French president Emmanuel Macron said last week that “we are experiencing the brain death of NATO,” calling for the development of a “true, European army.” And he has been backing his words with action. On Tuesday, European Union ministers proceeded with thirteen defense projects under the Permanent Structured Cooperation initiative, with France taking the lead on ten of them. The irony is that the idea of a European army, which dates back to the immediate postwar years, may have come to fruition were it not for France and its president, Charles de Gaulle.
In the years following World War II, a robust debate ensued over the question of German rearmament: would Germany ever again be allowed to build up a military? Plenty of domestic and international sentiment was against it. Kurt Schumacher, leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and leader of the opposition in the Bundestag, decried rearmament for fear that it would preclude German unification. Nor were European states ready to see a rearmed Germany so soon after the war. Even John J. McCloy, appointed as the Allied High Commissioner for Germany in September 1949 to supervise Germany’s economic, military, and foreign policy matters, agreed with this sentiment.
Then, on June 25, 1950, North Korean troops stormed the 38th parallel, marking the start of the Korean War and spreading the fear of a communist takeover across Europe. Ultimately, McCloy’s goal was to create a Western-aligned democratic state in West Germany. As such, he realized that to make the state viable, it would need to be able to defend itself and that at some point, it would have to rearm.
Knowing that countries were still reluctant to allow this possibility, McCloy proposed the idea of a European Defense Force (EDF). Each country would contribute divisions to the EDF, to be overseen by a supreme commander and integrated chain of command. Since the EDF would have equal French, British, and German units and German power would be subordinated in a supranational structure, McCloy thought it easier to sell politically. The French, however, balked at the idea of German units, fearing a resurgent Germany.