EUROPE: European Defense Policy

February 4, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What is at stake in the debate about a European defense force?

The European Union (E.U.) is planning to create a mobile military force designed to be deployed quickly anywhere around the world. Some American officials are concerned that the new force will undermine the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and threaten transatlantic ties. E.U. nations counter that it will give them the flexibility to make their own policy decisions about dispatching troops when NATO is unwilling to do so. Some experts say the tensions surrounding discussions of the new force and a so-called European defense identity constitute the latest round of ongoing U.S.-European differences.

How was the recent conflict over E.U. plans for a new military headquarters related to the defense force?

Some E.U. countries, led by France and Germany, had proposed building a new operations center for the force--effectively a headquarters for E.U. military planners--in Tervuren, Belgium. The United States strongly opposed this, saying it would duplicate NATO capabilities and draw scarce resources from NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium. At a December 2 meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Naples, Britain objected to the plan, and it was abandoned. Instead, E.U. military planners will remain part of the NATO military staff.

Why do the Europeans want the extra military capability?

Because, some experts say, the United States, as the largest single contributor of troops and funds, has historically dominated NATO. A 54-year-old collective security organization with 19 members, including the United States and Canada, NATO guaranteed the security of Europe and North America against the Soviet threat during the Cold War. After the Soviet Union broke apart, NATO took on expanded peacekeeping duties. With its own force, "Europe can make an independent [military] decision, and not be beholden to the U.S.," says William L. Nash, the John W. Vessey senior fellow and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. There are currently 15 E.U. member nations; 11 of those also belong to NATO.E.U. membership will expand to 25 on May 1, 2004, and NATO membership is expected to expand to 26, also by May 2004. Overlap of the memberships will increase as a result.

Has U.S. domination of NATO caused tensions in the past?

Yes. Some in Europe faulted Washington for responding too slowly to violent upheaval in Bosnia and Kosovo and the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. NATO soldiers did ultimately intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo, but not in Rwanda.

The Bosnia crisis was a wake-up call, says Kirsty Hughes, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Europeans had to acknowledge that, without U.S. military force acting through NATO, they could not stop genocide on the continent, she says. "There was such a sense of shame about it, and the sense that Europe should have acted much sooner and more strongly" to stop the ethnic cleansing and other atrocities that accompanied the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. As a result, Hughes says, many European governments resolved to increase Europe’s international political clout and military muscle.

What would the force consist of?

Planned since December 1999, the European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) would be made up of some 60,000 troops. The mobile force could be deployed within 30-60 days to international crisis spots and be sustained in the field for up to a year. Military experts say the force will take three years to assemble and make fully operational.

Which countries would take part?

Experts say that because only a few European countries have large enough armies to deploy troops abroad, ERRF soldiers would be drawn primarily from France, Germany, Britain, and Poland--much of the same pool of European troops used for NATO missions. Poland needs financial assistance to contribute troops. The largest contingents of soldiers for ERRF would come from Germany, which has committed 13,500 troops; France, with 12,000; and Great Britain, which offered 12,500 troops plus members of the Royal Navy and up to 72 combat aircraft. Smaller countries such as Italy and Spain have committed 6,000 troops each; Finland and Sweden offered 2,000 soldiers each.

What kinds of missions is the force designed to take on?

The force will be equipped for peacekeeping, humanitarian, and rescue missions--not expeditionary combat ones--in "hot spots" like East Timor or Liberia. It will respond to U.N. calls for peacekeeping forces, assist civilians in humanitarian crises, and intervene to separate warring factions. The E.U. force will be deployed only on international missions that NATO is unwilling to undertake.

Why do Europeans think the force is necessary?

Many European leaders have long advocated a joint European military force outside of NATO. But much of the recent impetus for the idea came after the contentious conflict over Iraq, when European public opinion was strongly opposed to the American-led war. The sometimes bitter debate increased calls for a non-NATO military option. Fraser Cameron, director of studies at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, writes in a debate on NATO’s website that "Europe has to look after its own security and "play a larger role in regional and global security." Some European officials say they’re only doing what the United States has long encouraged them to do: devote more resources to the military and attempt to lessen the "capacity gap" with the United States.

What’s the capacity gap?

The difference in military capabilities among countries. European experts say there is a large U.S.-E.U. capacity gap because Europe spends much less on defense and many E.U. defense resources are wasted through duplication among various countries. "Why does the Czech Republic or Denmark need an air force?" Fraser writes. In many cases, U.S. military capabilities far exceed those of its E.U. counterparts. Some examples defense experts cite: precision weapons, air-to-air refueling capabilities, surveillance equipment, and heavy-lift aircraft used to transport troops to conflict situations.

How much do the European Union and the United States spend on defense?

The United States spends twice as much as the European Union: $393 billion in 2003, compared with $200 billion of combined E.U. defense spending, according to NATO. The highest-spending individual E.U. countries were Britain (£27 billion, or $47 billion), France (€40 billion, or $48 billion) and Germany (€31 billion, or $37 billion). Smaller countries spent far less: Portugal spent €3 billion, or $3.6 billion on defense last year, and Luxembourg spent €205 million, or $247 million.

Who’s opposed to the ERRF?

Some U.S. and Canadian officials. James Wright, assistant deputy minister in charge of Canada’s global security policy, told a group of diplomats in Ottawa on November 26 that a separate E.U. military structure was "a poor use of limited resources, particularly European," and also "risks weakening the important transatlantic link between Europe and North America." U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on November 30, said, "I think there is no reason for something else to be competitive with NATO."

What is the controversy over the NATO charter’s Article 5?

Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty commits NATO members to mutual defense. A clause in the European Union’s draft constitution would have also obliged members to defend each other against attacks. After the United States made its displeasure with this proposed E.U. clause known, Britain and Italy worked to tone down the draft constitution language to avoid a conflict with NATO. E.U. leaders will meet December 12-13 in Brussels to debate and perhaps approve the new constitution.

What are the prospects that the E.U. force will eventually rival NATO?

Experts are divided. Some European officials see the E.U. force as eventually taking on more of NATO’s duties, for example in Bosnia and Afghanistan, and possibly even Iraq. But other experts say this is a long way off. "I’m not convinced that [the Europeans] are really going to get their act together," Nash says. "I don’t think their publics are willing to make the investment to make this a truly capable force." Aldo Amati, first consular officer at the Italian Embassy in Washington, says that E.U. members have no plans to increase their defense budgets, adding, "The E.U. rapid reaction force is a kind of mantra rather than a reality." Hughes points out that the European Union has nominally had a common foreign policy for a decade but has only recently started adopting common stances.

How does the U.S. feel about increased European military capacity?

Reactions are mixed, say experts. While administration officials have questioned the need for the ERRF and a separate military planning staff, the United States has long urged Europe to spend more on defense and play a more vigorous role in its own security. At the same time, many experts say, the United States is loath to lose the dominant influence it has within NATO. Others point out that the the ERRF is an extension of a collective European identity, which is a central goal of European unification. "America should be happy about the [military] developments in Europe, because eventually we’ll be able to give a hand--effectively," Amati says. Italy currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

What’s the state of the transatlantic relationship?

Conflicted. "There’s a very substantial crisis in E.U.-U.S. relations" right now that reflects "very different attitudes and ideas about how to behave in the world and how to address world problems," Hughes says. "There’s a new dynamic of global relations: the United States is seen, for the present and foreseeable future, as less multilateral than Europe would want," she says. Amati says, though, that the relationship is better than it was six months ago, and will continue to improve. "We’ve made a lot of steps forward," he says. NATO officials have downplayed any conflict with the European Union. A press release after the December 4 meeting of NATO ministers in Brussels said that NATO and the European Union "share common strategic interests, and "… [are] strongly committed to enhancing our cooperation." Some experts say NATO will eventually take on a role in Iraq, an idea proposed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the Brussels NATO meeting.

Which countries are promoting a separate European defense policy?

France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Belgium, with the French taking the lead. Many Americans see France as consistently obstructing the United States. "Frankly, since [French President Charles] de Gaulle pulled France out of the NATO military structure in [1967], we’ve always been suspicious of French intentions," says Michael P. Peters, executive vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, NATO expert, and former career army officer. Some experts say France, with memories of its empire and an elevated view of its importance in the modern world, has cast itself as the anti-U.S. option, trying to rally other countries to oppose the United States.

Do all European countries subscribe to the French position?

No. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac have come to symbolize the differences in the debate over European foreign policy. Cameron writes that Europe is currently divided between the "Blair view" of transatlantic relations--the United States is so dominant that Europe’s only hope of influencing it is to be a loyal ally--and the "Chirac view"--the European Union and the United States do not share the same view of the world, so Europe needs to pursue its own aims and develop its own military capabilities to become a more effective global player. Some experts fear that the ERRF is the first step to building a European army, an idea France has supported in the past.

What is Britain’s role in the transatlantic relationship?

Experts say the United States is reassured that Britain will be part of the planning for the expanded E.U. military force, looking to its Iraq war ally to protect NATO’s interests. Blair--who some experts credit for raising the issue of a stronger E.U. role in defense some five years ago--initially opposed a plan proposed earlier this year by France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg to create a "core Europe defense organization." Experts say Blair, who sees himself as a bridge between the United States and Europe, was worried that the idea would deepen transatlantic divisions over the Iraq war and convince Americans that France and Germany were trying to undermine NATO. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, wrote in The Financial Times on December 2 that Blair was convinced that Europeans were determined to create an independent European security role and decided that Britain should take a lead in shaping it. With Blair’s involvement, France and Germany reached a compromise with Britain in late November: the group would continue planning the E.U. force while reaffirming NATO as the centerpiece of European security. Blair was instrumental in persuading France and Germany to give up plans for a separate E.U. military headquarters.

What is France’s role in NATO?

"They’re part of the political alliance, but not integrated into the military command structure," says Peters. While there are French officers at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (known by the acronym SHAPE), they are not a part of day-to-day planning operations, nor are there French generals in the NATO command hierarchy. Some NATO members, including the United States, view France’s attempts to influence NATO deployments as disingenuous, since it can choose not to participate in them. "France has for a long time been a controversial ally in NATO," says Amati. The French "always try to counterbalance the United States, and inject maybe some ambivalence into NATO."

Has the European Union led military operations?

Yes. The European Union is overseeing a peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, commanding NATO forces, and is planning to take over NATO’s missions in Bosnia by the end of 2004. In June, a French-led force carried out a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in the Congo, after NATO declined to intervene there. Many experts see the Congo mission as less of a trial run for the E.U. force than a French operation. "It was a French mission with an E.U. hat," Amati says.

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