When it comes to defense and military capability in the 21st century, it is clear that Europe is not pulling its weight. Spending and investment in defense across Europe has steadily declined since the end of the Cold War. The political will to deploy troops into harm’s way when it is in the national interest has all but evaporated for most EU countries. During the recent Libya operation, European countries were literally running out of munitions. Many European nations are racing for the exit in Afghanistan. In Mali, European countries have been able to scrape together only 150 instructors to train the Malian military.
The EU is not the answer to Europe’s military woes. Instead, the U.S. should be pushing for more NATO-centric solutions ensuring that all advancements in European defense capabilities are done through NATO or at least on a multilateral basis. This will ensure NATO’s primacy over, and the right of first refusal for, all Europe-related defense matters, and will guarantee that the U.S. has the amount of influence relative to the level of resources the U.S. has committed to Europe.
The U.S.: Reason to Worry About the EU
Some argue that the answer to Europe’s declining military is deeper EU defense integration. This view has not been challenged in Washington, and many American policymakers support deeper EU defense integration without considering the implications for NATO or transatlantic relations. American enthusiasm for EU defense integration is explained by a lack of basic understanding and knowledge about the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), along with the misguided hope that EU defense integration will lead to more military involvement by EU members.
American policymakers are so desperate for Europe to do more to improve its military capabilities that many of them look to the EU as a panacea for Europe’s ills. Believing that a stronger EU role in defense matters will encourage European countries to invest more in defense means assuming that the EU will be able to do something that NATO has not been able to do since the end of the Cold War. Consequently, U.S. policymakers who hold this view are likely to be disappointed.
The EU as an institution can never be a serious defense actor, if for no other reason than the fact that its membership includes five neutral countries claiming legal or historical reasons for refusing to join military alliances. Furthermore, the EU can never be a credible partner for NATO because EU member Cyprus is at constant loggerheads with NATO member Turkey, continuously blocking NATO–EU cooperation.
Many European politicians prefer to wrap themselves in the EU’s safety blanket believing that the EU can and should be responsible for almost every aspect of life in Europe. The reality is that it cannot—as seen with the current economic crisis across the continent. This is especially true in the area of defense and security.
Since its creation in 1992, the EU has pushed for a stronger role in defense policy and has been constructing defense and military institutions by duplicating NATO roles and responsibilities—military planning cells, an EU Military Staff, an EU Military Committee, the European Defence Agency, and the EU Battlegroups to name just a few. While these advancements may seem like they will assist NATO, none has brought any serious, credible capabilities or resources to the alliance.
There are developments that the U.S. should be watching closely regarding recent EU defense initiatives:
- Diversion of resources. With defense spending across Europe at an all-time low, each euro spent on the CSDP is one less that can be spent on NATO. There is a belief that investment in EU defense initiatives will equate to military capability that will also be available to NATO. This is misleading since the EU’s five neutral member states, as well as Cyprus, could likely veto the use of any EU asset for NATO’s use.
- Supranationalism in defense policy. The supranational EU Commission and EU Parliament have slowly and incrementally encroached on defense policy. Defense policymaking in Europe should remain on the intergovernmental level, and be conducted under the auspices of NATO. This will ensure that American leaders will have the level of influence relative to the level of resources that the U.S. has committed to the European Union.
- The Lisbon Treaty. The most recent major EU treaty includes a number of defense-related initiatives that threaten to undermine and duplicate NATO. The Treaty also blurs the line for the first time between what has been traditionally supranational and what has been intergovernmental in the area of EU defense policy.
- Removing the U.S. from transatlantic security. Unless NATO retains its primacy in all matters relating to transatlantic security, deeper EU defense integration will ultimately decouple the U.S. from Europe. This would not be in America’s interest as the U.S. has legitimate political and economic interests in Europe and the continent’s periphery.
America’s National Interest and the History of European Defense Integration
The Obama Administration—like previous U.S. Administrations—has been far too supportive, almost blindly, of an “ever closer union” of European states. This is nothing new. After all, the U.S. was the prime driver of European integration in the late 1940s and early 1950s—because U.S. national interests were at stake. The creation of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) in the late 1940s, designed to more effectively distribute Marshall Plan funds across Europe, was perhaps the first instance of U.S. promotion of European economic integration.
The U.S. supported the OEEC for a practical reason—ensuring that Marshall Plan funds were seamlessly and quickly distributed. This was in America’s interest in the wake of the Cold War. American support for European economic integration at the time was more about ensuring that Europe could begin to rebuild after World War II, and less about supporting a European superstate.
Consequently, U.S. policy toward European integration has been, and should be, based on pragmatism and national interests. It suited U.S. foreign policy aims immediately after World War II and throughout most of the Cold War to support integration. However, the post war social, economic, and political circumstances, which led to the creation of the European Union, no longer apply today.
An organization that started narrowly focused on the coal and steel industry in the 1950s has morphed into a supranational organization touching almost every aspect of life across Europe. Over the years, power has incrementally shifted to Brussels, away from the national capitals of the member states. As a result, power has been moved further away from those who are impacted most. The key decision-making bodies in the EU are largely unelected and largely unaccountable to the national governments. For many European politicians, deeper integration has become a secular religion that serves only the interests of a small group of political elites in Brussels.
As seen in the ongoing eurozone crisis, the architects of a centralized Europe will do whatever it takes, no matter how strongly it goes against the most basic Western norms of democracy and accountable government, in order to achieve the dream of a United States of Europe—which will include a common defense policy that will rival NATO.
As with all matters related to America’s foreign and defense policy, U.S. national interests must come first. Transatlantic security is no different. Similar to European economic policy, there was a time soon after World War II that the U.S. pushed for deeper European integration in the area of defense. Because the Soviet threat was increasing in Europe and U.S. troops in West Germany were needed for the Korean War, the U.S. sought acceptable ways to facilitate rearmament of West Germany.
Although there were early French reservations about allowing West Germany to rearm and join NATO, Secretary of State Dean Acheson made the U.S. position in support of the West German endeavor very clear during a 1950 NATO Ministerial Meeting in New York.
The French were outraged by this proposal and put forward the so-called Pleven Plan—named after French Prime Minister René Pleven, a month later in October 1950. Under the Pleven Plan, a supranational European army would be created that would be “tied to political institutions of a united Europe.” The Pleven Plan declared:
The money for the European army would be provided by a common budget. The European minister of defense would be responsible for the implementation of existing international obligations and for the negotiation and implementation of new international engagements on the basis of directives received from the council of ministers. The European armament and equipment programs would be decided and carried out under his authority.
A few months later, the six members of the European Coal and Steel Community, an early predecessor of the EU, convened an intergovernmental conference to establish what became known as the European Defence Community (EDC). The U.S. reluctantly agreed to the EDC on the basis that it would allow West Germany to rearm.
Although, somewhat paradoxically, the French parliament voted against the EDC in 1954, the U.S. was able to use the political capital acquired from supporting the EDC to pave the way for West Germany’s eventual membership into NATO. In this case the U.S. was able to achieve its aim by supporting the EDC and European integration—a rearmed West Germany that was able to contribute to Europe’s continental defense against the Soviet Union, via NATO channels, while at the same time alleviating some of the American military burden in West Germany. U.S. support for European defense integration in the 1950s was more about rearming West Germany to free up U.S. troops to fight in Korea than it was about advancing the European project.
By the time the French parliament voted down the EDC proposal, the Korean War had ended and the immediate threat to Western Europe from the Soviet Union was frozen in the Cold War. Consequently, due to the politically contentious debate in Europe regarding defense integration, and because of the strong role played by NATO during the Cold War, European countries did not raise the issue of defense integration again in any meaningful way until the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which created the EU. However, it was not until the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam and the 2003 Treaty of Nice that real advancements in EU defense integration started to gain momentum.
The defining moment of EU defense integration occurred during a meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac at the French port city of St. Malo in December 1998. This summit, which paved the way for future EU defense integration, released a Summit Communiqué stating:
To this end, the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises.
The meeting at St. Malo sent alarm bells ringing in the U.S. The words “autonomous action” were taken to mean “without NATO” and therefore without a role for the U.S.
To many in the U.S. this was unacceptable, especially after decades of American commitment to Europe during the Cold War, and because Europe had failed repeatedly to act in the Balkans. Rightly, the Clinton Administration wanted to see a strong and enlarged NATO continue under U.S. leadership. Consequently, after the St. Malo meeting, the U.S. drew red lines on what it would find acceptable for EU defense integration for the first time.
At the time, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made America’s concerns and position very clear in an op-ed in the Financial Times. Her outline of U.S. policy on EU defense integration has since become known as “Albright’s three D’s”:
- No decoupling. EU defense integration should not decouple the U.S. from Europe’s security. The U.S. military presence in Europe deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests. Over the past 90 years, the U.S. has disengaged from Europe on two occasions: (1) during the early 1920s when the U.S. occupation force left the Rhineland, and (2) during the huge troop drawdown in the early 1990s after the Cold War ended. In both cases, new eras of instability on the continent soon followed. America’s economic and security interests require a stable Europe, and the U.S. military presence in Europe contributes to this stability.
- No duplication. Any structures that result from EU defense integration should not duplicate structures that already exist in NATO. The most obvious examples of wasteful EU duplication are the desire to establish an EU operational headquarters and the creation of the EU’s rapid reaction forces—both of which already exist inside NATO.
- No discrimination. The EU should not discriminate against non-EU NATO partners such as Turkey, Norway, and Albania. For example, although Turkey, with the largest military in Europe, was a member of the Western European Union Armaments Agency (the European Defence Agency’s predecessor), is a member of NATO’s Research and Technology Organization, and participates in the Organization for Joint Armament Cooperation, the EU does not allow it to participate in the EU’s European Defence Agency.
Through the end of the Clinton Administration and into the early days of George W. Bush’s first Administration, Albright’s three D’s had formed the foundation of American policy toward EU defense integration. Bush’s first Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, made his views on EU defense integration clear during a 2001 speech in Germany: “Actions that could reduce NATO’s effectiveness by confusing duplication or by perturbing the transatlantic link would not be positive.” He went on to say that EU defense initiatives should be inclusive and “open to all NATO members who wish to take part.” Clearly, this has not been the case with Turkey.
Even so, during the latter half of Bush’s first term and into his second term, U.S. views on Europe took a different focus. Many in Washington at this time were willing to turn a blind eye to EU defense initiatives for two reasons.
First, the White House wanted to gain support for more pressing U.S. policy objectives in Europe—namely European support for the invasion of Iraq, the establishment of a missile defense capability, and promoting an agenda of NATO enlargement.
Second, after experiencing Europe’s shortcomings in Afghanistan in relation to Europe’s inability, or lack of political will, to deploy a sizable number of frontline combat troops, the U.S. was desperate for Europeans to improve their military capabilities at any cost. This desire to see a more capable European defense actor was similar to the way the U.S. was desperate to see West Germany rearmed in the 1950s. Consequently, the U.S. was willing to tolerate more EU defense integration with the hope that it would actually improve military capability.
President Obama has continued U.S. support for EU integration in all areas, including defense. In fact, whereas President Bush’s support was more implicit, President Obama’s has been explicit. During his first NATO Summit in 2009, President Obama endorsed deeper EU defense integration in his town hall address when he called on Europe to develop “more robust defense capabilities.” The final Summit declaration stated that “NATO recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense.” In both cases, to the Europeans listening, the word “Europe” was synonymous with the EU.
Current State of the CSDP
The EU has had high expectations for a common defense, but the CSDP has failed to deliver on improving the capabilities of Europe’s militaries. EU member states have slowly been constructing institutions to build an EU defense identity by duplicating NATO institutions. These developments read well on paper but deliver very little in practice.
Since the establishment of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in 1992 under the Treaty of Maastricht, all foreign affairs and defense policy issues had been part of the intergovernmental Second Pillar of the European Union. However, the pillar system was abolished under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 when the EU acquired a legal identity. Since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, defense and foreign policy is now a shared policy competency between the member states and the EU Commission.
Recent developments inside the CSDP go beyond institutional building. EU defense initiatives have diverted scarce resources away from NATO. This has led to an acceptable culture in Europe of “double hatting” national troops, for both EU and NATO commitments, in order to give the appearance of increased military capability on paper but not in practice.
The EU has made multiple failed attempts at establishing rapid reaction forces. First was the Helsinki Headline Goal (HHG). One year after the St. Malo meeting, the EU established a military capability target, known as the Helsinki Headline Goal, to deploy 50,000 to 60,000 troops, capable of conducting the full range of crisis-management “Petersberg tasks” before the end of 2003. Unsurprisingly, the EU never came close to meeting this goal.
When it became clear in 2003 that the HHG would not be achievable the EU lowered its level of ambition and agreed to the EU Battlegroup (EUBG) concept, also commonly referred to as the Headline Goal 2010. EU Battlegroups in their generic composition, depending on the mission, consist of about 1,500 personnel. EU member states earmark national troops that could be used to form a EUBG on a rotating basis.
However great EUBGs may sound, they have not delivered much increased military capability. Although in theory EUBGs still exist today, not a single EUBG has ever deployed beyond national borders or into harm’s way. The EU requirement is to have two battlegroups on standby at any given time. Sadly, even this modest requirement has recently proved too difficult for the EU to accomplish.
The EU-led military missions that have taken place have been modest in their scope and scale. Since 2003, there have been a total of eight EU-led military operations. Out of these eight missions, half have taken place in francophone Africa and were largely French missions cloaked in an EU flag. For example, Operation Artimis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo totaled 2,200 troops, of which 1,785 were French. Of the 3,700 troops that formed the EU’s military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic in 2008, approximately 2,500 were French. While there is no reason to doubt that these military missions had a positive local effect on the ground, they were nothing more than small military operations in a semi-permissive security environment. Hardly an indication that the EU is an emerging military power.
On paper it appears that the EU has made good progress since the 1998 St. Malo agreement on improving Europe’s military capabilities. However, this is not the case in practice. U.S. policymakers must see the CSDP for what it really is: a paper tiger that has not delivered increased military capability for the U.S. or NATO.
A Declining Europe Means a Declining NATO
Developments within the CSDP have not encouraged European countries to increase defense spending or the size of their militaries. As an intergovernmental security alliance, NATO is only as strong as its member states. Of NATO’s 28 members, 26 are European. Of these, 21 are also in the EU. European countries collectively have more than two million men and women in uniform, yet, by some estimates only 100,000—a mere 5 percent—of them have the capability to deploy outside national borders.
This is a sad situation that the CSDP has done nothing to resolve. Nothing since the 1998 British–Franco agreement at St. Malo, which effectively launched what is known today as the CSDP and paved the way for deeper defense integration, has led to more military capability or higher defense spending in Europe. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that American support for deeper EU defense integration will lead to more European military capability.
For example, the size of the armed forces of some of Europe’s biggest defense spenders has decreased. Germany’s armed forces have shrunk from 333,000 in 1998 to 205,000 in 2011. France’s armed forces have been reduced from 449,000 in 1998 to 227,000 in 2011. Italy’s armed forces have been reduced from 402,000 in 1998 to 192,000 in 2011.
The CSDP has also done nothing to encourage Europeans to spend more on defense. Since 2008, the 16 European members of NATO have reduced their military spending. Reductions in many NATO countries have exceeded 10 percent. In 2012, just four of the 28 NATO members—the United States, Estonia, Britain, and Greece—spent the required 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. France fell below the 2 percent mark in 2011.
The lack of defense investment by Europeans has had a direct impact on recent overseas operations. At the height of the combat operations in Afghanistan, many European NATO members were having difficulties deploying just dozens of troops at a time. Many non-NATO EU members barely deployed troops at all. Currently, Ireland has seven troops in Afghanistan; Austria has two. When Europeans do send troops, many are often restricted by numerous caveats, such as no flying at night or no combat patrols beyond a certain distance from a base.
Even though on a much smaller scale compared to Afghanistan, the recent campaign in Libya fared little better. What began as a French–U.K.-inspired military operation had to be quickly absorbed into a NATO operation because the EU did not have the political will or military capability (without the U.S.) to see the mission through to completion. Regarding Europe’s contribution to the Libya operation, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates summed it up:
However, while every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.
This is mainly the result of a decrease in defense investment by the members of NATO since the end of the Cold War, and the lack of political will to use military capability when and where it is needed.
If NATO was having problems during the Libya operation, then the EU’s military role there was all but non-existent. The EU’s military contribution to the crisis in Libya was the establishment of a skeleton military headquarters in Italy at the cost of almost €8 million (about $10 million). Its objective was to eventually lead a military humanitarian mission in Libya. However, the mission never got off the ground, leaving one prominent European news website to ask: “Was Eufor Libya an April Fool’s Joke?”
The EU is currently faring only slightly better in Mali. Since January 2013, a French-led, African-backed military operation has taken place to remove opposition forces from northern Mali and reassert the central government’s control across the whole of the country. In order to help build the security capabilities of the Malians, the EU has established a training mission for the Malian military.
The mission agreed to by the EU Council calls for the deployment of only 500 troops (of which 150 are actual trainers) and will have an operating budget of about €12 million (about $15 million) per year—all of this for a country that is twice the size of Texas. The NATO training mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) calls for 2,700 trainers, and in 2012 had an operating budget of $11.2 billion. Basically, every 12 hours, NATO spends the same amount training the Afghans that the EU will spend all year on training the Malian Army.
Supranationalism: Slowly Removing the Nation-State from Defense Policy
It is in the interest of the U.S. that all defense policy and planning regarding Europe take place inside NATO structures, or at least on a multilateral nation-state to nation-state level. This will ensure not only that American leaders will have the amount of influence appropriate to the level of military resources the U.S. has committed to Europe, but also ensures that defense policy will remain intergovernmental and not supranational—and that NATO will retain its primacy in all European defense matters.
Slowly and incrementally, the supranational institutions of the EU, primarily the EU Commission and the European Parliament, but also, in certain areas, the European Court of Justice, are trying to gain more power over the member states’ defense policy. The U.S. should not back a situation where European countries that are members of NATO place themselves in a subservient role to the EU regarding defense policy.
The EU Commission is slowly gaining a toehold in the area of defense policy. One of the biggest changes introduced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty was merging the Second Pillar (intergovernmental) position of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy with the First Pillar (supranational) position of European Commissioner for External Relations, into one powerful position called High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In addition, this position also serves as the First Vice President of the EU Commission—adding the supranational element.
Before the Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy worked directly for the member states (in the same way as the Secretary General of NATO does) and the European Commissioner for External Relations worked directly for the president of the EU Commission. With the two positions now merged, the High Representative in the EU answers to both the member states and to the EU Commission. This is unacceptable since this, for the first time, blurs the line between what is intergovernmental and supranational within EU foreign and defense policy development and implementation.
While simultaneously serving as the First Vice President in the EU Commission, the new role of High Representative gives the EU Commission a foothold in foreign and defense policy it has never had before. In addition to being responsible for coordinating the EU’s foreign and defense policies the High Representative/First Vice President has the power to formally propose, but not authorize, EU-led military operations.
In addition, under the Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative is also the head of the European Defence Agency, is in charge of the External Action Service (the EU’s diplomatic corps), and will preside over the Foreign Affairs Council, a job previously carried out by the foreign minister of the country holding the EU presidency. This consolidates foreign and defense policy power in a way never seen before in the EU.
Supporters of this new position in the Lisbon Treaty argue that it will help establish coherence and consistency among the various supranational and intergovernmental institutions in the EU on foreign policy issues. However, this should be seen as the first step of an incremental and long-term process that will eventually place EU foreign and defense policy under the control of the EU Commission.
The EU Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Justice are also seeking to maximize influence and power in the sensitive area of defense procurement. A recent EU Commission directive attempts to limit the amount of flexibility that EU members (including the 21 EU members that are also members of NATO) currently have in avoiding EU single-market rules on the grounds of national security when procuring defense goods.
EU rules allow member states the option of protecting national security interests by invoking a provision known as Article 346 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 346 guarantees that member states can take the necessary measures to ensure that national security interests are protected during the defense procurement process.
If the EU Commission suspects an EU member of failing to demonstrate why a particular public tender on a piece of military equipment would pose a risk for its security interest, the country in question can be brought before the European Court of Justice. Clearly, it should be up to the individual states, not the EU Commission or the court, to determine the defense needs of their own armed forces.
In 2008, the Czech Republic directly awarded a public supply contract worth €132 million (about $139 million) for four CASA-295 tactical military transport aircraft without organizing a tendering procedure. The Czech authorities relied on the “essential security interests” exemption of Article 346, since these planes were ultimately destined for Afghanistan to support Czech troops there serving in the NATO-led operation. After threatening to bring the matter before the European Court of Justice, the commission finally relented and dropped the case in November 2011.
As Clara Marina O’Donnell of the London-based Centre for European Reform noted:
By adopting the initiatives, member-states would be accepting the Commission’s oversight in an area they have hitherto jealousy guarded. Defence ministries would no longer have the final say in their defence procurement.
The CSDP Is Duplicative and Discriminatory Toward NATO
Proponents of EU defense integration argue that military capabilities developed under the auspices of the CSDP will always be made available to NATO. For example, an EU Battlegroup could also be on call for NATO operations if, and when, NATO was ever to request the use of it. This may sound good in theory but is unlikely to work in practice.
This is due to the institutional workings of the EU and the composition of its membership. Any time that EU military assets are used, unanimous agreement by all EU members is required. Six veto-wielding EU members are not members of NATO. Of these six countries, five are established neutral countries: Ireland, Austria, Malta, Sweden, and Finland. The other, Cyprus, is politically hostile toward NATO member Turkey and has a track record of blocking NATO-EU cooperation in the past.
The most recent example of EU duplication of NATO capabilities is the push for the creation of a permanent EU operational headquarters (OHQ). An EU OHQ is a needless and expensive proposal that is more about planting the EU flag than it is about increasing Europe’s military capability. The EU already has access to the full range of NATO’s military headquarters at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) under the Berlin-Plus arrangement. Furthermore, the EU has access to five national headquarters for use for EU-led military missions.
The estimated cost of establishing an EU military operational headquarters is tens of millions of dollars. At a time when NATO is decreasing the number of its regional headquarters to save money, it hardly makes sense for the EU to be increasing its own numbers. Although a number of EU countries have called for the creation of the OHQ, the British have so far been successful in blocking it. British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in July 2011 that
I have made very clear that the United Kingdom will not agree to such a permanent OHQ. We will not agree to it now, we will not agree to it in the future. That is a red line for us. We are opposed to this idea because we think it duplicates NATO structures and permanently disassociates EU planning from NATO planning.
The CSDP is also discriminatory against non-EU NATO members. Perhaps the best example is with Turkey. Although Turkey can be a challenging partner for the U.S. and NATO, it is a valuable partner nevertheless.
Turkey played a key role in NATO during the Cold War by being one of two NATO members that bordered the Soviet Union. Turkey’s military contribution to international security operations sets it apart from many of the nations of Western Europe. The Turks have deployed thousands of troops to Afghanistan. In addition, they have commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) twice since 2002. The Turks have also contributed to a number of peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, and participated in the American-led Combined Task Force-151 in the Gulf of Aden to help combat piracy and terrorism in the region.
The source of this discriminatory attitude towards Turkey is the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey. In addition, many in the EU no longer want to give Turkey what it was promised in the late 1980s: eventual EU membership. This has created an atmosphere of animosity and distrust between the EU and Turkey. These two points combined have caused serious problems for NATO and EU relations:
- The technical agreement between NATO’s KFOR military-led mission in Kosovo and the EU’s civilian Rule of Law mission was delayed for years;
- The technical agreement between NATO’s ISAF military-led mission in Afghanistan and the EU’s EUPOL civilian policing mission still has not been finalized; and
- In 2002 and 2003, this dispute led to the delayed takeover of NATO’s Operation Amber Fox in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) by the EU.
Cyprus’s unwillingness to cooperate with Turkey has been blamed for putting lives at risk in places like Afghanistan. In 2011, a report published by the House of Lords on the EU’s police training mission in Afghanistan stated:
We still believe that the lack of a formal cooperation agreement between the NATO forces in Afghanistan and EUPOL on the security of EUPOL personnel has increased the risk to the lives of EUPOL personnel, including British citizens. This is unacceptable.… Only the Taliban benefit from the lack of such an agreement.
The Lisbon Treaty: Undermining NATO
While the origins of Europe’s current economic woes can be traced back to the introduction of the single currency, the source of the EU’s recent political troubles originates from the 2004 Constitutional Treaty and the subsequent 2009 Lisbon Treaty.
In 2004, a Constitutional Treaty was drafted and proposed for all the EU member states to ratify. However, the citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected its ratification in popular referenda. Soon after the rejection, the EU called for a “period of reflection” and established a “group of wisemen” to determine what went wrong and what should be done in terms of another treaty in the future. This resulted in the Lisbon Treaty which was eventually ratified in 2009, but not without controversy.
According to analysis by the London think tank Open Europe, 96 percent of the text was the same as the Constitutional Treaty. In fact, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, former French President and the author of the Constitutional Treaty, famously said about the Lisbon Treaty that “[a]ll the earlier proposals will be in the new text, but will be hidden or disguised in some way.”
Even though the two treaties are virtually the same, the only country that put the Lisbon Treaty to a popular referendum was Ireland—because it was compelled to do so by Irish law. In particular, there was a concern that the defense provisions in the Lisbon Treaty would violate Ireland’s well-established neutrality. In June 2008, the Irish people rejected the treaty. Immediately, EU elites called for another “period of reflection,” held another Irish referendum on October 2009, and the treaty finally passed. Far from being a major “milestone in our world’s history,” as described by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Lisbon Treaty laid the foundations for much of the public disdain seen today across Europe.
Not only did the Lisbon Treaty transfer more power and control from the member states to Brussels than any other treaty before, it also contained a number of defense provisions that threaten to undermine NATO. The U.S. should keep a close eye on the development of these provisions on the Lisbon Treaty:
- Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The Lisbon Treaty introduced a concept called permanent structured cooperation in the area of defense. The goal of PESCO is to create a hard core inside the EU of those countries wanting to advance defense integration in order to bypass those EU members that are less enthusiastic about further defense integration.
The authors of the Lisbon Treaty believed that creating an exclusive group inside the EU of countries cooperating on defense will entice others to improve their military capabilities. To date, PESCO has not been implemented because the EU member states cannot agree on what the specific goals of PESCO should be and what criteria should first be met before an EU member state joins.
The fact that PESCO has not been implemented is a good thing from an American and NATO standpoint. Paradoxically, far from encouraging European countries to invest more in defense, PESCO will likely do the exact opposite. With an inner core providing the majority of military requirements in the CSDP, small EU members (many of which are also members of NATO) will have little incentive to spend more on defense. The burden of PESCO will largely be left to France and the U.K.—two countries that already have real military capability.
- Mutual Defence Clause. The Lisbon Treaty also includes, for the first time in an EU treaty, a mutual defense clause. Under the clause the Lisbon Treaty states that “if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all means in their power.” This is an obvious duplication of NATO’s Article V. Even the British government at the time of the treaty negotiations warned: “Common defence, including as a form of enhanced cooperation, is divisive and a duplication of the guarantees that 19 of the 25 Member States will enjoy through NATO.”
A mutual defense commitment in the Lisbon Treaty is meaningless because the CSDP lacks the military capability as well as the political will to act against armed aggression without NATO’s support. Consequently, this will give EU members a false sense of security and undeservingly places the CSDP at the same level of importance as NATO in terms of European defense.
- European Defence Agency (EDA). Originally proposed in the Constitutional Treaty of 2004 under a slightly different name, EU politicians decided not to wait for the ratification of the treaty before launching the agency in July 2004 through a Joint Action. The establishment of the EDA in July 2004 was presumptuous since the Constitutional Treaty, and there within the EDA, was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands less than a year later.
In a poor attempt to both justify the agency’s existence and give the treaty legitimacy, drafters included the establishment of the EDA as part of the Lisbon Treaty of 2009—a full five years after the agency had already been established. Even William Hague, who now serves as Britain’s Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons in 2009 during the Lisbon Treaty debate that the EDA was established “on a shaky legal basis.”
There are no examples of the EDA delivering substantial military capability to the battlefield, and only a handful of examples of the EDA delivering low-level and modest military capability. The EDA’s two greatest achievements have been the creation of a counter–improvised explosive device (C-IED) laboratory that has been deployed to Afghanistan, and the training of helicopter crews some of whom have also deployed to Afghanistan. Even both of these endeavors have offered little in practice.
The C-IED Theater Exploitation Laboratory, designed to counter the IED threat, is a very modest project that took five years to finally get into Afghanistan. It is located in Kabul, its impact has been limited, and the EDA’s own website describes the laboratory as “a number of standard ISO containers jammed with equipment.”
The EU’s Helicopter Training Program is designed to get European helicopter crews to a standard that allows them to deploy to Afghanistan. Between 2009 and 2011, the dates for which the EDA provides information, the EDA’s Helicopter Training Program has trained 152 helicopter crews—only 76 of which have been subsequently deployed to Afghanistan. Considering the thousands of helicopter crews that have deployed to Afghanistan, the EDA’s contribution has been largely insignificant. Furthermore, due to national restrictions on where forces can deploy it is unlikely that many of the crews will ever be deployed to the dangerous eastern or southern parts of Afghanistan.
There is no reason why either program could not be carried out by NATO, and the impact of these two examples is often overstated. Both examples should be taken for what they are: a minor contribution to Europe’s defense capabilities—not the indication of an emerging defense power. The EDA’s real accomplishment is to give the EU Commission a toehold in EU defense policy since the High Representative (who also serves as the First Vice President in the Commission) is the Head of the Agency.
The Ultimate Goal: An EU Army
EU defense policy is heading, albeit slowly, in one direction: full integration resulting in a common defense policy. For many, the ultimate goal is the creation of an EU Army under some sort of supranational control, either in full or in part. Although the EU is not yet close to achieving this goal, it is clear that many across Europe would like to see this happen.
When opponents of EU defense integration cite the creation of an EU Army as a serious long-term concern, they are accused of scaremongering. However, over recent years—and certainly since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty, there has been a list of senior European officials calling for the creation of an EU Army.
An EU Army under partial or complete control of any supranational institution of the EU would be bad for Americans and Europeans alike. First and foremost, unelected, unaccountable, or supranational bureaucrats in Brussels should not decide when troops are placed into harm’s way. There is something fundamentally morally wrong with the idea that those who do not have to answer to the public can send young men and women into war. While this may not be the case yet, it is certainly the goal for many.
Second, an EU Army would be expensive and resource-intensive to form, equip, and maintain. In an era of declining defense spending across Europe this would come at the expense of national armies that could be used in NATO operations. Finally, it would not be in the security interest of the U.S. to have the bulk of Europe’s fighting force under the control of the EU—which, in many cases, no longer shares America’s view of the world.
There are many examples of senior European officials calling for the creation of an EU Army. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has stated that Berlin supports the long-term goal of creating a European army. Speaking at the 2012 Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering for high-level discussions on security and defense, Westerwelle said that the EU’s new institutional rules regarding defense policy in the Lisbon Treaty are “not the end but, rather, the beginning for common security and defence policy.” He went on to say that “[t]he long-term goal is the establishment of a European army under full parliamentary control,” noting that the German government “wants to advance along this path.”
Westerwelle’s remarks were not groundbreaking. In fact, they were simply a continuation of a long-held German view that creating an EU Army is the ultimate objective. Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2007 that “Within the EU itself, we will have to move closer to establishing a common European army.” That same year then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a security conference in Berlin that he was in favor of a “European armed force” and that “the end result of a consolidation of military capacities must be a European army.” Former defense minister Peter Struck told the same conference: “There will still be opposition to the idea of a European army as there once was against the single currency, the euro. But single states are no longer able to handle the threats of today.”
In a 2009 interview with the London-based Times newspaper, the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said that it is a “necessary objective to have a European army.” He elaborated:
Every country duplicates its forces, each of us puts armored cars, men, tanks, planes, into Afghanistan. If there were a European army, Italy could send planes, France could send tanks, Britain could send armored cars, and in this way we would optimize the use of our resources. Perhaps we won’t get there immediately, but that is the idea of a European army.
The European Parliament has also called for the creation of what amounts to an EU Army. In 2008, a report published by the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee stated that the committee “proposes to place Eurocorps as a standing force under EU command and invites all Member States to contribute to it.” A 2009 report by the Foreign Affairs Committee stated: “A common defence policy in Europe requires an integrated European Armed Force which consequently needs to be equipped with common weapon systems so as to guarantee commonality and interoperability.”
Support for an EU Army was most recently demonstrated in September 2012 in a communiqué agreed by Germany, France, and nine other EU members calling for a drastic rethinking of the future of the EU—especially in the fields of foreign affairs and defense. In this document 11 foreign ministers called for an EU defense policy that “could eventually involve a European Army.”
The U.S. Must Back NATO’s Primacy in European Security
The acceleration of EU defense integration encouraged by the Lisbon Treaty should be worrying for U.S. policymakers and leaders, especially in the Department of Defense. The EU has done nothing to increase European defense spending, it has diverted effort and resources from improving NATO, and the structure and membership of the alliance prohibits EU–NATO cooperation.
However, NATO has its shortcomings, too. The U.S. needs to work on improving NATO by making it relevant to Europe’s defense for the 21st century. In order to remain effective as a security alliance, NATO must maintain credibility. Currently, NATO’s credibility is being undermined by the perception that it is not achieving its objectives in Afghanistan and that it barely did so in Libya. Refocusing NATO’s mission for the 21st century may include abandoning its focus on expeditionary warfare. The alliance should focus more on areas where Europe actually faces direct security threats, such as nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, and the emerging threats of ballistic missiles.
If NATO, the world’s premier security alliance for the past 64 years, cannot encourage European countries to invest more in defense, why should anyone believe that the EU can do so? In order to ensure that the CSDP does not undermine NATO, the U.S. should:
- End its support of “ever closer union” in the EU. It is no longer in the interests of the U.S. for Europe to continue down its path of political and economic integration. The excessive drive by European political elites to integrate deeper has led to many of the political and economic problems faced today in Europe. The U.S. should stop calling for further EU integration and instead pursue policies toward Europe that place a premium on national sovereignty, economic freedom, transparency, and democratic accountability.
- Ensure that NATO retains its primacy over, and the right of first refusal for, all Europe-related defense matters. NATO has been the cornerstone of transatlantic security for 64 years. Now is not the time to replace NATO with new security structures that will only compete with, not complement, the alliance. Ensuring that NATO maintains its lead role in European defense policy will also ensure that America has the amount of influence relevant to the level of resources the U.S. has committed to Europe.
- Make clear that the U.S. does not back deeper EU defense integration. U.S. policymakers must see the CSDP for what it is: a paper tiger that has not delivered increased military capability for the U.S. or for NATO. Although the U.S. has supported deeper EU defense integration, it has not resulted in any greater military capability in Europe. Instead, the U.S. must focus on re-energizing NATO as Europe’s premier defense alliance.
- Regularly demonstrate American dissatisfaction with Europe’s military spending. Since the end of the Cold War, defense spending in Europe has drastically decreased. Only four of the 28 members of NATO meet the required defense spending requirement of 2 percent of GDP. While there is nothing American leaders can say that will compel Europeans to spend more on defense, saying nothing at all offers implicit approval.
- Work with pro-NATO EU members, such as the U.K. and Czech Republic, to advance a pro-NATO agenda in Europe. There are members of the EU who are skeptical regarding the EU’s defense policy ambitions. The U.S. should work with these NATO allies to advance a “NATO first” agenda.
- Voice opposition to the creation of an EU Army. Although there is not currently an EU Army, the creation of one is clearly the goal of many in Europe. It is not in the interest of the U.S. or NATO to have a European Army under the control of unelected European bureaucrats.
American support for deeper EU defense integration will not only be a disappointment for those who believe it will lead to greater military capability; it will prove to be dangerous to the NATO alliance. As the EU develops a more integrated defense capability, America’s influence in European defense matters that it currently has through NATO will be reduced.
It takes real spending, and not words in a treaty, to achieve real military capability. Until America’s European allies realize this they will continue to hide behind the bureaucracy of the EU with the comfort of America’s security guarantee. European capitals must focus their energy and resources on fixing NATO before creating more institutions and signing up for more military commitments within the EU. This is the only way the U.S. will see greater burden sharing. Any increase in European military capability must take place under the NATO umbrella.
Far from increasing their military capability, European militaries’ size and budgets have shrunk at a time when the global security situation has become more perilous and uncertain. Most European countries have not met their NATO commitment for defense spending since the days of the Cold War, so it is unlikely that CSDP would spark European countries to spend more on defense. Many leaders in Europe say that the first duty of government is the defense of the realm, but few implement this view in practice. Spending is about setting national priorities, and Europeans have become complacent about their own defense capabilities—and U.S. policymakers need to stop believing that the EU can change this complacency.
—Luke Coffey is the Margaret Thatcher Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.