Drifting Apart? Europes Drive for Autonomy
Mr. Peter W. Rodman; Director of National Security Programs, The Nixon Center
Kosovo has had a paradoxical effect on transatlantic relations. On the face of it, the Kosovo campaign of 1999 and its outcome were a vindication of the North Atlantic Alliance, since the allies held firmly together (despite predictions to the contrary) and the U.S. contribution made a decisive difference. Yet in Western Europe, leaders drew the opposite conclusion: that never again should they be so dependent on the Americans. In Europe, the Kosovo experience was seen as a powerful argument for accelerating the construction of a new and independent defense institution within the European Union (EU). As German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer put it at a Bremen meeting of the Western European Union (WEU) in May, calling for an EU defense buildup: The Kosovo conflict expresses how urgent and indispensable this buildup will be for the future of Europe.[i] At a Cologne Summit of the EU in June, European leaders therefore gave a new push to the effort (already underway) to create a new EU defense institution.
Thus, Kosovo gave new momentum to a political trend in Europe that has profound implications for the Alliance. Whether the EU defense project is compatible with the Alliance indeed, strengthening it by strengthening its European pillar or whether it will divide the Alliance and complicate NATO decisionmaking, remains to be seen.
The European Project
The post-Cold War world has turned out to be a more uncertain and violent world than many expected. The collapse of empires has often in history produced such a period of turmoil. Those who thought a decade ago that security issues were obsolete were, to say the least, premature.
In such a world, Americas alliances remain of great value to us. They extend our influence and expand the zone of democratic peace. This is true, most of all, of the grand alliance of the industrial democracies of North America and Western Europe. I believe strongly that, when faced with a significant international challenge, Americans and Europeans first recourse should be each other. Whatever new problems confront us -- in, say, the Middle East, or Africa, or Asia -- the peoples of the Atlantic democracies start with a sense of fundamental common interests and common moral perceptions. This has been our common advantage up to now, and we will still need it.
The end of the Cold War, of course, removed the Soviet threat that bound us especially tightly together. This great change in the international environment is now testing us to demonstrate that we are indeed united by common positive values, as we always claimed we were, and not only by common dangers. It was bound to be difficult. Some degree of new transatlantic tension was probably to be expected -- generated by the usual trade quarrels, for example, no longer contained or mitigated by the overwhelming security interest we had in common.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union has led to another new condition, which is less remarked upon. This is the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower -- and Europes reaction to it. Where Americans, understandably, are quite comfortable with this outcome, Europeans -- on the continent where the concept of the balance of power was invented -- see this imbalance as a major international problem. Rather than joyfully falling in step behind our global leadership, they are looking for ways to counter our predominance.
Americans seem strangely oblivious to what is really the main geopolitical trend in the world at the present time: the effort of many countries to build counterweights to American power, to restore what they call multipolarity to the international system. This trend takes many forms from a drive to build up the role of the UN Security Council (as a restraint on American unilateralism), to a Russian-Chinese alignment explicitly directed to countering American hegemony, to a more benign version of this phenomenon among our European allies.
This was one of the primary motivations of the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, in which the nations of the European Community (EC) decided to form an even tighter and stronger European Union.[ii] In economic terms, the explicit goal was to make Europe a stronger trading bloc and financial power to compete with the North American economic area (and also Japan). But Maastricht was also the blueprint for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This was a new departure. When the EC/EU was mostly an economic animal, the West adapted to this; there were trade quarrels, but European institutions never competed with NATO. Now the EU is shaping not only a new identity in foreign and security policy but also new institutions.
The key moment was a year ago, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined French leaders at a Summit at Saint-Malo, in Brittany, in early December 1998. They agreed that the EU, as part of CFSP, should launch a new common defense policy. This was a major reversal of British policy, which had always hitherto insisted that NATO be the exclusive institution for the common defense in the Atlantic area. Blair is clearly eager for Britain to join Europe. Frustrated in his desire to join the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in the present period, he has fastened on defense as a field in which Britain, with its independent nuclear deterrent and serious power projection capability, can not only play a role but be a leader of any EU endeavor. Thus his reversal, and the pivotal role played by the UK today in the formative stages of this new EU institution.
The Europeans Choice
The question inevitably arises: How will this new EU foreign and defense policy institution fit into the Atlantic Alliance, or link up with the Atlantic Alliance? The disturbing answer is: We dont yet know.
The European motivation for CFSP, too, is clear, and frequently stated. It is to make Europe more of an equal to the United States, more of a counterweight to the United States, to enhance Europes autonomy from the United States, to make Europe more independent of the United States. The French, as usual, state it in the most melodramatic terms -- warning darkly, as French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine is wont to do, of the United States as the new hyperpower.[iii] To a conference of French ambassadors in August 1997, Védrine declared:
Today there is one sole great power the United States of America. When I speak of its power, I state a fact without acrimony. A fact is a fact. But this power carries in itself, to the extent that there is no counterweight, especially today, a unilateralist temptation and the risk of hegemony.[iv]
More recently, Védrine expanded on his view of Americas overweening power and the need for Europe to unite in order to counter it:
American supremacy today is felt in the economy, in monetary affairs, in technology and in military fields, as well as in lifestyles, language and the mass culture products that are swamping the world, shaping the ways of thinking, and exercising a fascination that even works on adversaries of the United States. This is why I use the term hyperpower, which the American media find aggressive because of the pathological connotation of the prefix hyper in English when, in fact, it is merely descriptive .
In keeping with Americas view both of itself and the rest of the world over the last two centuries, most great American leaders and thinkers have never doubted for an instant that the United States was chosen by providence as the indispensable nation and that it must remain dominant for the sake of humankind. Sometimes, Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski or Samuel Huntington may have wondered about how this leadership can best be maintained and how to avoid hostile reactions to overbearing hegemony. But at heart, Americans have no doubts and the more forthright amongst them are quick to remind us that the contemporary world is the direct outcome of Europes complete failure to manage its own and the worlds affairs in the first half of the twentieth century. If Europeans truly want to become a power together, which is the end France has been working towards, then they will have to overcome the contradiction between enlarging Europe and strengthening it. This question underlies the whole issue of Europes common foreign policy and defence policy.[v]
And his President, Jacques Chirac, has insisted that a balanced relationship among the worlds major powers can exist only if the European Union itself becomes a major pole of international equilibrium, endowing itself with all the instruments of a true power.[vi]
But the French are not the only ones. Former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok has spoken of CFSP as a way to make the EU more of a counterweight to the United States.[vii] Even Tony Blair, prompted by what he saw as American hesitations over Kosovo, has advocated European defense institutions as a way to lessen dependence on the United States.[viii]
Such reduced dependence on the United States can be a very good thing, in terms of what is commonly known as burden-sharing. We have always wanted the Europeans to strengthen their defense capabilities; we have also always encouraged them to coordinate their efforts in order to maximize the effectiveness of those efforts. When the recent Balkan crises erupted earlier in this decade, Americans were more than eager for the Europeans to prove their ability to handle such problems by themselves. So no one can accuse us of wanting to keep Europe weak, or divided, or in a condition of being unable to act autonomously. The key issue before us today, rather, is whether the form that this new EU enterprise is taking will enhance or complicate the unity of the Alliance. Up to now we have had one security organization in the West; we are about to have two.
European statements on this point are ambiguous, to put it charitably. The declared motive is for Europe to be able to act, through its own defense institutions, either within NATOs European pillar or outside the NATO framework (in the words of the British-French Summit declaration at Saint-Malo)[ix] or without prejudice to actions by NATO (in the words of the Cologne EU Summit last June).[x] In the minds of some Europeans, the ultimate aim is an all-European chain of command, with a European ministerial council giving orders to a European military staff, to be carried out by European national (or joint) forces, bypassing NATO. French President Jacques Chirac, in a recent speech as Strasbourg, spelled out his blueprint for a separate independent European structure along these lines:
Europe must [shoulder its responsibilities] with its American allies, within the Alliance whenever they are prepared to become involved on the ground. But it must also be capable of conducting such action on its own if it wishes. This defence capability will complete other means of action economic, humanitarian, and political -- now available to the European Union and which it alone has the capacity to harness. The European Union must be able to act on its own, either utilising its own means, or making use of those made available to it by NATO. It must therefore have its own arrangements for the provision of advice, analysis and military leadership, which it currently lacks. Defence Ministers must play a direct role, and they must be able to meet as and when the need arises. A military committee is indispensable, and it should be able to work through a sufficiently high-level European general staff.[xi]
This EU effort to construct a separate European defense identity comes three years after NATO adapted its own procedures to recognize and promote a European Security and Defense Identity within the Alliance framework. At its ministerial meeting in Berlin in June 1996, the Atlantic allies created new mechanisms whereby the European members of NATO could act on their own, with NATOs blessing and a presumption of being able to use NATO assets. Berlin established a system of Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF), with a key role for the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander (DSACEUR) (always a European). The new EU procedure, in contrast (at least in some Europeans minds), will enable Europe to dispense with the Americans, if it wishes. That seems to be, indeed, its whole point.
Somewhat disingenuously, Europeans say that all they are doing is absorbing the WEUs role within the EU. The Berlin decision had welcomed the role of the WEU as the bridge between NATO and the EU. The problem, of course, is that the WEUs members were all NATO allies while the EU has a much broader membership including non-allies. It is also that the WEU was a weak entity that posed no great challenge to anyone; the EU, in contrast, is a much more formidable political animal and one whose relationship to NATO remains to be worked out.
Now, perhaps this alarm is premature. The Europeans are so clearly unwilling to increase their defense expenditure, or (with a few exceptions) to take other steps to modernize their forces, that their real capacity for independent military action may not exist for decades to come. The technological gap between the high-tech American defense establishment and that of our allies is, unfortunately, growing. Thus, one could say that the saving grace of the new EU enterprise will be its ineffectuality. But that, of course, is an unsatisfactory answer among allies. A failure of the European security policy, whether inside or outside NATO, will only foster (in Europe) continued resentments at American dominance, and (in America) continued resentments at Europes inadequate sharing of common burdens. That is not at all healthy. The right answer, surely, is for Europe to grow stronger, and improve its defense capabilities and coordination, within the Alliance framework. It is important to stress again that the controversy is not about the desirability of European strength or autonomy, but about the attempt to pursue these goals through new institutional mechanisms that are not yet demonstrated to be compatible with the unity and integrity of the Alliance.
The Clinton Administration has, appropriately, signaled its sympathy for a European defense identity. (In fact, it has been more sympathetic to this than any previous American government.) But, equally appropriately, the Administration has cautioned against a European defense identity that violated three key criteria, which became known as the 3 Ds:
-- no duplication of defense efforts or institutions;
--no decoupling of the European effort from NATO; and
--no discrimination (for example, against Turkey, which is a NATO ally but not an EU member).[xii]
Sympathetic Europeans, such as Lord Robertson, NATOs new Secretary General, have lately responded positively by stressing what they call the 3 Is:
-- an improvement in capabilities, as a goal to be emphasized over new institutional structures;
-- inclusiveness and transparency, to cover Turkey and the desired relationship of cooperation between the EU and NATO, and
-- the indivisibility of European security, the basic principle underlying all of the above.[xiii]
In this spirit, the Washington NATO Summit in April of this year pointed a positive way to a European Security and Defense Identity, reemphasizing the Berlin procedures agreed in 1996. The April NATO Summit also launched a Defense Capabilities Initiative, designed to enhance defense industrial cooperation across the Atlantic to help Europe upgrade its technology. These are good NATO initiatives, and all the allies agreed to them.
But it is the EU project, alas, and not the NATO project, that has the political and psychological momentum in Europe. The Cologne EU Summit, as noted, emphasized the European identity while retaining the ambiguous language about its relationship with NATO. There was no little symbolism, moreover, in that NATOs talented and energetic Secretary General Javier Solana saw it as a promotion to accept the newly created post of EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Europeans like President Chirac now speak openly of the fact that European publics are more likely to be willing to spend more on defense if it is sought in the name of Europe than in the name of the Atlantic community.[xiv] This is undoubtedly true. The good news is that, if Chirac is right, European publics might yet be persuaded to be more serious about strengthening their defense capabilities. The bad news is the clearly diminished appeal of the Atlantic idea and the long-run implications this is bound to have for Alliance cohesion.
The Institutional Problem
My conclusion, therefore, is that the future of the transatlantic relationship is more precarious than it seems. Europe faces some serious and significant choices.
At one level, the problem is quite mundane; at another level it is profound.
At one level, it is just a practical problem of seeing to it that two institutions with overlapping but not identical memberships (the EU and NATO) find some reliable institutional or procedural way to link up. In this sense, it is just a question of procedural ingenuity. Because if it is done right, the European project can be beneficial to the West, by bolstering Europes strength and self-confidence and enhancing its contribution to common tasks. On the other hand, if it is done wrong, it can do serious harm. Everything depends on how it is done -- whether the EU project is within the Alliance framework or competing with it. And at this formative stage of EU institution-building, it is essential to get it right. One degree off course now could turn into a major divergence ten years from now.
Getting it right could take various forms, but it should mean some agreed procedure or institutional link that assures the compatibility of the new EU entity with NATO. It might be a NATO right of first refusal of jurisdiction over any particular problem (as a recent Senate resolution suggests). Or it could be one of a number of more specific procedural formulas now being discussed in Europe: for example, ensuring an overlap in the membership of the EU and NATO military committees by dual-hatting their representatives; institutionalizing the cross-participation of other key military leaders on both sides (including the European DSACEUR) in each others deliberations; ensuring that the working procedures of the two bodies are compatible and that liaison is a routine function at every level. Or (preferably) all of the above. Not only full transparency is called for, but a structure and procedure that reflect operationally what even President Chirac acknowledges rhetorically: that the Alliance remains the centrepiece of Europes collective defence.[xv]
It is especially disturbing, therefore, that President Chirac, in his Strasbourg speech, was so vehement in his opposition to the idea of looking now for an institutional link between the EU and NATO. He dismissed it as premature, as put[ting] the cart before the horse, and as something for which there is no pressing need at the present time.[xvi] On the contrary, establishing an early, clear, and tight institutional link between the EU and NATO is an imperative, and it should be regarded as a test of the EUs good faith.
This is the choice the Europeans have to make. Americans will be watching closely how the Helsinki EU Summit addresses these issues in December -- whether the Helsinki Summit communiqué walks it back, bringing it closer to the NATO Summits stress on the common Alliance framework, or pushes it further along the road to an institution that divides NATO.
The American Reaction
A reaction is building in this country to various problems in U.S.-European relations. ESDI is only part of it.
Kosovo, it turns out, had a paradoxical effect on the American domestic debate, too. There is mounting unease in this country at the whole concept of humanitarian intervention, of which Kosovo is seen as a paradigm. Cynicism among liberals about its results[xvii] is coupled with a widespread questioning among conservatives whether such seemingly non-strategic out-of-area tasks are central to NATOs mission or to the mission of already-overstretched U.S. forces.[xviii] This is part of a burgeoning debate about Americas role in the world.
It is into this maelstrom that the (separate) growing concern about ESDI now comes. This too may seem paradoxical, in that the American skepticism about Kosovo includes a heavy dose of Why cant the Europeans handle these things? But the American reaction (at least in Congress) is appropriately precise: The United States values any effort to strengthen European capacities but it still values the Atlantic Alliance as the vehicle for American engagement in European security. Republicans, in this regard, are quite strategic-minded. Any tampering with the Alliance touches a nerve here whether it is the expansion of NATOs mission to include humanitarian intervention, or a seeming attitude on the part of the Europeans that NATO is not as central to them as it once was.
In both houses of Congress, the concerns about the EU defense initiative that I have expressed are now widely shared. Hearings have now been held in both houses to air these very issues. Resolutions have passed resoundingly in both houses expressing these concerns explicitly H. Res. 59, by Rep. Bereuter, Biley, Boehlert, and Lantos in the House, and S. Res. 208, by Senators Roth, Lugar, Biden, Kyl, Hagel, Smith, Lieberman, and Helms (the Senate resolution already mentioned). The House resolution passed by a more than two-thirds vote (278-133) on November 2; the Senate resolution was passed unanimously on November 8. Other eminent experts like Henry Kissinger have questioned the direction of European efforts as well.[xix] As already noted, the Clinton Administration has been expressing these concerns for some time, most recently in an important speech by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in London on October 7.[xx] So it is a growing bipartisan concern.
And these are Atlanticists expressing these concerns, not isolationists. The isolationists in this country will have no problem with a Europe that goes its own way, separating from the United States. If the Europeans act as if they regard the Alliance as dispensable, some Americans will welcome the opportunity to wave the Europeans goodbye. That is part of the danger, which many in Europe may not fully appreciate. Fortunately, Americans still seem committed to international engagement, according to opinion surveys,[xxi] and are willing to maintain a substantial U.S. defense budget in support of our international commitments. But there does seem to be a fragile quality to this internationalism at the grass roots, and any hint of anti-Americanism on the part of allies is more likely to lead to American abdication than to a burst of American solicitude.
This would be a strategic disaster for Europe, as well as for the United States.
It is time, therefore, that the Atlanticists in this country, who care about the unity of the West, speak out loudly and clearly. There are many in Europe -- I believe the majority -- who value the American connection and do not want to see it ruptured. The British role, in particular, is pivotal. Tony Blair has been a stalwart ally in such recent crises as Iraq and Kosovo. Yet he was one of the prime movers behind Saint-Malo, and British support for this EU enterprise is testimony to the strong gravitational pull that Europe now exerts on this Labour government. One wonders whether some future British Prime Minister, in another crisis in (say) Iraq -- once Britain is much more firmly embedded in the European CFSP -- will not be more reluctant to spend political capital with his European colleagues to side once again with the United States. The debate still going on now inside the UK, therefore, is particularly important, since it is clear that Britons at this phase of history really do not want to weaken their Atlantic connection.
All Europeans need to know of our concerns, so that the ongoing debate in Europe is premised on a correct assessment of the American view. This is especially important in the run-up to the Helsinki EU Summit in December. The Congressional resolutions in early November were therefore especially timely. If we are silent, it undercuts all those in Europe -- some in opposition parties, some in office -- who share these concerns. Europeans, in any case, should not be allowed by our silence to conclude that the present trend has our support or acquiescence or that it portends no serious consequences for European-American relations.
The political unity of the West is one of the greatest achievements of American and European foreign policy in the last 50 years. It must be preserved.
[i] Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, at WEU Summit, Bremen, May 10, 1999, cited in Bundespresseamt bulletin, May 11, 1999.
[ii] For a fuller presentation of the analysis in this testimony, see the authors Drifting Apart? Trends in U.S.-European Relations (Washington: The Nixon Center, June 1999).
[iii] E.g, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Védrine, interview with Liberation (Paris), November 24, 1998, in FBIS-WEU-98-328, November 24, 1998.
[iv] Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Védrine, remarks to a conference of French ambassadors, Paris, August 28, 1997.
[v] Minister of Foreign Affairs Hubert Védrine, address at the opening of the IFRI Conference, Into the 21st, Paris, November 3. 1999.
[vi] President Jacques Chirac, speech at IFRI conference, Paris, November 4, 1999.
[vii] Prime Minister Wim Kok quoted in Der Standard (Vienna), October 27, 1998, p.2.
[viii] Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, address to the North Atlantic Assembly, Edinburgh, November 13, 1998.
[ix] Statement on European Defence, Joint Statement by British and French leaders, Saint-Malo, France, December 4, 1998, para. 3.
[x] Presidency Conclusions, Annex III, Declaration on Strengthening the Common European Policy on Security and Defence, European Union Summit, Cologne, June 4, 1999.
[xi] President Jacques Chirac, speech to the General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Strasbourg, France, October 19, 1999.
[xii] E.g., Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, statement to the North Atlantic Council, Brussels, December 8, 1998.
[xiii] Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, recent discussions in Washington, November 1999.
[xiv] Chirac, speech at Strasbourg.
[xvii] See, e.g., Michael Mandelbaum, A Perfect Failure: NATOs War Against Yugoslavia, Foreign Affairs, September/October 1999.
[xviii] See the so-called Kyl Amendment passed by the Senate as part of the resolution of ratification of Czech, Hungarian, and Polish accession to NATO, May 4, 1998, Section 3 (1) (A), stressing NATOs traditional mission of collective defense.
[xix] Henry Kissinger, The End of NATO as We Know It? Washington Post, August 15, 1999.
[xx] Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Americas Stake in a Strong Europe, address at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, October 7, 1999.
[xxi] John E. Rielly, ed, American Public Opinion and U.S. Foreign Policy 1999 (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 1999), esp. Chapter Two.