Since 2003 the EU has been involved in military missions in more than 19 countries on three continents and there is nothing benign about these missions.
20 February 2013
The popular myth about the European Union (EU) is that it is a benign international body which brings together the peoples of Europe in a common trading block where everybody benefits.
It promotes a pan-European identity - a kind of regional internationalism - and helps to maintain peace, security and welfare across Europe. What's not to like?
Well, actually quite a lot. In the EU Thatcherite economics is the only game in town. It's written into the constitution and is enforced on every member country in virtually every sector of the economy. The EU's decisions are taken by the Commission, the Council of Ministers, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Justice. None of them are elected or accountable to the people.
The European parliament is elected but has few powers and can only amend legislation not initiate it. The EU's democratic deficit is no accident. It has been carefully fashioned to bypass the democracy of member states to serve the interests of Europe's biggest transnational firms.
From its origins the EU was always, at least in part, a military project. The real purpose of the first supranational body, the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951, was to facilitate German rearmament at the start of the cold war and at the same time assuage French fears over the danger of resurgent German militarism. Above all else, the US wanted a rearmed West Germany inside Nato.
Subsequent treaty revisions - especially the Amsterdam and Lisbon treaties - have steadily strengthened the military role of the EU. It now has a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security - currently Baroness Ashton. It sees its main threats as terrorism, nuclear proliferation - athough not its own - regional conflict, energy security and cyber-attack.
The Lisbon Treaty sets out clear military obligations on the part of EU member states to "make civilian and military capacity available to the union for the implementation of the Common Security and Defence Policy ... Member states shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities." This is a particular problem for those states who have a policy of neutrality like Finland, Ireland, Austria and Sweden.
EU military capacities now consist of 13 EU battle groups - battalion-sized forces of 1,500 each - two of which are on standby at any one time and can be dispatched within a few days.
Since 2003 the EU has been involved in military missions in more than 19 countries on three continents - Bosnia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Palestine, Kosovo, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Libya, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Mali.
These missions range from "Petersburg tasks" including humanitarian, rescue, peace keeping and peacemaking operations through to military training and full-scale war - and there is nothing benign about these missions. They exist to support EU foreign policy when diplomacy fails - and to enforce the neoliberal policies of free trade, privatisation, de-regulation and austerity outside Europe as aggressively as they are imposed inside.
But EU forces are intended to complement rather than replace Nato. Indeed, there is a new emphasis on interoperability and integration with Nato.
The EU only intervenes where Nato chooses not to. Despite its size and economic strength, the EU has limited capacity to fight wars - except on a very small scale - outside its own area. It lacks key resources for larger out-of-area operations such as smart bombs, air-to-air refuelling, intelligence, reconnaissance, drones and heavy lift capacity.
Not so Nato. It dwarfs the EU as a military force and takes precedence over it on most occasions.
There is, of course, considerable overlap between Nato and the EU membership. Twenty-one states are members of both organisations but by far the most important difference is that Nato is clearly transatlantic and includes and is dominated by the world's only military superpower - the United States.
The alliance was conceived in the early days of the cold war, ostensibly to counter the Soviet "threat" to western Europe. But its steady expansion eastwards and southwards more than twenty years after the cold war reveals its true purpose.
It is not about countering any perceived threat to Europe or north America. Nato's Strategic Concept admits the risk of this is "low." It is a vehicle for binding member countries into support for US foreign policy and for global intervention.
In November 2010 it reaffirmed the concept of nuclear "deterrence" and the first use of nuclear weapons. In addition it committed itself to building a new and destabilising missile defence system to cover the continent of Europe, adding a new twist to the nuclear arms race.
Today, from Afghanistan to Kosovo, from the Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa, 138,000 Nato military personnel are engaged in military action around the world.
But Nato is not a monolithic bloc. Ten years ago serious differences emerged over the war in Iraq between the "old Europe" of France and Germany and the "new Europe" of eastern Europe supported by Britain.
More recently differences have appeared over who is doing the fighting in Afghanistan and who is not and about whether to recruit new members such as Georgia to the alliance. The Franco-German axis would still like to promote the EU as a military counterweight to the United States - a rival imperialism - but for the moment they are in a minority.
Europe and America - crippled by debt and recession - are empires in decline. Nato and EU armed forces will continue to threaten peace and stability across the world. But they represent the past not the future.