EU Army: What is Italy’s approach?

Why is Italy so active regarding EU common defense, basically matching French-German proposal? In general, what do you think about this idea of EU Army (or however we call it)? Read few comments.

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

The talk of an EU Army has been going on for some time already. There are two different issues here, that effectively correspond to your two questions. Therefore:

1) Italy recognizes the need to have a cohesive EU defence especially because Italy sees the problems on the Mediterranean’s southern border (Libya just to name one…) and the problem is that NATO is more focused on the Eastern flank now, despite declarations at Warsaw in early July. So that would be in order to be independent from NATO’s vision. Also we think that basically a better EU foreign policy, including possibility of intervention abroad, would be best served by a cohesive approach that would be fulfilled by having a shared, cohesive military arm because decisions on its use would be more shared instead of the current unilateral decisions and different policies various EU members bring forward (again, see Libya…). Also, given fiscal and budget issues throughout the EU, cuts in defence budgets and a military industry that is too fragmented (we have different big players, all making war on one another, which hurts economies of scale for EU-wide orders that would allow lower costs) – therefore a common EU army would help deal with this through a deeper integration and pooling of resources.
However, the real key is the second question.

2) In theory, EU Battlegroups (BGs) are already the right tool (even if more funding and better integrated training would be better) and are usually already of the right size. Plus EUROCORPS could work as a larger base for the EU army. But the problem is one of foreign policies. A lot of people (including in Italy) think that all/most problems would be solved if we had a common EU army, but that is not true: BGs (for example) don’t work now because their deployment depends on common unanimous decision by EU member states… which usually can’t be attained in foreign policy (even crisis) issues. So they are never deployed.

Consider BGs are designed to be deployable in few days (15 max) once a political decision is taken. Read again: once a political decision is taken. Which means that all their readiness is useless if the EU members never agree on using them. The problem is not the tool per se, but the willingness to use it and how to use it.

The same problem would happen for an EU common army: you can create it however you want it, with all the needed equipment and training… but if there’s no EU political cohesion on when and how to use it, it remains useless… and doesn’t solve any (or very few) of EU’s problems, even in procurement! As an example, let’s imagine we have to decide the next fighter-bomber for EU’s common air force. Which one? The Typhoon? The Rafale? The JSF F-35? If a new one is produced, who would produce each component? Where? Different EU countries have different interests even on this (jobs, investments, national pride for some of them like France…) and would quarrel mightily between them to protect own interests. Even Sweden could put forward its own good results with the Gripen as why it should not be overlooked. Result: no decision, or split (every military decides for itself, just like now, nullifying budget benefits). Multiply this for almost everything: tanks, helicopters, APCs, IFVs, rifles and pistols, electronic surveillance, drones, etc…

Now think of deployment when your countrymen are the ones to be deployed. I look at Italian public opinion and already see the issues if Italians are the ones to be deployed in a combat mission… and politicians using that to futher their own ambition by voting against. Same would happen in other countries (hello, Hungary? Eastern Europe for missions in the south? Germany? France if not too close to peculiar national interests?)

Without political agreement, a common EU army doesn’t work. That is why Germany and France prefer to keep national militaries as focus (also to ward unilateral deployment for France, keeping away from it for Germany) and why Italy wants a coordinated approach (we can’t/don’t want to do all alone and prefer to share burden).

However, bear in mind that Italy is never considered a military power, but outside USA, we are the NATO country with more soldiers abroad in NATO missions. And in UN, we’re the first ones in OSCE countries. So we may look tiny, but reality is we’ve more deployed troops than anyone else except US. For us the problem is not that we don’t have the tools ourselves (except some specialized assets we borrow from NATO… but that our culture makes us prefer a multilateral approach, also to avoid having someone play against us (again, as in Libya, see France)

Another note on NATO: curiously the major driver for standardization of EU militaries is not EU but NATO… through STANAGs. EU could align on those to help standardization, but still the cost issue would remain unless all agree on same hardware (which brings us to above problems). Also there’s the issue of the Berlin Plus agreement.

However, we live in a period of selfish nationalism on these issues… this is the real problem now, not the creation of an EU common army per se.

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