On the militarisation of the European Union

In our work on peace here in Brussels, QCEA is using the lens of militarisation to analyse the changes in the defence policy of the European Union over the last fifteen years. But, what do we mean by militarisation and why should it worry us?

What is militarisation?

Armed Forces Day

Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the 29th June each year in the UK. Credit: Press Centre, United Kingdom Crown Copyright.

I understand militarisation to be the process by which the presence and the approaches of the military are made normal1. It is a complex and multifaceted process that can occur at all levels of society; both within and across state borders. The process may not necessarily have any geographical, economic, or political boundaries, and, as such, it can be hard to recognise, never mind quantify. Is education militarised if the armed forces are granted privileged access to schools and universities for recruitment? (The British government has been criticised for this). I would say it is. In the UK, the introduction of an ‘Armed Forces Day’ at which you “Show Your Support” for the military is another example of the militarisation of society. In contrast, we could describe relations between two countries as becoming or being militarised, as in the Cold War between the US and the USSR or on the Korean peninsula today. Azerbaijan’s massive increase in military spending over the last decade indicates a militarisation of the Caucasus. At first, we might find it hard to compare education policy with inter-state arms races, but the lens of militarisation shows us an important similarity in both. They are indicative of, and at the same time promote, a certain way of thinking, namely, militarism: the idea that war is inevitable and that preparing for war is thus a good thing to do.

That militarisation can occur on so many levels and manifest itself in so many different ways forces us to be both astute and creative in how we identify and measure it. In situations of tension between different states, we might look at increases in military expenditure or the rhetoric of political leaders. At the national level, say in education policy, we might look at the numbers of military personnel visiting schools or the significance given to military history in the national curriculum. Social attitudes are important too. In the US, for example, uniformed military personnel are allowed to board civilian flights on certain airlines before anyone else, including women with children. What does this say about American society and how it sees the military and war? We cannot (despite attempts to do so) build up a picture of militarisation that fits neatly on to a linear scale running from ‘demilitarised’ to ‘militarised’. It is, instead, a complex process that requires a rich and creative approach in order to be understood and challenged.

The militarisation of the European Union

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs flanked by Chair of the EU Military Committee and the head of the EU Military Staff. Credit: The European Union

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs flanked by Chair of the EU Military Committee and the head of the EU Military Staff. Credit: The European Union

When looking at the militarisation of the European Union, our eyes are firmly focused on the growing credence given to the EU as military power over the last fifteen years. Since the St. Malo declaration in 1998, we have seen significant developments in a coordinated EU foreign and defence policy. The Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy are now accepted parts of the daily workings of the EU institutions. There is an agency that is institutionally, if not politically, independent from the Commission and Council, devoted exclusively to foreign and defence policy: the European External Action Service (EEAS). There are currently 176 military personnel working in the EEAS; fifteen years ago the number of military personnel employed by the EU was significantly smaller. The presence of uniformed military personnel in the EU today reflects the normalisation of military approaches here in Brussels. The European Defence Agency, the EU Military Staff, and the EU Intelligence Centre, all created in the last fifteen years, are also indicative of the militarisation of the EU. The EU is increasingly being seen as possible guarantor of European security, though colossal questions remain as to how this might happen and what role NATO will have.

In addition to the growth of military structures, there has been a militarisation of other areas of EU policy. In 2004, the Commission began funding a “security research” programme, the aim of which, somewhat ambiguously, is “to protect Europe’s citizens and society from harm”. The programme, which is now in its ninth year, has awarded funding to major weapons manufacturers, including BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Thales and EADS. The involvement of the arms trade is itself concerning, but most criticism focuses on the content of the research. As documented by TNI Fellow Ben Hayes, research is being carried out into drones that will patrol Europe’s borders to try to stop irregular migration. But, are the people trying to cross European borders the real problem? Perhaps the solution lies instead in understanding and addressing the global socio-economic inequality which drives migration and in changing the broken Dublin II regulations. The security focus in EU policymaking is not limited to migration: similar thinking is present in climate, energy and health policy. This approach is another example of the militarisation of the EU, because it rests on the idea that violence – or the threat thereof – is an effective, and often the only means to achieve political and economic ends.

                Why oppose militarisation?

Although we might be tempted to say that the answer to this question has already been provided by others, it is important to remember why we should expose and oppose militarisation. In order to engage in discussions at the European level, we need considered and comprehensive responses to complex policy questions, not just a nebulous unease at institutions which accept and promote the use of organised political violence. The greatest criticism we can lodge at militarisation is that it does not achieve what it sets out to achieve. This can be summed up in the famous quotation of A. J. Muste: “There is no way to peace, peace is the way”. He means to say that we cannot achieve peace through violence: the two are antithetical. In fact, it is through actively choosing not to be violent that we come to peace. Is militarisation thus a self-fulfilling prophecy? Yes, in militarising, not only do we walk away from peace, but we walk towards violence.

Holding Faith

David Gee describes peace as: “to bend towards a relationship with the world that allows fundamental needs to be met in life-giving rather than life-destroying ways, and to work for a society in which that choice becomes more possible to make.”

Consider this with regard to the militarisation of the European Union. If, as the founding treaties of the EU assert, we are working for peace and prosperity both within and outside of Europe’s borders, then it is only by creating and implementing peaceful policies that this vision will be realised. The current EU military structures are often described as “humanitarian”; that is, designed to aid with peacebuilding, development, and conflict prevention. But some commentators, referring to the very same structures, propose that the EU should become a military alliance whose goal it is to secure European global influence. The more this latter thought is consolidated in the minds of the public and policy makers, the more the EU will direct its energies away from peace rather than towards it. It is for this reason that we should be concerned by the militarisation of the EU and for this reason that we should advocate the more effective, nonviolent alternatives. In his book Holding Faith: Creating Peace in a Violent World David Gee explains that peace is not “an ideological view about the moral failure of violence, but a practical expression of a feeling for what life and society are really about”. Opposing militarisation is precisely this.

With thanks to Owen Everret from Forces Watch UK and War Resisters International for help with definitions. See Owen’s article on ‘Nuclear Weapons and Militarisation in the UK‘ for a UK-focussed discussion on militarism and militarisation. Contact Chris for more information on QCEA’s work on the militarisation of the EU: @chrisjvenables or cvenables [at] qcea.org


About Chris Venables

Chris was a Programme Assistant at the Quaker Council for European Affairs from September 2012 to September 2013. He researched and wrote on the militarisation of the European Union.

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