The EU Should Have an Army
It is time for Europe to learn to fend for itself.
America needs to “Pivot to Asia” to take on China. This fact has led some to reconsider how America should conduct itself abroad. After all, a pivot toward one thing means a pivot away from something else. In this case, “something else” is Europe, willingly occupied by the U.S. since the end of the Second World War. How exactly to disengage from Europe while readjusting to face China has been the source of considerable debate. Some, like the neoconservatives, want America to stay in Europe while also re-orienting against China, but this risks over-expansion. Others, like the burgeoning New Right, would prefer it if America simply pulled out of Europe whole-cloth and turned to Asia. But this risks angering close allies and would make it difficult to convince smaller Asian states of our trustworthiness.
There is, however, another solution which has until now been met with derision from all sides of the American political spectrum: American support for the creation of a European Union army. The notion of an E.U. army has naturally been opposed by those who want us to stay in Europe forever, but it has curiously also been met with ambivalence or outright opposition by many in the New Right, and President Donald Trump reacted angrily to French President Emmanuel Macron’s mention of the idea in 2018. Conservatives and anyone who wishes for the U.S. to successfully pivot to Asia should reconsider this position. The creation of an E.U. army would accomplish three key U.S. foreign-policy goals, all of which are necessary for a successful pivot: focusing less on Europe, bringing parity to NATO spending, and focusing more on confronting China.
Much of the angst over the pivot to Asia and American disengagement from Europe centers around NATO. The United States has treaty obligations to NATO that it cannot break if it is to remain trusted by its once and future allies. However, those obligations were made when the threat to America came from the USSR. That threat no longer exists. In its place sits the Russian Federation, which has had difficulty making progress in its invasion of the significantly weaker Ukraine. Though it might wish to, it does not threaten the United States. China, however, does, and it sits on the other side of the continent. The U.S. must find a way to disengage in the West to focus East, and Europe coming into its own would give America the cover to do so.
If the E.U. were to form an army, it would also enable the U.S. to finally bring parity to NATO spending. Over two-thirds of NATO members are E.U. members, and as of 2021, less than one-third of NATO members were spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Many have excused the other members’ paltry spending by pointing out America’s wealth; if the E.U., with a GDP similar to America’s, becomes a military bloc, these excuses vanish. While NATO would not be a strictly two-member alliance—key members like the U.K. and Norway would remain, as would smaller states that sit outside of the E.U.—the U.S. and the E.U. would represent its core. A mostly U.S.-E.U. NATO would allow America to meet the three aforementioned goals with one single policy. Europe would no longer need America’s protection, NATO would be balanced, and America would be able to focus on China while remaining true to its promises.
Many in Washington and Brussels oppose an E.U. army. America’s military-industrial complex will not want to give up its European vassal states, but they seem to miss the fact that those vassals have already become increasingly independent. And while demanding independence of action, the E.U. also demands U.S. protection; the Germans called it “unacceptable” when President Trump announced he planned to remove his own troops from Germany. The E.U. is not entitled to the lives of America’s soldiers. Plus, the entire world has seen the dreadful state of Russia’s military. The E.U. has a thriving arms industry, massive population, nuclear weapons, and would still have Article V protections. They can take care of themselves.
Some may be queasy at the idea of a re-armed Europe, as that means a re-armed Germany, and no one is eager to re-fight the World Wars. But Americans died in the Second World War for two reasons: to extinguish a 20th-century Nazi threat and extinguish a 20th-century Japanese threat. They did not die to occupy Europe forever. We do not nullify their sacrifice by focusing on a 21st-century Chinese threat to America. Instead, by putting America’s interests first, we ensure that they did not die in vain.
Finally, some might claim that the E.U. is simply not ready for an army, or that leaders in the E.U. will not want to take on such a burden. But not being ready or willing is no reason for America to stay in Europe forever. Since 1945 we have defended Europe, and in return we have received mockery and scorn. It is in our national interest to remain allied, and we should do so. But it is time for Europe to learn to fend for itself. The next presidential administration should make the formation of a European Union army a top foreign-policy priority.
Anthony J. Constantini is writing his Ph.D. on populism and early American democracy at the University of Vienna in Austria. Previously he received an MA in Arms Control and Strategic Studies from St. Petersburg State University. In 2016 he was the War Room Director for the NRSC.