Is a European army really so barmy?

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was, to his credit, very critical of the NATO-led assault on Libya in 2011, which destroyed a prosperous country and created a refugee crisis of epic proportions, as well as greatly increasing the terrorism threat to European citizens.

Yet now the same politician seems very worried that NATO could be made redundant. 

The elevation of Ursula von der Leyen to the role of president of the European Commission (a position she officially assumes from Jean-Claude Juncker on November 1), led to a fierce diatribe from Farage, in which he slammed the German politician’s support for a new European army. While von der Leyen’s hitherto quite hawkish stance on Russia (she is a strong supporter of sanctions), is a cause for concern, is the idea of a European army really so bad – so long as membership, or adequate non-aggression guarantees – can be given to Russia? 




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We can argue till the cows come home about whether NATO was needed in the old Cold War. Some say that the old Soviet Union posed no real threat to Western Europe, others say it was better to be safe than sorry. But it’s hard to maintain, given the events of recent years, that the military alliance should not have been wound up at the same time as the Warsaw Pact.

Instead of dissolution, NATO morphed from a defensive alliance into an attack dog. Yugoslavia was illegally bombed in 1999, an assault that not only was in contravention of international law but also NATO’s own founding constitution. Some 12 years later, NATO played the lead role in the destruction of Libya, a country which had the highest Human Development Index in the whole of Africa. In June 2010, Libya was named in the Daily Telegraph newspaper as one of the top six exotic cruise ship destinations. 

Today, the British Foreign Commonwealth Office “advises against all travel to Libya.” 

NATO has also greatly intensified tensions with Russia, with provocative troop build-ups on the borders.  




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How can any objective observer, who genuinely wants world peace, be worried that NATO might be made redundant, or not ‘have any relevance in Europe at all’ due to a new security apparatus being set up?

It’s not ‘anti-American’ to believe that over 70 years on from the end of the Second World War, Europe is more than capable of looking after its own defense.

A lot of Americans would agree with that too, especially those keen to cut military spending and reallocate funds to healthcare and much-needed poverty reduction programs.

So long as Europe’s defense is tied to the US, then European countries are more likely to be dragged into wars of choice egged on by Washington neocons, to the detriment of Europeans and Americans.

The current menacing of Iran is a case in point.

If there’s one good thing the Trump presidency has done, it’s woken Europeans up to the dangers of being too closely tied to the US. 




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If a European army fulfils the same role as NATO – i.e. an aggressive one – then of course, it would be objectionable. But the idea itself of Europe doing its own thing shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. Farage said in his speech that a European defense force could be used for attack – but that’s exactly what’s happened with NATO, which he supports.

Critiquing the undemocratic nature of the European Union, as it currently stands, does not mean a rejection of pan-Europeanism per se. It makes sense for countries of the continent to co-operate as closely as possible on matters of mutual concern, including defense, environmental protection, and anti-terrorism. Important economies of scale can be achieved. Sovereigntists can hardly attack the idea of a European army on philosophical grounds, yet remain strong supporters of NATO, an organization in which, let’s face it, the US calls most of the shots.

Farage is also incorrect when he accuses Ursula von der Leyen of wanting to build “an updated form of communism.” The charge against the CDU politician and close ally of Angela Merkel is not that she’s a leftie, but that she’s pro-status-quo (and I don’t mean the pop group). The EU desperately needs to break away from neoliberalism, yet under von der Leyen, that looks most unlikely.




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Perhaps Farage is hinting that von der Leyen is a ‘communist’ because he sees the EU as the new Soviet Union. But this too is not an accurate analogy.

It’s predicated again on an erroneous right-wing belief that large multinational federations are by their very nature a bad idea – and never have public support. It was reported last December that Russian nostalgia for the Soviet Union had reached a 13-year high. 

Don’t forget either that, in a referendum in March 1991, 76.4 percent of voters across the Union voted for the retention of a reformed Soviet Union. The USSR was dissolved not because a majority of citizens wanted it, but because the elite centered around Boris Yeltsin did. The so-called ‘democrats‘ didn’t prove to be very democratic. 

What reduces support for the EU today is not so much the idea of ‘European unity’ – which is a far from ignoble one – but the economic situation on the ground. People across Europe associate the EU with austerity, falling living standards, and unemployment. Ironically, if Ursula von der Leyen’s aim really was to introduce ‘an updated version of communism,’ (where everyone was guaranteed a job) or at least a return to dirigiste Gaullist economics, associated with the period known as Les Trente Glorieuses, the EU, in one form or another, would have a far better chance of survival.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 

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