N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
Will the humiliating and dramatic withdrawal from Kabul lead to EU armed forces? Don’t count on it. Every time it turns out that Europe is dependent of the US, the debate about an EU armed force starts again. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the nineties, calls for such armed forces grew. At the time, there was talk of an EU army of no less than 50.000 soldiers. Guy Verhofstadt, then Belgian Prime Minister, offered a chateau just outside Brussels to domicile the military headquarters. Named after Belgium’s pride, it was called the Praline HQ. But the plan has never been materialised.
In a subsequent attempt, the EU created a system of EU battalion-sized battlegroups of 1.500 soldiers in 2007, which have never been used in operations either due to disputes over funding or reluctance to deploy.
Plans for EU defense cooperation have failed due to a number of obstacles. The initiatives can be at odds with NATO commitments. The US, NATO’s informal leader, often held back EU ambitions. Some Eastern European member states prefer to rely on the US rather than on EU initiatives. In addition, the EU does not have the right intelligence and is not at all equipped to make quick (military) decisions when the situation is asking for it.
But see. In the wake of the Afghanistan crisis, EU defence ministers last week have discussed proposals for a rapid reaction force and the possibility to move towards ad-hoc military cooperation between interested EU member states. EU Council President Charles Michel was, of course, wildly enthusiastic. ‘The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan forces us to think about European defence’, he said. Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist reaction was wiser, ‘I do not see that as the main line for solving problems like this’. According to him, the link across the Atlantic remains particularly important for the balance and stability ‘in our part of the world’.
It is clear that Sweden, together with the Baltic States and Poland, pours cold water on the EU defence debate…