Concern Over Delays in the E.U.'s Defense Integration Process

Posted in NATO | 26-Oct-05 | Author: Federico Bordonaro

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.) issued a significant report on October 11, 2005 just one day before a meeting of European and N.A.T.O. leaders in Brussels. The report, co-edited by N.A.T.O.'s ex-chief, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, and former German Defense Minister General Klaus Naumann, speaks volumes about the current concerns influential U.S. and European elites have about the E.U.'s weak defense and military capabilities.

Moreover, the 97-page document shows once again that an integrated European defense is not only the goal of dedicated Europeanists, but it is also perceived by many U.S. strategic thinkers as an indispensable tool for improving both N.A.T.O. and Euro-American defense cohesion.

The Report

In light of Ralston's and Naumann's careers, it is fairly obvious that the C.S.I.S. study is not really an academic exercise. Its main conclusions, exposed by the Financial Times on October 11, are the result of one year of research involving consultation with many high defense officers in E.U. countries. Moreover, the conclusions reflect the core of U.S. and N.A.T.O. concerns about the E.U. defense policy. Therefore, it is largely a message from Washington directed to Paris, Berlin and London and other leading states involved in the construction of a European Security and Defense Policy (E.S.D.P.).

The authors of the study are very clear on their view of E.U. defense capabilities. They state that the 25 E.U. member-states can count on less than five percent of their manpower for joint peace support operations. Defense spending is inadequate, but will remain so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the report argues, instead of complaining about the lack of funding, the most pragmatic way to improve the Old Continent's common defense capabilities is to augment the degree of integration. Concretely, this should be conceived as a common effort in shared planning and cooperative research, development and the procurement of priority military capabilities.

According to the report, if increased military spending is hampered by budgetary constraints and social issues, then the goal of the E.U. member-states should be to better employ the already existing defense budget. For instance, it is suggested that European states should spend 25 percent of their defense budget on research and arms development/production, and only up to 40 percent on personnel.

Apart from some technical details, however, the importance of the paper lies in its political conclusions. The authors clearly indicate that the rise of a strong and integrated European defense policy is in U.S. interests. Such a common defense policy could function as a valuable tool to improve Euro-American common operations and N.A.T.O.'s effectiveness. Interestingly, before the C.S.I.S. report was mentioned in the press, some members of a U.S. neo-conservative think-tank, the Project for the New American Century, also launched an initiative ("Committee for a Strong Europe") in which they called for stronger European defense capabilities, as reported by the French newspaper Liberation.

It appears that Washington believes that stronger European defense capabilities are necessary to re-launch a strong transatlantic relationship.

Reasons Behind U.S. and N.A.T.O. Concerns

The reasons for U.S. and N.A.T.O. concerns about the E.S.D.P. date from the 1990s. During the last decade, the nature, scope and geopolitical orientation of the E.U. defense policy often occupied center-stage in the transatlantic debate. After the Mitterrand-Kohl combine unsuccessfully tried to launch a Common Foreign and Security Policy aimed at giving post-Cold War Europe more strategic independence from the U.S. (while renewing the transatlantic alliance), the rising E.U. defense identity was conceived as a set of tools "separable but not separate" from N.A.T.O. assets, following the decisions of the June 1996 Atlantic summit in Berlin.

As many then noticed, it was as if the Washington Treaty had been placed at the heart of post-Cold War European security, even though the Western European Union -- whose Article 5 established a mutual defense guarantee for the member-states -- was kept in the game.

However, such developments did not dissipate all the doubts that U.S. policymakers had about the E.U.'s defense policy. In Washington, some feared that such a set of institutional and military tools born inside the transatlantic structures would detach in the future. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in December 1998 that the European states should avoid any duplication of Atlantic assets.

Therefore, the Washington line was clear: the Atlantic Alliance should remain the cornerstone of European security, and all European defense capabilities should be conceived with inter-operability with N.A.T.O. in mind. That was -- at least in large part -- also London's stance. A new Paris-London-Berlin combine was then the leading trio of Europe's defense efforts in the 1998-2003 period. However, in the winter of 2002-2003, the Iraq crisis dramatically divided London from Paris and Berlin.

In April 2003, France, Germany, Belgium and Luxemburg proposed that the E.U. should have its own military planning headquarters. Although they did not call for any action to exit from N.A.T.O., they did suggest a higher degree of autonomy for the E.U. defense establishment. Such a stance revived the United States' aforementioned worries about a possible progressive loosening of transatlantic cohesion. At the end of 2003, London successfully called for a fresh start in the E.U.'s common defense projects and reaffirmed its bridge-building role in the Washington-Brussels relationship.

However, even though the European Defense Agency was launched in 2004, the political crisis unchained by the 2004 enlargement and the 2005 failure of the E.U. Constitutional Treaty severely hampered the E.U.'s big powers from decisively stepping toward an effective, credible common foreign, security and defense policy. Even worse, anti-E.U. and pro-sovereignty movements gained strength in both the U.K. (i.e., the U.K. Independence Party) and France (i.e., the Movement for France).

This largely explains why the C.S.I.S. paper expresses worries about the unwillingness of the E.U.'s key states to cede sovereignty in security and defense matters. American and Atlantic strategic thinkers see the European defense establishment as a federated entity fully integrated into the Atlantic Alliance. Therefore, they call for the armies of E.U. member-states to specialize in "niches," in order to improve their inter-operability with U.S. and N.A.T.O. forces. In this respect, they propose precisely what French pro-sovereignty movements -- and adversaries of the E.U. Constitutional Treaty -- struggle to avoid.

Paradoxically, N.A.T.O. seems to call for a centralization of the E.U.'s defense integration effort which has been advocated by France and Germany for many years, but with another goal in mind. Paris typically conceived the E.U.'s defense policy as a tool to maximize its own influence in the world, thus rebalancing U.S. power and influence in the Atlantic Alliance. Fifteen years after the Maastricht negotiations began, it is now Washington that would like the E.U. states to further integrate their defense capabilities because that would guarantee more effective U.S.-E.U. common strategic action under the leadership of the United States.

In fact, at the same time as Washington and N.A.T.O. are formulating their "European strategy," some politicians in what the U.S. often sees as "Old Europe" are trying to breathe new life into the E.U.'s defense policy. For instance, on October 19, Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt stressed the importance of the coming year's efforts to revitalize the integration process. He then called for increased cooperation among leading E.U. states to promote the so-called European social model and the E.U.'s common defense policy. The week before, the French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie also illustrated plans to increase the E.U.'s military capabilities.

Such efforts -- or at least such propositions -- signal that after the crisis of the 2004-2005 large integration, those French, Belgium and German decision makers who tried to give the E.S.D.P. a more autonomous character in April 2003 could attempt to resurrect supposedly "dead" plans of creating a core of "pioneer" member states to lead the European foreign and security policy.


Since the European integration process entered a crisis after the 2004 enlargement -- a crisis best epitomized by the French and Dutch rejections of the E.U. Constitutional Treaty -- the European defense policy is now at a crossroads. After years of ambiguity, its fundamental geopolitical orientation is now the real stake in its construction.

The U.S. and the Atlanticist factions understand that its very crisis is a window of opportunity to tightly link the E.U.'s common defense policy to a renewed transatlantic alliance. On the other hand, some European factions are trying to re-launch the concept of a "hardcore" group of E.U. member-states interested in taking the lead in the construction of the E.S.D.P.

The year 2006 will probably be a decisive year for the E.S.D.P. project. For the proponents of a "European superpower" that is more autonomous from the U.S., the room for maneuvering seems dramatically reduced. We can thus expect the entire dynamics of E.U. defense integration to be dominated by the Atlanticist view in the next year. However, such an approach is likely to cause even more dissatisfaction in those groups that want more autonomy from the U.S., such as the French sovereignists, some neo-Gaullists and some factions in Germany, Belgium and other E.U. member-states.

Indeed, due to the difficulties encountered in creating a more integrated European defense policy, the N.A.T.O.-sponsored plan's main effect could be that of worsening the image of E.U. integration among large parts of "old Europe's" society, since this public partly perceived the construction of the E.U. as a tool to balance U.S. hegemony in the transatlantic relationship.

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