The US Should Not Only Support EU Defense Integration It Should Help Shape It

22 June, 2020

President Trump’s constant grievance with NATO is that America’s European allies do not carry their fair share in terms of defense spending. This, however, has been a long-standing issue in the alliance and previous Presidents have also urged NATO members to up their defense spending, including President Obama and President Bush. Transatlantic issues aside, the best way for this to happen is an integrated EU military working beside their other NATO allies.

Not only does an EU integrated military increase the lethality of the alliance, but it also gives the United States the partner they’ve sought in lieu of the continuing complaints from DC every 4 years. The US, in particular, not only has the best know-how on military tactics and force doctrine, but it also has decades of experience of working in and with Europe. Because of this, they should serve in an advisory role to integrate European defense structures.

Rebuilding the Alliance and Trust

The US serving in an official advisory capacity would be an excellent first step in rebuilding lost trust to US commitment to European security, but also to the prioritization of NATO remaining the lynch pin of US national security. Currently there is no uniform policy from EU member states on defense integration. For example, Eastern European states such as Poland and the Baltic states see NATO, and by extension the US, as the guarantor of their security as opposed to the EU. Whereas Western European states, while still overwhelmingly supportive of NATO, tend to be much more on board with the idea of EU defense integration. It does not have to be one or the other but could be both – a strong EU military side by side with the US and other allies under NATO structures.

There is already more defense cooperation within NATO than there is in any other group of states and or political entity across the globe. As of 27 May, there are 32 defense exercises scheduled with member states of varying scales in 2020, notwithstanding the complications from Covid-19. In a future context, the EU could implement initiatives such as Common Defense Security Policy (CDSP) and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). So, in essence these exercises could begin to work as an integrated EU defense force working beside its American, British, Turkish, and Canadian partners. These exercises would absolutely go a long way in the overall interoperability of EU defense structures.

Long Standing Issues

The tension between the Trump administration and European leaders is no secret. President Trump’s constant gripe is that member states do not “pay their fair share.” Even so, an EU defense force would end that complaint once and for all. Such a force would be comparable in some respects to the US Armed Services itself, and added with the capable British, Turkish, and Canadian militaries, would have a projection of power likely never seen in human history. Because of this Trump would have absolutely no reason to undermine NATO any longer lest his own biases and eschewing multilateralism become that much clearer.

It would also greatly reduce Europe’s dependency on an American presence. Just recently President Trump announced the withdrawal of up to 9,500 American troops from Germany causing alarm in European policy circles. While the level of US forces in Europe is an on-going debate, the need for an integrated EU defense force should not be. It also is the answer to the elephant in the room – Russia. Such a force would check Russia’s worst potential ambitions at the door, that they’d have next to no chance of winning against a United Europe alone, much less one that included the full projection of US and allied power.

Counter to US or European Interests?

A long-held argument is that the security architecture created by the US in the post-World War II environment is what allowed Europe to flourish and kept old animosities at bay. There’s certainly truth to the positive effects the American presence has had in Europe, especially with keeping Moscow’s ambitions at bay. Jen Techau, a former Senior Fellow at the George Marshall Fund and now Senior Speechwriter for the German Ministry of Defense, pointed out that the biggest issue is that Europe still has low political trust amongst other member states through old historical rivalries. This of course alludes to the stabilizing presence America has been. However, this is exactly why US involvement in EU defense integration could make all of the difference.

Policy makers in DC are just now acknowledging just how difficult and dangerous China is turning out to be. This of course puts the US in a difficult position as the guarantor of security in Europe. Hence such an initiative largely frees the US up to put the majority of its effort in countering Beijing. This also does not mean that the US would or should fully withdrawal it’s presence form Europe, or that the US would not get involved in a worst-case scenario. It merely means that Europe would be better prepared to take the lead in dealing with Russia, should it ever decide to actually try a surprise attack.


The issues and questions surrounding the future of European defense are many. Even with fraying relations with the current administration, the support of the EU and NATO amongst the American public and Congress remains high. Because of this, the worst-case fear of America abandoning Europe are misplaced despite understandable concern. Likewise, given its high support for both, the American public would very likely strongly support US involvement in advising Brussels in the creation of an EU Defense Force. This would further seal the bonds of transatlanticism into the 21st century.

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