A common defence fund should be the next big step for Europeby Derek Coombs / December 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Shortly after the second world war, Jean Monnet proposed a common trading bloc for the major western European powers. Monnet persuaded Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister, to back his plan for a common coal and steel community, which was subsequently agreed by six European nations. This was the first move towards European union and helped to make war between the European powers unthinkable. The other crucial benefit, one that was probably not evident at the time, was the emergence of a trading bloc of European states that could eventually match America economically.
Western Europe is the foundation of our modern civilisation. But if you look at the long-term trends it may not be as secure as it seems. Population growth is continuing rapidly in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Global population is expected to grow a further 1.5bn by 2020, and then another 1.5bn by 2050. Moreover, America is changing. The rising influence of Hispanics—who have overtaken African-Americans to become the largest minority group in the country—means America will be a different place in 20 years and may look less towards Europe for its security alliance. In any case, the Iraq war demonstrated how surprisingly weak the US actually is.
The world will increasingly turn on the great division between haves and have-nots, with religion often being the language in which the ensuing conflicts are fought. As we see in North Korea and Iran, nuclear technology will inevitably spread, with the likelihood in the future that someone will use it against Europe or America.
Europe must be able to defend itself from these current and future threats.? I am opposed to a federal Europe—each nation wants to preserve its independence and national pride while pooling sovereignty where sensible. But I agree with Winston Churchill that the EU must develop a common defence policy that is meaningful.
Now that war between the major European powers is impossible we must move on to the next stage: a combined defensive force to protect Europe’s borders and respond to external aggression. This shield should be independent of Nato and the US. This will create friction with the US—it is already doing so—but we are big boys now and we have to assert our independence when appropriate. Such a move might even help bring the US back to a more sensible, multilateral stance—a stance that won it so much respect in the past.
So how should we pay for this shield? In addition to its own spending on defence, each EU nation should contribute to a common defence fund at a set proportion of its GDP. It should start small, at a fraction of 1 per cent, but it would be a signal of intent. Each EU nation could, of course, maintain its own military forces. Nato would continue as before, when required.
The EU nations that spend most on the military are Britain, France, Germany and Italy, but our combined expenditure falls well short of the US. That must change over time.
Europe has set the example of historically warring nations settling for peace. It is now leading the way in developing a cohesive defence and trade bloc as an example to the rest of the world. Such blocs are sometimes seen as representing a threat to global peace and free trade—but in fact they are a practical means of ensuring stability and preventing regional violence. The nation state remains desirable—it is the focus for identity and democratic control—but it is also a catalyst for war in the middle east, Africa and elsewhere. Regional blocs in which some sovereignty is shared is the practical answer to the fact that we cannot live with or without the nation state. Europe, as the most successful and integrated regional bloc, can act as an example to the rest of the world so that other nations on other continents may consider such groupings, sharing trade and defence in a similar way. In this way Europe—thanks to Monnet’s vision—can strike a chord for peace across the world.