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  • Michael Shurkin

Loose Change No. 10: France/Germany and Hobbes/Kant, or What the EU Ruling and European Defense

This month’s ruling by the European Court of Justice that an EU labor law limiting working hours applied to soldiers points to a fundamental challenge for the project of constructing a real European defense policy and capability. Most if not all EU members ostensibly adhere to the vision of building a European defense, but among them there are profound differences with respect to culture and strategic culture. Meaning, they have significantly different visions of how militaries should work and how and in what conditions they should be used.


On one end is France, which, it might surprise Americans to read, probably is the most martial of the EU member states. France would gladly build a European force and European defense policy in its own image, which means not just building a functional force but using it. France also would eagerly get Europe into the business of expeditionary warfare. In this light, Operation Takuba is more than just an exit strategy for France: It is a way to shape European military culture and policy by dragging a European coalition of the willing into an expeditionary war France deems necessary and, also, by employing it in a manner consistent with French strategic culture.


While it is hard to say which country occupies the other end of the spectrum, the country that matters most is Germany, which by all accounts has eradicated its martial spirit. Fascinatingly, French officers scornfully describe the Bundeswehr as “syndicalist.” Indeed, the Bundeswehr has a union, which, for example, complained in 2016 about living conditions in Mali. The sort of story I’ve heard from several French officers who’ve served with Germans goes more or less like this: “We showed up and got to work immediately notwithstanding the lack of showers and our crude tents. The Germans refused to budge until they had proper air-conditioned facilities.” Is this fair? I don’t know, but the comments point to a cultural divide, one the EU Court ruling amplifies. After all, the EU project itself is meant to perpetuate peace along Kantian lines, an endeavor post-war Germany has taken to heart. Other European states no doubt fall out somewhere between Germany and France’s relatively Hobbesian approach to hard power. The question then becomes whether one can build a real European defense in the absence of consensus.

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