An EU military headquarters is no threat to NATO

by Nick Kent | 07.10.2016

Since the EU adopted its first security strategy in 2003, the security situation around Europe has changed beyond recognition. Turmoil in the Middle East following the Arab Spring – including the murderous Syrian civil war, a resurgent Russia, and the changing nature of the terrorist threat in Europe have combined to make the continent a less secure place.

Back in 2003, some in Europe saw the divisions between a US led by George W Bush and an EU that included powerful opponents of the US-led invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to assert European military power. It was proposed in Brussels that the EU should establish its own military headquarters, separate from NATO, enabling the EU to plan and mount operations and co-ordinate them with civilian policy delivery.

But the advocates of an EU military HQ could not count on the UK, then as now the EU’s largest military power. The UK, which had been instrumental in promoting greater EU involvement in defence since 1998, objected strongly to this idea, which it saw as a threat to the role of NATO. There were similar concerns in Washington. The UK, part of the US-led coalition in Iraq with the support of several member states in Central and Eastern Europe, said it would veto such a proposal.

With a new EU security strategy agreed in June this year, an EU military HQ is back on the table. The dramatic increase in threats to Europe, and a shift in US position – not just President Barack Obama but Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump also thinks European countries should do more to protect themselves – has changed the dynamic.

When the US declined to lead the operation against Colonel Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and Germany vetoed the use of the EU, an informal coalition had to be assembled with NATO support and the result was widely seen as ineffective.

Now Germany is arguing the EU should agree to a military HQ, not because it would function better than NATO, with which it has a co-operation agreement anyway, but because it will enable the EU to more effectively co-ordinate its military and civilian policies.

The EU is unique in being able to combine a range of policy instruments – defence, diplomatic, trade and aid. A good example is Somalia, wracked by conflict since 1992, and with a need to tackle piracy, oppose terrorism and promote democratic institutions. The EU is helping with all these, but a national HQ is needed to lead and co-ordinate military forces in Somalia; At present, a Royal Navy facility in Northwood, London does this, commanding the operation.

Some in the UK want to continue to oppose an EU military HQ. Perhaps they still see it as a threat to NATO, though few expect the EU to develop something as elaborate as what was proposed in 2003. Or maybe they sense this could be a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.

Whatever their reasoning, they are undermining the UK’s security with their opposition. It makes no sense to have duplicate headquarters – in a member state for the military aspects of an EU operation, and another in Brussels for the civilian parts. This is wasteful and reduces operational effectiveness.

They should back off and the British Government should recognise that strengthening European defence benefits the UK, whether we are in or out of the EU.

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    Edited by Yojana Sharma

    Tags: , , Categories: Articles, Security