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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK

Is a common European defence policy possible?

"The national identity calculations will interfere in many ways...the desire to protect European defence industries for instance... "
Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London

"You don't want to spend more money...only, if you will, to please the Americans... you want to be seen as important people in your own right, trying to do what is necessary to cope with problems in your neighbourhood."
Gilles Andraeani of the Institute of Strategic Studies

Click here to listen to both sides of the debate
Listen to our debate hosted by Mark Reid. Do you agree with the views of our contributors?

Background ¦ Your reaction ¦ Listen to the debate

The Background:

This week Nato has a new man at the helm - the British Defence Minister George Robertson, who becomes Secretary-General.

Talking Point - Europewide
He replaces the Spaniard Javier Solana, who will orchestrate the European Union's foreign policy.

So is the time ripe for a more effective European defence policy -- or will national identity stand in its way?

Joining Mark Reid for the Europewide debate are Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute in London and Gilles Andraeani of the Institute of Strategic Studies and a former official with the French government.

Background ¦ Your reaction ¦ Listen to the debate

Your Reaction:

Is this the right question? The possibility is not in doubt. What is in doubt is whether or not any common policy would be effective. There is still too much distrust and jingoism for rapid decisions to be made. Far better to subcontract our defence as the Vatican has with the Swiss Guards, come to think of it, why pay, the Americans do it for free.
Gwyn Jones, France and UK

I think it is important for Europe to decrease the current level of dependence on US defence. As pointed out earlier we have shifting priorities esp. in Asia. As for isolationism in the US, why wouldn't we be leaning that way? It seems like everything the US does nowadays is criticised, even by her some of her "allies". I personally do not understand much of this. Is it envy, fear? Why fear a county that has help defend your lands and is now decreasing its presence? I believe in the future the US will have many more problems in its own back yard compared to now and may someday need the help of a strong European force. Be it one or many armies combined.
Leon Hutchinson, USA

In 1939, without Nato, the UN or any other multi-national quango the armies of the civilised world and the USSR combined at short notice to defeat the mightiest aggressor the world has ever seen. Seeing as most of current foreign policy revolves around launching missiles at bridges and hospitals in some tin pot dictatorship from 500 miles away I don't see why we need to go mucking around with an effective military.
We should also remember that only 15 years ago Britain was forced to take unilateral action to defend the Falkland Islands. Would we seriously have asked Spanish soldiers to fight against Argentina? (Would British soldiers fight Australians?) Of course not. We still have interests like the Falklands - not to mention Northern Ireland - that may require instant unilateral action, and it would not be fair on our armed forces or anyone else to compromise our ability to act that way.
Alex Stanway, England

Yes, but not as one defence unit, but a group of independent ones. If you believe that the EU itself can function as collection of independent states in a united community, can the military not work in the same manner?
Ian, UK

A united European army is completely necessary. By creating a single, giant army by half the costs of 15 small, ineffective armies, income tax could be reduced to 30%, thus making Europeans the wealthiest people in the world. The EU states must hand over the competence of defence to the EU president, who in turn should be elected directly by the peoples of Europe.
Humphrey Hubert, European Union

Save money, make more money, safer and more able to act on the global stage, a common defence policy and industry is a must.
Graham Kenyon, EU/UK

On the one hand, the Europe wants a common (read non-Nato) defence policy to reduce its dependency on US. On the other, Europe wants US to stay engaged for a fear of another deadly conflict between European powers themselves. As result, those two contradictory forces put the question on common European defence into rather clinical realm of the treatment of schizophrenia.
Alex Feldman, USA

Absolutely not!!! This country, along with France are always the majority providers of forces for Nato/UN ops (Bosnia/Kosovo). This would just end up in chaos. Why should we have to commit all our troops to guarding some smaller countries who would do nothing for the overall welfare of this country. I agree there should be a charter of principal, but this cannot be a practical solution. After-all each country has wildly different ideas on how things should be done.
James Tate, UK

How can you have a single army with so many scattered governments with conflicting national interests. In such a case the so-called common defence system would be so passive that it would be totally useless. Besides, is it fair that European country-A supports European country-B against Asian country-X, although European country-B is wrong. Should Islamic countries form a common defence as well; lead by Iran and Afghanistan for instance??!?
Guray Acar, United Kingdom

Common Defence Policy? I don't think so, after all, is it fair that we should subject other countries to the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction that our nuclear Arsenal poses. Can you honestly tell me that other countries are stupid enough to want to get under our Nuclear umbrella after opposing them for so long. Anyway, Europe has enough troubling with a farming policy let alone a common defence policy. But then we must end the reliance of the EU on Nato in particular USA and UK, so by all means, EU countries should increase their forces and in particular bring their technology up to date but keep it within Nato, the last thing the world needs is a EU/China cold war!!
Michael Burns, Scotland

I don't think it is possible for there to be a united European army/navy/airforce controlled by the European governing body. The idea is totally unattainable. How would funding be sorted out? What about countries that have conscription and those that don't? And what about the nuclear powers (UK and France)? No, we should stay as we are.
If there were any foreign aggression against any European country, the other European countries would intervene (well the UK would anyway, like they always do. France will probably complain about it). But each country should maintain its own independent military forces. Joint ventures, such as the Eurofighter, should continue though, as these benefit all militaries in Europe, while they still remain independent.
Simon, England

Yes, of course we need a common European defence policy. Who else could stand up to, and oppose American aggression?
Andrew, Belgium

There can be no effective unification of European forces and foreign policies until countries like ours give up their hold on the colonial past and grasp our European future. One hopes that some of our politicians will soon have the courage to stand up and tell us the truth soon.
Brian Webb, England

Common defence policy? Against whom? The unification of European military forces must, in order for there to be any chance at realisation, come after the real and concrete implementation of common and joint economic, social, geo-political, and governmental policies which serve as a basis for the unification of Europe that would be needed to allow any real and workable defence policy to be feasible. Third party forces must not be allowed to influence and dictate the goals and methods by which such a scenario could be brought about. It is the negative, in the long term, influence of self serving outside forces that would make such a scenario non-beneficial to the whole of Europe and the interests of its individual members.
Those with the real power to bring about such changes could do so however due to man's tendency toward tribality and domination and an inherent, possibly warranted desire to protect ones own, such scenarios are unlikely. It is my opinion that a neutral and united Europe would, in the long term, say in one hundred years or so, be a force that would bring about global stability and possibly world peace, were the leadership to implement policies and plans with those goals in mind.
John Robles, Russia

Possible? It's already there: WEU and the Eurocorps.
Edward, UK

Most of the proponents apparently see a "European Army" as the ideal way to start a new arms race, this time against the US and China!
Richard Gregory, UK

Make LOVE not WAR!
Jim Pickles, UK

Since Nato is totally dependent on the US and Britain I see the common Europe defence program as a build up of the British military machine.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

Adopt a common defence policy and you will see an increasingly isolationist USA. The USA has just tested an anti-missile missile accurate to within a centimetre to bring down ICBM's. What have the European's done to further their common defence? Oh, Protect and Survive. Paint your windows with whitewash and hide under the kitchen table!!! They award themselves pay rises and a first-class ticket on the EU Gravy Train. We aren't safe. Two EU countries have an independent nuclear deterrent France and the UK. Personally, I wouldn't count on the French to do more than make threats. They love nothing more than talking. That leaves, Take us out and you can walk into Europe.
Pod, Scotland

How can it be? The only country in Europe that has ever bothered to defend itself or any other country with any vigour is the good old UK. We are better off staying as we are.
Jimmy Riddle, UK

I believe a common defence policy for Europe is a good idea, as long as it allows individual states to retain the right to protect their own overseas interests, and that it interfaces with the Nato commitments and policies for the region. The only problem I can see is who on earth is going to attack Europe? Not Russian for one. The threat from the Middle East is insignificant and can be dealt with by Nato or the UN. That only leaves a terrorist threat, which can be dealt with by other initiatives.
H E Cumes, England

As is correctly pointed out by AG of Greece, we already have the WEU. The WEU treaty obliges the WEU member states, in the event of an attack on one of them, to come to each other's aid using all available means -- going further than the North Atlantic treaty, which requires the use only of "appropriate" means. If the available means are to be used to the greatest effect, of course there should be a single defence policy and a single command structure.
The idea of a single European army was put forward as early as the fifties -- and it only fell through because the French political forces of the day were unwilling to rearm the Germans. But whatever the merit of that argument at the time, surely it can no longer apply.
True, the nature of the threat to Europe has changed. The need to defend territory against a direct attack by an outside aggressor now seems less likely than the need to intervene to forestall or terminate conflicts which affect the interests of European countries. But those are common European interests, and so a common approach is called for.
Peter, Netherlands

European defence policy SHOULD BE common if all European countries and not only the European community countries participate in. The possibility to take place is possible if all countries put aside their individual interests and think spherical as a union. After all, Europe's defence policy differs from Asia's or Africa's or USA's and that's a FACT.
Elanor, Greece

This proposal is ludicrous! In the gulf war, for example, the UK after a while started to run low on ammunition. When we asked Belgium for supplies, they refused. I cannot see if this is going to work when there are conflicting interests between the nations, such as last year's operation: Desert Fox.
Adam Lyons, UK

I agree for a common European defence policy but unfortunately what is being developed by EU is a common European attacking policy against other countries for the supporting of specific imperialistic plans. This must not be accepted by the European people.
Defkalion Tsagarakis, Greece

Not possible, another era of European war has just started. A cultural one.
Jahnke, UK

Is it possible? Surely we already supposed that it was when the Eurojet was endorsed. Surely the French Foreign Legion operates on similar theories. Surely the co-operation between free European countries during WWII shows that if impetus exists, inertia will be gained.
If, with the decline and fall of Russian Communism, Nato's purpose is now in question then one has to ask what its agenda will comprise in the future. An American military presence on a new economic power base not yet fully developed but already beginning to blossom is a situation which does not bare thinking about; particularly in light of the recent 'banana war' and the antagonism provoked therein.
Daniel McKay, UK/USA

I support a unified defence purchasing policy, to give the benefits of economies of scale and inter-use of munitions, spares etc. between national armed forces. But a common defence policy would undermine national sovereignty more than the single currency!
John Farquhar-Atkins, UK

Yes, EU should have its own defence policy as long as it doesn't create new division lines in Europe, i.e. isolate Russia or Yugoslavia, or whatever country CURRENTLY in crisis. Besides, Americans are as isolationist as ever, and nothing, even the Internet that is supposed to link the entire planet, makes them understand what people in the outside world think.
Andrej, Russia

The suggestion is absurd. Look at any of the European collaborative projects and they have all been big failures: EF200 (10 years too late, Horizon AAW escort (cancelled), and now the battle field taxi.
Max, USA

The long-term goal should be a common foreign policy, but this would also mean and common command structure and authority, and, ultimately a common government. I see this as inevitable. However, it can not happen over night. European defence should still be centred around the Nato Alliance, but the European Nations also need to start moving away from action only when backed by America - after all as a continent we could have the largest and most powerful military machine in the world. For instance, we have two fifths of the world's premier nuclear powers (UK and France) in our camp.
We need to move towards a common defence policy slowly. Inter-European defence treaties, and agreement should be the start, followed by inter-European exercises. We need to be able to deploy troops in placed such as Kosovo without American support, and to do it in such a way that the world sits up and looks - "The EU is here!"
Ultimately, this will lead to a single European Armed Forces, under a single European Government - the Untied States of Europe? Perhaps. After all, the only way forward for Europe is to stand together, unless we wish to be eclipsed by America.
James Morgan, UK

Sure, then we will can wage war on ourselves rather than others!
Richard Bell, UK

It is possible, and should be done on a small scale. We can't allow the USA to dominate the world, that is dangerous. Both the Chinese and the EU should seek to rival the US. Three powers are better than one.
Malcolm Butler, UK

I think it is possible. But, if the common European defence policy would be created on the exclusion of Russia, it is bound to be a failure. Its core components should not be seen as "a grind machine", taking pleasure in a weak and defenceless countries under foot.
Tajudeen Isiaka, Nigeria

Does anyone really want to hand control of nuclear weapons and vast military power to people we have no control over? The European Union is not democratic, and there is only one result of losing democratic control of the military: Undemocratic control of the military. In most cases that means war, oppression and bloodshed, and I don't see any reason that it wouldn't mean that in the case of the EU.
Alex Stanway, United Kingdom

We already have a military alliance or some kind of common policy; it's called the WEU. If this or any kind of newer Euro-alliance ends up being another weak alliance whose sole purpose is to please the US, then we're better off without one. I don't want another Nato to replace the already existing one which is corrupt. If we are to make some kind of common military alliance/policy, we need strong leaders who will draw the line between working with the US and serving the US. I don't want Europe to evolve into a US super-satellite.
AG, Greece

America wishes to disengage from Europe but we still have problems here, e.g. Kosovo. Europe must shoulder its own responsibilities for defence and security. America will be become more and more preoccupied with a heavily industrialised, militarised, but not yet democratic Asia/Pacific region.
Because of America's continued domination of European security Europe's political leaders are indecisive. That won't work in the 21st Century. We have to have clear European policies for European security with European armed forces.
Rob Coppinger, United Kingdom

We should definitely strive for a common European defence policy as without it we stand the risk of being eclipsed by American military power and being a second rate foreign policy power.
Jason Thomas Williams, UK

There should be a Europe-wide defence policy, but one that wouldn't interfere with national defence policies. i.e. a European defence strategy to defend members of the EU as a whole and because we are not a US of Europe the French should still have a French defence policy and the Germans should still have a German defence policy etc...
However, there will be a time when a state army (or martyrs of a Europe-wide defence policy) would have a contradicting viewpoint to the national armies, which would cause a future problem (like a Europe-wide police force would cause). Therefore, in bringing about this type of system there is no room for any incompetence or corruption, which will need to be policed.
Daren, UK

Looking at recent events, European defence seems to be spearheaded by the US with Britain as their Yes Man and the French huffing and puffing but falling in line. I think some sort of common defence policy is needed for Europe to at least be able to clean up its own problems and not be seen merely as the US's junior partner in Nato. One wonders though will countries in Europe that don't spend a huge amount on defence be happy to try and match those that do?? And what about the neutral countries in the EU?
Matt, Ireland

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