend, maybe we have but no where near as much as other EU nations, and at least we are starting to put right some of the issues. Don’t see the Italians or Germans doing that.

    Another EU dreamland project, Ill believe it when I see it.

  8. An EU army is a dangerous occurrence. If EU wants to go down this route there is danger:
    1) Dilution of NATO capability- the EU army will no doubt involve units, army battle groups, ships, air force squadrons being double tasked meaning for NATO deployment and within the EU force structure at the same time- huge headache for command and control
    2) EU spends nearly 50% equivalence to USA defence budget- yet I think at last expert consideration only achieved 13% of the USA’s strategic capabilities- that is not very impressive.- this is because all the major EU nations want to have a nationally balanced for ce structure- any EU force would need to abolish this for a more “pillared approach”- meaning the French for example bring a carrier battle group, the Dutch an amphibious ready marine force, the Germans- AWACs and tornado strike jets, the Danish air defence frigates etc, etc- so each EU nation has to abolish the notion of national defence and move to a collective defence agreement- not sure the EU can actually get all 27 remaining member states to agree to do this.
    3) Without the UK as a member of the EU armed forces proposed (post Brexit) we are unlikely to be prepared to contribute our armed forces to an EU labelled military operation- this would probably be democratically unsupportable- especially if the BREXIT negotiation ends up being as acrimonious, as it looks like it will be- with German, Dutch and French lobbyists and business interests actively striving to steal business and wealth from the UK.
    4) The UK contributes 50% of the EU’s strategic nuclear deterrent, 50% of its nuclear powered attack submarines and around 40% of its amphibious assault capability and resources- without the UK not sure the EU can generate a cohesive force structure- certainly not within the maritime domain.
    5) The EU looks even worse if you consider what actual recent combat experience the EU has- there were small deployments of German, Dutch, Danish, French forces to Afghanistan but these were often in less high-risk combat areas compared to the UK and US forces. The EU likes to talk up its military prowess but in reality the EU has harvested the peace dividend from the end of the cold war until now and has nothing but hollowed out forces (like the UK) with huge capability gaps and a lack of numerical strength or reserves (like the UK).
    6) The burden of defence contribution to an EU armed forces would undoubtedly fall on, in order of capability and therefore scale of commitment- France, Italy, German, Holland, Poland, Hungary, Denmark. These nations would have to be prepared to up their defence expenditure and at least initially be prepared to contribute significantly more than the other member states to the proposed EU force structure until a unified agreement on “pillared defence contribution” could be agreed and actually delivered- which probably would take 15-20 years at least to reach fruition.
    I would think the time scales mean NATO is probably safe as a structure for at least 15-20 years. Unless that is the EU has a falling out and separates away from the other NATO nations sooner or vice versa the other NATO nations fall out with the EU. Sadly I think either of these option is a likely occurrence.

  9. What a panic from the UK about a ‘European Army’! The EU has run something like 10 military ops outside NATO, including Kosovo, Mali, Libya, Somali pirates, etc. This because the US has made it clear that the EU needs to police its own backyard, which includes the Mediterranean littoral, not expect the Yanks to do everything for us. They will come to help if there is a serious issue, particularly with Russia – though Trump may upend that doctrine.

    The command and control issue is not an insoluble one. Until now, national forces CHOP to NATO when mobilised, it would be as easy for an EU command structure to do so. Indeed, a structured European pillar of NATO would be no bad thing.

    We boast rather a lot about our 2% defence spending, knowing full well that it is under 1.9% when the government’s recent tricky accounting is factored in. We actually field very limited conventional forces pro rata next to most EU members – Belgium and Netherlands, half our population, have as many field brigades. We are something like 12th out of the 28 pro rata for fast jet combat aircraft. All their forces are now fully-professional, much of their equipment is ahead of ours and there is a raft of joint ventures which are dwarfing BAe’s very limited offerings.

    By sitting outside all this and glaring across the Channel, we are on the way to making ourselves a minor little military player and seeing what’s left of our defence industry rolled over by joint Euro venture frigates, submarines, missiles, tanks, sensors, transport and tanker aircraft, and eventually by the the next generation of fighter aircraft.

  10. This idea that the EU will have to have an integrated/unitary political structure before an EU army can work effectively is an odd one.

    NATO does not have an integrated political structure yet works fine! It doesn’t have issues with whether a Frenchman, German, Greek etc commands an entity, it is commanded by the ally making the largest force contribution or by the senior officer in the force. That has all worked perfectly smoothly for 60 years.

    Close co-operation between the defence industries of France and Germany, increasingly involving Spain, Italy and others, is already creating a de facto common defence procurement set-up in several areas. We are the ones who look like becoming rather irrelevant military small-fry.

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