Is Europe close to War?

Dragan Sutanovac

1. Why has the issue of military service become so topical in Europe?

The issue of national defense is a matter of national importance both for the security of the state and all the values on which it rests. The issue of organizing and equipping armed forces should be based on strategic assessments of risks and security threats. Each country in its strategic documents defines challenges, risks and threats that are not constant but it is shaped in accordance with geopolitical fluctuations. The fact that the biggest war since 1945 is being in Europe, as well as the fact that the conflict in the Middle East threatens to endanger Europe’s security, lead to strategic changes in the organization and equipping of armies, which certainly leads to analyzing the possibility of reintroducing national service even in countries that do not border countries that are in conflict. More than 75 years without major conflicts in Europe have deceived many politicians into thinking that peace is an immutable constant and they have almost completely ignored the needs of defense systems as well as the warnings that came from Washington. On several occasions, the US secretaries of state drew the attention of their European allies that it is necessary to allocate an agreed amount of funds (2% of GDP) for defense, and the culmination was the warning of former President Trump, following his election, that the USA will not defend allies who do not care about their defense. However, European leaders did not understand the messages and instead of increasing their defense capacities, they slowly eroded them, believing that wars are over and that there is no longer a chance for a wider conflict in Europe. Time has shown that they were mistaken and now they are faced with problems that require quick reactions. Most of the countries that are directly or indirectly located on the border with the Russian Federation are considering the possibility of reintroducing mandatory national service.

2. Is it because of the war in Ukraine or the expectation of a wider conflict in Europe? Or something else? 

Every war throughout history started with professional armies, but were ended with trained citizens. The war in Ukraine caught Europe unprepared, and the surprise was clear in the first deliveries of aid when, for example, Berlin delivered helmets for the Ukrainian army. Now Europe is aware that the post-war era of development has ended and that it is in a pre-war state, which was pointed out by many leaders with an appeal to the citizens to prepare for the conflict. The military spending of all European countries is continuously increasing with special government incentives to the military-industrial complex. Given such indicators, we can expect long-term instability and possible expansion of the conflict.

3. Will Europe establish its own military alliance as suggested by Macron or will it still be under the NATO umbrella?

Europe will definitely remain part of the NATO Alliance and will not give up on further improvement of the common defense and deterrent function of the alliance. Macron’s statement is not new, for decades there has been talk of a possible military organization within the EU, but after BREXIT, that initiative largely loses its meaning. However, further transformation of NATO is realistic, both in the political and military sense. Some of the countries of the Far East are very close to Euro-Atlantic values and can be perceived as allies. The upcoming period will show whether NATO will formally expand to the Far East and the Indo-Pacific region, or whether it will just remain on strategically-close military relations for the time being.

In addition, the war in Ukraine raised the issue of the North Atlantic Treaty. The famous Article 5 obliges all member states to consider an armed attack against one member state as an attack on all, but does not oblige them to go to war. Namely, Article 5 explicitly states that in such a situation, members will take actions they deem necessary, including the use of armed forces. Such defined obligations are insufficient for some European countries and quite a few of them would like an integrated defense with a clearly defined obligation to enter the war if any member of the Alliance is attacked. The upcoming anniversary NATO Summit in Washington DC will probably give us clues about the future prospects of the European security architecture.

Dragan Šutanovac

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