The European Union likes to think of itself as an innovation in international affairs, an attempt by its members to live peacefully with one another, as well as with outside states. It is an attempt to transcend geopolitics. As the President of the European Commission remarked at the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome:
We do so to solemnly renew our vows and reaffirm our commitment to our undivided and indivisible union. But we do so not out of nostalgia. We do so because only by staying united can we rise to the challenges we can face together. Only by staying united can we pass on to future generations a more prosperous, a more social and a safer Europe.
Unfortunately, Jean-Claude Juncker is not telling the whole story. As Nicholas Spykman, a Dutch-American strategic thinker, once remarked in Geography of the Peace (1944): “political ideas and visions unsupported by force appear to have very little survival value”. How did European integration emerge, deepen and expand then, insofar as the EU shies away from using military power, either for intervention or deterrence?
Indeed, as the EU has gradually grown in power and authority, European military spending has unrelentingly shrunk. The reductions in European defence expenditure have become so legendary that they have become a bad joke. Recall that most mainland EU countries are also Nato members. In 2006, they agreed to spend 2 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product on defence. Remember also, that, with threats growing in their eastern and southern neighbourhoods, they recommitted to this target at the Nato Summit in Newport in 2014.
However, using calculations based on official Nato statistics, it is clear that mainland Europeans, with few exceptions, have not remained united and have failed to meet their commitments. Based on the 2 per cent of GDP guideline, they have underfunded Nato by a massive $451 billion over the past five years (2012-2016). So on the issue of defence spending, not only do the would-be European peace creators stand naked, they stand with their skin stripped fully to the bone.
Oddly, the largest EU and Nato countries are the leading miscreants. France, ostensibly the alliance’s third-strongest military power, has short-changed Nato by approximately $24 billion over the past five years, meaning it has missed the alliance’s spending target by 9 per cent. Over the same timeframe, Germany, with all its vast trade surplus, has short-changed Nato by a whopping $142 billion. This means it has fallen short of its Nato spending target by 39 per cent. Italy, despite its economic difficulties, still a large and wealthy country of 60 million people, has short-changed Nato by $90 billion, or 43 per cent. Spain has short-changed Nato by $75 billion, which means it has failed to meet the organisation’s target by a colossal 54 per cent. And the Netherlands, smaller but still very affluent, has short-changed Nato by $64 billion, or 42 per cent.
Worse, as these wealthy EU and Nato countries have underfunded their armed forces, the less affluent countries of Eastern Europe, such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania – with average incomes half as much – have been left to foot the bill. Commendably, they have managed to increase their outlay, with most now meeting or exceeding what they agreed to spend.
So who supports European integration? Who protects the lofty ideals of the EU and Mr Juncker from predatory forces? The United States certainly does, despite the howl of denigration of Europe from President Donald Trump. But so does the UK, another country many EU officials have scorned, not least since it decided to leave the EU. The fact that Britain has met Nato’s defence spending goal every year since it was agreed in 2006, helping its European allies remain prosperous and free, suggests that the EU’s officials should treat the UK with greater respect than they sometimes have. At some $285.5 billion over the past five years, Britain’s defence budget has been by some margin the second largest in Nato, and the largest in the EU. Indeed, insofar as it has exceeded Nato’s guideline, the UK has effectively subsidised European security to the tune of $23 billion over the past five years. So, far from being a vandal, Britain has continued to behave as a leading custodian of the European peace.
The wealthier Europeans, of course, want no attention drawn to their inability to protect their integrationist dream. They will respond by claiming that the EU is distinct from Nato, or even that the EU bears greater responsibility for European peace. Yet such assertions are as mythical as they are false. European integration is a product of peace and security on the mainland, not its cause. So while the EU has undoubtedly helped to dampen distrust between ancient opponents, the real reason order finally emerged in Europe, and indeed, across most of the Euro-Atlantic region, is because of the commitment of the UK and US. They have been willing to cough up the cash to provide sophisticated armed forces and nuclear systems to deter countries – both within and without Nato, and by extension the EU – from disrupting the status quo.