Why the US-European Defense Umbrella is on the Brink of Folding Up

Academic, journalist and political commentator Gevorg Mirzayan explains why NATO’s Eastern flank, as well as the countries of the former Soviet space aspiring to join the Western alliance, are being set up have their security and geopolitical ambitions thwarted.

The past week has seen important statements by high-level EU officials on the subject of European defense. On Friday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini declaredthat the world was in “a state of chaos,” with the “European way to peace and security” necessitating “a professional army.”

A day earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel informed her countrymen and women that Berlin could no longer rely on the US defense umbrella, and would have to “take its destiny into its own hands.”

At the same time, President Trump’s dramatic withdrawal from the Iran deal has again spurred discussion at the highest levels on the need for not only a common foreign policy, but a defense policy as well.

According to Gevorg Mirzayan, “the basic message” of such remarks is “all the same,” and comes down to the idea that “Europe must be prepared to defend itself by itself, without accounting for America, and as soon as possible.”

It’s worth recalling, the analyst noted, that the concept of a European army has been discussed going back the 1950s, with the idea itself spelled out in the Lisbon Treaty. However, a vigorous and militarily capable NATO, backed by unquestioned American hegemony, meant that the idea would long remain on the drawing board.

Folding Umbrella

“With the arrival of Donald Trump (although not because of him), the situation began to change drastically,” Mirzayan noted. “In November 2017, the entire EU, with the exception of Britain, which is in the process of exiting the bloc, Denmark, which chose not to participate, and Malta, whose neutral status is outlined in its constitution, adopted a so-called “Permanent Structured Cooperation on defense and security (PESCO).”

The security project envisions large scale-defense cooperation between EU countries, including the “harmonization” of defense strategies, allocation of military contingents for special operations, readiness to carry out joint missions, and between some countries, projects for common defense infrastructure (such as a European Medical Command and the EUFOR Crisis Response Operation Core project).

Under Trump, the concept of a European Army is no longer something muttered about quietly in EU leaders’ speeches. “National leaders and senior EU-level officials all the way up to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker have begun talking about Europe’s ‘defense sovereignty’ as not just a desired goal, but an inevitable prospect,” Mirzayan wrote.

Earlier this year, for example, former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel discussed Europe’s need for a common “power project” to allow the continent to avoid the fate of remaining “a vegetarian with a lot of problems in a world of carnivores.”

Aftermath of US Adventures

Just as significant, Mirzayan added, was the fact that many of the security issues now facing Europe are the result of ‘American victories’ in the Middle East. “It’s the Europeans who have faced a flood of refugees from the ruins of Syria and Libya. And it’s the Europeans who have suffered the brunt of the terrorist attacks by Daesh (ISIS)*, a group which arose out of the US ‘victory’ in Iraq, over the past decade.”

Other problems include the ongoing instability in Ukraine, a more and more anti-Western Turkey, and the Palestinian-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts, ready to explode at any moment. It’s noteworthy, according to the journalist, that the aggravation of all of these conflicts involves US actions. The Europeans have tried to soothe their partners in Washington, emphasizing that PESCO is aimed at strictly as being a response to local crises, and that it’s a project which won’t affect the strategic defense of the continent provided by NATO structures. But the US has already warned that it will only support the European defense project so long as it does not “distract from NATO’s activities and requirements,” and stressed that Washington would be watching PESCO “carefully” to see that it doesn’t “splinter” the US-European alliance.

It’s noteworthy, according to Mirzayan, that there are a number of key issues related to the European army idea which have yet to be ironed out. “Germany, for example, wants to see the active participation of a maximum number of the EU’s member states. However, some members are not only unprepared for such defense integration, but will factually sabotage it. This relates particularly to the Eastern European countries which, while receiving a large portion of the EU’s [structural] funds, simultaneously remain strictly oriented toward the US politically.” An example of the latter is Poland, which is now in a direct conflict with both Brussels and Berlin.

“In any case, the trend is evident. And when the process is brought to its logical conclusion, the main victims will be those countries relying on the outgoing US world order – i.e. the pro-American Eastern Europeans like Poland, and the post-Soviet republics like Georgia and Ukraine looking to come under the NATO umbrella. But by the time they plan to make it in, this umbrella may simply fold up,” Mirzayan concluded.

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