What is “hard power”?
According to Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Joseph Nye, “using coercion to get what we want is hard power, using persuasion and attraction to get what you want is soft power”. (Nye, 2012).
Starting from such definition, it is common understanding that the European Union (EU), since it notably does not have any serious means of coercion, strongly relies on soft power to pursue its agenda.
Ever since its formation as successor of the various European Communities with the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, the EU has been referred to a “normative power”, implying that the Union has a great influence on international actors, such as states, but also private multinational companies “in terms of the values and rules of behavior in the international arena and domestic policy” (Savorskaya, 2015).
Examples to be cited on this matter are the “European Union vs Google” Case on antitrust breaches, the violation of European standards on data protection by Meta, and also the fact that, while dealing with other countries, the Union “stipulates conditionality clauses that bind the recipients to practice ethical human rights, as stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights” (Hardwick, 2011).
The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine brought back in the political discourse of the Union and of its leaders the old idea of a single European Army, and this time consensus would seem to have set things in motion. But how would the international presence of the EU change, if it disposed of a regular army just like other nation-states?
The European geopolitical posture would certainly change, especially when it comes to hard power policies like diplomatic coercion and the threat of military force.
In addition, the Union would strengthen its position and internal coherence, which would have a significant impact on the strength of other diplomatic weapons, such as economic sanctions (the effect of a higher-than-ever coordination in the EU on this matter can be seen by the quick response to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine).
If the EU armed itself with its own armed forces, it could certainly become a central actor in coercive diplomacy, although on matters related to the European East and South neighborhoods.
It is unthinkable for the moment to see in the short or middle-term future a European Army fighting actual wars, while it is more reasonable to expect activity on the EU border (especially in monitoring migration fluxes) and tackling terrorism and human trafficking. In addition, peacekeeping operations in Northern Africa or Bosnia and Herzegovina could be possible too.
EU strategy, once the Union would arm itself with a European Army, would surely be characterized by policies of deterrence (dissuading the adversary from taking certain actions) rather than compellence (forcing the adversary to comply, which is quite rare in international relations) (Frieden , Lake, & Schultz, 2018). A European Army would help raise the costs of an invasion of member states or EU allies by rogue neighbors, without conducting any offensive operation.
European coercive power would be at the same level of other great powers around the globe if it could inherit France’s nuclear arsenal, leading it to be the second most powerful army in the world (Nunez, 2016).
In conclusion, the creation of a European Army would surely have impacts on regional geopolitics and dynamics of power. It may lead to the final shift of focus of the United States on the Indo-Pacific, leaving its European ally containing Russia and/or maintaining peace in the Middle East.
What is sure, however, is that such reform would make the Union ever tighter, and be a landmark step forward a European Federation, which could eventually inherit France’s permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Frieden , J., Lake, D., & Schultz, K. (2018). World Politics. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company.
Hardwick, D. (2011, September 3). Is the EU a normative power? Tratto da E-International Relations: https://www.e-ir.info/2011/09/03/is-the-eu-a-normative-power/
Nunez, J. (2016, May 20). Conflict analyst: “EU would have ‘second most powerful military on Earth”. (E. Spain, Intervistatore)
Nye, J. (2012, March 1). Nye: Soft Power, Hard Power and Smart Power.
Savorskaya, E. (2015). The Concept of the European Union’s normative power. Baltic Region, 66-76.
 Interview to be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH9hn3_Q4qQ
[The image is taken from the article “Putin makes the EU a foreign policy superpower” by The Bharat Express News, March 1st 2022]. https://www.thebharatexpressnews.com/putin-makes-the-eu-a-foreign-policy-superpower/