Does the European Union need a common military force?

In his first post-Brexit annual state of the union address, EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker proposed the creation of a permanent headquarters, with the eventual aim of developing a common European Union military force.

Jean-Francois Badias/AP
The head of the European Union's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, delivers his State of the Union address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Union Commission President called for greater defense cooperation between countries and the establishment of a joint-command headquarters for EU military missions.

"We must have a European headquarters and so we should work towards a common military force," Mr. Juncker told the European Parliament, as a part of his annual state of the union address. He stressed that he was not proposing a EU army, but rather the creation of a centralized location from which operations can be based.

His proposal is a further example of the ways in which the EU is looking to reshape itself after "Brexit," the June vote in the United Kingdom to exit the EU. Juncker and many of the EU nations feel the current and pressing need for raised defense co-operation – something the UK had always been opposed to out of concerns it would create conflict with the already existing NATO alliance, which is headquartered in Belgium.

"This should be to complement NATO,"  Juncker said, as the US has also been concerned about what effect a EU military headquarters would have on the existing system. "More defence in Europe doesn't mean less transatlantic solidarity,” he continued before going on to outline the need for a European Defense Fund, which would stimulate military research and development.

Following recent attacks across Europe, including those in Paris, Nice, and Brussels in the past year, EU leaders identify security as one of their primary concerns in the immediate future. And the Brexit negotiations may only further complicate the situation as remaining nations must compensate for the loss of the EU’s highest-spending military power, which could easily reduce their overall defense capacity by 25 percent if new proposals aren’t implemented.

At present, EU military cooperation is already convoluted due to the varied nature of a multi-national alliance. Current defense contracts are granted individually to each nation’s internal industries, creating a situation where 19 different types of armored infantry fighting vehicles exist within the European Union, as opposed to one within the United States, according to information gathered by Reuters.

In outlining the need for an EU military headquarters, Juncker also cited the amount of money wasted on coordinating joint missions from a non-central location. "From an economic point of view, bringing together our military resources could be clearly justified," Juncker said. "The lack of cooperation is something that is costing Europe 20 to 100 billion euros a year.”

But in addition to the concern that an EU-based cooperation could detract from the overall functionality of the already-exiting NATO, the United States would prefer the EU spend the money that would be used to establish and construct such a headquarters on equipment and supplies.

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was initially created as a counterbalance to the incredible military growth and power of the Soviet Union. A great many of the European Union countries are current members of NATO, whose headquarters, the Supreme Allied Powers Europe, is currently located in near Brussels in Belgium.

Yet, recent cuts in defense budgets across Europe have complicated the running of missions abroad, reduced the ability to provide peacekeeping and disaster relief support, and undermined EU-based counter terrorism operations. Thus Juncker’s proposal is intended to be a collaboration in the development of military assets and joint strategic planning in order to avoid useless and wasteful overlap between nations.

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