Europe shouldn't compete with the U.S.

Posted in Europe | 22-Jan-04 | Author: Jonathan Power| Source: International Herald Tribune

Does Chirac show the gap between Europe and USA ?
Defense and diplomacy

LONDON France, Germany, Belgium and, to some extent, Britain, are pushing hard for Europe to have its own defense identity. NATO is too dominated by American decision-making, so the argument runs, and Europe needs the freedom to deal with what it perceives as a crisis without having to win Washington's support.

If Europe is to be a mature political entity, according to this case, it needs its own military establishment and command and control. Only when Europe has its own significant military might will America treat it with the respect and attention it deserves. Besides, without a sense of forward momentum in the European idea, the United States will have increasing success in its apparent policy of divide and rule.

But what exactly would Europe gain? And is there a point in going ahead with such a fraught and expensive enterprise when the one sure outcome is to feed American paranoia about European long-term intentions? America is not going to stop being unilateralist-inclined just because Europe decides to beef up its own defense - quite the reverse, in all likelihood.

Unless European opinion is set on an irrevocable break with America, which manifestly it is not, is it not better for Europe to concentrate on what it does best - aid, diplomacy and peacekeeping - and continue its attempt through joint institutions such as NATO or the United Nations to temper the American bias toward quick military solutions to complicated problems?

Moreover, isn't the last thing the world needs, in a time of unprecedented peace between the world's big powers, to be building up the military muscle of a new political bloc?

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a former president of France and recently president of the European Convention, has talked of the movement against the Iraq war as marking the birth of a "European public consciousness." But it would seem to be a profound contradiction to translate this, as he has done, into a clarion call for a new military enterprise. Would it not be better to accept Europe's relative military weakness and to play to European strengths in finding alternatives to war? The political instruments of diplomacy, advice and economic coercion often work far better than military force.

In practical terms Europe cannot bridge the gap with an America that spends 3 percent of its gross domestic product on the military compared with Europe's 2 percent. Likewise, there is no way that the United States, whether led by Republicans or Democrats, is going in the foreseeable future to match European spending on the nonmilitary side of foreign policy.

European countries contribute three times as much aid to developing countries and twice as much to the UN budget as the United States. European countries contribute 10 times as many soldiers as the United States to peacekeeping and policing operations around the world.

This is what Europe does reasonably well, and it should build on it so that its political and diplomatic energy can be made commensurate with what is the world's largest economic power. Yet since the 1999 European Union summit meeting in Helsinki it has seemed to want to go in the other direction - nearly all its initiatives and financial appropriations are for nurturing new military capabilities.

While there can be no doubt that Europe badly needs its own single foreign policy, beefing up a collective military points in all the wrong directions. Europe has ample opportunities to make a far-reaching contribution to dealing with the world's trouble spots with the power it already has. It just has to learn to use it better - as it recently did with Iran in the successful attempt to persuade its leadership to open its nuclear industry to outside inspections.

What the world needs most, as new powers like China and India come on to the scene, is at least one power that has learned through its own history of fratricidal wars that there is a better way to go than building up military strength.

The writer is a commentator on foreign affairs.