Emmanuel Macrons coalition of the willing

PARIS — Impatient with German foot-dragging on defense, French President Emmanuel Macron will bring together a 10-nation coalition of the willing next month designed to prepare European armed forces to take action together in emergencies, and to bind Britain into military cooperation as it leaves the EU.

Defense ministers of France, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Denmark and Estonia will sign a letter of intent in Paris in June, officials told me, pledging to develop a common strategic culture, share analysis and foresight on trouble spots that may require intervention and work to coordinate their forces for future operations.

Macron outlined the idea in his keynote Sorbonne speech on European integration last September, calling for a common European intervention force, defense budget and doctrine for action in contingencies where the United States and NATO may not get involved. France wants to recruit allies that could help share its military burden especially in Africa, where it intervened alone in Mali in 2012 to prevent Islamist militants seizing control of a weak state.

Frustrated by the big-tent, low-ambition start to the European Unions so-called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in defense agreed last year at Germanys insistence, the French leader is pressing ahead with a small core of like-minded nations outside EU and NATO institutional structures.

By involving Estonia, they made sure they have an Eastern EU member country on the frontline with Russia engaged from the outset.

British Prime Minister Theresa May quietly endorsed the initiative at a Franco-British summit at the Sandhurst Military Academy in January but did not publicize the step to avoid antagonizing hard-line Brexiteers in her Conservative Party, to whom any idea of an “EU army” is anathema. She did announce a practical move to help the French in the Sahel region, making available three heavy-lift Chinook helicopters to support operations in Mali.

“Its really important to have the British on board, not just because they have the most capable, rapidly deployable armed forces along with our own, but also because we share the same strategic culture and history of projecting force outside Europe,” a senior French source said.

Alice Pannier, an expert on Franco-British defense cooperation at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said the French idea was to bring together those European countries most experienced in military interventions and U.N. peacekeeping missions, some of which are not involved in PESCO for political reasons, such as Denmark and Britain.

Paris also approached non-NATO Sweden and Finland and non-EU Norway about the initiative but they chose to stay out at least initially, diplomats said. Under other circumstances, the French would have liked to include Poland, the most serious military player in former communist Central Europe, but that seems impossible as long as Jarosław Kaczyńskis ruling Law and Justice party stays on its authoritarian nationalist course.

By involving Estonia, they made sure they have an Eastern EU member country on the frontline with Russia engaged from the outset.

Berlin is uncomfortable with the initiative, not least because any talk of intervention upsets peace-loving Germans and raises prickly questions about legal mandates and parliamentary approval. Some officials in Berlin and Brussels regard the European Intervention Initiative — as Macrons project is called — with suspicion as a rival to PESCO. Nevertheless, Berlin is attending the early-June launch to avoid a Franco-German rift and to keep an eye on what Paris and London are doing, a German source said.

French officials were irked that Germany publicly refused to join a U.S.-French-British airstrike on Syria last month over the use of chemical weapons (although Chancellor Angela Merkel did back the strikes after they were carried out). They are exasperated at the new German governments failure to do more to boost the defense budget, given its big fiscal surplus and its commitment to move toward NATOs goal of defense spending as 2 percent of gross domestic product. German spending is stalled at 1.2 percent.

Despite its reticence about using force, Germany has about 1,000 soldiers in Mali supporting the French counterterrorism campaign by serving in a U.N. peacekeeping force and participating in an EU military training mission.

Drawing Berlin deeper into defense cooperation remains a French priority. Only Germany has the money to make major next-generation armaments projects feasible, and only the Franco-German engine can drive the EU forward, even if it is sputtering on a range of issues at the moment.

Not all the news from Berlin is negative. The French and German defense ministers signed an agreement at the Berlin International Air Show on the high-level requirements for a next generation fighter to be developed jointly by historic rivals Dassault Aviation and Airbus to replace the French Rafale and pan-European Eurofighter/Typhoon warplanes. The French say they are open to Britain joining the plan at a later stage.

Big challenges remain ahead of the project, including agreeing a common timetable and detailed military specifications, and finding an interim solution to replace Germanys aging nuclear-capable Tornado planes.

Another obstacle is reconciling arms export rules to meet Frances global export ambitions and Germanys severe restrictions on the countries to which it may sell weapons. The previous German government infuriated Paris by blocking sales of jointly produced helicopters to Gulf states and Kazakhstan.

A Eurofighter Typhoon (L) and a Dassault Rafale at the ILA Berlin International Aerospace Exhibition | John Macdougall/AFP via Getty Images

Although Berlin has come a long way on the role of the armed forces, it remains uncertain how far Germany will be willing to use the Bundeswehr in action outside Europe, except as U.N.-mandated peacekeepers after the French and British have done the dirty work of intervention.

Some 25 EU member countries signed up for the launch of PESCO, agreeing to a laundry list of mostly modest projects that will help plug capability gaps and reduce duplication among European militaries. Significantly, Italian companies have taken the lead in more projects than the French, who see the EU effort as being of limited value.

French officials say Macrons initiative is not about creating new battlegroups but more about sharing analysis of potential crisis situations in Europes neighborhood and beyond that might require action. This might involve, for example, evacuating European nationals from civil strife in Venezuela or an African nation, or tackling a humanitarian refugee crisis in a country like Libya.

The reality is that only small group coalitions are likely to be ready and willing to take robust military action outside Europe.

“Its about scoping out and jointly analyzing the sort of problems that can arise and knowing how to manage them together as effectively as possible if they materialize,” a French defense source said. “Its about feeling out our partners priorities and knowing in advance how and how much they could contribute if a specific crisis arises.”

French officials insist Macrons initiative is complementary and compatible with PESCO and NATO and does not undercut efforts to build stronger defense capabilities among all willing EU countries. But the reality is that only small group coalitions are likely to be ready and willing to take robust military action outside Europe.

As the 2011 Libya war showed, that will almost always involve France and Britain, but probably not the reluctant Germans, or the procedure-bound EU as a whole. The next time a crisis strikes somewhere on Europes southern fringes, France and Britain are likely to be on the frontlines in uniform. Dont expect the Germans to show up until the fighting is over.

Paul Taylor, contributing editor at POLITICO, writes the Europe At Large column.

Original Article

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