“In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon…”
It has become some kind of European routine: confronted with an increasing number of citizens displeased by the Union’s policies, lack – or excess – of shared programs, European leaders revive the idea of a European army from time to time. There’s nothing new about using the military to reassure people, for it’s both a useful tool and a symbolic object of the utmost importance: in France, politicians are after all still debating about re-establishing a military service and arguing about its ability to mix social groups () within a single, united corp. But as Russia seems to be revaluating its strategic orientations to promote a more active approach to security issues while revitalising its military industrial complex, Europe, now forced to act by The Donald’s erratic way of handling foreign affairs, might have no other choice but to go “once more into the breach.”
Still, obstacles are various: even though interoperability have been promoted for quite a long time, European armed forces still use different material, especially in strategic realms such as the air force – the French Armée de l’Air uses Rafale and Mirage, while the German Luftwaffe uses Eurofighters, for instance. Moreover, shared industrial program such as the A400M one () – which aimed at providing various European armies with a common transport aircraft – met surprising difficulties, costs skyrocketing without any apparent progress being made. In addition to those technical, industrial issues, the sole idea of a common European armed force raises many more issues, from political ones to military ones: what would the missions be of such a force? By whom would it be commanded? What about language and structure? Where would its bases be located? In order to rationalise all of these rightful inquiries, one has to draw the line somewhere: it is almost impossible, if not simply bizarre to imagine that 28 countries will ever come together to form an armed force capable of designating its capacities, foes, theatres of operations and missions in a clear way.
The French Armed Forces, created in 1792, are currently divided into five branches: the Armée de Terre, the Marine Nationale, the Armée de l’Air, the Gendarmerie and the National Guard. Recently deployed in Sub-Saharan Africa (3,000 troops) in Iraq (3,200 troops) the French Armed Forces are also taking part in various peacekeeping missions by mobilising nearly 1,000 blue helmets. Besides enjoying the world’s only nuclear-powered carrier completed outside of the United States Navy, the French Armed Forces can rely on highly functional tools as various as fifth-generation aircraft (Rafale) and ultramodern frigates (FREMM) Yet, the French Armed Forces are suffering from the same drawbacks as most of their European partners: a chronic lack of funding which currently sever its ability to carry out missions on its own and this has resulted in a lack of strategic airlift and unmanned aerial vehicles. However, recent reforms have been announced: they include investing in the modernisation of the Rafale, investing in the French special forces and speeding up the modernisation of France’s armoured vehicles
While discussing military integration, less is more. It is always easier to merge a small number of forces into one than to try and design a European military based on twenty-eight countries’ will to create something shared and common. () In fact, common characteristics exist between some militaries in the Union: German and French forces, for instance, are reaching an almost similar level of operational capacity, France’s main asset being that they have acquired important experiences on theatres as diverse as South America, Sub-Saharan and Central Africa, Levant and Middle-East and own combat-proven aircrafts (Rafale) self-propelled howitzers (Caesar Canon) infantry fighting vehicles (VBCI) tactical transport helicopters (Caracal) and attack helicopters (Tigre) the latter being the result of a European military program and therefore used not only by France but also Germany and Spain.
The Spanish Armed Forces aren’t as important as the French or Italian ones, but they still represent forces to be acknowledged, members of both NATO and the Eurocorps and representing around 130,000 men and women divided between the Ejército de Tierra, the Armada Española, the Ejército del Aire and the Guardia Civil. Though only carrying modest missions and relying on small battlegroups, the Spanish Armed Forces enjoy modern and various equipment including German MBT (Leopard II) European and American helicopters (Tigre, Chinook) and Austrian-Spanish IFV (ASCOD Pizarro) asserting its capacity to act in coordination with other western forces. Yet, and as many European forces, the Spanish ones suffer from a lack of investment resulting in poor operational abilities based on aging tools and gears, which was made even worse by the political turmoil faced by the nation a year ago
This, for instance, came from a simple thought: “We all need a similar tool to carry out similar missions on similar theatres of operation. Why not share the costs of production as well as future, prospective benefits?” such a model of military cooperation being encouraged by the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (), which currently supervises no more than twelve military programs, from armoured fighting vehicles (Cobra) to multi-mission frigates (FREMM). Its most active members include France – with nine shared military programs – Italy – seven – Germany – three – and Benelux – three. Seven military’s therefore sharing highly efficient tools and reaching an almost unmatched interoperability capacity; seven countries active on shared battlegrounds such as Mali or Iraq and who could, at one point, start to exist as a Seven Nation Army.
As far as organisation is concerned, the Forze Armate Italiane can be compared to the French one. It is divided into four corps: the Esercito Italiano, the Marina Militare, the Aeronautica Militare and the Arma dei Carabinieri and represent nearly 300,000 men and women. Recent reforms in the Italian military included a decrease in the number of the army personnel meant to reallocate military funds to instruction, training and armaments. Its main assets include: owning two STOVL aircraft carriers – short takeoff and vertical landing – meant to carry short-range missions in the Mediterranean Sea, having at its disposal a vast number of military aircrafts – the most recent being Eurofighter and F 35 – and an even more impressive number of soldiers. This military strength furthermore relies on two things: an efficient arms-industry – Leonardo, Beretta – and a satisfactory operative level based on experiences acquired in Afghanistan
But as important as industrial cooperation might be, their sine-qua-non conditions remain to share strategic orientations and goals, and that’s where the rub is. Italian and French objectives include controlling the Mediterranean Sea or having the means to carry out short-range missions, but France has interests in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It therefore needs slightly different tools, including the ability to carry out long-range missions, such missions relying, for instance, on tanker aircrafts and light warships. But why would Germany need those? Its most recent military doctrine has been designed after the Ukrainian Crisis and mostly revolves around countering any Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. () Such a threat isn’t to be deterred by tools designed for long-range projections, but rather by mechanised and armoured vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons, intelligence and counterintelligence assets or artillery systems. But what would France make of those in Mali’s desert, or in Bangui’s unstable streets? That’s when the dream of a European army meets a dead end.
With military budgets barely superior to 1% of their GDP, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces aren’t as impressive as the French or German ones. Though mostly equipped with modern equipment, they are both in need of more recent planes, the Royal Netherlands Air Force having already settled for American Lockheed Martin F-35. This of course came as a surprise, since such an investment would have been a perfect occasion to support Europe’s military-industrial complex. Moreover, the Composante Terre/Land Component suffers from the same flaws as the French Armée de Terre as it is currently used to patrol the streets which weaken the soldiers’ morale while damaging its military budget. Though modest in strength, the Belgian and Dutch Armed Forces are still members of the European military cooperation programs, with one each: the A400M Atlas and the Boxer
Finally, the idea of a European military poses another issue: the one of nuclear defence. In its recent article The Case for a European Nuke, Foreign Affairs’ Doug Bandow () perfectly explained how the perspective of a shared nuclear programme could benefit both the European and the American military interests by reducing Washington’s expenditures on our soil while increasing our influence in the West’s military decisions. As noted by Ulrich Kühn of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “it would be far too expensive for Europe to match Russia’s store of 2,000 to 3,000 tactical nuclear weapons” but Europe could, by using France’s nuclear doctrine settle for a deterrent force. “Europe,” notes Doug Bandow, “is also the most obvious place for Washington to close at least one of its nuclear umbrellas. None of the United States’ Asian allies possesses nuclear weapons, and their development would have unpredictable regional effects and be more likely to trigger proliferation” making this issue of a European Nuke a priority of the utmost importance.
Such a European military revolution would nevertheless have to be handled with care. Creating a European Nuke and therefore increasing the number of nuclear weapons possessed by European nations could arguably have an important impact on non-proliferation. It would also pose a very concrete question: to whom should fall the ultimate decision to fire those weapons? This has been established by many specialists: the first and main strength of a nuclear deterrent is its credibility. Not only do you have to let your prospective enemies know about your weapon, you also must absolutely erase any possibility to let them think you might not be prepared or ready to resort to those weapons of mass destruction. In the French case, the president has the possibility to order the use of nuclear bombs without referring to any counter-powers. This of course goes with him constitutionally being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and raises some political issues, but it is also ultimately there to assert France’s ability to punish any important attack on its most vital interests. In the event of a European Nuke, who shall we entrust with the possibility to unleash weapons so powerful one might think of them as blasphemous ()? Here, the military idea of a shared weapon meets the political necessity of a common executive power.
The almost romantic idea of a European Army, let alone of a Seven Nation Army, is no dream nor illusion, but a strategic necessity. Yet, the obstacles to be overcome in the process of creating such a tool are both various and imposing: beyond the inherent need to build it around shared military objectives, orientations and tools, it would furthermore require a common sense of politics, a remarkable – almost unreachable in those modern times – pedagogy and the insurance that this device, while being controlled by civil authorities, would not be neutralised by them. In the meantime, humble industrial cooperation appears to be the main way forward in designing the collective tools upon which unity shall, one day, be accomplished.
Hugo Decis is currently studying International Relations i Paris and is the current Communication Officer. This article was previously posted on Mercoeur, a french blog specialised on International Relations, at this address: https://mercoeur.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/seven-nation-army/
 Le Creuset de l’Armée : Un Mythe de l’Intégration – Jean-Dominique Merchet, Libération
 Airbus : Le Programme A400M est-il en danger ? – Michel Cabirol, La Tribune
 Samuel Beckett’s European Army – Daniel Keohane, Carnegie Europe
 Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation, official website – available at: http://www.occar.int/programmes
 In a Reversal, Germany’s Military Growth Is Met with Western Relief – Alison Smale, The New-York Times
 The Case for a European Nuke – Doug Bandow, Foreign Affairs
 Towards the Nuclear Sublime: Representations of Technological Vastness in Postmodern American Poetry – Rob Wilson, Cambridge University