February 16, 2011 | Backgrounder on European Union
Abstract: The European Union has not been working with the United States as a partner, but against the U.S. as a global counterbalance. One of the main features of the EU’s counter-strategy is its advancement of a non-NATO defense identity, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). The CSDP is not strengthening the transatlantic alliance, instead shifting resources from NATO to the EU, making it a rival military system. However, the Obama Administration continues to praise this and other integrationist policies as alliance-builders and historic milestones. While anti-NATO developments on the part of the EU are certainly milestones, they do not foster greater stability or security. Heritage Foundation European affairs and transatlantic security expert Sally McNamara explains how the Administration’s current EU policy undercuts U.S. interests—and how it can change course.
Since the introduction of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty on December 1, 2009, the Obama Administration has proclaimed the value of the treaty—which significantly advanced the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy as a defense alliance separate from NATO—for the transatlantic relationship. President Barack Obama welcomed the treaty’s ratification, stating, “I believe that a strengthened and renewed EU will be an even better transatlantic partner with the United States.” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went further, describing the Lisbon Treaty as “a major milestone in our world’s history.” In November 2010, the Obama Administration agreed to a new Strategic Concept for NATO, which upgraded the EU to a “strategic partner” of the alliance without restating the primacy of NATO in Europe’s security architecture.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described a separate EU defense identity as “at best an alternative and at worst a rival military structure and armed forces [to NATO].” Rather than strengthening the transatlantic alliance, the EU’s defense policies have resulted in what former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned as “the three D’s”—the duplication of NATO’s role and structures, the delinking of the NATO and EU alliances, and discrimination against non-EU members of NATO. In today’s age of fiscal austerity, the division of defense resources between the EU and NATO represents a considerable challenge to the future of the transatlantic alliance.
The EU has also found itself at odds with U.S. interests on a number of strategic issues. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton’s drive to lift Brussels’s arms embargo on China, in contravention of strong American objections, is but one example of the growing transatlantic divide on important security questions. The Lisbon Treaty has given the EU greater latitude to pursue its wider objective of refashioning the international system into a highly regulated, multilateral system where U.S. actions can be constrained. The “multilateralisation of multipolarity” approach that Brussels is pursuing damages America’s bilateral relationships with critical European allies, undermines Washington’s leadership of the international system, and threatens U.S. sovereignty.
The Obama Administration’s Europe Policy
Europe is not a priority for President Obama. As the first self-identified “Pacific president,” President Obama has often been ambivalent to America’s strongest allies in Europe. His indifference to the Anglo-American Special Relationship has been especially marked. Beginning with an uncomfortable gift exchange with then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown—where President Obama was presented with an ornamental pen holder carved from the timbers of the HMS Gannet, only to hand over a box-set of 25 DVDs—the Obama Administration compounded the diplomatic faux pas when a senior State Department protocol official stated to a Sunday Telegraph reporter: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.” President Obama also refused five requests to meet with Prime Minister Brown on the fringes of the U.N. meeting in New York in September 2009. And in January 2011, President Obama declared that France, not Britain, is the United States’ most important ally. President Obama has also neglected America’s previously strong ties with Central and Eastern European nations in favor of “resetting” relations with Russia, cancelling the Third Site missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic without any prior consultation with Warsaw and Prague.
President Obama has also proved willing to let the EU advance defense arrangements independently of NATO. He is understandably frustrated by Brussels’s frequent summitry—even going as far as cancelling his attendance at the EU–U.S. biannual summit in Madrid in May 2010. However, U.S. interests in Europe are far too important to lose focus. President Obama must be more sensitive to new EU-led assaults on U.S. bilateral relations and to the EU’s unpicking of the foundations of the transatlantic relationship.
Obama’s EU Policy. To the extent that Europe has featured on his Administration’s agenda, President Obama has supported further European integration. This position matches his instinctive support for multilateralism as well as his gratitude for European support before his election. His pre-election speech in Berlin in July 2008 provided then-Senator Obama with an international platform to establish his fledgling foreign policy credentials. President Obama’s election was certainly warmly greeted in Brussels. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso declared that “This is a turning point for the United States. It may also be a turning point for the world.” He continued, “Together we must stand up for a new multilateralism that can benefit the whole world.”
This warm welcome translated into quid pro quo support for the Lisbon Treaty. In October 2009, Secretary Clinton raised the concern with then-Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague that the Conservative Party might undo the Lisbon Treaty, were a new British government to hold a referendum on it. In January 2011, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Louis Susman also told a meeting of European Parliamentarians from the U.K., “Let’s be clear: all key issues must run through Europe.” Publicly recognizing the EU as a global foreign and security policy player has been a consistent message of the Obama Administration. Speaking prior to the U.S.–EU summit in Lisbon in November, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon stated that
The U.S.–EU summit…will be the first since the EU strengthened itself via the Lisbon treaty. Leaders will talk about a range of issues, focused mainly in three categories. The world economy, and the U.S.–EU economic partnership remains one of the most important to the world and certainly important to the United States.…Security, including the critical question of counterterrorism cooperation and the threat we mutually face from terrorism. And then finally, global issues in foreign policy. We obviously work very closely with the EU on a lot of major foreign policy challenges, including Iran, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.”
The Lisbon Treaty
Assistant Secretary Gordon is correct that the Lisbon Treaty gives greater institutional and bureaucratic muscle to the EU in foreign and defense policy. In fact, the supranationalization of defense policy took its greatest leap forward to date with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. Lisbon formally abolished the pillar structure created by the Maastricht Treaty which had legally separated policy competences into spheres of supranational, intergovernmental, and shared competencies. Henceforth, the theoretical distinction between the member states and the European Commission’s control of this policy area is no more, and the Obama Administration can expect to see Brussels leading the policy charge in important areas such as counterterrorism and defense. But rather than simplifying the EU’s foreign policymaking processes, the Lisbon Treaty has added further layers to an already overcrowded bureaucracy.
Although the Lisbon Treaty claimed that it would create a “one-stop EU foreign policy shop” that America could call “to speak to Europe,” there are now more, not fewer, actors involved in making EU foreign policy. The EU’s new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Britain’s Lady Catherine Ashton, theoretically heads EU foreign policymaking, but responsibility for key policies such as humanitarian aid, enlargement, and development remain awkwardly divided between the EU diplomatic service and the European Commission. As evidenced in the aftermath of the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the EU could not decide whether Lady Ashton or then-Development Commissioner Karel De Gucht should take the lead. Deep internal divisions were exposed when Lady Ashton declared that a visit to Haiti would smack of “disaster tourism,” only to see Commissioner De Gucht arrive in Port-au-Prince days later.
The EU Diplomatic Service. Under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, Lady Ashton will preside over a new EU diplomatic service. The European External Action Service (EEAS) will number up to 7,000 personnel located in 136 international delegations when it becomes fully operational. Beginning formal operations on December 1, 2010, the EEAS appointed its first ambassadors to Afghanistan, China, Georgia, Pakistan, South Africa, and South Korea, among other nations, with Germany receiving the prized nomination to Beijing. EU Ambassador to China Markus Ederer’s salary will be taken from the EEAS’s €475.8 million ($634 million) budget for 2011. When it becomes fully operational, the EEAS will command a €3 billion ($4.1 billion) annual budget.
Lady Ashton would not allow her ambassadorial nominees to be publicly quizzed by the European Parliament prior to their appointments. Her spokesman stated that “These hearings need to take place in camera [in private], that has been accepted by the European parliament.” This lack of transparency prevented elected members from putting the highly paid officials on record, especially on critical issues such as the High Representative’s recent drive to lift the EU’s arms embargo on China.
When the issue of lifting the embargo was raised at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels in December, they failed to reach agreement, but Lady Ashton is working closely with France and Spain to take the issue forward this year. She has described the embargo as “a major impediment” to intensifying relations between Brussels and Beijing, and with a high-ranking ambassador working under her direction in Beijing, there is considerable scope for Ashton to advance her agenda. It is difficult to see how Ambassador Ederer will reconcile member states’ opposition to lifting the arms embargo to Lady Ashton’s encouragement to openly push for it. This type of inherent competition between EEAS diplomats and national diplomatic services was revealed when EU Ambassador to the U.S. João Vale de Almeida answered a journalist’s question of who Washington should telephone if it wants to speak to Europe, stating: “In this area code, you call me.”
Lifting the EU’s 1989 arms embargo on China would significantly damage the transatlantic relationship, and President Obama should convey to Brussels that America’s regional security concerns are grave. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen recently observed: “Many of these capabilities seem to be focused very specifically on the United States.” Lifting the embargo would also represent a contravention of several elements of the EU’s Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, not least of all the commitment to “prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability” and to take into account the risks posed to friends, allies, or other member states from arms sales.
The EU: Security Partner or Competitor to the U.S.?
The question remains whether the Lisbon Treaty has made the EU a more useful partner for transatlantic security, or whether Brussels is actively seeking to balance against American interests. European defense spending has not increased since the introduction of the European Security and Defense Policy in 1999. Average European defense spending has, in fact, decreased and rather than advancing President Obama’s priorities in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and elsewhere, an autonomous EU defense policy will continue to duplicate NATO’s roles, resources, and structures; decouple the NATO and EU alliances; and discriminate against non-EU members of NATO.
Duplication and Decoupling. Successive Administrations have warned of what former Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to as “independent E.U. structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities.” The question of duplication is especially important to the United States because of the long debate over inequitable burden-sharing within NATO. Just three (France, Greece, and the U.K.) of the EU’s 21 NATO members currently spend the alliance’s benchmark of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, just 2.7 percent of Europe’s two million military personnel were capable of overseas deployment in 2008. President Obama should be concerned that the declining defense budgets of most major European countries in today’s age of austerity means that valuable resources will merely be diverted from NATO to the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).
Nowhere has the question of duplication been more fraught than over the question of an EU military headquarters, which then-U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns described as “the greatest threat to the future of the Alliance.” In January 2007 the EU formally opened a part-time civilian-military Operations Center (OpCen) in Brussels. France continues to push for OpCen to be upgraded to a full-time EU planning and command capability, and has recently secured the critical support of Lady Ashton, who had previously opposed the idea. OpCen is a major step in delinking NATO and the EU and represents a desire by Brussels to permanently decouple the two alliances. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s declaration at the 2005 Munich Security Conference that NATO “is no longer the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate strategies” reinforces the proposition that the CSDP will come at the expense of the transatlantic alliance.
Europe should increase its force projection and military capabilities, and especially its capacity for long-term overseas deployments. The CSDP has not resulted in greater defense resources or more troops, however. Rather, it has allowed EU member states to further reduce defense spending on the grounds that pooled resources will go further. President Obama’s frustration that European nations were not more forthcoming to support his surge strategy in Afghanistan will become the norm rather than the exception if the EU continues to divert resources from NATO to the EU. Whether it is a separate EU military headquarters or an EU standing army, no additional European resources are available for the CSDP. Brussels’s elites remain long on ambition and short on resources.
In terms of creating an EU army—which Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, called for at the annual Munich Security Conference in 2010—Europe remains desperately short of highly trained expeditionary forces. Contrasting the training of European troops with that of U.S. troops reveals that only Britain and France have comparably trained troops capable of large-scale expeditionary operations. Creating a duplicate standing EU army would result in three potential scenarios, none of which benefit the transatlantic alliance. First, troops already committed to NATO will simply be counted twice and EU military planners would have to silently accept that the resources are unlikely to be there if called upon. Second, the EU could demand that member states put national troops on stand-by for EU-only missions, effectively creating a standing European army. Or third, in a worst-case scenario, troops will be withdrawn from existing NATO missions to fulfill separate EU missions at the direction of Brussels’s military authorities.
Discrimination. Discriminating against non-EU members of NATO has long been a concern for Washington. Before the birth of the ESDP in 1999, Turkey was an Associate Member of the Western European Union (WEU), which provided a crucial security link between Ankara and Europe. However, when the EU assumed the WEU’s Petersburg tasks in 1997, Ankara was pushed firmly to the outside of European defense. Ever since, NATO–EU cooperation has been log-jammed, and accusations of discrimination against Turkey have grown stronger.
Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952, and it has been one of Washington’s most critical allies in the region. It is situated at the pivotal gateway between Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, but legitimate questions are now being asked about Turkey’s commitment to the West. Turkish and U.S. interests in the Balkans, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and the Persian Gulf have recently diverged, and on its current trajectory, Turkey’s traditional strategic relationship with the West could devolve into a looser affiliation while Turkey enters into a closer alliance with Iran and other Middle Eastern powers hostile to U.S. leadership.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently stated that Turkey’s strategic drift away from the West is due in part to the European Union’s reluctance to grant Turkey full membership. Certainly the EU is not negotiating in good faith, and the EU’s contrived negotiating position has provided Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) with an opportunity to pursue an agenda that better reflects its leaders’ foreign policy and ideological preferences. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu are using the failing accession process as cover for Ankara’s deepening partnerships with regional actors that are hostile to the West.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently criticized the EU for its “unfair” treatment of Turkey, citing its exclusion from the European Defense Agency as an example of Europe’s hostility toward Ankara. The U.S., in concert with its European allies, needs to address the serious differences that are emerging between the West and Turkey. Turkey’s involvement in European security arrangements makes sense on a political and military level as long as the West can have full confidence that Ankara shares its commitment to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, winning in Afghanistan, and ensuring stability on Europe’s borders. The EU should start exploring Turkey’s membership of the European Defense Agency, provided that Turkey demonstrates its commitment to the West’s overall goals of global stability.
The EU and the U.S.: Diverging Strategically
It is impossible to imagine Europe’s post-war prosperity in the absence of America’s security guarantees. In many ways, the U.S. is the institutional architect of modern Europe, and successive U.S. Administrations have supported further European integration as an expression of the policy “a Europe whole, free and at peace.” Washington has failed to realize that strategic divergences have opened between it and Brussels.
The European Security Strategy. Brussels is not seeking to become a military superpower. Rather, it is seeking to become what EU analyst John McCormick describes as a “civilian superpower,” based on Immanuel Kant’s vision of an international rules-based global order. The EU has been at the forefront of supporting global initiatives, such as the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and other global treaties in order to realize this multilateralist vision. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU now has an official legal personality that can sign international treaties in its own right, and in December 2010, the EU formally became a party to the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The EU’s own think tank, the Institute for Security Studies, argues that Brussels should continue to pursue this “multilateralisation of multipolarity” approach in order for Brussels to become a major actor in global affairs and sit alongside the United States as an equal player.
The EU codified its grand strategic vision for security in its 2003 European Security Strategy, “A Secure Europe in a Better World.” The European Security Strategy calls for “an international order based on effective multilateralism,” and for the strengthening of the U.N. as the ultimate arbiter of international law. Speaking in New York in 2005, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner argued that security and prosperity are, in fact, dependent on an effective multilateral system. Europe does not possess the traditional military tools to challenge the United States—but neither does it want to. For the European Union, security is not a question of soldiers, sailors, guns, and tanks; for Europe, real security is about the creation of a system where decisions are made multilaterally and where no single power can dominate militarily or politically.
Therefore it is wrong to assume that a separate EU defense policy will ever result in additional resources or a greater contribution to global stability. The purpose behind the project is not a military one, but one of restraining American action on the world stage. The EU repudiates the principle of preemption that President Bush outlined in the 2002 U.S. National Security Strategy. Supporters of further European centralization argue that too much military power has in fact made the U.S. less secure—that Washington’s use of military force has increased anti-Americanism in the world, for example. Or, as U.S. commentator Robert Kagan simply puts it, Europeans are from (pacifist) Venus while Americans are from (military) Mars. Whether it is by choice or because of its inherent weaknesses, the EU is not trying to compete with America in military terms; rather, it is trying to constrain U.S. power by balancing it within the international system.
What the Administration and Congress Should Do
To ensure the security of the United States and its allies:
At the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010, the Obama Administration missed a valuable opportunity to restate NATO’s primacy in the transatlantic security architecture. Incrementally, the EU is balancing U.S. power by creating a new international order whereby a highly integrated European Union sits alongside the United States and speaks on behalf of its 27 members, especially on matters of force. As Margaret Thatcher observed in 2002, “far from serving to strengthen the European contribution to NATO, the EU countries under French inspiration have deliberately embarked upon the creation of, at best, an alternative and, at worst, a rival military structure and armed forces.”
As the EU appropriates greater competency over member states’ foreign and security policies, the U.S. can expect to see further duplication of NATO’s roles; greater decoupling of the two alliances; and the continued discrimination against non-EU NATO members. It will not be possible to reconcile the strategic divergences that are emerging between the EU and America. Although America has a long tradition of shared values and deep political connections with individual European nations, the EU is not Europe. The European Union is a very different model to the nation state, and its goals remain separate from its individual members. Unelected bureaucrats want to create a new multilateral order and constrain American behavior through complex treaties and by restricting decisions on the use of force to the United Nations. The deepest irony in this debate is that the only reason Brussels finds itself in a position to frustrate U.S. objectives is because it continues to enjoy the hard power protection of the United States.
—Sally McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
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