The following op-ed piece appeared in Visegrad Review on August 28th, 2015 on Hungary’s plans to use its military to prevent refugees from entering Hungary illegally:
There is no doubt that the EU, and particularly some of its member states, faces an acute challenge in the form of increased number of people trying to get to Europe. Some politicians have proposed deploying military forces to protect EU external borders and to stop the incoming people before they reach the EU territory. 1 Those who believe that the military is the right solution are not just simply wrong, they also contribute to increasing the real problem that the EU and the European societies currently need to tackle.
Military are a very particular tool and states need to be very careful when handling them. Military forces are trained to destroy and kill and there are good reasons for it even if many of us believe that people should not kill other people and build rather than destroy. Military force is supposed to protect the state from external threats, from threats that origin outside of the community, threats that pose a threat to lives of community members and the existence of the state as a political community. Wars tend to extremes and we know, at least since Carl von Clausewitz wrote his On War, that it is necessary to use maximum force in conflict to destroy the adversary and their will to fight as quickly as possible. 2 That is the way to keep the war short, less destructive and to save lives as a result.
The current situation does in no way substantiate the use of military force. There is no adversary who threatens European lives or endangers the existence of the European political community (or national political communities). We face an unorganized movement of large number of individuals who are not coming to take our lives and territory, but to save their own lives. There is no adequate answer that the military force can offer – there is nobody to fight, nobody whose will to fight could be broken. There are just desperate people trying to flee from areas where their lives are directly threatened. The last thing we should do is fighting them and I really hope that nobody is suggesting it when proposing the deployment of military.
On the other hand, I do see ways how we could use our military forces to reduce the load of the incoming people in need. We could get involved more in the conflicts that force them leave their homes in the first place. We could deploy our military to fight “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria, we could stop the Syrian and Libyan civil wars by occupying their territory and compelling the all parties to resolve their conflicts peacefully. That would allow the millions that fled from these areas to stay at home, which is, without any doubt, what they would prefer should they have the choice.
We do nothing of this kind beyond very limited military assistance, mostly in the form of air strikes. And there are good reasons why we do not do more. Boots on the ground mean casualties and we are not ready to risk the lives of our military. Getting more involved means accepting responsibility for the future of these territories and committing ourselves for decades to come. Our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown that very clearly. That is spending a lot of money that we would not be able to spend on our health care, education, motorways and alike. As a result, there is no immediate way how the military could be helpful in the current situation.
What is worse, raising the possibility to deploy military force further distorts the way how we talk about the people who are coming to Europe to save their lives and the lives of their families. It suggests that they indeed are adversaries who are coming to take our lives, to occupy our territory and to threaten our political community. It implicitly suggests the individuals who arrive are soldiers of the enemy army that there maybe is somebody organizing it all who should be fought and whose will should be broken. It simply further dehumanizes the individuals that come and ask us for help. It turns the reality upside down and transforms the victims into the perpetrators.
I do not pretend to have a ready-made solution to the current situation in Europe. Without any doubts, there are many among those who arrive to our shores who do not flee from their homes in a desperate attempt to save their lives, but who have simply joined the wave and are “just” seeking better jobs or are even trying to abuse the system. I do not know how to reduce the current migration wave immediately, although I believe there are a number of steps that our societies should take in the longer run, including getting more involved in the conflicts in our immediate neighbourhood, sharing the burden much more among the EU member states, and making legal immigration easier. There is one thing that I know for sure though: Military force is not the right tool for dealing with the refugees and migrants and those who suggest using it are dead wrong.
Tomáš Weiss is Head of the Department of West European Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague.