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Britain and the European Army

As discussion grows about defence post Cold War, Martin Dedman and Clive Fleay look at an abortive 1950s plan for a 'European Army'.

One unexpected consequence of the collapse of the Soviet empire has been the resurrection in Western Europe of a forty-year-old plan to establish a European Army. The Franco-German proposal of October 1991 was to create a European Corps as the embryo for a future multi-national European Army. Paradoxically, while the idea was originally devised in 1950 to counter Soviet Communism's expansion, it has been revived in the wake of Communism's disintegration.

In 1991 President Mitterand envisaged European defence becoming the direct responsibility of the European Community by turning the Western European Union (whose nine members are also in the EC) into Europe's defence pillar and bringing it under direct control of the European Council, the summit meetings of EC heads of state. However, the raison d'etre was the same in both 1951 and 1991: to enhance European regional security and safely contain German power within a closely integrated Europe.

Whilst almost everything else has changed in Europe with the demise of the Warsaw Pact – several of its former members including Russia are seeking NATO membership – the rebirth of the European Army plan has highlighted Britain's unfaltering position on European defence. That policy has been the retention of an Atlanticist framework and the rejection of French pan-European defence solutions with Britain insisting on the continued primacy of NATO.

In Britain, interest in the European Army idea was fired in August 1950 with Churchill's famous speech at Strasbourg calling for the 'immediate creation of a European Army subject to proper unified European democratic control and acting in full co-operation with the US and Canada'. These words contained both the vision and the contradiction which bedevilled the scheme from the start, Was the European Army to be conceived within an Atlanticist or a European federal framework?

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