So what does the US *really* think of EU defence?

Getting away from the eternal baboon threat displays and absurd disinformation for a moment, what do we know about EU and US defence? The lazy/cowardly/decadent/anti-imperialist Euros refuse to do anything, spend any money, or fight, and the US is permanently and increasingly stronger, right? Let’s see what the professionals think. The latest issue of Parameters, the journal of the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute at Fort Carlisle, is out and it’s a special on Europe. (Mmm, a treat.)

Stephen J. Coonen writes that the EU’s efforts in the security arena should not be seen as competitive with NATO, but complementary and providing means to act if NATO does not – something which cannot be overemphasised enough, in my opinion. He assesses EU and US capabilities and concludes that the power gap is small, and specifically concentrated in a few areas such as strategic airlift and satellite reconnaissance. He argues that “sound plans” exist to reduce the gaps, for example, the NATO C-17 purchase and the SALIS project, which jointly leases Antonov-124 aircraft to support NATO and EU-RRF operations, the Anglo-French Stormshadow missile and more (see note 29, if you’re like that, or for a more sensational argument read all about France’s latest ICBM test).

He also suggests that the de facto division of labour between the US, NATO and the EU should be maintained. This, today, is another way of saying that much of the US’s super-tech capability is either useless (like the F-22) or counterproductive, in the light of the post-conflict (or rather post-intensive conflict) problems. So, at least, says Michael R. Melillo, who argues that the US armed forces’ problem is to give a military designed for big decisive battles the capabilities to succeed in counter-insurgency, policing and peacekeeping.

“The military culture has long been convinced that technological overmatch was the prescription for security—a continuation of the traditional American way of war. However, the character of warfare is changing,” he says. “Interstate wars, while not obsolete, are now less prevalent than direct threats from irregular forces. The US military’s conventional dominance has forced its enemies to seek other methods to challenge American hegemony. While conventional might is still necessary in an uncertain world, the American invasion and subsequent operations in Iraq have exposed the US military’s limitations and instigated changes that will make it more prepared to meet the growing irregular threat. Only by creating a force that is just as adept at conducting small wars against irregular enemies as it is at conducting big wars against conventional foes will the United States be able to ensure security in the 21st century.”

“While the initial success of American forces in Iraq validated the traditional American way of war, their experiences since May 2003 reflect the institutional resistance of defense planners to prepare for the messy tasks associated with peacekeeping, stability operations, and nation-building. The US military’s ineffectiveness at these types of operations helped create a military culture that eschewed such operations.14 The reality of the “long war,” however, is that counterinsurgency, stability operations, and nation-building—the essence of small wars—will dominate the future of warfare. ”

What kind of a strategy could overcome this crisis? Perhaps it might be “human security”, which according to P.H. Liotta and Taylor Owen is embodied in the EU’s 2003 European Security Strategy. Rather like the British General Sir Rupert Smith, whose recent book The Utility of Force argues that classical, decisive war no longer exists, having given place to timeless conflicts in which every actor strives to maintain a condition rather than to “win”, they suggest that an institution like the EU with a full spectrum of governmental functions may be best suited to this era.

33 thoughts on “So what does the US *really* think of EU defence?

  1. An American soldier publicly questioning the myth of rationality that American military spending is the the standard global optimum?
    What’s next? No more abstinence only preaching in HIV-torn African countries?

    Very interesting. Thanks Alex!

  2. Thanks for this very interesting lead, Alex.

    Is Steven Coonen playing good cop to Kagan’s bad cop ?

    Coogan is right to focus on the issues brought out by the Kosovo war, notably the woeful deficit in British and French high-precision munitions, which seems to be the main lesson that both French and British defence analysts drew from the conflict. And he’s right that the Europeans were far more prepared – in the later stages, one might almost say eager – to commit ground troops. It is perhaps unfortunate that Wesley Clark’s observation concerning relative willingness to inflict rather than incur casualties is relegated to a footnote, since target approval was the other main area of disagreement between the NATO allies. As Clark says

    “Europeans were more concerned about civilian casualties and their preference was to shift efforts from the air campaign to a ground campaign to limit civilian casualties. ”

    Kagan seesms to have forgotten that Europeans have fairly recent experience of been nails rather than hammers themselves.

    However I have my doubts about the way forward being “mutually advantageous transatlantic defense cooperation in armaments arrangements to access American technologies” There’s capability to back up what the US decides, and there’s capability to pursue policies independent of US wishes, two very different things.

    In terms of any real EU independence, it seems to me that the real issue is defence procurement rather than what our armed forces are theoretically capable of if we equip them with US high-tech aircraft and missiles. The tussle between the MoD and the US over JSF stealth technology-transfer is just one example of the strictures applied even to ultra-Atlanticist Britain.

    Unless Europe has a viable defence industry, with competitive products to sell in international markets as a way of paying for that investment, dependency is inevitable.
    I very much doubt that US strategic analysts welcome any lessening of European dependency on US military technology. The argument about the military use of Galileo is an example. I wouldn’t be surprised if the use of US diplomatic pressure on potential buyers of multi-role European military aircraft were another.

    The European Security Strategy document rightly emphasises that the transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable – but the most appropriate emblem of that relationship doesn’t have to be a leash.

  3. The posting and comments belie any idea that the EU and NATO are partners, rather than rivals. They also cast an interesting light on all the talk of the EU as a “moral superpower” or “peace power.” I assume that the EU is developing its military capabilities in order to actually kill, or at least threaten, others.

    Given the EU’s strategic aspirations, perhaps it’s not surprising that the US is reluctant to share advanced technologies with European governments. However, one promising sign for the US is that not everyone in Europe is willing to sign onto the EU’s geopolitical ambitions, as is suggested by the failure of the EU “constitution” and the current debate about the appropriate degree of toadying to Russia.

    On Europeans’ allegedly greater willingness to accept military casualties: it is hard to reconcile this claim with the fact that the German contingent in Afghanistan is currently deployed in various peace-keeping capacities rather than in places where they might actually be shot at by the Taliban.

  4. Coonen’s article is OK. Though he correctly points out that “Europe” basically doesn’t exist yet militarily, he doesn’t seem to be able to stop using the words “Europe” and “Europeans”.

    He should be talking about British, French and Italian willingness to act around the world. Whether its the Brits in Sierra Leone (and any US adventure), the French in Cote d’Ivoire (4000 troops) or the Italians in Lebanon.

    The reason Europeans don’t invest in their militaries as much, or don’t use them unilaterally as much, is simply because there’s very little they can do. They’re too small. They can’t topple or defend this or that regime or even peacekeep, on their own (except in Africa). The result is the penchant, the necessity, of multilateralism.

    However, just because “Europe” (you could substitute the term with “small countries”) likes to act in coalitions, often with other Europeans, doesn’t mean its a useful term. You can only talk about Brits, Frenchmen, Germans, Italians etc. Something he doesn’t do.

  5. Graig, may I suggest that the reason Europeans “don’t invest in their militaries” is not that they are too small to do the job, but that (a) there is no concencus on what the job is and (b) how to do it. There has to be a coherent foreign policy first, a realistic military strategy as one compoment of that second, and building tactical capacity third.

    If the foreign policy is that we take care of our own business and strategy aligned with that defence of European soil, then the current national armies are quite fine. If we say decide that we want to police Africa, we need some confidence that it is actually doable (I have my doubts) and then we need to build the capacity required.

    There needs to be a broad public discussion on what if anything we wish to achieve in the wider world, and what in lives and Euros are we willing to pay for it. Should we react to current American agenda, which we either follow (Afganistan) or don’t (Iraq), and if not what then? Some say we need stronger military to be a more important ally and as such gain more say in the US military policy, but to what end?

    Power without an idea on how it should be used is at best pointless and at worst an accident waiting to happen.

  6. Coonan mentions that most European states are politically unable to expand military spending towards US levels. It is perhaps also fair to say that the US’s political culture, given the power of the defence industry lobby and the reverence with which many people seem to regard members of the armed forces, means that the US is politically unable to curb its defence spending, which is arguably already excesssive, and which was increasing at an alarming rate even before the Iraq debacle. So demanding that Europe should mimic US excesses in this area is doubly stupid.

    The real complaint, though, shouldn’t be that Europe doesn’t spend enough on defence, but that much of it is spent badly (as unfortunately seems to be the norm for defence spending the world over). For example, some countries continue to waste money training entire male cohorts as conscripts, when such a force would only be of any use if the Russians invaded. There are also duplication costs and diseconomies of small scale in the way each country’s defence capacity operates autonomously from the others, which is particularly wasteful for those countries which are too small or poor to afford an autonomous force of any consequence anyway.

  7. “(a) there is no concencus on what the job is and (b) how to do it”
    I agree with you here. However, I think there are some jobs (such as policing in the Balkans) which European militaries are not capable of handling on their own. I think part of the reason is that there’s no point investing too much in your military if, at the end of the day, you still won’t have the ability to use it independently (except in a few circumstances, mostly in the odd shady operation in Africa).

  8. The huge allocation of public monies into the American military is tantamount to the creation of mile high mechanical gorilla with nowhere to go and nothing to do, except create chaos. The American military machine is top heavy and the complex terrorist concerns we face today cannot be either managed, and most certainly not “won”, by a frontal assault with high tech weaponry. A more low-key and intelligent approach is required.

    The Europeans are very wise not to emulate the American fetish with all-things military, because frankly, American society has its priorities badly out of proportion.

    When you take a drive through some of the large cities in the US and see the problems with poverty and urban decay, also endemic and on-going underfunding of education and health services, it makes the monies poured into the military machine seem almost a pathological perversity.

    As Iraq has graphically illustrated, no amount of military power or high-tech weaponry can win against an insurgency with roots in the local population. Unless of course you subscribe to the “more rubble, less trouble” school of thought.

    The Europeans are wise to proceed with forethought on this issue, and to try for a balanced response that addresses all eventualities.

  9. No one seems to mention the fact that much of the reason U.S. forces in Iraq are operating as they are, doing everything possible to limit civilian casualties as opposed to WWII, Korea, and Vietnam where they really didn’t, is that the media “outcry” and “outrage” against it is politically devastating. It should be obvious to all that the U.S. is capable of wiping out Iraqi militants street-by-street, village-by-village, or whatever it takes, but the media, and thus the politicians, wouldn’t put up with that. Pity.

    To that must be added the current political thinking in France and much of the rest of Europe: Anything that is good for the U.S. politically and/or militarily is bad for Europe, and vice versa. That makes the Europeans dubious, at best, long term partners. Therefore, why give them the best of our technology today when we can’t be sure it won’t appear in Tehran tomorrow?

  10. No, it’s not at all obvious. How? Pray let us have some details. I’m not aware of any conventional weapon system in US ordnance that hasn’t been used. M1A1 main gun, 155mm artillery, ATACMS tactical ballistic missile, aerial bombs of up to 2,000 lb, AC-130 – they’ve all been used. Torture has been used. Where the hell else is there to go?

    You seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that, as Lenin put it, “quantity has a quality all of its own.” The Russians obeyed no such restrictions in Chechnya, and between 1994 and 1996 reduced Grozny to rubble by air power and artillery, by some accounts the biggest artillery bombardment since Khe Sanh, but sustained for months. And they lost. They were not stabbed in the back by the liberal media, they were ambushed, slaughtered and routed by Chechen forces they no doubt thought had been eliminated by their guns.

    They have, of course, been back. They have obeyed no greater restraint in the use of firepower, indeed they have behaved with the confidence of people who know their strategic position is far stronger than that of 1994. The war continues.

    They have pursued a far more intelligent counterinsurgency strategy, though, by recruiting half the Chechens to fight the other half.

    I will now break some home truths to you. It may hurt. One US ally has recently sold U.S. military equipment to a possible enemy. That state is Israel. The equipment was a radar system. The recipient was China. The last state to supply U.S. equipment to Iran, meanwhile, was the United States of America, which transferred large numbers of TOW and HAWK missiles, aircraft spare parts and more, along with a cake in the shape of a key baked in Tel Aviv and a Bible, to the government of Iran. This transaction was kept secret from the legitimate U.S. authorities by the then National Security Adviser.

  11. “I’m not aware of any conventional weapon system in US ordnance that hasn’t been used. M1A1 main gun, 155mm artillery, ATACMS tactical ballistic missile, aerial bombs of up to 2,000 lb, AC-130 – they’ve all been used. Torture has been used. Where the hell else is there to go?”

    The Hama strategy. In case of Fallujah the US could have send the B52s with napalm and bombs. Whether this would have been wise is another question. But there are precedents. Syria has surpressed islamic extremism. It wasn’t tried.

    The US has not turned the Kurds onto the Arabs. It even hasn’t selected a local general to robustly impose “peace and quiet” in contrast to Russia in Chechnia.

    Basically the US is trying a nice occupation and is serious about bringing democracy and enlightenment. And failing miserably, as many predicted.

  12. I put it to you that Hama was precisely so outrageous because of the disparity of force involved. I’m not aware of any evidence that – say – the Syrian army’s supply columns couldn’t move in safety on the roads.

    B52 aircraft have been used. As have incendiary weapons.

    Most of the actually-existing Iraqi forces *are* Kurds. At Fallujah, the only Iraqi unit that actually went in with the Americans was Kurdish. They *did* select a local general to impose peace and quiet in Fallujah in May, 2004. Didn’t work.

    Rest of post: Bwaahaaahaaahaa. And a pony.

  13. “Hama was precisely so outrageous because of the disparity of force involved”

    Exactly. The US could replicate it, but doesn’t.

    “B52 aircraft have been used. As have incendiary weapons.”

    To a fraction of the possible extent.

    “They *did* select a local general to impose peace and quiet in Fallujah”

    But not in most of the country. And he didn’t get a free hand. The US is not following the classical pattern of ruling by local strongmen. Neither is divide and conquer official policy.

    “And a pony.”

    I wish it were. George Bush jr. is serious about bringing democracy at gunpoint. The man is a true believer.

  14. “It should be obvious to all that the U.S. is capable of wiping out Iraqi militants street-by-street, village-by-village, or whatever it takes, but the media, and thus the politicians, wouldn’t put up with that. Pity.”
    Perhaps you’d like to be “tough” like the French in Algeria? The Americans in Vietnam? Guess what, in a guerilla war, 500,000 troops and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians don’t always allow you to “win”. The more you kill, the more people you alienate, the more insurgents you create.

    I advise you to watch “the Battle of Algiers” (its been screened in the Pentagon). It shows that no matter how evil you are willing to be, no matter how many people you are willing to torture, no matter how many civilians you are willing to massacre, you cannot win when the people (that’s 80% of Iraqis, or all non-Kurd Iraqis) are against you.

    Iraq will be free.

    “To that must be added the current political thinking in France and much of the rest of Europe: Anything that is good for the U.S. politically and/or militarily is bad for Europe, and vice versa.”
    The French and Europeans do not believe that. You made it up, or perhaps, its some creation of American popular culture.

  15. “To that must be added the current political thinking in France and much of the rest of Europe: Anything that is good for the U.S. politically and/or militarily is bad for Europe, and vice versa.”

    European leaders do not question the value of the Atlantic alliance anymore than serious American strategists do. US military preponderance, the US trade deficit through which it is financed, and the de facto reserve currency status of the dollar are accepted as elements of stability, good for everybody if properly managed.

    The problem is that far too many Americans believe that *anything* that is decided by a U.S. administration should be accepted as good for Europe. Unfortunately, that just isn’t always so – and after the fiasco in Iraq, that is all too apparent even to the most Atlanticist Europeans. European leaders cannot legitimately put US interests above those of their own nations, and have a duty to maintain operational sovereignty in military matters if they can.

    America, in the pursuit of its own interests, exerts all sorts of pressures on Europe to pursue courses of action that are not seen by most Europeans as in the European interest – Turkish EU membership is a good example. That’s perfectly normal – but don’t take it as disloyalty if those pressures are resisted. European countries are allies of the United States, not clients of a patron.

  16. @John Montague,

    You write, “European leaders do not question the value of the Atlantic alliance anymore than serious American strategists do.”

    That may be true of -some- European leaders, but certainly not of all, and probably not of most. Segolene Royal’s recent statements about Britain’s future in the EU (it should shut up and jump on the anti-American bandwagon, or get out) are not an aberration. Schroeder and Chirac are other examples of politicians who would like to use the EU as the vehicle for an anti-American foreign policy, possibly involving a de facto alliance with Russia.

    Concerning the Iraq war, Craig’s statement, “Iraq shall be free,” is very indicative of this mindset. Apparently, “free” means any political system in which the influence of the US is thwarted, regardless of who is actually in charge (e.g., Baathists or radical Islamists). For that matter, the violations of the sanctions regime against Iraq before the war, in which French companies were extremely prominent, is hardly an example of good-faith coordination of policy with NATO allies.

    You also note that European countries pursue their own interests and want to have their own viable militaries. Who could disagree with that? But there is a difference between having viable militaries while remaining within the framework of NATO, and integrating European militaries into a coordinated structure (the EU) that excludes the United States and may in part be directed against American power.

  17. Over and above the military question, there are many political and cultural reasons why Europeans should resist American pressure to shape up. Here in Canada a great many of us have no wish to see Stephen Harper’s pro-American views result in the erosion of our identity.

    Initially, I was fairly optimistic about the American adventure on behalf of democracy, but over time factors too numerous to mention here have convinced me that it is an idea that needs to be retired, or at least radically reinvented.

    In the days when war meant annihilating the enemy and forcing political settlements on a shattered people, yes it was do-able. In this day and age, despite the capability of modern armies to do what was suggested above, our contemporary sensitivities won’t allow for it, and I do in fact see that as progress. Slaughtering civilian upstarts in order to force a political agenda is pretty despicable – even if you claim to be ushering in the kingdom of God itself.

    The most obvious truth is that democracy, unlike a McDonalds franchise, cannot be easily exported and integrated into societies that have long been incubating deep and divisive internecine hatreds. This becomes even more complicated when those rival groups i.e. Shi’ite and Sunni, have religious and political loyalties that involve trans- national alliances. For example the Shi’ite connection that exists throughout the Middle East.

    British efforts in Nigeria ran into the same problems with Islamic Hausa peoples in the north and predominantly Christian Ibos in the south. The quilt that is Nigeria forced a unity that didn’t naturally exist.

    The other aspect of this American right wing phenomena, is the emergence of a fundamentalist Christian culture that is seeking to impose its “family values” priorities on society via the ballot box. Christian fundamentalism is in many ways the antithesis of a secular-progressive, multicultural world view. Faith-based ideology has led to an anti-science cabal in Washington that has been promoting views on sexuality for example, that are almost Victorian. One zealot from this camp actually said out loud that he regards prayer as a good remedy for pre-menstrual syndrome.

    Europe is facing huge challenges, but I think it should rely on its native good sense and avoid becoming reactionary in any of the above ways. Frankly, much as I dislike religious dress worn by say civil servants or bankers, I was disappointed that the Dutch decided to use the law to prevent the wearing of the niqab and burqa, even though ski-masks etc have been thrown into the mix to off-set the appearance of overt discrimination. This is more of a cultural debate, an issue of manners if you will, and when you go to law you turn it into something very different.

    I understand those Europeans who are very leery of the American embrace, and I don’t see that at all as being disloyal or self-centered. Fundamentally different visions exist, and they certainly won’t be bridged during the tenure of this particular administration.

  18. A coordinated European defence and defence procurement policy is pretty essential if real operational sovereignty is to be maintained. I’m curious as to why you think this policy would be directed against American power. Is it power over Europe itself you do not wish to see diminished? Is what you oppose in fact anything that might reduce America’s ability to ‘punish France and ignore Germany’ when her NATO allies disagree with her ?

  19. Almost the entire public discussion in US media prior to war was about whether it was the right thing to do, which quite frankly missed the obvious point that the invasion was not feasible. That there probably were no WMDs (as Hans Blix put it at the time, there is something curious about being 99% certain that they exist and having no idea where they are), that this would lead to guerilla war with no end in sight, that there were too few forces… all of this was public knowledge well before the war.

    The difference in Europe was that there was no enthusiasm for the fight, and most of the nations that participated did so more out of gratitude or political convenience than conviction. And that is all you need to explain the differences between say France and USA on this issue, they got this one right because there were less emotions involved. Certainly that will be other way around some time in the future.

  20. I don’t think that.

    I think that I am sick of all of this murder and death. I’m tired of not finding resolutions to problems without bloodshed. And, worse yet, I’m sick of the entire world sitting back while thousands and thousands are slaughtered in Darfur.

  21. “And that is all you need to explain the differences between say France and USA on this issue, they got this one right because there were less emotions involved.”

    This is hardly true. Europe was full of outrage in those days. If two hysterics are taking sides on an issue of yes or no, one side must be right.

  22. “Concerning the Iraq war, Craig’s statement, “Iraq shall be free,” is very indicative of this mindset. Apparently, “free” means any political system in which the influence of the US is thwarted, regardless of who is actually in charge (e.g., Baathists or radical Islamists).”
    You’ve done it again. Look, being different from America doesn’t mean they are fascist or authoritarian. On the contrary, had their been free elections (the “democracy” Bush likes to talk about) in Algeria or Egypt a few years ago there would be anti-American Islamist governments there today.

    Democracy is not necessarily pro-Americanism and independence is not necessarily anti-Amercanism.

    The reason why some Europeans want an independent European defense force is because, without it, there is no independence whatsover without America. National militaries are too tiny to do any substantial military operation with American leadership.

    That also means that nothing can be done without American cooperation, that is annoying to the French as the French veto at the UNSC is annoying to the Americans.

  23. How would cooperation change that? How would we get the necessary European unity in the face of strong US disapproval?

  24. Which necessity? Foreign armies won’t march over our borders. There won’t be obvious necessity.

  25. The Great Game part III

    The side that controles the Middle East + the Stans controlls the world.

    Europe has had only a short amount of time (15 years) to turn its army from a continental army to an expedition force and while far from finished it does start to look good

  26. It won’t. Whom would you give command over a European army?
    The UK and Poland would have gone to Iraq, majority against it or not, likewise, Germany and France would not have gone to Iraq, majority in favor of that or not. This is not going to change.
    You can have some level of cooperation on r&d, which will save some money, but it won’t turn the individual EU armed forces into a unified force.

  27. There was no majority in favour of loosing in Iraq. Only some idiotic governments thought they should kiss American ass.

  28. Hindsight is a great advantage, isn’t it? And moral outrage at kissing asses is misplaced. Sometimes asses need to be kissed.

  29. Not hindsight. It was certain from the start that it would end in disaster. Thank god Iraq is experiencing a civil war otherwise the disaster would be so much larger. Wont claim that the Americans were behind the terrorist attacks that created the Sunni-Shiite tension but if i was them i would have done it if the Iraqi’s didn’t do it themself. (false flag operations are SOP for countries)

    Can you imagine what would happen with a democratic Iraq? They would obviously and sadly be fundamentalist, but that is only important for the Iraqi’s themself as it has not much bearing on their foreign policy. But they would change all the pro American dictatorships into democracies and with it a want for high oil prices and the use of the oil weapon whenever Israel misbehaves (which they do often)

  30. “Can you imagine what would happen with a democratic Iraq?”

    I just look at Algeria and Palestine. You are absolutely right that exporting democracy is foolish.
    But that doesn’t mean that it was wise to spend a lot of political capital on opposing what the Americans were absolutely comitted to. Polite disinterest would have been a reaction not dictated by emotion.

  31. The Americans never planned to export real democracy. Only the kind in which the people can decide anything they want as long as it is not in conflict with American interests. Nor do i see way you name Algeria and Palestine. One was killed by France and the other by Israel

    The world will be different after this is over. The USA will be like Russia. Important but not the most important country in the world, not even the second most important “country” in the world. They will be competing with Russia for place four

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