Secretary Powell's Message to Europe: Measuring NATO's Future Performance


Secretary Powell's Message to Europe: Measuring NATO's Future Performance

November 12, 2003 3 min read

Authors: Jack Spencer, John Hulsman, James Carafano and Will Schirano

Like a vampire, European effort to establish a European defense identity separate from, and in competition with, NATO continue to rise from the dead. In particular, Franco-German efforts to set up a wholly separate EU planning structure in have caused the Bush Administration great concern.


During his trip to Europe, November 17 and 18, Secretary of State Colin Powell must make it clear that NATO continues to be the preeminent transatlantic security institution and that the organization's survival is in the best interest of both the United States and the European countries.Secretary Powell should insist that European leaders:

  • Live up to the Berlin-Plus agreement on defense cooperation,
  • Increase military spending in their budgets, and
  • Take steps to fulfill their promises on defense transformation.

Preserving NATO

Secretary Powell should strongly support the March 17, 2003 Berlin-Plus agreement, which was designed to definitively resolve questions of compatibility between the EU and NATO. Berlin-Plus has four elements.


  1. It ensures EU access to NATO operational planning.
  2. It makes NATO capabilities and common assets available to the EU.
  3. It makes the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (always a European) also commander of any EU-led operations.
  4. It adapts the NATO defense planning system to allow for EU-run operations.

This wise compromise-put to the test with the EU-led mission in Macedonia-allows for greater flexibility within the alliance. The United States should not be forced to participate in every transatlantic mission, and (as in the case of Macedonia) the European allies should be allowed to act alone, using the common resources of the alliance, if Washington does not object.


The Berlin-Plus agreement should have settled all questions regarding the alliance's military planning and operations.However during the height of European opposition to the U.S. policy on Iraq, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium re-opened the issue, in effect calling the viability of the Berlin-Plus agreement into doubt. They advocated the establishment of a separate EU military headquarters at Tervuren, Belgium with an independent planning capacity. In addition to the obvious operational drawback of unnecessary duplication of NATO's function, the political ramifications of such an outcome are clear. An independent EU command, wholly autonomous from NATO, would be the institutional expression of Gaullist efforts to lessen America's role in Europe.


Ambassador Nick Burns, U.S representative to NATO, rightly sounded the alarm, calling such an outcome "the greatest threat to the future of the alliance." Secretary Powell must cut through the fog of European obfuscation and, for the sake of the continued vitality of the alliance, he must reinforce Ambassador Burns' warning. The establishment of an independent EU command is not remotely acceptable to the United States. Only by taking an unequivocal and firm stand can Secretary Powell finally bury this recurring threat to the alliance.


Improving Europe's Defense Capabilities

Although the establishment of an autonomous EU headquarters in unacceptable, there is a great deal that the European countries can do to improve their military performance. They should concentrate on increasing Europe's defense capabilities, as required by previous accords.  The reality is that, unless and until Europe either spends more on defense comprehensively or develops useful niche capabilities, no new structures can make Europe militarily relevant.


While the interests of both Europe and the United States would be best served if Europe would make significant investments in defense capabilities, it is unlikely that this will occur. At a minimum, it is essential that European leaders work towards closing the capabilities gap in areas that are of the highest priority-including electronic jamming, air- to-ground reconnaissance and surveillance, and air refueling tankers. Currently, the United States provides 100 percent, 90 percent and 80 percent of those capabilities, respectively.


Strategic lift is another area in which non-U.S. NATO is woefully inadequate.  The United States maintains 250 strategic lift aircraft, compared to Europe's 11. As a result, although non-U.S. NATO nations may maintain two million soldiers, only 3 percent of those forces can be deployed outside of Europe.  The unfortunate reality is that, while some European leaders continue to bicker about process, the capabilities gap continues to grow.  As a result, allies who already find it difficult to work together may soon find it impossible.


Pressing for Defense Transformation

Secretary Powell should insist that NATO live up to the commitments announced at the 2002 meeting of the Heads of State and Government in the Czech Republic. During this "transformation" Prague Summit, alliance members agreed to create a cutting-edge NATO Response Force and to enhance military capabilities, including expanding their capacity to combat terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. As NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson declared, "This is not 'business as usual,' but the emergence of a new and modernized NATO, fit for the challenges of the new century."


Since the summit, however, alliance members have not undertaken the structural reforms or made the investments necessary to match Robertson's rhetoric. The Europeans have made scant progress towards reshaping their militaries. There is virtually nothing to substantiate NATO's military concept for combating terrorism-primarily because European states lack the political will to seriously embrace the counterterrorism mission.  Secretary Powell should make it clear to the Europeans that the Prague declaration provides a benchmark for measuring NATO's future performance.


Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom

John Hulsman

Former Senior Research Fellow

Jim Carafano
James Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

Will Schirano

Policy Analyst