Poland’s Foreign Minister has dismissed the idea of creating an EU army independent of NATO at the Munich Security Conference. Poland, he said, needs “an American presence” to compete with Russia.
Combining the military forces of the EU’s 28 member states has long been a dream of some EU leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron talked up the idea of building a “real European army” to protect Europeans from Russia, China, “and even the US” last year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave the idea a thumbs-up, stating that such an army would ensure “there will never again be war between European nations.” The plan also has the support of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
However, the EU is more divided than the cozy relationship between Macron and Merkel suggests. Macron’s vision was rubbished by neutral Austria’s defense minister, and by Dutch PM Mark Rutte. Now, the Polish government has also rejected the idea.
“When we start talking about creating a European army independent of NATO, I think we will have problems,” said Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz. “For repelling the threats we face in central and eastern Europe, we need an American presence, and this is very important.”
Brexit plays a factor in Czaputowicz’ rejection. The UK is the world’s sixth-largest military power and would be a crucial member of any hypothetical EU army, if Britain were to remain an EU member and sign on to the plan.
“We will lose a very important partner in the EU, a second major army in Europe, a country, a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council (when Britain leaves),” Czaputowicz added.
In defending itself against the perceived Russian threat, Poland has courted the United States. Polish President Andrzej Duda has offered to pay $2 billion towards setting up a permanent US armored division base in the country, going as far as suggesting that it could be named ‘Fort Trump.’
Poland also inked a $414 million deal on Wednesday to purchase the M142 HIMARS weapons system. The HIMARS system can launch rockets and tactical ballistic missiles, and has an operational range of 480 km. The deal was accompanied by a Pentagon statement that Poland and the US are “continuing discussions” regarding further US deployments on Polish soil.
The planned base raised the alarm in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the Polish proposal a “sovereign decision,” but warned that “the consequences for the general atmosphere” in Europe would be “obvious.”
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Friday that “The EU cannot take the role of NATO in providing security. It is impossible,” adding “the efforts of the EU and NATO complement each other, and do not compete.”
Czaputowicz and Stoltenberg were speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, a three-day event that brings 500 policymakers, diplomats and military figures to the German city to talk foreign policy and defense. The attendees this year include Merkel, Stoltenberg, US Vice-President Mike Pence, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.