Does the whole EU have to fight?
April 15, 2009 4:05 PM   Subscribe

If a country in the European Union becomes involved in a major military conflict (politi-speak for big war), would it drag the other nations into it like other binding agreements in European past?

I can't find any real yes or no online. I do know that the EU has it's own troops, but I am talking about if China decides to attack Germany, and Germany (as a sovereign nation) fights back, do all of the other nations have to fight too?

I understand that in a major situation like that, other countries would probably ally with Germany anyway, but are the legally bound by the EU constitution/agreement/treaty/other document of the EU?

Bonus points for specific references to a EU document/ other official source.
posted by Alec Loudenback to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This Wikipedia article may help you out.

Generally speaking, the EU does not have a shared defense command (France, which is a major EU nation, was not part of NATO until just recently).
posted by KokuRyu at 4:15 PM on April 15, 2009

Short answer - no.

Slightly longer answer - no, that's what NATO is for, and one of the things the US was insistent upon with the formation of the European Rapid Reaction Force was that it would not detract from or weaken NATO commitments. Generally, NATO has right of first refusal; only if NATO decides not to intervene in an optional conflict (i.e. outside europe where no member was attacked), EU nations can allocate NATO defence forces otherwise assigned to NATO duty to a particular conflict, otherwise known as the Berlin Plus agreement.

France did withdraw its forces from the military command structure of NATO back in the 60's, but they remained part of NATO with agreements for shared defence; France stationed troops in west germany throughout the cold war, for example.

September 11th was a NATO shared defence triggering event; an attack on the US was an attack on all NATO members, and lead to NATO AWACS patrolling US skies, and also led to NATO taking command of the Afghanistan ISAF, and operations continue there under NATO auspices - some french forces are also deployed in afghanistan as part of NATO, along with many other NATO members, especially the US, UK, Canada and Turkey.

Sarkozy has committed to bringing France fully back into the NATO fold.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:42 PM on April 15, 2009

The Maastricht Treaty's text is available online, I'd start from there, the fundamental common security policy's guidelines were created in Maastricht.
posted by matteo at 4:46 PM on April 15, 2009

Note, that under Helskinki, the EU doesn't have it's own troops per se; it's not a country in its own right. Rather, there's a mechanism to keep troops available within member countries, so that - should they choose to do so, on an individual basis - they can act together, with whatever troops countries decided to commit to action. There's no requirement to do so, though; it's little more than a bilateral agreement, so the the EU has some mechanism in place for shared military/peacekeeping/disaster relief actions where NATO (i.e. the US) or the UN refuse to act.
posted by ArkhanJG at 4:54 PM on April 15, 2009

When that George-Russia/Abkhazia/South Ossetia conflict happened, a lot people were saying, "hey, if Georgia had gotten into NATO (which they were trying to do), would the rest of NATO really gone to war with Russia, even if they were treaty-bound too?" and deciding "no". Which begs the question, "What then is the point of NATO, or at least, continuing to expand NATO?" If you look up issues of the Economist from around August and September 2008, there's a bunch of articles about this and how the treaties are supposed to work, how people think they would really work, etc.
posted by jeb at 4:57 PM on April 15, 2009

As a practical matter, NATO doesn't do that either. For instance, NATO's (lack of) response to the 9/11 attack and to British and American military operations in Iraq.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:22 PM on April 15, 2009

Ireland has long professed neutrality - at least in the last 100 years or so when it was variously under the control of the British Empire, then was termed the Irish Free State, and later the Republic of Ireland. Famously, the Prime Minister of Ireland in 1945 - Eamon DeValera - sent a message of condolence to the German Government upon the death of Hitler. He also made a significant statement in relation to Ireland's neutrality a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the issue has been much debated in Ireland in the last 30 years or so, their seems no prospect that the position of neutrality will change in the near future. (That's my opinion, I could be wrong).
posted by Nick Verstayne at 5:28 PM on April 15, 2009

France, which is a major EU nation, was not part of NATO until just recently

It's a little more subtle than that. France was always a member of the alliance, but for a long time, French forces were not part of the unified military command structure. They were still committed to the common defense of the alliance, however. They recently reentered the command structure.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:42 PM on April 15, 2009

As a practical matter, NATO doesn't do that either. For instance, NATO's (lack of) response to the 9/11 attack

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. Surely you're familiar with ISAF?
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 11:50 PM on April 15, 2009

As a practical matter, NATO doesn't do that either. For instance, NATO's (lack of) response to the 9/11 attack and to British and American military operations in Iraq.

Isn't there a distinction between attack and defence for purposes of mutual defence pacts? Otherwise NATO members couldn't do anything military without dragging the entire of NATO into it.

For example, if (NATO member) Italy decided to invade (non-NATO member) Switzerland, America would not be obliged to help Italy, as it's an attack, not a defence. I can't imagine America - or anyone for that matter - would sign a treaty saying "Attack anyone you like and we'll help you at our own expense!"

America and Britain took their forces over to Afghanistan and Iraq of their own volition - it's not like there are Iraqi tanks threatening Buckingham palace - so why would mutual defence agreements have anything to do with it?
posted by Mike1024 at 12:40 AM on April 16, 2009

For instance, NATO's (lack of) response to the 9/11 attack

Also, NATO supplied eye-in-the-sky planes to patrol US domestic airspace so that American assets could be deployed overseas.

Fundamentally, I think you need to understand that the European experiment is a reaction to two devastating world wars. The entire point of beginning the Common Market and the other European entities that eventually formed the EU was to reduce and avoid conflict.

Basically, what is supposed to happen is that if [Eurostate] and [external threat] come into some sort of military conflict, the EU response would not be to unite in lockstep and ratchet the tension further, but to mediate and attempt to find a compromise or detente approach that will keep things peaceful.

There has been a lot of talk about a common security policy following a confused and at times contradictory response by EU membership to the Balkan wars. Some mechanisms have been built so that the EU response will be more coherent and united than in the past, but that still leaves a lot of room for sovereign self-direction -- er, leadership. The proposed EU Constitution was in part intended to create a more powerful presidency that would have and use a political mandate to formulate and coordinate foreign policy.

In any case, the EU remains short of a binding federation, comparable to the US post-Civil War. If a particular state didn't like the advice and support it was getting from the rest of the union, it would probably just leave (unlikely, of course, as there are other reasons to stay). Conversely, I suspect that a member state that was so out of lockstep with the rest of the Union that it was edging toward war would find itself politically isolated. As, indeed, did the US following its own heed post-9/11.
posted by dhartung at 12:52 AM on April 16, 2009

Further on NATO, Article V, and September 11th in this report from the Congressional Research Service, and this chronology of events from NATO itself.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:24 AM on April 16, 2009

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