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The Guns of Brussels

Thursday, June 1, 2000

Throughout history alliances have been made and unmade, joined and dissolved, based upon the strategic calculations of their individual member states. It is a commonplace that no alliance has survived victory; once the specific goals of an alliance have been satisfied, its members lose their common strategic vision, the glue that has held together their entanglement in the first place. So, on the face of it, it would seem to be folly to expect the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to confute both history and common sense. Yet some ten years on from the end of the Cold War that was its reason for being, NATO has not only survived but continues to be the most successful alliance in history.

Which is not to deny the real and perilous problems that NATO must confront in coming years. One of the biggest of these is the enduring and debilitating problem of the relative weight of the European versus the American commitment of resources to the alliance and the relative weight of the say Europeans versus Americans have in the alliance’s decision making. Proof of the enduring nature of the problem is evident in the recent resurrection of the idea of creating a European pillar within NATO. At a 1998 conference in Saint Malo, France, European members of the alliance agreed to a proposal for defense cooperation conducted through the European Union (EU) in Brussels, the seat of European aspirations for greater transnational unity and cooperation. Thus was the idea of a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) born.

Saint Malo was quickly followed by NATO’s operation against Serbian aggression in Kosovo beginning in March 1999. The Kosovo campaign significantly hastened the process begun at Saint Malo by forcing the Europeans to recognize the growing gap between American and European military capabilities. This newfound momentum culminated in an EU conference in Helsinki in December 1999, at which EU member states agreed to create a 60,000 man rapid reaction force in order to conduct missions, perhaps like the one in Kosovo, without relying on American participation. Today, the leading allies in the EU are seeking to make ESDP function as the European pillar within NATO. How the rest of NATO, particularly the United States, responds to these initiatives may well determine the future of the alliance.


Trojan horses?

Two imaginary trojan horses currently stifle NATO reform. The Europeans fear that American efforts to cajole them into bearing a greater share of the military burden are based on a fundamentally isolationist strategy to bring the boys home. On the other hand, some Americans fear that the EU views ESDP as a tool to liberate Europe from American domination and become a global counterweight to U.S. preeminence. Fortunately for the alliance, neither of these fears is based on reality.

While there is considerable frustration in the halls of Congress regarding the burden sharing chasm between America and its allies, no one this side of Pat Buchanan wants to withdraw from Europe. There is simply no political movement of any kind in this direction. The danger is more subtle and long-term than this European fear acknowledges. In the long run, failure to reform the alliance and more equitably distribute burden sharing costs is a real threat to NATO’s viability. Support for the continuance of the alliance will not prove politically tenable over time in either American political party if defense spending within the alliance continues to vary as widely as it did in 1998. In that year, U.S. defense spending accounted for 3.2 percent of GDP, while France spent 2.8 percent of its GDP, the UK 2.7 percent, Italy 2.0, Germany 1.5, and Spain 1.3 percent. These numbers speak volumes. The old European fear of America urging burden sharing reform in order to quit the continent is entirely unfounded. Rather, the opposite is true: More equitable burden sharing within the alliance will encourage American military involvement on the continent, as it makes the American outlay of resources more politically palatable.

The second Trojan horse is more significant. Lord Robertson, secretary general of NATO, has acutely summed up this fear in an interview with the Washington Post: "The U.S. suffers from a sort of schizophrenia. On one hand, the Americans say ‘You Europeans have got to carry more of the burden’ and when the Europeans say, ‘ok, we will carry more of the burden,’ the Americans say, ‘Well, wait a minute, are you trying to tell us to go home?’ " Indeed, in the wake of Kosovo and the European resolutions to do more, epitomized by the ESDP initiative, there has been a contradictory and muted response from the United States. John Bolton of the American Enterprise Institute warned in the Financial Times, "If the Europeans desire and then achieve a separate unified military capacity without recourse to the U.S., they will have eliminated the rationale for NATO as we have known it." Surely, given the avowed French desire to escape the yoke of "hyperpower" dominance, such a decoupling would herald the end of NATO?

Such fears founder on two basic points. First, it is not at all certain that French fears of overweening American dominance translate into a coherent national desire to subvert NATO. It seems far more likely that French opinion is genuinely divided on the matter. As Defense Minister Alain Richard was quoted in the New York Times, "If Europe takes on more responsibility by building up its military strength, that will contribute to the long-term equilibrium of the alliance." No ardent American supporter of the alliance could have put it better. Besides, why would the other European members of NATO go along with an insidious French plot to subvert the alliance, were there such a thing? As Elizabeth Pound noted in Foreign Affairs regarding the motivations for ESDP, "the Europeans have differing goals: the French would like to cut the hegemonic ‘hyperpower’ down to size, whereas the British and the Germans want exactly the opposite — relieving the U.S. of enough of its burden in Europe to prevent an isolationist Congress from someday yanking U.S. troops home in disgust." If a coherent European defense force is to flourish, the French will need the closest possible relations with Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, and Britain, which possesses the most advanced, experienced, and probably the best military on the continent. It is hard to see how French desires (if that’s what they are) are going to prevail, especially given that both Britain and Germany are entering into ESDP largely to keep America involved with Europe. Britain and Germany will surely see that France does not make a Trojan horse of ESDP.

Second, even if France was somehow able to magically overcome German and British objections and convince the two to abandon their long policy histories in pursuit of the closest possible strategic ties with America, ESDP would still come up short as a threat to destroy the alliance. As Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping of Germany put it, "In the transatlantic Alliance we do not have too much America, we have too little Europe." Those who fear ESDP have it backwards. The problem for Europe, as history and current levels of expenditure show, is not that it will do too much regarding defense spending, which is the only way ESDP could develop to the point at which it would threaten to make NATO superfluous; it is that Europe consistently does too little. As Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany reasonably noted at a February speech in Munich, "Europe’s security and defense policy will continue to be on a much too modest scale to really worry the U.S."


The forgotten EDC

This is not the first time Europe has attempted to establish a pan-European defense force — nor the first time America has had to respond to such an initiative. The first major attempt to bolster the European pillar was a 1950s proposal for a European Defense Community (EDC). The history of the EDC provides many clues about the problems of burden sharing and power sharing. It is indicative of both the depth of the real NATO reform problem and the degree to which both poles, European and American, yearn for it to be solved.

Tensions relating to burden sharing within the alliance have been the snake in the garden for NATO since its inception. Before the Korean War brought a massive American conventional buildup in Europe, the Article V commitment for collective self-defense rested almost entirely on the American nuclear guarantee to Europe. As a prostrate Europe began to recover economically from the devastation of World War II, pressures grew to make the alliance more equitable, as well as to diversify the military options open to NATO in the event of a Soviet attack. Before leaving to become the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stopped by Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s office for a briefing on European affairs. What Acheson told Eisenhower has a contemporary ring. Acheson felt that one of NATO’s greatest problems was political: "The U.S. Congress would not support a major effort in Europe if the Europeans did not pay their fair share." Burden sharing problems have imperiled the political cohesion of the alliance from the beginning.

A recovering Europe was well aware of political tensions within the United States over burden sharing. In fact, one of the major reasons for the attempt to establish the EDC was the recognition among Western Europeans that they had to be seen contributing more. EDC advocates argued "that the U.S. would not indefinitely maintain their troops in Europe if the Europeans refused to prepare and to participate in their own defense," in Raymond Aron’s words. The impetus for the establishment of the EDC almost foreshadows the drive to create an ESDP. In both cases, the European allies came to the realization that they must act collectively to forestall American complaints about unequal burden sharing. The primary difference between the two cases lies in the historical era in which they occur. During the Cold War the preponderance of the American commitment to NATO (in terms of men, materiel, and money) was deemed a reasonable price to pay in order to secure the fundamental interest of preserving Western Europe from communist domination. Put simply, while NATO reform was desirable from an American point of view, it was not essential. With the passing of the Cold War and the absence of the Soviet threat, this American geopolitical calculation has changed, while European defense habits have not. Kosovo has been a real watershed in NATO’s ongoing saga precisely because it exposed strains in the alliance at a time when there is no discernible immediate threat to rally a disgruntled America to overlook Europe’s unequal burden sharing efforts. This makes the burden sharing controversy a real threat to the continued viability of the alliance. Whereas the establishment of a genuine European pillar through EDC would have been desirable, in the new era ESDP is crucial.

The European response to the earlier burden sharing crisis, EDC, was embodied in the Pleven plan, named after the premier of France. The plan was based on seven basic points. First, France accepted German participation in the EDC. Second, the German contribution could only be made to an integrated European army at the lowest organizational level. Thus, military integration was to occur at the regimental level rather than in the form of the fusion of different European countries’ corps or armies. The EDC signaled the merging, under supranational units, of a polyglot army of the Western European states for the defense of their region. Third, the EDC must be linked to democratically elected European authorities. Fourth, the EDC’s executive work was to be entrusted to a minister of defense, with a Defense Council to assist. Fifth, the EDC was to be financed through a common budget. Sixth, the European army would be used to fulfill the allies’ Atlantic commitments in NATO. Seventh, with the large exception of Germany, member countries retained the right to possess military forces exclusive of their contribution to the EDC and could petition the European defense minister for the temporary release of their national contingent of EDC forces during times of crisis. There were two further tacit points underlying the EDC plan. First, West Germany would not be admitted directly into NATO. In the Truman administration’s view, Pleven’s government, which had formally proposed the EDC plan, was to be given this as a diplomatic reward for allowing German rearmament within the context of this all-European army. Second, the U.S. pledged to develop an active conventional presence in Europe to insure against German treachery. Thus, the American conventional commitment to Europe, a major characteristic of Cold War defense strategy, arose primarily in response to events in Korea and intra-Western European politics, rather than to an immediately enhanced Soviet threat to Western Europe. This was not to be the last time that military commitments epitomized the underlying political relationships within NATO. This same linking of military capability to political commitment is currently driving the post-Kosovo burden sharing controversy.

Architecturally, the EDC was probably doomed from the beginning. As with ESDP, the EDC’s organizational relationship with NATO was initially very vague. The dominant ideological school of thought underlying the European integration experiment is known as functionalism, the emphasis of which is on the development of political cohesion rather than agreement on final plans. The very vagueness of functionalism is a political tool designed to make its policy outcomes become all things to all people while they are being negotiated. The theory is that momentum generated by bringing disparate political groups together in pursuit of vague aims eventually locks the parties into agreement once the policy finally becomes clear. As doctrine, it is the triumph of process over precision.

The EDC experience illustrates there are significant drawbacks to pursuing such a strategy. After the release of the Pleven plan, subsequent negotiations made it clear that the EDC would not be the vehicle for the rise of a genuine third great world power, as many leaders of France at the time desired. It was decided at the NATO Lisbon Conference of February 1952 that the EDC would coordinate with the alliance, but somehow operate separately from NATO. This view was matched by a contrary one which saw the EDC as nothing more than the active European military arm of NATO, and thus under full NATO control. This discrepancy exactly mirrors the different conceptions of ESDP that have sprung up in Europe since the Washington summit in 1999. The functionalist language of the Lisbon conference eerily echoes the current mantra regarding ESDP: "separable, but not separate." While such a distinction is interesting for theologians, in practice "the EDC remained subordinate to NATO, and within NATO, U.S. influence remained preeminent," as Melvyn Leffler described it in A Preponderance of Power (1992). Obviously, this is not what the French had in mind. It also explains subsequent French attempts to destroy their own creation. What the French perceived as a ticket to superpower status ended up merely buttressing an American-dominated NATO. This is a lesson current American policy makers would do well to consider when pondering the merits of ESDP.

Structurally and politically, the EDC project exhibited fatal flaws from the start. In order to limit the chances a revived Germany could somehow use the EDC to establish a Fourth Reich, a quasi-governmental structure was to be established around the European army: a commissariat, council, assembly, and court — a structure very like the European Union of today. The great difference between the attempt to establish the EDC then and to start ESDP now is one of time and organic growth. The echoes of the war and the lack of a history of close European policy coordination made the EDC too revolutionary for its time. Encouraging supranational political and military institutions to spring up was simply too great a leap of faith for Europeans who could remember the horrors of World War II all too well. The chances for the success of the ESDP must be reckoned much greater, as the EU has come before this attempt at military coordination; the organic growth of common mechanisms for policy decision making and common patterns of political coordination have had 50 years to come to fruition. In this sense, a resolution of the burden sharing and power sharing dilemma has had to await the organic development of European policy coordination.

  The American response

As is true of the current American response to ESDP, the Truman administration was initially of two minds about the Pleven plan. At first, many in the Truman administration, including Joint Chiefs Chairman Omar Bradley, felt the Pleven plan rendered NATO totally inoperable, as it precluded U.S. participation in an all-European defense force. Bradley feared that the mechanisms for coordination, the very cornerstone of NATO, would be imperiled by the vagueness of the EDC’s structures and the lack of direct coordination between the American military and individual Western European countries. In the end, led by Acheson, the Truman White House grudgingly supported EDC, notwithstanding private doubts, so as not to antagonize its Western European allies.

With the advent of the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. changed its stance from tacit, skeptical support for the EDC to a more enthusiastic position. For Eisenhower, the EDC was the best mechanism available to push the Europeans to spend more on defense; in other words, Eisenhower’s support for the EDC was based on his desire to correct burden sharing discrepancies within the alliance. In Eisenhower (1990), Stephen Ambrose neatly sums up the president’s strategy: "Eisenhower’s high hopes for EDC involved not only what he felt it would accomplish for Western Europe, but also the promise it held for the U.S. A closely linked Western European community, held together by economic and military ties, protected through NATO by the American nuclear umbrella and through EDC by numerous all-European ground divisions, would not only be a source of security for the world but would end the need for msa [Mutual Security Assistance] funds." Eisenhower presciently saw the EDC as a way to more equitably recalibrate burdens and responsibilities within the alliance, a state of affairs that would allow the U.S. to be more flexible geopolitically and financially. It is this forward-looking point of view that current decision makers should rediscover today.

In the end Eisenhower’s astuteness came to nothing. The French National Assembly voted down the Pleven plan in August 1954 by a vote of 319-264. This was at least partly because the French, like Eisenhower, realized that America had by far the better part of the deal. As Richard J. Barnet wrote in The Alliance (1983), "French support for an idea devised by Frenchmen and initially scorned by the Americans ended as the reality of the scheme became clear in negotiations: The NATO commander, inevitably a U.S. general, would have veto power over the deployment of French troops." An EDC under the NATO umbrella entirely suited the United States while thwarting French dreams of a more independent role for Europe (read: France) around the globe as a "third force." An EDC within the overall control of NATO meant that the United States would remain dominant in the alliance, even if the Europeans marginally gained more power within it also. Given the preponderant nature of American power vis-à-vis its European allies in the early 1950s, this very marginal loss was well worth bearing, as the U.S. was to be the beneficiary of more equal burden sharing. Had the Pleven plan been adopted, the United States would have had the best of both worlds.

The EDC experience should make it clear to all that, as in the time of Eisenhower, it is in America’s interests to support the development of the European pillar. The incoming administration should study this history and follow Eisenhower’s lead in seeing that ESDP (like the EDC before it) is a ticket to substantially increasing America’s global military and political maneuverability in return for the very sustainable cost of greater power sharing.

It is extremely unlikely that the Europeans will ever be willing to do enough in the way of burden sharing to merit an equal decision making say within the alliance. A more equitable but not equal alliance promises to be the best of all possible worlds for the United States. A reformed NATO will more easily adapt to the post-Cold War era, while allowing the U.S. to attend more effectively to its other global interests. The more equal burden sharing posture will also prove politically popular in the United States. Given the 50 year organic growth of European efforts at policy collaboration, the building of a sustainable European pillar is an idea whose time has finally come.

 Kosovo as a wake-up call

The Kosovo campaign catalyzed the drive to ESDP by revealing that NATO’s conception of an equal alliance, always an ideal, now has no bearing on military realities in Europe. America dominated the operation because Europe was incapable of dealing with a military challenge in its own backyard.

U.S. intelligence assets identified almost all the bombing targets in Serbia and Kosovo; nearly every precision-guided missile was launched from American aircraft. Technologically, the European contribution to the allied effort was deficient due to a lack of computerized weapons, night-vision equipment, and advanced communications resources. American Air Force Gen. Michael Short, who oversaw the NATO bombing campaign, has since said that the deficiencies of the European aircraft were so glaring — for example, their lack of night-vision capability and absence of laser-guided weapons systems — that he curtailed their missions to avoid unnecessary risk. If this trend is allowed to continue it will have devastating consequences for the alliance. As U.S. Gen. John Sheehan, former Supreme Allied Commander, the Atlantic, noted in a speech to the North Atlantic Council of the United States two years before Kosovo: "The technological gap is increasing between the U.S. and Europe. Soon the other members of NATO will be little more than constabulary forces, with the U.S. possessing the only genuine modern army." It is this inequity that threatens to drive a stake through the heart of NATO.

The political tensions felt on both sides of the Atlantic regarding burden sharing and power sharing can be summed up succinctly: Americans resent being asked to shoulder more than their fair share of the military burden, while Europeans resent being dictated to by the United States. Rather than participating in another futile round of finger pointing, both pillars of NATO need to use the realizations of Kosovo to spur them on to achieving lasting reform.

Strikingly, frank acknowledgement of this technological discrepancy has emerged as the consensus opinion among European decision makers. As German Foreign Minister Fischer has lamented, "The Kosovo war was mainly an expression of Europe’s own insufficiency and weakness; we as Europeans never could have coped with the Balkan wars that were caused by Milosevic without the help of the U.S." Europe’s newfound understanding of its weaknesses has led to a reinvigorated attempt to build a true defense capability. This is precisely what the U.S. should desire.


The ESDP present

While Kosovo was undoubtedly the catalyst, the current NATO reform movement predates the war in the Balkans. The real beginning of the drive was a conference in Saint Malo in December 1998, where Prime Minister Tony Blair turned his back on 50 years of British skepticism and agreed that the European pillar of NATO should be built using the EU as its base. This at last put the British position in line with French desires for NATO reform. The end result of Saint Malo and Kosovo was the Helsinki summit in December 1999, which laid the institutional framework for ESDP. At Helsinki, the member states of the EU agreed to meet a headline goal in three years. By 2003 they wish to be able to deploy a force of 60,000 trained rapid reaction troops, available within 60 days of the order, able to be sustained in theater for at least a year. To accomplish this, an additional 60,000 troops would have to be at the ready to reinforce the deployment as part of a six-month rollover. The EU created three committees to manage this force. A political and security committee is to coordinate day-to-day running of the EU’s foreign and security policy; former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana heads this effort. A military staff is to be composed of attaches from all 15 national governments. Last, a military committee comprised of the member states’ chiefs of defense is to advise the EU on military matters.

While there is some institutional structure supporting ESDP, a new governmental structure is unnecessary. This is because a political structure, the EU, already exists; in addition, ESDP is not a European standing army, but really a rapid reaction force. A new supranational edifice is simply unnecessary for this limited reform. At Helsinki, prodded by Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, it was agreed that there would be a high degree of transparency between NATO and the EU security committees. This has been interpreted to mean different things by different people, but many commentators have concluded that, in the end, it will lead to the adoption of a NATO right of first refusal for out-of-area action: only after NATO has declined to intervene could ESDP be activated. In addition, the British and the French have proposed that the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe (DSACEUR) have a permanent seat on the military committee in exchange for an EU member sitting in on NATO military committee meetings. Thus ESDP is in many ways a far more modest proposition than was the EDC; it bears witness to the earlier overly ambitious failure.

The first basic reason for the creation of ESDP was as a political bolster to NATO. As Lord Robertson observed in a January speech, "For the long-term health of NATO, the burdens, costs and the risks must be shared, and shared equally." The unequal division of labor between the U.S. and its European allies, illustrated by the war in Kosovo, represents a flawed strategy. It sets an awful precedent for the future of the transatlantic alliance — with the U.S. "doing" the war and the Europeans "doing" the peace. Form is all too likely to follow function if such a division persists; the Europeans will look at future conflicts from a peacekeeping perspective while Americans adopt a war-fighting point of view. These functional differences will result in intractable political schisms that could well spell the end of NATO. A permanent two-tier NATO in the post-Cold War era will doubtless exacerbate already divergent perspectives between the U.S. and Europe regarding defense and foreign policy issues.

Far-sighted Europeans see this danger clearly. Prime Minister Blair, commenting in reference to Kosovo and ESDP, said, "We Europeans should not expect the U.S. to play a role in every disorder in our back yard." An America resentful of a Europe not pulling its weight, engaged in missions, as in the Balkans, where its interests were not nearly as paramount as those of its European allies, is an America far more likely to worry that the NATO commitment has become an entangling alliance. The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Alexander Vershbow, echoed this sentiment in a speech in January 1999: "A robust ESDI that preserves the transatlantic dimension will make both Europe and NATO stronger, and it is essential to sustaining U.S. support for the alliance as a whole." Decision makers on both sides of the Atlantic were reaching the same strategic conclusions even before the war in Kosovo. Helsinki was thus the culmination, not the beginning, of a process designed to revitalize NATO politically as well as militarily.

The second more directly military rationale behind ESDP was the desire to give the European member states of NATO a greater degree of strategic maneuverability. Whereas the British enthusiastically embraced the first reason for ESDP, this second rationale was of particular importance to the French. An increased European military role would have significant political ramifications. As Defense Minister Alain Richard has noted, "Now the EU is stepping up to its responsibilities and over the next few years will become a genuine actor on the scene, one that did not exist before." Other European countries not sharing this grand design for ESDP still found it useful to place more policy instruments at the disposal of the EU. As Lord Robertson has commented, "If the North American allies do not want to get involved in addressing some purely European security challenges, the European allies will still have the option of addressing these challenges on their own." A Europe able to field a significant military force of its own would have the freedom to attack crises in its immediate vicinity with more than just sanctions. This view of ESDP sees it as little more than a sort of enhanced Combined Joint Task Force (CTJF), a formalized European coalition of the willing prepared to give the EU more diplomatic and military options in the event a crisis affects European and not American interests.


ESDP’s long road ahead

Obviously, these two views of ESDP are very different in terms of scope and degree. The creation of ESDP is yet another example of the functionalist strategy of making a policy seem all things to all people. Yet the policy cannot, in the end, be both a geopolitically altering event and a mere refinement to the alliance; one group currently supporting ESDP may find that it has not gotten what it has bargained for. Disillusionment likely will follow, and if it finds expression in political terms, that could well lead to the end of the initiative, much as occurred with the EDC.

There are two other major difficulties threatening ESDP. First, there is a real question as to whether the new institution serves any real practical use. As the Economist remarks, "it is hard to imagine which missions, if any, the Europeans might take on that are small enough not to need the U.S. alongside, yet big enough to justify expending so much high-level political and military attention." With the possible and unlikely exception of Montenegro (unlikely because America would most probably intervene if Milosevic invaded his small neighbor), American and European military interests are more compatible than they have been in a long while regarding continental Europe. There are few cases left in which conflicting American and European interests could compel the activation of the European rapid reaction force rather than direct NATO involvement. Since American pressure to ensure NATO has the first right of refusal in any out-of-area brushfires is likely to succeed, it is very hard to see how ESDP can practically enable the Europeans to acquire the capacity for freedom of action that the French so fervently desire. It is far more likely that ESDP will prove to be merely a way to coordinate an increased European defense effort within NATO — which from the point of view of the United States must be reckoned a good thing. The very limitations of ESDP, far from proving a problem for the United States, are one of the more attractive features of the plan from an American perspective.

The danger is, as always, that the Europeans will do too little, not that they will do too much. After Helsinki, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen voiced this perennial American fear, wondering, "Where are the resources to match the rhetoric?" Javier Solana, the coordinator of the new EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, finally voiced what all responsible analysts have known since the ESDP idea was first discussed. "In the short and medium term we [the Europeans] will have to increase defense budgets." Given current political attitudes in Europe toward increased defense spending, this must be seen as unlikely. There is a basic reason for this, beyond the obvious political unpopularity in Europe for defense spending. It is important to see that increased European defense spending is the first step in the European integration process that will actually cost the Europeans money rather than make them more prosperous. The EU has been a vehicle for Europe’s material gain, not a symbol of sacrifice. This psychological factor is a major reason why significant defense spending increases are unlikely.

Indeed, the backtracking is already starting. Gen. Klaus Naumann, Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee during most of the Kosovo crisis, told defense ministers and generals at a Brussels symposium that Europe will need something like 10 years to build up a real capability to intervene militarily. The greatest danger to NATO is that ESDP will prove to be yet another project in which European rhetoric is not matched by increased capabilities.


A larger compact

ESDP can serve another vital function; as part of a larger strategic compact between the American and European poles of the alliance. To some extent the controversy surrounding ESDP misses this larger point: A more comprehensive bargain involving the U.S. and its European allies based around the issues of burden sharing and power sharing can reinvigorate NATO.

Almost all of the alliance’s long-term problems stem from the overarching dilemma of burden sharing and power sharing. The U.S. has always contributed far more than its share to the bargain. Kosovo illustrated that the burden sharing imbalance has become critical. European military hardware is significantly inferior to American with regard to strategic transport and logistics (C-17s, rapid sealift, inflatable fuel tanks, forward repair facilities); intelligence (satellites, sensors, computers); and high-tech weaponry (precision-guided explosives, cruise missiles). Thus compatibility problems, always the bane of this uneven alliance, have grown worse. As the Economist puts it, "compared to U.S. forces inspired by the ‘revolution in military affairs’ that promises perfect knowledge of everything on a battlefield, Europe’s static conscript-dependent forces look increasingly like dinosaurs. Western Europe’s defense budget is almost two-thirds that of America, but it produces less than one-quarter of America’s deployable fighting strength." For example, of 5,000 military aircraft available to Western Europe’s armies for deployment for air strikes, barely 10 percent are capable of precision bombing.

If anything, the technological discrepancies pale next to problems relating to "lift," the ability to transport a fighting force. Europe, in the words of the Western European Assembly (the parliamentary arm of the soon to be defunct Western European Union), has ceded "a virtual monopoly" in this field to the United States. While unglamorous, logistical lift is probably the key component in fighting a war in the post-Cold War era. Just as the British navy’s ability to provide its forces with lift in the nineteenth century was the key to the success of its empire, so the American ability to quickly place its troops anywhere in the world is the crucial reason for U.S. military dominance. This is also the basic weakness of European defense forces. As Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution explained in the journal Survival, "Today, only the U.S. is in a position to deploy large numbers of forces well beyond its national borders and operate them for an extended period. Europeans are not only very limited in the amount of force they can project beyond Europe, but they must also depend heavily on the U.S. in more nearby places like the Balkans."

European defense establishments must spend more wisely, but they must also spend more. The major reason for European technological deficiencies is that they simply do not devote enough resources to research and development. The U.S. spends nearly four times as much as the European allies on defense R&D. These numbers speak for themselves. Poor procurement decisions do not convincingly explain the totality of the technological gap between the two pillars of the alliance; an insufficient financial commitment on the part of the Europeans is also a significant part of the problem.

There have been efforts to address this fundamental problem, but they have fallen short of the mark. At the Washington summit in 1999, the member states of the alliance signed the Defense Capabilities Initiative, which attempts to provide a common concept of operations for the future battlefield. The initiative points to a future in which force postures are less dependent on overly large standing armies, with more emphasis on deployability and sustainability. The document notes: "It is important that all nations are able to make a fair contribution to the full spectrum of Alliance missions regardless of differences in national defense structures." Unfortunately, it simply does not tell us how to get there. It is an aspiration, not a plan. NATO defense ministers met in December 1999 to try to advocate measures to give substance to the initiative, but failed to come up with details. Burden sharing should entail close military coordination, shared risks and responsibilities, and common experiences among allies. Until a concrete plan explains how these concepts will be realized, the effort will remain rhetorical.

The other half of the equation, power sharing, has not been adequately dealt with either. This is where ESDP is critical to the NATO reform process. Solana sees the link between burden sharing and power sharing: "It is true that the U.S. may lose some leverage as Europe gets stronger, but that is inevitable and by no means an unhealthy thing, because a strong Europe can relieve some of the burdens carried by the world’s only superpower.

The way forward is simple. The European pillar must increase its financial and military contribution to the alliance while being given a greater amount of power within NATO. Likewise, while the U.S will benefit from being able to decrease its transatlantic defense burden, it must consent to the Europeans having a greater role in how the alliance is run. This fundamental tradeoff must underlie any successful NATO reform plan.

Elsewhere, I have proposed that the Europeans agree to modernize their armed forces by raising defense spending to 3 percent of GDP a year, with an emphasis on decreasing the technological gap, and that the United States in return agree to discuss a restructuring of NATO commands with an eye toward giving the Europeans a greater say in how the alliance is run.* Such a concord is certain to reinvigorate the alliance by roughly balancing its two pillars, both in terms of burdens expended and powers allotted.

Increased European integration within the context of NATO, symbolized by the ESDP drive, may well facilitate economies of scale, making it easier for the Europeans to meet their increased defense commitments under a NATO reform plan. As Eisenhower approached EDC, so should we approach ESDP. An enhanced ESDP must take place under the NATO umbrella; it must create synergies that allow the Europeans to make progress technologically; and despite allowing for an increased role for the EU in the process, it must be open to all European members of NATO, whether or not they are in the union. Above all, ESDP must enhance NATO reform, not be the beginnings of a separate defense organization, designed to supersede the transatlantic link.

While in many ways ESDP represents nothing new under the sun, reflecting the perennial burden sharing and power sharing concerns that have plagued NATO since its inception, something has changed. With the Cold War era consigned to history, the immediate threat facing the alliance no longer obviates these festering issues of burden sharing and power sharing. On the brighter side, a constituency on both sides of the Atlantic is in the process of realizing this and seems intent on using ESDP to begin to redress the inequities that have troubled NATO since its inception.


* See John C. Hulsman, "A Grand Bargain with Europe: Preserving NATO for the 21st Century," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1360, April 2000.

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