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Will the EU create its own military force after the Afghan debacle?

Proposals for an EU army re-emerge after Afghan pullout. (Photo: Reuters)

The Afghan debacle is forcing the European Union (EU) towards introspection. The West's 20-year presence in Afghanistan, which was fairly expensive, has unraveled in just a few weeks causing heartburn in European capitals.

Many European nations are miffed that the US did not allow them a few more days of extricating vulnerable Afghans beyond the August 31 deadline. In the emergency meeting called by the UK, the current head of the G7 grouping, Germany and France were clear that they wanted more time to airlift Afghans who had worked with them. To the dismay of the Europeans and the UK, American President Joe Biden put his foot down on the deadline.  

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The soul-searching is forcing many to think if Europe should be moving towards "strategic autonomy" and putting pressure on the transatlantic alliance.

The EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell's remarks give an indication of things to come. In comments made in Brussels, Borrell said that the EU should create its own permanent military force.

Soon after a meeting of EU Defence Ministers, Borrell said: "It’s clear that the need for more European defence has never been as much as evident as today after the events in Afghanistan… Sometimes something happens that pushes the history, it creates a breakthrough and I think the Afghanistan events of this summer are one of these cases".

Similar views were expressed by EU Council President Charles Michel at an event in Slovenia. Michel said: "We do not need another such geopolitical event to grasp that the EU must strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world".

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European nations are fretting over the simple fact that barely 5,000 US troops were managing the Kabul airport. The EU, which collectively remains a potent force, could not muster those many troops beyond the August 31 deadline just because the US did not oblige it.

German leader Armin Laschet echoed those views: "We must strengthen Europe so that we never have to leave it up to the Americans", underlining the growing trust between the EU and the US.

But is the European disentanglement from US going to be that easy?

Prof. Gulshan Sachdeva, Chairperson, Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, does not think so.  

Sachdeva told India Narrative that even before this American rebuff, EU leaders have been talking about strengthening European defence forces. "This keeps happening at important points in history. But Europe cannot abandon shelter of the US security umbrella in a hurry. In fact former US president Donald Trump used to chide Europe for shifting security costs towards the US and not contributing enough towards defence spending".

He adds that Europe is feeling let down because things in Afghanistan have ended badly for the West. "It is a humiliating defeat for the US and the European nations were very much part of this project. They are feeling hurt as it reflects poorly on them as well. That is why there is an unease in Europe".