“Ripples of Freedom”
Dublin, 13 May 2006

The European Union
and the imperial imperative

Frank Keoghan

Lenin, in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, gives what he calls “the briefest possible definition of imperialism: imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism” and then goes on to expand this definition by pointing to the emergence of finance capital through the merging of the capital of monopolist banks with industrial capital and the transition from a colonial policy to a policy of monopolist possession of the territory of the world.
      Unlike capitalism in earlier stages, in the imperialist stage capitalism has no more progress to bring the world, only the continuous threat of extinction through world war and environmental catastrophe.
      Kautsky’s definition, on the other hand, referred to the “striving of every industrial capitalist nation to bring under its control or annex all large areas of agrarian territory, irrespective of what nations inhabit it.” This is clearly grounded in a single-minded consideration of the national question and betrays a war mentality in its reference to agrarian territories. It is a definition that fits well with the pronouncements of Proinsias de Rossa, who continually poses the question “What’s imperialism? Sure that’s dead,” while trying to align imperialism as solely a phenomenon of the British empire viewed through the lens of Irish revisionist writings.
      The collapse of the European empires when most had already reached the monopoly stage made the ruling elite of each of the states realise that they could not re-establish their imperial dominance except by combining and creating a new “European” identity. This was justified to a war-weary public as necessary to ensure peace in Europe. It is hardly insignificant that the first step was the attempted creation of a coal and steel monopoly. They sought to create a “European” elite that was committed to the steady and incremental destruction of the national democracy and independence of the states within the European Union by way of a series of treaties, of which the proposed EU Constitution was to be a cornerstone, and its transformation into a centralised, neo-liberal, militarised imperial power, allied to and fully supportive of US hegemony.
      The US invasion and conquest of Iraq in order to gain monopolist control of Iraqi oil and to consolidate US-Israeli military domination of the Middle East was actively supported by fourteen EU states: Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain (initially), most of which also sent troops to participate in its invasion or occupation. Meanwhile the degree of involvement by American firms, such as Halliburton, in lucrative and selective reconstruction suggests that a bridgehead is being established for finance capital.
      It was only the massive opposition by millions of ordinary people in 2003 within the individual nation-states of Europe that prevented the EU states from more actively supporting the war. As a consequence of these massive demonstrations and the rejection of the EU Constitution by the French and Dutch people, the whole EU project is under threat, and the emerging “European” elite is now more divided than ever about how to respond to these setbacks.
      A substantial element of the EU-US elite is therefore preparing at present to attack Iran in order to complete a corridor from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea and consolidate their monopoly dominance in the region. The EU elites also see it as a means of regaining the momentum lost as a consequence of the invasion of Iraq and the referendum results. With the election of the pro-war Chancellor Merkel in Germany, the chances of such a war proceeding have increased dramatically. If Iran does not accept the current diplomatic efforts to force it to stop its exaggerated nuclear developments, then the European Union will say it has no alternative but to support a US-Israeli military strike on Iran.

The EU battle groups

The military preparations for EU-US global hegemony are now well in train. EU “battle groups” were first suggested at the Franco-British summit meeting in February 2003, and the EU Defence Ministers at their meeting in Brussels in 2004 formally adopted the proposal. They will act as the shock troops of the emerging EU army. Thirteen battle groups are being created, with 1,500 combat soldiers each, which means, allowing for rotation, a total force of approximately 156,000 combat soldiers. It is planned that they could operate as separate units or in joint expeditions.
      The objective was to ensure that the first few groups would be ready by 2005 and the remainder established by 2010. Each battle group would have to be able to go to a theatre of operations up to at least 6,000 km (which includes the Middle East) from the borders of the European union within five days of being instructed to do so by the EU Council and be able to stay there for at least 120 days, allowing for rotation. However, recent information suggests that the 6,000 km provision has been scrapped and that the forces would now have a worldwide reach. They would have to be able to operate in hostile environments, including deserts, mountains, and jungles, and would have a high degree of training, equipment, command structures, and planning units.
      The purpose of the EU battle groups is to go to war. As Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, secretary-general of NATO, has said, “Battle groups could be used to go to war. Why did the EU create the battle group? It is not just to help rebuild a country. The battle groups are not for building schools. We shouldn’t think the EU is for soft power and NATO for tough power.” (Irish Times, 11 March 2005.)
      In the case of battle groups in which a number of states participated, one state would be regarded as the “lead nation,” which would take operational command and provide the headquarters of the group. Membership of the battle groups would also be open to non-EU NATO countries that are applying for EU membership, such as Turkey. The Irish are keen to co-operate with the Scandinavian group because of the residual whiff of neutrality; but there is no firm sign of reciprocation at the moment.
      The Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea, is at present preparing a position for Government consideration that will recommend participation in the battle groups, maintaining that it will not affect our policy of neutrality. But Denmark is not taking part in the battle groups, because the Movement for Danish Democracy won a major victory that ensured that a number of legally binding protocols were added to the Treaty of Amsterdam, including one that excluded Denmark from the process of militarisation of the European Union.
      The Irish political elite, however, is totally committed to the creation of a European army and refused to pursue such a protocol for Ireland. They have already made their commitment to the integration of Ireland in the EU-US military-industrial structures absolutely clear: by their decision to join NATO’s “Partnership for Peace” without the promised referendum, by voting in February 2003 against a bill to amend the Constitution so as to enshrine neutrality, and in particular by destroying the long-standing policy of Irish neutrality through allowing US soldiers to use Shannon Airport, the transport of military helicopters to Israel through the same airport, and the illegal interdiction of suspects to Guantánamo etc. Between January 2003 and October 2005, 549,457 American soldiers landed in Shannon Airport on their way to the war in Iraq.

The EU security strategy: military intervention without a UN mandate

The EU security strategy, “A Secure Europe in a Better World,” was written by the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and endorsed by the European Union in December 2003. The EU strategy totally endorses George Bush’s doctrine of pre-emptive war. “Our traditional concept of self-defence . . . was based on the threat of invasion. With the new threats, the first line of defence will often be abroad . . . we should be ready to act before a crisis occurs.” The strategy goes on to state that not all these threats can be countered by military means, and a mixture of instruments might be used—even humanitarian aid.
      The fact is that the European Union does not see itself as being bound by the necessity of securing a UN mandate before it sends the EU battle groups to a war. While references are made to observance of the UN Charter (similar references are made in the NATO Treaty), nowhere does it state in the EU treaties that the EU battle groups need a UN mandate. While international law clearly states that a UN mandate would be required before a state was invaded, the European Union, like the United States, is prepared to ignore such law.

Warmaking and peacemaking

While democratic forces in France and the Netherlands defeated the proposed EU Constitution, which would have further consolidated the militarisation of the European Union, the existing treaties remain in force, including article J7.2, which states: “Questions referred to in this article shall include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.”
      John Bruton, former leader of Fine Gael and now illegally referred to as the EU “ambassador” in the United States, said after the Treaty of Amsterdam was passed: “Peacemaking means imposing, by the use of force, peaceful conditions under the terms laid down by the peacemaker. It is very difficult to distinguish that from warmaking.” (Dáil Éireann, 22 October 1999.) The European Union does not need a constitution to establish battle groups; and we can be sure that Mr Bruton is reflecting the attitude of its elites when he says there is no difference between peacemaking and warmaking.

Command structure

The decision to deploy battle groups would be taken by the EU Council in response to a “crisis” or a request from the United Nations. The EU Civilian and Military Planning Cell is now well established in Brussels. The cell is directly responsible to the EU high representative, Javier Solana. It will have the responsibility for co-ordinating and generating the capacity to plan and run autonomous EU military operations.
      The need for a rapid response has serious implications for the law in many of the national states. The Minister of Defence of Luxembourg stated: “Some countries will have to change their laws to be able to take their political decisions quickly, and then their military must follow immediately.” This clearly means that if a quick decision has to be made to deploy the battle groups, the “triple lock” (the approval of the Government, the Dáil, and the Security Council through a UN mandate) will have to be abolished, leaving the decision to deploy Irish troops in the battle groups up to the Government alone. [The triple lock has since been abolished by the amendment of the Defence Act in June 2006.]

The EU battle groups and NATO

The European Union is very clear that the battle groups are to be developed as a military machine in a mutually reinforcing way with NATO initiatives, such as the NATO Response Force. This is especially true given the overlapping of the European Union, NATO, and Partnership for Peace. There is a very strong requirement for interoperability between the EU military forces and NATO military forces, and the European Union has an agreement to use, for example, NATO command and control centres and aircraft to support deployment. In fact as far as Britain is concerned, to quote Geoff Hoon, the Minister for Defence: “NATO would always have the first choice to launch a military operation.” In February 2005, in a letter to the House of Commons Select Committee on the European Union, Hoon described the EU battle groups as being “mutually reinforcing with the larger NATO Response Force . . . and having the potential to act as a stepping-stone for countries that want to contribute to the NATO Response Force, by developing their high-readiness forces to the required standard and integrating small countries’ contribution to multinational units. Wherever possible and applicable, standards, practical methods and procedures for battle groups are analogous to those defined in the NATO Response Force. Correctly managed, there is considerable potential for synergy between the two initiatives.”
      So there it is for all to see. The reality is that the EU battle groups are not the basis for an alternative European power to the United States but an extension of the power of the United States, which dominates NATO. The EU battle groups are an extension of the military power of the US-EU partnership.
      The Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, was even more explicit. In December 2004 he said: “NATO and the EU need a partnership that covers all aspects of modern security policy: combating terrorism, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, preventing the emergence of failed states, and dealing with them where and when they occur.” In practice, the battle groups will mostly be trained in NATO exercises.
      Since December 2003, as a consequence of NATO-EU consultations, the European Union has established a permanent military cell in SHAPE (the NATO headquarters in Europe), and NATO has established a permanent liaison arrangement with the EU Military Staff.
      As most EU states are also in NATO, and many states cannot provide the necessary troops and equipment to both the EU battle groups and the NATO Reaction Force, arrangements are being made to ensure that the EU battle groups and the NRF are mutually coherent and complementary. And Jamie O’Shea of NATO has called for an EU Constitution with provisions that would be “compatible with NATO.”


The EU battle groups lack the necessary independent strategic airlift planes, mid-air refuelling and communication capability, and independent intelligence resources. To operate independently of NATO, therefore, the EU battle groups need a commitment by EU states to spend a great deal more money on new military equipment. Yet the more long-term core concept of the EU battle groups by the dominant Franco-German faction of the EU elite remains the idea that they could operate as separate military units, directly under the control of the EU Council, if required.
      The concept is reinforced by the need for the European Union to have its own satellite system, under EU rather than US control. It has therefore spent €3.5 billion on its Galileo system, which would be used to facilitate the operations of the EU battle groups. These thirty satellites would mean the European Union would not be dependent on the American GPS or the Russian GLONASS systems, which are also being financed for military purposes. Since, for example, the GPS signal could be blocked or jammed at a moment’s notice, the European Union would be completely dependent on the United States in its military expeditions unless it had its own satellite system.
      The battle groups would have to take into consideration the role of the Future Rapid Effects System, centred on a “family” of nine hundred sophisticated combat vehicles costing £6.7 million each, with a lifetime cost of £55.5 million over thirty years. The combined defence budget of the EU states is €175 billion (compared with $550 billion for the United States), and they have a combined military force of 1.6 million soldiers, though at the moment only 5 to 10 per cent (60,000) are deployable as a rapid reaction force thousands of miles from Europe. The objective is to raise that number to at least 200,000. The US army has 400,000 soldiers who can be deployed globally.
      Many other EU leaders are very open in seeing no difference between the European Union, NATO, and the United States. At a recent NATO conference is Sweden the Lithuanian ambassador called NATO “the greatest military alliance in history—combating global terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and failed states’ threats which are facing the Euro-Atlantic community.”
      The European Union’s commitment to spend €25 billion for the A400M military transport plane is a demonstration of what the emerging EU superstate can achieve. Sixty are for Germany, fifty for France, and others for Spain, Britain, Belgium, and Turkey. There are investment plans for acquiring an aircraft carrier and an air wing by 2008.

The European Defence Agency

In July 2004 the EU Foreign Ministers (excluding Denmark) authorised the creation of the European Defence Agency, already established with a staff of eighty. All the EU Defence Ministers, including Ireland, have control of it and meet at the agency’s headquarters at least twice a year. It has taken over the Western European Armaments Agency and its research cell and has a budget of €2 billion. Its importance is clearly shown by the decision to include this in the EU Constitution, which envisaged it as being central to the development of an EU defence capability. Its function is to promote coherence in European defence procurement, enhance collaboration on the development of equipment, and promotes the European defence industry’s technological and industrial base. It is also to foster European defence-relevant research and technology and seeks to create an internationally competitive European defence equipment market, in particular by pursuing an EU-wide development and harmonisation of relevant rules and regulations (particularly by the EU-wide application of relevant rules of the LoI Framework Agreement).
      The CEOs of Europe’s leading arms firms—EADS, BAE Systems, and Thales—welcomed the establishment of the EU Defence Agency and called for an increase in military expenditure. These military corporations are continually seeking to influence the EU elite by means of direct lobbying groups such as ASD, New Defence Agenda, and the Kangaroo Group. The arms industry is by now deeply integrated in the elite, and the EU security research budgets are among the best examples of their success.

The privatisation of war

Mercenaries have played a significant role in war. So strong have the neo-liberal values become in the United States of today that between 1994 and 2002 the Pentagon awarded three thousand contracts to the modern mercenaries, now know as “private military companies” (PMCs). There are now ninety such companies operating in 110 countries; and the war in Iraq has been a great boost for them. They constitute the second-largest military grouping in Iraq, after the US army.
      The income of British PMCs has increased from £32 million to £160 million since the war in Iraq. One of the larger PMCs, Blackwater, which is very active in Iraq, has stated that it could put together a rapid reaction force or battle group. As neo-liberal values spread in the European Union from the United States, it is reasonable to assume that the use of mercenaries as battle groups, or as auxiliaries to the battle groups, will be strongly advocated by the EU elite.
      The past decade, for example, has witnessed a quiet revolution in the way the United States projects its power abroad. In the first Gulf War the ratio of American soldiers on the ground to private contractors was 50:1. In the Iraq war of 2003 that ratio was 10:1, as it was for the Clinton administration’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. As these figures reflect, important military functions have been subcontracted to private companies; Democratic and Republican presidents alike have steadily privatised critical aspects of US national security. For a rough sense of the magnitude of this shift, Halliburton’s total contracts in Iraq so far are estimated at $11–13 billion (£6–7 billion), more than twice what the first Gulf War cost the United States.

Arming Big Brother: The EU Security Research Programme

One of the requirements of monopoly capital is a quiescent, non-politicised working class at home, ready to support imperialist adventures abroad. This is achieved through coercion and surveillance. The EU Security Research Programme is a fundamental part of this activity, which blends seamlessly with military developments.
      The creation of the ESRP began with the establishment in 2003 of a “Group of Personalities” comprising EU officials and Europe’s biggest arms and IT companies, which argued that European transnationals are losing out to their American competitors because the US government is providing them with a billion dollars a year for “security” research.
      The European Commission responded by giving these companies a seat at the EU table, a proposed budget of up to €1 billion for “security” research, and all but full control over the development and implementation of the programme, allowing them to design future EU security policies according to corporate rather than public interests.
      Europe faces serious security challenges, such as disease, climate change, poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and other sources of insecurity. Rather than being part of a broader strategy to combat these challenges, the ESRP forms part of an EU counter-terrorism strategy directed almost exclusively at the use of military force and new law enforcement technologies.

What is the security-industrial complex?

The “security-industrial complex” describes how the boundaries between internal and external security, policing and military operations, have been eroded. This process has been accelerated by the development of new technologies for the surveillance of public and private places, of communications, and of groups and individuals.
      These technologies include a myriad of local and global surveillance systems; the introduction of biometric identifiers; electronic tagging and satellite monitoring; “less lethal weapons”; paramilitary equipment for public order and crisis management; and the militarisation of border controls. Military organisations dominate research and development in these areas, under the banners of “security research” and “dual-use” technology, avoiding both the constraints and the controversies of the arms trade.
      The EU Security Research Programme is the brainchild of the “Group of Personalities,” a 25-member advisory body, of whom eight had direct roots in major arms-producing companies: BAE Systems, Diehl, EADS, Ericsson Finmeccanica, Indra, Siemens, and Thales. Their report “Research for a Secure Europe,” published in March 2004, described the “synergies” between defence technologies and those required for “non-military security purposes.” In its report the group compared European research spending with that of the US Department of Homeland Security and concluded: “A Community-funded ESRP ensuring the involvement of all Member States should be launched as early as 2007. Its minimum funding should be €1 billion per year, additional to existing funding. This spending level should be reached rapidly, with the possibility to progressively increase it further, if appropriate, to bring the combined EU security research investment level close to that of the US.”
      The group’s basic demand was that a European security-industrial complex should be developed to compete with that emerging in the United States. Instead of putting forward this and other policy options, the European Commission, in its communication of February 2004, “Enhancement of the European Industrial Potential in the Field of Security Research, 2004–2006,” simply announced that a €65 million budget line for “Preparatory Action for Security Research” (2004–06) had already been established, paving the way for a full European Security Research programme from 2007.
      The framework programme “FP7” now being discussed in the European Parliament allocates €570 million per year for “security and space” research. As the ESRP is being developed outside the normal EC decision-making process, it is not yet clear where the rest of the €1 billion demanded by the “Group of Personalities” will come from, but it is likely that additional FP7 money will be channelled into it via the ill-defined budget lines on “ideas,” “people” and “capacities” (which account for €26 billion in spending from 2007 to 2013). Finally, FP7 will also provide an additional €1.8 billion for research by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.
      Ten of the first twenty-four projects funded by the European Union concern surveillance of one kind or another. For example, “PROBANT” involves the “visualisation and tracking of people inside buildings,” including “arrays of sensors, modulated scattering, pulsed-signal techniques, advanced data processing, biometric measurements.” Two projects involve surveillance from space. These can be seen in tandem with the development of the EU’s Galileo satellite system (the European Union’s first major “public-private partnership”). Its planned uses include the monitoring of all road travel by satellite—the basis for the “road pricing scheme” proposed in Britain.
      There has been precious little debate about the development of these programmes and a complete lack of transparency. Most are governed by a mandatory directive on secrecy.
      The European Commission has taken extraordinary steps to prepare a budget line outside the normal framework for EC research. It is particularly disturbing that the establishment of the “Group of Personalities” went almost unchallenged, with no meaningful discussion in the Council, no consultation in the European Parliament, and policy-making all but delegated to the unaccountable group itself—on which the military-industrial lobby was heavily over-represented.
      The expansion and formalisation of the “Group of Personalities” into the EU Security Research Advisory Board makes permanent this unprecedented policy; but still the idea that private companies, run for profit, should be accorded an official status in the European Union goes unchallenged. The result is that the arms industry is shaping not just EU security research but EU security policy.
      The full security research programme is not yet under way, and it is not too late to mobilise public opinion.

Costs and priorities

A proposed budget of €1 billion per year for security research is almost treble that being made available by the European Union for research into the environment, including climate change, and the equivalent of 10 per cent of the entire EU research budget. But it is not just a question of priorities. European arms companies already enjoy healthy subsidies and competitive advantages at the national level. The “big four” European arms companies have a combined annual income of around $84 billion—not far off the total EU budget. Why should we be footing the bill for their research?

The threat to civil liberties and privacy

There is already clear evidence that new law enforcement technologies can have a damaging effect on civil liberties unless there are strict controls on their use and a clear regard for individual human rights. The rushed EU legislation on the introduction of biometrics into passports and travel documents raises serious privacy issues.
      It is now quite possible to envisage a Europe in which everybody is registered, fingerprinted, and profiled; in which all communication and movement are monitored and recorded for law enforcement purposes; and in which we are increasingly policed by military force rather than civilian consent.

I said at the beginning that the old imperial powers have sought to create a European elite that is committed to the steady and gradual destruction of the national democracy and independence of the states within the European Union by way of a series of treaties, of which the proposed EU Constitution was to be a cornerstone, and to its transformation into a centralised, neo-liberal, militarised imperial power, allied to and fully supportive of US hegemony. You will hardly need to be further convinced that both projects are proceeding at a rapid pace, and mainly in secret.
      It was Woodrow Wilson who declared in 1912 that “concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.” It would seem that Lenin has been proved correct.

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