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A European Union Military: Good for Germany, Bad for Europe?

Battle of Waterloo, painting by William Sadler (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (work in the public domain).

Battle of Waterloo, painting by William Sadler (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons (work in the public domain).

German Economic Troubles: A Military Solution?

Germany, with an aging population (Desjardins, 2018) and a high export-driven economy ("Germany Trade Summary," 2017)—dependent as it is on markets within the European Union, still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis (Oberoi, 2019), and a fickle United States—is heading towards a point where it will have to make some tough economic decisions, and soon. (O'Brien, 2019).

Germany in the past has shown remarkable resilience like few other nations, save maybe Japan or the United States. (Henderson, n.d.). One view of Germany’s response to the migrant crisis could be seen as an attempt to solve some of these looming economic issues by introducing a younger, eager, and low-wage demographic. Migration could help, but will likely continue to cause social anxiety and backlash from many Germans despite any economic benefits (or perhaps because of the overall economic benefits—lower wages means lower wages and a strain on the social safety net. (Stokes, 2018).

Another solution is the remilitarization of Germany by growing a German military in size and capability. Economically, this could solve many of the problems Germany will soon be facing: creating employment, absorbing industrial capacity—in the form of weapons and military equipment—along with additional export prospects, and the ability to secure supply chains and markets. The best evidence for the efficacy of militarization as a means to revitalize an economy is the transformation of Germany in the 1930s. After the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s (Boesler, 2013), in less than a decade during the 1930s, Germany became a world power capable of dominating much of Europe and beyond. Using historical Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data from the Maddison Project (“Madison Project Database 2018,” 2018), German GDP growth during the 1920s was approximately 20% for that decade; within the next decade, growth was up 70%. Of course, the story of Nazi Germany is much more complex and odious, but there is little doubt that the Nazi policy to re-militarize was a crucial factor in bringing about an economic turnaround. (Otto, 1944).

Germany's Militant Legacy: Finding a Workaround

However, the very legacy of Nazi Germany, leading to World War II and the previous wars of German aggression in the 19th and 20th centuries, could prevent Germany from once again building a substantial military machine. France and Poland, in particular, would be weary as well as the Germans themselves. (Karnitschnig, 2019).

Since at least the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 until the end of World War II, France and Germany were locked in a struggle to determine who would be the dominant power in Continental Europe. The ultimate result was neither, at least until the end of the Cold War. But, after World War II, France decided, instead of reigniting a rivalry with a split and defeated Germany, who was facing down the Soviet Union, it would be better to form an economic union to the extent possible to lock German and France together in a different way: cooperation leading to prosperity, thereby preventing war. (“The history of the European Union,” n.d.). And it worked. Through various iterations, the economic union led to the current European Union, which many see emerging as a true State rather than just a forum for cooperation and trade. (European Council on Foreign Relations, 2019).

The French-German partnership is the animating force for the European Union. France and Germany both desire an ever-closer union, but for slightly different reasons. France sees the European Union as a means to project power while containing and massaging German ambitions (the economic prosperity is nice too). (Franke & Varma, 2019; "Strategic Review of Defense and National Security," 2017). For Germany it is for economic prosperity in having easy to access markets and a common currency that benefits Germany. (Ezrati, 2018). Germany being able to reject its history of militarism by relying on other powers for protection, is also a benefit.

Therefore, France would not accept a strong German military, especially with no obvious threat as a reason for its existence. But, a workaround could be the creation of a European Union military, i.e. ostensibly not a German-military, but with many of the benefits for Germany, depending on the configuration. Germany and France would have to work together, as they are currently doing. The French would love to lead a European military supplied with Germany weapons. (Fouquet, 2019). The idea, if not the structure, of a European military is already supported by both Germany and France (Baume & Herszenhorn, 2018). Other nations' views are another matter, but time will tell.

European Military: Structure and Feasibility

But, is this concept workable? I think not, even if NATO were officially dead. The biggest question is who would die for the European Union? As opposed to sacrificing for your country whether France, Germany, or Poland. Nationalism is on the rise in Europe and a European Union military would be a hard sell regardless. (BBC Report, 2019).

Still, a European military could exist in two forms: A NATO-like organizations created for coordination, logistics, communications, interoperability, and planning; but with each nation still controlling their military units and ultimately having control over their use. The second form is a true-European Union military, who would recruit soldiers, sailors and airmen from within the European Union member states, but would be in full control over the military including policy and use.

An EU coalition military made up of individual national armed-forces as a NATO-like replacement would run into the same problems NATO is having. The biggest being commitment in the face of no agreed-upon threat. Coordination and strategy would also likely suffer internal squabbles in addition to the prospect that a nation will holdup agreement on an important issue to gain concessions for an unrelated matter before the European Union. The questions of veto power would have to be addressed and not easily. Nevertheless, this does seem like a reasonable first step on the road towards the second option—a European Union military, controlled and accountable to the European Union.

Conclusion on Sovereignty

A true independent European Union military would likely scare enough EU members to try to block it; leaving France and Germany to coerce other nations to accept the prospect. Questions about its need, use, accountability, leadership, financing, and foreign affairs (a military is after all a tool of diplomacy—by other means) would make any nation weary about surrendering this kind of power. As a fully fledged European Union military could easily become a fait accompli to a European sovereign super-state (a United States of Europe, as it may be). After all, the most foundational elements for a truly sovereign state is national defense-security and a monopoly on legitimate use of force. With an economic-carrot and a military—if willing to use it—who would or could oppose an ever-closer union?

This concept very well could bring about the French dream of a European State while providing a backstop for the German economy; so long as France and Germany continue to cooperate. If this relationship breaks down—it should be noted that there is no current sign that it is—then Germany may still decide it has no choice but to re-militarize, even without the cover of the European project, for economic as well as security reasons. Either outcome, whether a European or a German military, may spell trouble for the rest of Europe.


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© 2019 W J Fitzgerald


Tiffany Payne from Dallas TX on July 24, 2019:

Very interesting article, I enjoyed it and it has given me inspiration

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