Is Europe Getting Ready to Fight Back?


Across Europe, nations are reevaluating their military policies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In some countries the assessments are major, others minor, but there’s no mistaking the activity sweeping across Europe.

The trend was most clearly demonstrated by European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who called for the EU to create an army. He told Die Welt on March 8 that “a common European army would convey a clear message to Russia that we are serious about defending our European values.”

His statements received broad support, especially in Germany. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that “a European army is the future,” and Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “deeper military cooperation in Europe.”

But talk is cheap. Juncker has made comments like these before, as have von der Leyen and other German officials. Juncker has almost no power to make these wishes a reality and Germany has, for now, left the European-army project in the “too hard” tray. Instead, Germany is trying to build it gradually by integrating its military with its neighbors’ militaries one nation at a time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has given this more gradual, but more concrete, cooperation a boost.

At the start of March, Denmark and Sweden pledged to increase their military cooperation.
In a joint report published February 17, Finland and Sweden committed to a new military relationship that falls only slightly short of a formal mutual defense commitment. This is in addition to a commitment to set up a joint naval task force by 2023, forming what ihs Jane’s called a “partially integrated Finnish-Swedish Air Force” and pledging to work together in many other areas.

At the start of March, Denmark and Sweden pledged to increase their military cooperation. Their deal focused on peacetime operations, such as exchange of information and shared use of territorial waters and airspace.

Meanwhile, Central and Eastern Europe are full of signs that nations are fearful of Russia. Lithuania announced on February 24 that it would reintroduce conscription—compulsory military service for all men ages 19 to 26.

Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine are working to combine forces to create a united brigade. An agreement between the three nations for a joint military brigade successfully passed the first legislative stage in the Lithuanian Parliament. The brigade would train, hold exercises, share experience, and under unanimous agreement take part in missions under the United Nations Security Council. The headquarters would be located in Lublin, Poland, but have battalions stationed in each of the three countries.

In mid-February, Poland launched what Agence France-Presse called “an unprecedented military spending spree” worth $42 billion over the next 10 years. It will create a missile defense system, upgrade its anti-aircraft defense, and invest in hardware including submarines, armored personnel carriers and armored drones. These are merely the most recent developments—Poland has been beefing up its military over the last few years.

“Poland wants to play a bigger role than just being a security consumer,” said Gustav Gressel, defense analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It wants to be a bigger part of a strong European alliance” (Newsweek, February 16). Poland and Germany are also working on plans to form a Polishbrigade under German command, and vice versa.

Further south, Romania has called for nato to establish a commando base in its country. Bulgaria has called up 7,306 reservists since the start of 2015—more than the total number of reservists called up in 2011, 2012 or 2013.

Bulgaria has called up 7,306 reservists since the start of 2015—more than the total number of reservists called up in 2011, 2012 or 2013.
Most important is Europe’s de facto leader—Germany. Germany had been planning military cuts. Its tank force, numbering 3,500 during the Cold War, is down to 350, and it had been planning to cut that number to 225. However, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported February 26 that these reductions may be scrapped, with Germany instead bringing weapons, including tanks, out of storage. Germany’s reserves of stored tanks mean it can increase the power of its forces quickly.

The German Parliament’s budget committee recently called for more military spending, an increase in the number of tanks and armored vehicles owned by the German Army, and the development of a new battle tank, a Leopard 3 program. Government sources say Germany’s defense budget will grow by over a billion euros next year.

Creating the European army that Jean-Claude Juncker has called for is a huge undertaking. The proudest moments in any European nations’ military history are usually the defeat of some other European nation. Asking Europe to come together in a common force is a tall order and will require a powerful incentive.

Russia is providing that incentive. We are seeing the beginnings of Europe’s reaction to the threat from the east.