There’s No Need for a European Army

(The Bloomberg View) -- As he marked the centennial of World War I’s end, French President Emmanuel Macron has called for the creation of a European army. The U.S. cannot be counted on, he says; it’s backsliding on its commitment to Europe’s defense. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made similar claims.

It’s unfortunately true that Donald Trump’s insults to European leaders have strained the NATO alliance. And if the U.S. president succeeds in withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia’s threat to the continent would increase.

But Macron’s proposal ignores a more significant reality: The U.S. continues to strengthen its military involvement in Europe. Pentagon spending on Europe has risen to $4.77 billion this year, from $789 million when Trump was elected. The U.S. contributes 70 percent of NATO’s military spending. The Pentagon has 65,000 military personnel and dozens of bases in Europe, and rotates thousands of troops and loads of heavy equipment in and out of Baltics and Poland, the states most vulnerable to Russian aggression.

Europe hardly seems able to afford to do as much. Last year, only a small fraction of European nations met the NATO member-states’ commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. France says it can’t reach that level until at least 2025, and last year Macron proposed to cut military spending by nearly $1 billion (causing the country's top general to resign in protest).

Europe has previously taken some baby steps toward military independence. In 1992, France and Germany initiated a small joint-European force called Eurocorps. It took over peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan in 2004, but was hamstrung by rotating national commanders and competing national bureaucracies. Last year the Europeans moved to link their militaries to a standing bureaucracy called Pesco, which will duplicate many of NATO’s efforts. Macron’s vision for a new uniformed force would be far more ambitious in scale.

It’s sadly ironic that Macron made his proposal as he toured battlefields of World War I, a brutal conflict that demonstrated the necessity for Europe and the U.S. to work together to maintain peace on the continent. NATO has done this job admirably for six decades, as both a military firewall and a forum for negotiating policy disagreements among its 29 members. Europe has no need to replace it.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.

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