As newly elect president Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of NATO calls it an “obsolete organization”, French Prime Minister Bernard Cazenueve calls for establishing an independent defense system in Europe.
“European defense with European means, European investments, European power projection capacity is necessary to provide the European Union … with independence," Cazeneuve said.
France’s stance is quite clear. While for most West-European countries the NATO membership is a usual and “natural” thing, Paris rejoined NATO in 2009 after a 40-year interval. There is no external threat to France even theoretically, and its geopolitical interests are concentrated mainly in Africa, beyond the Alliance’s security zone. Furthermore, France is the only EU country to produce a full spectrum of arms, including nuclear weapons, and France’s nuclear industry is technologically more developed than the U.S. one.
In other words, Paris, inherently, does not need NATO, and for it “Europeanization” of the continent’s defense is not only a growth of political influence, but also a direct economic benefit. Even after Brexit, military spending of the EU countries has reached almost $150 billion. The everlasting problem of the French military industry is the expensiveness of the produced arms. A large, guaranteed and politically secure sales market is what the French defense industry needs.
Will other EU countries support Paris’ plans? First, mired in debt crisis or occurring on the verge of it, the countries of Southern Europe can no longer afford as high military spending as Washington demands them to do. Italy and Spain need additional $20 billion and $15 billion, respectively, despite their financial collapse. Besides, there is a nuance i.e. U.S. uses that military spending to defend another NATO member - Turkey. Perhaps, for Athens it is much more favorable not to be in the same alliance with bellicose Turkey.
East European and Baltics are more predictable, but in the long-term outlook, reduction of the EU assistance amid demands to increase military expenses may reduce the usual anti-Russian sentiments tangibly.
The stand of Berlin and its “German” neighbors is overwhelming. For Germany, the amount involved is $31 billion, for the Netherlands, it is $7.5 billion, and for Belgium - $5.5 billion. It is a quite big amount, the successful economies of the “north” can afford it theoretically. Germany and its neighbors (the Netherlands, first) have been integrated into the military system of NATO for a too long time already to avoid big expenses for the inevitable reorganization of their own armed forces.
On the other hand, Germans do not seem to take the factor of external threats seriously, and their high-capacity military industry makes them the second largest economic beneficiary in the potential European alliance.
In other words, a new alliance is possible, as it is economically sound to build army in the era of “cheap money” that will not last forever. However, this may result in two parallel military organizations on the European contingent and split the German north and Latin south.
What capacity will be new system have? The troops of the European countries of NATO, exclusive of Great Britain and even after major layoffs, are over 1.2 million people. Exclusive of the evidently archaic armies of Bulgaria, Romania and others, the “qualified” troops of the EU countries exceed 1 million. After integration into a single system, these troops will be more than sufficient to provide security and use force beyond the alliance. Many think Europe will be a military lightweight, but it is so. Europe may seem lightweight only in comparison with the huge military power of the United States. In fact, in a non-nuclear war, European military power may constitute threat even to Russia.
As of 2013, France had 360 nuclear munitions, with nuclear submarines (including 4 strategic ones) armed missiles capable of 9,000km range. Paris’s nuclear weaponry yields to the Russian one threefold and exceeds China’s inferred reserves of nuclear weapons as much, at least, formally.
The ratio of the total shipping of France and Russia is approximately the same. Spain and the Netherlands have quite large fleets. Putting aside the strategic component, the potential European fleet is quite commeasurable with the Russian one.
Hence, it would be naïve to think that with the collapse of NATO, there will be military vacuum on Russia’s western borders. The solid military potential of Europe encourages part of the European elite to get rid of Washington’s patronage that is becoming more and more expensive.
EADaily’s European Bureau