The relevance of NATO for our national security is being questioned....
Rumours that Germany and France want to create an EU army have alarmed Brexit supporters. The UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, scotched the rumours insisting that “NATO must remain the cornerstone of our defence and the defence of Europe” but Martin Schultz, the President of the European Parliament, responded that Britain would have no say in this matter because we had voted to leave the EU. So how serious is this proposal and is it a good or bad idea?
The EU has had a common defence and security policy since 1998 and the UK Government was party to it, following an agreement between Tony Blair and the French President. The Lisbon treaty has a mutual defence clause committing members to come to each other’s aid should the need arise. The background to this was the way Russia was flexing its military muscle including the annexation of parts of the Ukraine. So far this agreement has spawned six military missions in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa but the troops involved are provided and accountable to the member states supplying them. The Royal Navy’s participation in trying to stem the flood of refugees across the Mediterranean is an example of this.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission is a keen advocate of an EU army because he wants an ever closer federal Union. Whilst EU treaties allow for “the progressive framing of a common defence policy” that could only lead to the creation of an EU army if the Council of Ministers unanimously agreed and there are doubts that Britain would not be the only member voting against it. There is nothing to stop some member states working together for their mutual defence but that need not involve the creation of an EU army.
So far as the UK is concerned an EU army is unnecessary because there is already NATO, the transatlantic alliance founded in 1949 to counter USSR expansionism. It continues to do that even though the USSR broke up in 1991. A battalion of 500 British troops are currently stationed in Estonia together with others from Denmark and France, to deter Russian aggression towards Poland and the Balkans. They are backed by a brigade of 5000 British troops on standby should an emergency arise. NATO headquarters are in Brussels but the real leadership comes from the USA and the American view is that Europe’s problem is not that it lacks an army but it lacks a serious commitment to defence and spends too little on it.
Christians are divided on issues of war and peace. Some take the pacifist line, citing Jesus’ command to love one’s enemy and turn the other cheek. Others think there is the possibility of a just war to stop evil regimes from doing their worst. RAF planes are among those of the coalition in action over Syria and Iraq to stop Islamic State’s genocide. Their involvement was authorised by Parliament despite minority opposition from pacifists.
The case for an EU army is ultimately more about the future of the EU than the defence of Europe and UK withdrawal means we will have little influence on any decisions about it. 40 million Europeans died in two wars in the last century. It could be argued that if European nations have a shared army they are less likely to fight each other so long as it does not weaken NATO.