Living With a New Europe

Living With a New Europe

Mini Teaser: The challenge posed to the United States by the European Union is seriously exaggerated--and this is particularly true of the proposal for an all-European defense force. Daniel Vermet, Christoph Bertram and Timothy Garton Ash respond.

by Author(s): Zbigniew BrzezinskiDaniel VernetChristoph BertramTimothy Garton Ash

At this stage, skepticism is very much in order. European defense
leaders have stated that the force can be assembled without
additional expenditures through a very deliberate reallocation of
existing defense budget items, a proposition that defies common
sense. It is evident to serious European commentators that the
planned force will require improvements in central logistics control,
joint military depots, and presumably some joint exercises. That
would entail additional costs, not to mention the more basic need for
adequate reconnaissance and intelligence as well as for a more
competitive and more consolidated European defense industry. Yet in
recent years the overall percentage of the European budgets allocated
to defense as well as to defense-related R&D has actually been
declining, with European defense expenditures having fallen in real
terms by about 22 percent since 1992.

The critical fact is that political parsimony undermines the military
seriousness of the venture. As Daniel Vernet wrote in Le Monde in
September 1999, for the European force to come into being, the
Europeans "must know exactly what they want, define defense
restructuring programs (politically sensitive and financially
costly), and, finally, allocate the budgetary resources to match
their ambitions." In addition, to sustain a force of 60,000 men in
the field for more than a year, a rotational pool of about 180,000
combat-ready European soldiers must be available. It is not.

A further complication, casting additional doubt on the credibility
of the proposed enterprise, is that some European states are members
of the EU but not of NATO (the "neutrals"), and others of NATO but
not of the EU (America's "Trojan horses", according to some
Europeanists). Their prospective relationship to ESDI is thus unclear
and, in any case, it inevitably complicates the picture. Finally, but
perhaps most important of all, the meshing of the proposed force with
existing NATO arrangements could become disruptive operationally and
divisive politically.

Ultimately, the most probable outcome for ESDI is that the proposed
force will produce neither a rival to NATO nor the long-missing
second European "pillar" for a more equal alliance. Although the
Europeans will probably somewhat enhance their own military planning
and joint command structures, especially after the expected
absorption of the Western European Union by the EU itself, more
likely is the piecemeal emergence over the next five or so years of a
somewhat improved European capability to provide for non-NATO
peacekeeping in some not overly violent European trouble spot (most
likely in the Balkans). In effect, the so-called European pillar will
be made less out of steel and concrete and more out of papier-mâché.
As a result, Europe will fall short of becoming a comprehensive
global power. Painful as it may be for those who would like to see a
politically vital Europe, most Europeans still remain unwilling not
only to die but even to pay for Europe's security.

U.S. policymakers should keep in mind a simple injunction when
shaping American policy toward Europe: do not make the ideal the
enemy of the good. The ideal from Washington's point of view would be
a politically united Europe that is a dedicated member of NATO--one
spending as much on defense as the United States but committing the
funds almost entirely to the upgrading of NATO's capabilities;
willing to have NATO act "out of area" in order to reduce America's
global burdens; and remaining compliant to American geopolitical
preferences regarding adjacent regions, especially Russia and the
Middle East, and accommodating on such matters as international trade
and finance. The good is a Europe that is more of a rival
economically, that steadily enlarges the scope of European
interdependence while lagging in real political-military
independence, that recognizes its self-interest in keeping America
deployed on the European periphery of Eurasia, even while it chafes
at its relative dependence and half-heartedly seeks gradual

U.S. policymakers should recognize that "the good" actually serves
vital American interests. They should consider that initiatives such
as ESDI reflect the European quest for self-respect, and that carping
injunctions--a series of "do nots" emanating both from the State and
Defense Departments--merely intensify European resentments and have
the potential to drive the Germans and the British into the arms of
the French. Moreover, American opposition to the effort can only
serve to convince some Europeans--wrongly--that NATO is more
important to U.S. security than it is to Europe's. Last but not
least, given the realities of the European scene, what ESDI poses for
NATO are problems of process not ones of principle, and problems of
process are not likely to be constructively managed by elevating them
into issues of principle.

Hence, dramatic warnings of "decoupling" are counterproductive. They
have a theological ring to them, and as such they threaten to
transform differences that can be accommodated into ones involving
doctrinal debates. They are reminiscent of earlier NATO collisions
that accomplished nothing good--whether over the abortive
Multilateral Nuclear Force initiative of the early 1960s, which
accelerated the French nuclear program; or, more recently, the brief
spasm in 1999 of American-pushed efforts to revamp NATO into some
sort of a global ("out of area") alliance, which quickly came down to
earth with the outbreak of the Kosovo war. Such disputes detract and
distract from a fundamental reality: NATO, a truly remarkable
success, may be far from perfect but it does not require a dramatic

One should pause here and ask: Even assuming that the new European
force were to come into being by 2003, where and how could it act on
its own? What credible scenario can one envisage in which it could
act decisively, without advance guarantees of NATO support and
without some actual dependence on NATO assets? Let us assume a
conflict in Estonia, with the Kremlin stirring up the Russian
minority and then threatening to intervene; Europe would not lift a
finger without direct NATO involvement. Suppose Montenegro secedes
and Serbia invades; without U.S. participation, the planned European
force would probably be defeated. While social unrest in some
European province--say, Transylvania, or even Corsica!--might prove
more susceptible to a deployment of European peacekeepers (much as
has been the case in Bosnia), such an intervention is hardly an
example of Europe becoming "an independent actor on the international
stage", to quote French Defense Minister Alain Richard.

In a genuinely serious mission, the planned European force still
would have to rely heavily on NATO assets in the key areas of
reconnaissance, intelligence and airlift. These assets are primarily
American, though dedicated to NATO. Thus, NATO would be de facto
involved, even if initially it had exercised its option of first
refusal. In brief, if the crisis is serious, the European reaction
will not be independent; if the reaction is independent, the crisis
will not be serious.

To be sure, adjustments within NATO will be unavoidable as Europe
slowly evolves into a more defined polity. ESDI will make NATO's
decision-making processes somewhat more cumbersome, and European
contributions to NATO's own military enhancement may even marginally
suffer as the EU seeks some sort of force of its own. ESDI,
especially after the Europeans organize within the EU some sort of a
European defense organism, will also have the effect of stimulating a
shared European strategic perspective, which America will have to
take into account. But a shared European security posture is more
likely to emerge through the gradual consolidation of the European
defense industry and intensified European military planning than
through any precipitous leap--especially by 2003--into an autonomous
European combat capability.

Indeed, of greater consequence to NATO's future than the European
under-performance revealed during the Kosovo war is Europe's
nonperformance after the Kosovo war. The staggering fact is that
"Europe" not only cannot protect itself but cannot even police
itself. The inability of the European states to engage entirely on
their own in effective peacekeeping in a small and weak region--and
their reluctance to provide the needed financing for its economic
recovery--poses a more serious long-term challenge to NATO's cohesion
than does ESDI. It is likely to breed growing American uneasiness
regarding the proper role for U.S. forces committed to Europe's

In the nearer term, an even more divisive issue--one of greater
strategic import--may be generated by U.S. plans to deploy a missile
defense system. The ongoing debate in the United States over missile
defense has been driven primarily by domestic political
considerations, and a unilateral American decision, made in the heat
of a U.S. presidential race, would doubtless be badly received in
Europe. Indeed, American unilateralism on this matter could have far
graver consequences than even the most intense U.S. concerns
regarding ESDI's alleged "decoupling" effect on American and European
security. If transatlantic security ties are to be sustained as
America's central strategic priority, it is clearly better at this
stage to engage in comprehensive discussions with America's allies
regarding the feasibility, the costs, the defense trade-offs, and the
political as well as strategic effects of a missile defense
deployment. In any case, it is too early to make a prudent judgment
as to how urgently needed and how practicable such a defensive shield
may be. That is a decision for the next U.S. president to make.

Essay Types: Essay