The War Against Terrorism, The EU's Response, and the Future of NATO

Report Europe

The War Against Terrorism, The EU's Response, and the Future of NATO

March 7, 2002 14 min read
Bernard Jenkin
Distinguished Fellow

It was on just such a mid-February Wednesday as this--in fact, a year ago tomorrow--that my predecessor, Iain Duncan Smith, M.P., addressed the Heritage Foundation on the subject of "The military threat, the EU's political response and the weakened NATO."1 Two days after September 11th, he became the new Leader of the Conservative Party. He appointed me to carry on his work as Shadow Secretary of State for Defense. The first thing we agreed on was that I must come to Washington. So it is a huge privilege to be a guest at the Heritage Foundation today.

Last year, Iain, somewhat prophetically, described the rising threat of rogue states and missile proliferation, and set out how the European Union's emerging Security and Defense Policy is a threat to NATO. So much has happened since his visit last year.

The 11th of September is a day that will remain scarred on to the memories of every man and woman living in the free world and many beyond. Events since then have underlined once again how the interests of our two great continents are indivisible. In particular, I pay tribute to Prime Minister Tony Blair for standing shoulder to shoulder with President Bush, in the same tradition of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

The terrible events of September 11th vindicated Iain's warnings, but some may feel that the war against terrorism has overtaken the debate about NATO. Yet, NATO's invocation of Article V and NATO AWACS planes patrolling U.S. skies could not be a more potent symbol of all that is best and durable about the Atlantic alliance.

And, ten days ago, I attended the 38th Munich Conference on Security Policy where Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, said: "The ensuing war on terror has underscored that our transatlantic ties are not obsolete. They are essential."2 And he reaffirmed the United States' commitment to NATO, pointing out that fighting terrorism "is part of NATO's basic job description--collective defense."3

Why is NATO so relevant? Throughout the last century, the U.S. became first our partner in two great wars and then increasingly the principal underwriter of European security. Without the United States, Europe would have lost the Cold War. More recently, dictators like Saddam Hussein would now dominate the Middle East, and the Balkans would still be in turmoil.

However, I have come to Washington to sound the alarm about NATO's future once again. European political developments threaten the Atlantic partnership, are already dividing the coalition against terrorism and could ultimately undermine the security of Europe and the United States itself.

You will have noticed how the words "axis of evil" have provoked the accusation of U.S. "unilateralism" from those like German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. This in turn reinforces American irritation about how little Europe contributes militarily. The more Europe complains, the more the U.S. despairs about European nations' lamentable military capability. Europe-U.S. relations are potentially on a nasty spiral of decline.

Cold War Mindset and the ESDP

The underlying cause of the growing rift between U.S. and European policy is not military or technical. This is the key point: the malaise is political and historical. The political mindset of most European governments is still conditioned by the huge relief that the Cold War is over. They still fail to grasp, even now, that the post-Cold War world is not safer, but potentially yet more dangerous. The two-power, global nuclear standoff may have ended, but a host of new threats has emerged--rogue states developing missile capabilities with irrational strategies, prepared to use unconventional, asymmetric means to strike, including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

As the Rumsfeld Commission of 1998 on the ballistic missile threat first pointed out, there are at least 25 countries today which are in the process of acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological (NBC) weapons of mass destruction (WMD), along with the means to deliver them. Emerging ballistic missile states continue to increase the range, reliability, and accuracy of the missile systems in their inventories. They have an increasing ability to strike at our military forces and even our cities.

Since September 11th, the British Foreign Secretary seems to have warmed to the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense program, but many in Europe refuse to accept not only the link between September 11th and the development of WMD, but they also deny the reality of the threat of proliferation. So while the U.S. has taken the lead in addressing these threats, the EU has instead resumed its preoccupation with setting up the political apparatus for creating and projecting EU foreign and security policies onto the world stage for its own sake. This is the ESDP (European Security and Defense Policy).

ESDP Fails to Deliver More Capability

U.S. frustration with Europe naturally focuses on lack of European military capability. The Clinton Administration welcomed what was then known as ESDI--European Security and Defense Identity--as a political opportunity to encourage European governments to spend more on defense capabilities. Surely, anything that can encourage Europeans to take more interest in their security should be supported? However, the policy is "all hat and no cattle." There is not the slightest indication that ESDP will resolve the capability gap. Even after September 11th (which has made the threats so much more evident) there is no sign of progress.

In the week that President Bush announced a $48 billion increase in defense spending in the United States, in Europe, Germany cannot raise the money to pay for the Airbus military plane after Italy has pulled out altogether and the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union has just reported that European defense spending "is at historically low levels."4 Only Greece and Ireland increased their spending last year.

The heart of ESDP is the "Euro army"--the so-called European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF). This promises to be anything but rapidly reactive. The aim is to be able to deploy a force of up to 60,000 soldiers, backed by the necessary heavy lift, communications, ships and aircraft and to command, protect and sustain it for up to two years. Five years after ESDI, even the optimists are forecasting that this will not be operational for at least another ten years from now. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson's speeches on capability improvement sound increasingly desperate. He has recently pointed out that Europe remains "a military pygmy" and is hard pressed to maintain 50,000 troops in the Balkans, even with U.S. help.5

Moreover, the Lords Committee complains, "Nor is it clear what could be done with such an EU rapid reaction force."6 It is vaguely intended for peacekeeping and peace making--the so-called Petersberg tasks, which were formulated long before September 11th.7 This has little relevance to terrorism. It is a pale shadow of its NATO equivalent, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corp. Indeed, ERRF comprises the very same troops, but wearing different hats and without American assistance. We would--have no doubt--be calling on you for that assistance, as soon as we become trapped in a conflict escalating beyond our capabilities.

The House of Lords Committee Report warns against the "temptation, if the political need for an operation arises, to conduct an EU-led mission for symbolic purposes, before the EU is ready to do so." Unfortunately that is the only reason the EU would bid to take over the NATO operation in Macedonia this summer.

Meanwhile, the technological divide between American and European capabilities continues to grow. Kosovo demonstrated that Europe needs more sophisticated combat capabilities--precision-guided munitions, electronic warfare and unmanned reconnaissance vehicles--with strategic communications and heavy lift aircraft.

The Political Threat of ESDP

ESDP adds nothing to military capability. It is therefore all the more astonishing that the EU should continue to develop the strategic, politico-military apparatus as though real capability existed and as though September 11th had never happened. This makes ESDP part of the problem and not part of the solution. ESDP is autonomous; that is to say, outside the framework of NATO.

NATO has a clear purpose and structure. The largely overlapping membership of NATO in Europe and the EU might deceive you to believe that, politically, they are more or less the same thing. The reality is very different.

The facts of the Nice agreement, which Iain Duncan Smith set out to the Heritage Foundation last year, bear repetition:

  • The EU military forces are independent and autonomous from NATO.
  • The planning for many operations can and will be done outside of NATO.
  • It is the EU that will make the decision whether to conduct an operation and only then might consult NATO (they are not obliged to do so).
  • The EU will retain full political and strategic control throughout any operation (whether NATO is involved or not).

Madeleine Albright used to warn we should be careful to avoid "the three Ds," but Europe has embraced them all. There is now an array of EU institutions that duplicate, discriminate and decouple.

  • There is an EU general affairs council, shortly to become the permanent EU Council of Defense Ministers;
  • There is an EU Political and Security Committee;
  • There is an EU Military Committee;
  • There are EU Military Staffs.
  • The latter two bodies are housed in a new building in Brussels, where there is a new EU international crisis management center.

Most NATO nations have appointed those who serve on NATO committees to represent them on the EU equivalents, but this is only superficially reassuring. Two nations, notably Belgium and France, have not. Moreover, there are no formal arrangements or links between these bodies and their NATO counterparts. It is hardly surprising that the Chairman of the EU military committee, General Gustav Hagglund of Finland, has complained, "all these bodies floating all at the same level... is all confusing."8

Though there is considerable overlap between EU and NATO members, they are two entirely separate things. There are now two institutions for security and defense in Europe: NATO and the EU. The question is: Which has the will power to dominate?

There are NATO members who are excluded from EU military decisions, who will have their own post-decision structure. There is even a NATO member of the EU, which has opted out of ESDP. In addition, there are EU neutral members who are not members of NATO. They can veto EU defense decisions. They are concerned not just to maintain their neutrality, but, like France, they are precious about the neutrality of the EU. This preciousness is reflected in the tone of EU officials, one of whom recently complained about how it is "humiliating and demeaning ... to go and get our homework marked by Dick Cheney and Condi Rice."9 Thus, while Russia is being courted with a seat at the ESDP table, NATO is given an observer's status.

ESDP does not merely fail on capabilities. It subverts NATO with competing command structures and destroys the clear relationships between NATO and its member states. It is developing its own political momentum.

It diverts EU politicians from that main purpose of NATO, namely, collective defense. ESDP is a new and beguiling rival for NATO, for EU states, which want to believe the best and deny the worst about the real world where we all live. ESDP allows EU states to become buried in complacency, while convincing themselves that they are rising to international challenges. In reality, this introspection is driven by dreams of deeper integration and anti-American ambition. That is why some governments feel Europe is honor bound to take a different line from the U.S.

Thus, the German defense minister says he favors a political solution in the anti-terrorist fight against Iraq rather than what he called "the military option," which he says the U.S. should not pursue without direct U.N. backing. The French say they are fighting for a "multipolar world."10 How the despots of Baghdad and elsewhere must relish such divisions in the coalition against terrorism.

ESDP operates in an atmosphere which denies that any "axis of evil" exists. In the real war against terrorism and the WMD threat, as the EU and NATO jockey for the dominant role, it is Europe that will become an axis of indolence and indecision. We can see this already. While the U.S. sets about destroying terrorists by force of arms in Afghanistan, the EU has effectively taken on the role of post-conflict peacekeeping. This may be convenient to the U.S. in the short term, but longer term could be dangerous, as external forces seek to exploit the division.

I do not believe that EU and the U.S. can conduct "good cop-bad cop" diplomacy with any effectiveness on a problem like, say, Iran, unless activity is very tightly coordinated. But the whole purpose of ESDP, unlike that of NATO, is not cross-Atlantic coordination. It is that the EU operates independently, regardless of the common threat. Some may feel that Britain can bridge the gap and ride both horses, but this is crazy.

The Need to Transform NATO

NATO's real value after September 11th remains its ability to bridge the Atlantic, politically and militarily. Europe should be the indispensable partner to the indispensable nation. NATO has proved its worth. The danger is now that the benefits of NATO are taken for granted. Even coalitions of the willing require interoperability of weapons systems and communications, of training, procedures and doctrine. NATO has had a hugely stabilizing effect in the Balkans and across the whole of Eastern Europe and now, even on relations with Russia.

The NATO summit in Prague in November is the perfect opportunity to restore the primacy of NATO. Today's world resembles the kaleidoscope of shifting alliances that existed at the beginning of the last century, in which NATO must continue as a rock of stability. Prague must reassert NATO's pre-eminence. It must transform NATO's relevance. Prague must re-engage its members to promote the transformation of European military capabilities at the same time. In this endeavor, I would ask my U.S. audience to take heed of one of the key findings, to my mind, of the House of Lords report: "America's opinions... are vital and the effectiveness of ESDP is dependent not only on American good will but also on its active support."11

This underlines the potential U.S. leverage at Prague, particularly with Britain alongside, which provides so much of what little European military muscle exists.

First, I repeat, though U.S. frustration with Europe tends to focus on capability, the main obstacle to NATO transformation is not military or technical. It is political. The most pro-NATO nations like Britain and the U.S. should join to demonstrate that NATO has the will to set the security agenda in Europe. NATO must not be eclipsed. This is vital to stop Europe and America from drifting apart.

Whatever defense capability the EU develops, it must be wholly and exclusively within the structure of NATO. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO's European military headquarters, must once again be "supreme." NATO must remain the cornerstone of our defense. This can still and should provide for European forces for lower level tasks that are "separable but not separate,"12 but they should operate under the NATO umbrella.

Second, enlargement and transformation must go hand in hand. Transformation means both the streamlining of decision-making required to enable the alliance to remain agile and the gaining of new members with genuinely relevant capabilities that add to NATO reach, strike, deployability and sustainability. New members will help stabilize Eastern Europe, but enlargement must be conditional upon each new member making an effective military contribution.

Smaller nations cannot contribute capabilities across the whole spectrum of warfare at all levels of NATO command. Enlargement should address capability shortfalls directly. Even the smallest nations can provide squadrons of engineers, or a field hospital, or tactical air defense, or artillery. They could plug into NATO capability so long as they train and exercise regularly alongside their NATO allies.

Third, to enhance capability, Prague should lay down targets for increased defense spending, as NATO did at the end of the 1970s. The technology gap will never be closed without increased defense spending in Europe.


Henry Kissinger came to London in November and told us that September 11th was a "wake up call"13 but Europe still slumbers. We in Britain bear the scars of 30 years of terrorism--the hardest lesson is perhaps that there are always new lessons to learn.

During the Cold War, NATO developed an extraordinarily broad and sophisticated spectrum of deterrence in the face of the Soviet threat. Clearly, the Cold War defense structures for symmetrical deterrence are inappropriate for today. As early as 1991, the Alliance was developing a new strategic concept, adopted in the 1991 Rome Declaration on Peace and Cooperation. NATO has already adopted a wider security role. NATO has proved capable of delivering a tightly focussed military and political strategy within a flexible framework that allows for the diverse and sometimes even conflicting foreign policy interests of its members.

"The West" is more than just a geographic term. It is also important set of values: natural freedoms protected by democracies based on free markets and the rule of law. There is far more that binds Europe and the U.S. together than divides us. Surely it is better to build on that than to ignore all the advantages that it should bring? The rescue of NATO is vital to that process.

Bernard Jenkin, M.P., is Shadow Secretary of State for Defense in Great Britain.

1. Iain Duncan Smith's February 14, 2001, speech was subsequently published as "The European Case for Missile Defense," Heritage Lecture No. 695 (March 2, 2001).

2. Address on security policy, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Munich, February 2, 2002.

3. Ibid.

4. HL Paper 71(I), House of Lords Select Committee on European Union, The European Policy on Security and Defense, Vol. I, January 29, 2002, para. 60.

5. Speech, Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, Annual Conference of the Defense and Society, Salen, Sweden, January 21, 2002.

6. HL Paper 71(I), para. 22.

7. The Petersberg Declaration of June 19, 1992, is a pivotal element in the determination to develop the Western European Union (WEU) as the defense arm of the EU and as a means of strengthening the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO). These include: humanitarian and rescue tasks; peacekeeping tasks; tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. The Treaty of Amsterdam has specifically incorporated these "Petersberg tasks" in the new Article 17 of the EU Treaty.

8. EU Observer, January 23, 2002.

9. Report from Brussels, "Fury at President's `Axis of Evil' Speech," The Guardian (London), February 9, 2002.

10. Hubert Vedrine, French Foreign Minister, Address to French International Relations Institute, June 1998: "We cannot accept either a politically unipolar world, nor a culturally uniform world, nor the unilateralism of a single hyperpower. And that is why we are fighting for a multipolar, diversified and multilateral world."

11. HL Paper 71(I), para 60.

12. The Declaration of the 1996 Berlin NATO Summit moved towards a definition of a European Security and Defense Identity within NATO, based on the identification of "separable but not separate capabilities, assets and support assets... as well as separable but not separate HQs, HQ elements and command positions ..." ( Ministerial Meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Berlin, June 3, 1996), to be used by the European Allies in pursuit of the Petersberg tasks, using NATO assets under the political control of the WEU. The Summit also elaborated the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept, first devised at the 1994 Brussels Summit, under which some of these separable assets might be earmarked. At that time the then Conservative UK government insisted that the European defense capability, as embodied institutionally in the WEU, should not be formally incorporated into the EU.

13. Henry Kissinger, Foreign Policy in the Age of Terrorism, 2001 Ruttenberg Lecture, London, October 31, 2001.


Bernard Jenkin

Distinguished Fellow