EU Military Intentions – inside or outside NATO ?

Posted in NATO , Europe | 13-Dec-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

BrigGen(ret.) Dieter Farwick is former Director of Germany’s "Federal Armed Forces Intelligence Office" and
Global Editor-in-Chief of
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European initiatives on security policy have a long record. The source for all those initiatives has been a certain degree of mistrust towards “the primus inter pares” – the United States of America. The climax was the retreat of France from the military organisation of NATO and the exit of all NATO installations out of France.

The crucial question in these long discussions was: Should the European efforts be inside or outside NATO? Should there be a “European pillar” within NATO or European autonomy outside NATO? This question has never been answered in an honest way. Under the label of “burden sharing” the American side encouraged repeatedly the European partners to do more – within NATO. USA wanted to have a capable junior partner. Europe never spoke with one voice. All politicians paid a lot of lip service to NATO “as the common base.” But the “old Europe” without any doubt favours more and more autonomous operations like the France-led operation ”Artemis” in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Summer of 2003. The European intention to take over the operation in the Balkans has to be seen in this context. Even with limited military capabilities, the EU can handle those “small” operations, but is not able to start medium and large operations because of the well known gap in so called “strategic capabilities”.

The United States and some of the new NATO members follow the idea of “NATO first.” This idea applies to a situation in which a crisis puts the vital interest of NATO members under risk and NATO members decide whether the Alliance will act or not. The U.S. decision on this is of great importance. If NATO is willing to act, all member states can decide how they would commit themselves. There is no treaty obligation about the “whether” and “what” of national commitments. Based upon such a common decision NATO acted in former Yugoslavia in the IFOR, SFOR and KFOR operations. For me, it is hard to believe that the U.S. would step aside when vital European interest come under risk. Without any historic evidence, some European politicians argue that a crisis might arise in which the U.S. would not be willing to act and would thus block any decision by NATO. Such politicians want to have two options: one with the Alliance including USA, and a second one with a European approach. That would bring Europe into a comfortable position: the attractive operations would be conducted by the EU and the dirty ones mainly by USA.

It goes without saying that a dollar and a Euro can only be spent once. The money which goes into European efforts will be lacking for NATO. Therefore, the three “NOs” that the U.S. brought into the discussion make sense: no duplication, no discrimination, no decoupling.
Former French President Giscard d’Estaing headed the EU Convent
It will be very interesting for all observers on both sides of the Atlantic to see whether the new European will cross this line in the sand.

One could argue that the Europeans are in reality not willing and able to stand militarily on their own feet. Whenever past discussions came to the issue of costs, the discussion was over. All European initiatives of the past went the same way - into the historic garbage bin. The Europeans run the danger of harming NATO again in a time when NATO is gaining new ground with the commitment in Afghanistan and perhaps soon in Iraq. NATO can look back to a 50-years success story and it should get the chance to continue. Distrust is not a good teacher.