U.S. Strategists Should Welcome the ‘Euro Army’

Geoffrey Wawro is professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms joined the attack on the “Euro army” last week, calling it “a dangerous and divisive dynamic within NATO.” Helms’ pronouncement follows similar warnings from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the George W. Bush transition team, which last week characterized the Euro army as “a dagger aimed at NATO’s heart.” All of these reproofs are aimed at European Commission President Romano Prodi, the French and other critics of American “hyperpower.” They are off the mark and should instead stress the great benefits of a powerful Euro army with transatlantic links.

The Euro army, really the European rapid reaction force, will number 100,000 troops, 400 combat aircraft and 100 warships by 2003. Conceived after Europe’s poor showing in Bosnia and Kosovo, the force aims to give united Europe a “power projection” capability comparable to Washington’s: 60,000 troops of this force would be deployable and sustainable for a year or more on short notice. So far so good; the controversy arises from the fact that the rapid reaction force creates no new naval, air or ground units. Rather, it “decouples” troops from national militaries already pledged to NATO.

“Decoupling” is a risk that many Europeans, the British in particular, are leery of taking. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher calls the European army project “a piece of monumental folly.” Conservative Party leader William Hague warns of proud British regiments “subcontracted to Brussels.” These are Cohen’s doubts as well. He should, however, pay less attention to the British, who are positioning themselves for general elections in six months, and more to the European defense chiefs, who have lately dealt Prodi and the French a stinging setback.

In last month’s vote for the Euro army’s “general directorship,” the staff that will coordinate force planning and operations, France’s candidate, Gen. Marcel Valentin, was rejected in favor of Germany’s Gen. Rainer Schuwirth. The meaning is clear: A vote for Schuwirth was a vote to avoid tension between the military structures of the EU and NATO. This is essential to allay American fears, to reassure the new East European NATO states (the Poles, abandoned by the French in 1939, have preemptively pledged themselves to “military solidarity with the United States”) and to avoid alarming the non-EU Turks, who worry that the Greeks will use the force as a wedge to separate Ankara from Europe and Cyprus.


Schuwirth represents the Bundeswehr’s quiet determination to insert itself between the French and Americans to defuse the smoldering conflict. Unlike the French, who pulled out of NATO’s military command in 1966 to assert independence, the Germans hold top positions in NATO and will use their transatlantic experience and contacts to shape Europe’s emerging security and defense policy without needlessly or gratuitously alienating Americans.

The rise of the Germans at Brussels portends close cooperation with the U.S. and sends a discouraging message to the Russians, who still maintain Europe’s largest armed forces and recently lowered the threshold for using nuclear weapons to deter “possible aggression of any intensity.” Since Russia--which may be seeking to restore itself in the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine while decimating the civil population of Chechnya to keep a boot in the Caspian oil fields--might interpret a peace-enforcing expedition to any of these places as “aggression,” this new strategic concept is worrisome.

The Euro army offers the U.S. two potential benefits: It will force the Europeans to increase their defense budgets, particularly in research and development, where they spend just $1 for every $6 spent by the Americans, and it will speed the pace of European defense consolidation, where big inefficiencies persist, like the 78 overlapping European research labs. If forced by their own “headline goals” to mature into full partnership with the Americans, the Europeans will have to solve these problems. It was in this hopeful and positive sense that a Belgian newspaper recently editorialized:

“If it is George W. Bush who finally becomes president, he will not be able to give Europe any more useful gift than what he promised in his campaign: a further military withdrawal from Europe. Perhaps this is the only way to make the Europeans make that ‘Great Leap Forward’ in developing their own defense capability.”