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The European army: a false good idea (Guy Buchsenschmidt)

(B2) The former commander of the Eurocorps, Belgian general Guy Buchsenschmidt, now retired, does not mince his words on the European army projects.

This terminology, regularly mentioned, more or less openly, by European officials, such as Jean-Claude Juncker (the president of the European Commission) or politicians as different as Germans, Italians or Czechs, often remains theoretical, without s dwell on the practical, political and technical consequences that such an idea would entail in order to achieve its implementation. The Belgian general identifies, one by one, the obstacles which stand like so many pitfalls on this path which seems illusory.

A standardization that is fictional

The establishment of an army bringing together the disparate military assets of 27 nations would require a level of standardization that is a fiction. When I commanded the European Rapid Reaction Corps (Eurocorps), from June 2013 to June 2015, I was often asked if I supported the idea of ​​a “European army”. No offense to Mr Junker, my answer was (and remains) invariable: a European defense, yes; a European army, no.

Very disparate military means

For what ? Very simply, because the establishment of such an army, bringing together the very disparate military resources of 27 nations, would require a level of standardization that is a fiction. Better: it's 'wishful thinking'. However, it is an old idea, brought to the baptismal font by Chancellor Kohl and President Mitterrand, with the creation, initially, of the Franco-German Brigade, then of the Eurocorps. A 'success story' which unfortunately fizzled out, even if the Eurocorps has an impressive track record in terms of external operations.

How to speak the same language, literally and figuratively

English for all soldiers? Certain functions of military leadership and management are certainly relatively easy to standardize. This is the case, for example, with the use of English as a working language – French, the second official language of NATO, is “dropping out” -, at least from a certain level, because at the level of the soldier, there is still a long way to go. The same goes for staff procedures, as long as they are based on NATO or European standards. Any officer from a Western war school (or higher defense institute) knows the broad outlines of these procedures.

With what equipment?

On the other hand, it is not the same for materials, in the broad sense. Can we imagine that the French Air Force would scrap its “Rafale” in favor of the American F-35? Can we think for a single moment that the Italian Armed Forces would allow themselves the luxury of ignoring Iveco? Is it conceivable that the Belgian Armed Forces would favor an American firm in terms of light weapons, to the detriment of the Fabrique nationale (FN) d'armes de Herstal? Certainly not.

Always very national emblems

It could be objected that Eurocorps personnel all wear, without distinction of nationality or rank, the same dark blue beret, bearing the representative emblem of this headquarters. Indeed. But it was a long-term battle as certain particularities were exacerbated. We could also use the argument according to which despite a “fleet” of command and information resources that are variegated to say the least, the Eurocorps headquarters runs like a Swiss clock, both in operations and in in exercises. Yes, but at the cost of what efforts...

Another example, bordering on anecdotal: it is totally illusory to think of “standardizing” individual outfits and equipment. On the one hand, it would be an unforgivable waste and on the other hand, once again, national particularities (wearing badges, unit insignia, honorary distinctions, etc.) would make this idea irremediably obsolete.

The career question

Other obstacles stand in the way of the creation of a European army, as nations categorically refuse – and understandably – to give up their sovereignty in a wide range of areas. This is particularly the case for human resources, with all that this implies: career trajectories, rotation and training policy, promotions, assignments, discipline, etc. In matters of health, the sacrosanct medical secrecy does not facilitate – to put it mildly – ​​the creation of multinational medical units.

The question of privacy

Some nations – including Germany – are extremely picky (not to mention paranoid) about privacy issues, which explains why. The “legal” area is also very sensitive: for example, not all countries of the European Union have the same perception of the notion of “self-defense”. In terms of intelligence, the creation of a climate of trust, the cornerstone of strengthened cooperation, still constitutes a major challenge.

The presence of unions… or not

Another obstacle: the defense of the interests of the worker, through unions. Inconceivable for certain European countries. A final example: in the best of all possible worlds, we can imagine that within a European army, pay would be standardized. Pure fiction…

A European army, no… a European defense, yes

In summary, let's be clear: in current circumstances, the establishment of a European army is “a bad idea”. On the other hand, a “European Defense” is possible, provided that all the nations of the Union adhere to it without a second thought and agree to cede certain parts of their sovereignty. But that's another debate...

(Guy Buchsenschmidt)

Retired general, vice-president of the European Defense Corporation and former commander of Eurocorps (2013-2015) after having been its chief of staff (2011-2013). An armored cavalry officer, he commanded Squadron A of the 3rd Lancer Regiments, and the 1st Lancer Regiment, and was deputy commander of the Land Component of the Belgian Army. Head of State of the 7th Mechanized Brigade, he was deployed to the headquarters of the Multinational Brigade North (1999-2000) having under his responsibility the northern zone of Kosovo (Mitrovica), where the Kosovo Serb minority lives.

Published for the first time in the daily newspaper La Libre Belgique (and reproduced with its authorization) Chapô, titles and intertitles are from the editorial staff

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3 thoughts on “The European army: a false good idea (Guy Buchsenschmidt)"

  • Regarding the words of Belgian General Guy Buchsenschmidt, “The European army: a 'false good idea' because Mr. General is undoubtedly a pro Atlanticist, so nothing surprising on his part.

    To be in favor of a European defense (we know to say with national armies and undoubtedly under the US banner via NATO) and to say no to a European army, proves that he is not a European Federalist.

    His argument on standardization, which is a fiction, proves it because it clearly shows that he refuses to hear about federalism, whereas it is a prerequisite for allowing this famous standardization.

    Standardization is by no means a fiction but just a question of political will and that is not an insurmountable problem, perhaps for the pessimists and the Eurosceptics.

  • Before considering a European army, we should first ask ourselves the following questions:
    - to do what ? Could this army intervene in Africa, other than to do training and humanitarian work?
    - with whom ? by adding the armies of the 27 nations? A new “Great Army”!!!

  • A European army is quite simply the future of Europe
    That we can defend ourselves with our own weapons without being dependent on another nation
    to make a European technology which produces its own weapons which develops European industries without having to finance a power which does not make any technological return.
    but it is true that like the NRA American companies know how to corrupt our representatives

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