The European Military project at a cross-roads

There’s a good article in today’s Le Figaro (a conservative French national newspaper) about the recent summit on a European military project in Arcachon. It’s titled L’Europe militaire ? la crois?e des chemins, and it is pretty pessimistic about the whole project.

A l’actualit? d’une loi de programmation militaire tangible, g?n?raux, ing?nieurs, chefs d’entreprise, parlementaires et experts en strat?gie ont pr?f?r? consacrer leurs interventions ? une Europe militaire encore tr?s virtuelle. C’est le seul consensus qui ait ?t? d?gag?. Car les Etats-Unis n’ont pas de souci ? se faire: si la r?union d’Arcachon devait servir de barom?tre ? l’Europe de la d?fense, l’avenir de celle-ci appara?trait des plus maussades.

Given the present lack of any tangible legal mandate for a military programme, the generals, engineers, CEO’s, members of parliament and strategists prefered to focus on a still highly virtual European military. That was the only consensus to come of all this. America has nothing to worry about: if the Arcachon conference is any measure, the future of a common European defense is gloomy indeed.


It seems that, according to Le Figaro, the entire proceding was dominated by arguments between the “Atlanticists” and the “autonomists” – e.g., those who only want a European defensive alliance only within NATO and those who want one outside of it. Britain, it seems, didn’t send anyone to the summit. Once again, Europe’s defence policy is all about America.

The article draws special attention to some quotes from Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy and Institutional Reform:

[L]e commissaire europ?en a estim? que ?la multipolarit? est une r?alit?, pas un slogan politique? et rappel? aux Atlantistes que l’Otan, pour l’heure, n’est plus qu’une coquille vide. ?92% des forces arm?es am?ricaines op?rent aujourd’hui en dehors de l’Otan et la nouvelle conception am?ricaine de l’Otan, qui n’est plus une priorit? pour Washington, reste d’ailleurs ? pr?ciser?, a-t-il soulign?. […]

?Si nous ne parvenons pas ? donner ? l’Europe un projet politique comportant une politique de d?fense commune, tout ce que nous avons fait jusqu’ici sera progressivement d?t?rior?. Et si l’Europe de la d?fense ne se fait pas dans le cadre de l’Union europ?enne, elle se fera ? c?t? d’elle.?

The European commissioner believes that “the multipolar world is a reality, not a political slogan”, and reminds Atlanticists that NATO is nothing but an empty shell. He emphasised that “92% of American military forces operate today outside of NATO and the new American vision for NATO, which is no longer a priority for Washington, remains unexplained.”

“If we do not manage to give Europe a political project that includes a common defence policy, all that we have built so far will progressively deteriorate. And if a European common defence is not done within the framework of the European Union, it will be done outside of it.”

The degree to which the US is clearly not committed to NATO ought to give the Atlanticists (especially those outside of London) pause. Why should Europeans put the US at the centre of their military policy if the US is unwilling to commit to the same thing? At any rate, Barnier’s remarks strike me as a sign that, whether the government is centre-right or centre-left, France is committed to an independent military alliance.

14 thoughts on “The European Military project at a cross-roads

  1. I’d like to add some more arguments as to why Atlanticists should review their military ties to the USA, especially the eastern Europeans. Poland and other eastern States are worried about Byelorussia, the Ukraine and especially Russia – and rightly so I believe.

    During the preparation of the Iraq invasion we witnessed how in the future the US will treat NATO partners; we just have to watch how the US dealt with Turkey. Bilateral relations were preferred to a NATO centric process. The US proved uninterested in Turkey?s interests and focused only on its own. NATO was only used as a tool to obtain legitimacy and get free NATO resources for its own narrow political goals. Within NATO we observe a one-way relationship to the advantage of the US: taking without giving. How is all this supposed to serve NATO member?s interests, especially Eastern European?

    Poland was openly critical and worried about the France-Germany-Russia alliance during the pre-war UN negotiations. What Warsaw failed to complain about is how eager Washington was to mend its relations with Moscow as compared to Berlin and Paris. This is a very clear sign as to where US strategic priorities are and I think its significance has been overlooked by Eastern ?new Europeans?. They should question how much they can realistically count on US support in a potential conflict with Moscow.

  2. One thing about Europeann military capability/needs verus the U.S. military…

    One thing that the past six months have shown is that the U.S. is drastically overpaying for its military capability. Cheap RPGs, improvised bombs, and SAMs are essentially neutralizing the U.S.’s military and (consequently) political ability to control its conquered territory. Multi-million dollar jets and billion dollar bombers, etc. don’t alter this calculus (unless the U.S. starts actively targeting civilians a la Dresden or Hiroshima).
    So claims that european countries are underfunding their military as compared to the U.S. should be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. Lovely tune you’re whistling. How’s the cemetery this time of year?

    If Poland’s eastern neighbors were likely to do something so currently unlikely as to threaten them militarily, the US would be there. In fact, if the suggested shifting of American military assets in Europe occur as recommended by the neocons, there will be troops and bases *in* Poland.

    On the other hand, if France’s hypothetical military enemies were to set their collective hair on fire, you’d have to do a hell of a sales job to get the American public to pay a single reservist to piss on the flames.

  4. hmmm,
    So I’m reading Raymonde Carroll’s Cultural Misunderstandings (as translated by Carol Volk).

    The chapter on ‘Friendship’ is appropos. French friends are supposed to act as a reality check against one’s follies and delusions. Whereas American friends are supposed to (publicly at least) stick up for each other, right or wrong.

    The fact that Bush could not be deterred from his folly is no fault of Chirac’s or Villepin’s.

    Contrast that with how Bush’s freedom-fry republican friends in Congress are starting to question and attack his lack of competence with regards to Iraq. They’re a (couple hundred) day(s) late and a (couple hundred billion) dollar(s) short, IMO.

    That congress and the american public fell for Bush’s cynical scapegoating of France is no credit to them.

  5. “Why should Europeans put the US at the centre of their military policy if the US is unwilling to commit to the same thing?”

    Europe is not at the center of US military policy because Europe is not at the center of security risks to the United States. Finally. After the better part of eighty years, or perhaps the better part of 200 years (longer than most current European states have been around, but that’s another story), depending on your point of view.

    Europe is nearly whole and mostly free. From the American point of view, this is good news. A thing greatly desired and long worked toward has come to pass.

    But equally, from the American point of view, Europe is done as a security problem. Some details to tidy up in the Balkans, but surely the Europeans can get that sorted by themselves, can’t they? And the course is set – Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, Balkan countries in small groups, Moldova some dark night when hopefully no one is looking, Belarus about ten years after Lukashenka goes away, Ukraine in about twenty years and, if good sense prevails, Turkey some years before that. Perhaps the EU institutions will even be well-ordered in about the middle of that time frame.

    The point is that Europe is not a source of security problems. Why should it be the center of US military policy? American policy is, or at least should be, about solving problems. (Is European policy about something else?)

    With that starting point, there are two tracks to pursue. Optimistically, the question is what can we do together? Where are today’s problems? Where will tomorrow’s problems be? What can we each do to fix them? To prevent them? How can we keep the global system – which has benefited Europeans and Americans so much – going?

    On the other hand, there is another way to go. Earlier this year, the French government proclaimed – or at the very, very least, allowed the idea to gain currency – that France’s and Europe’s role in the international system was to limit the United States. That what the Europeans should be up to is hobbling a power that they deemed had grown excessive.

    It appears to me that the European governments really do have a free choice on this question. Is their role in the international system to hinder the United States?

    As Timothy Garton Ash put it, “Yet Europe also has to answer a hard question, and answer it frankly. Does it want to be a partner or a rival to the United States?”

    If the EU, or even some governments of EU countries, want to be a rival to the United States – as some posters on this thread seem to suggest – do they imagine that this course will not carry costs? Do they believe that the US government will take this rivalry lying down? Do they delude themselve to think that the US government should take that kind of declaration lying down? Do they think that if the EU were a declared rival to the US, the EU could continue to be a free rider in the security system propped up by American arms? Do they think a rivalry would be cheap? Easy? Enjoyable for their citizens? A boon to western civilization? Have they even begun to think through the consequences of a world in which the EU’s main international goal is to hinder the Americans?

    I think that such declarations are driven by pique and dilettantism, but maybe they’re serious. I’d be interested in hearing more.

  6. @Doug…the consequences of a world in which the EU’s main international goal is to hinder the Americans?
    consider this from Patrick: The chapter on ‘Friendship’ is appropos. French friends are supposed to act as a reality check against one’s follies and delusions.
    T.G. Ash false dichotomy nonwithstanding, there is a rivalry between friends. Like that between parties in a democracy, it is a rivalry of ideas and plans, disagreement over the best course of action.
    IMO the EU needs a bigger military to rival the US in that sense (and yes, I’d be happy to pay the taxes for this). However, I sometimes feel the US and especially Bush does not quite get the concept, “with us or with the terrorists” being a case in point.
    Oh yes, and while I’m at it, I agree the treatment of Turkey by the US was disgusting. A Muslim democracy (you know, the kind that will change the middle east by the domino effect) makes a decision in keeping with the wishes of its population, and the US not too subtly hints that the military should have influenced the decision. Thanks a bundle.

  7. Whereas the treatment of Turkey by NATO allies Germany, Belgium and France when Turkey asked for help under the Treaty of Washington’s Article 4 was exemplary.

    Yes, yes. Do tell.

  8. “Like that between parties in a democracy, it is a rivalry of ideas and plans, disagreement over the best course of action.”

    Let’s try this idea out for size: The French government decides that country X represents an existential threat and decides to take military action. The US government is unconvinced and mobilizes all of its diplomatic resources to stop the French action. On the even of an important Security Council vote, Powell travels personally to the capitals of swing voters to induce them to oppose France. The US blocks action within NATO.

    Six months later, Powell gives a New York shrug, saying, “It’s a rivalry of plans and ideas, nothing for France to get upset about.”

    Sound realistic to you?

    Me neither.

    +++

    To get us back on topic a bit, when people in the US military hear about the CSDP they reach not so much for their revolvers as their geological time scales.

    A second-hand anecdote: a US colonel was talking with some EU and NATO counterparts about rapid reaction forces. The Europeans asked how quickly a US RRF could be deployed and the colonel replied in about 72 hours. Faced with silence from the other side, the colonel admitted that this was slow and said that a good bit could be ready to go in 24 hours but that was rushing things a little bit and not all of the supplies people liked to have would be available. Long pause. The Europeans had been feeling very pleased that their RRF would be available within 30 days.

    If you’re going to talk like you’re in the Champions League, you need to bring a team that’s better than Serie B.

    +++

    Markus, I don’t doubt that you’re willing to pay more taxes for a more prestigous Bundeswehr. I do doubt that more than 10 percent of German voters share this attitude.

  9. Doug,
    I’ve heard that anecdote before, and it reminds me of nothing some much as those car commercials that advertise 0 to 60MPH in X seconds. Wonderful, but most of my driving probably averages under 30MPH.

    More to the point, how long can the U.S. sustain its military efforts. Judging by Iraq, it would run out of its vaunted high-tech bombs and missiles in about three weeks. And as far as infantry goes, the CBO report indicates the Pentagon won’t be able to sustain the number of troops in Iraq for more than a year because of its over-reliance on Reserves.

    Europe would be wise to make alternate arrangement for its military needs, because the U.S. military is going to be in the repair shop for a long time after it gets booted out of Iraq.

  10. @ Doug
    thanks for agreeing on the false dichotomy (qui tacet…)
    – when Turkey asked for help: the response was we’ll help when Turkey is in danger. At the time the US president still said war was avoidable.
    That said, I’m not proud of the decision, and I don’t think we’re treating Turkey the way we should. But in this particular case we didn’t question their democratic decisions, we did not answer to a request. Can you see the difference?
    – concerning France: that your view of what happened? Seriously? Then again, it hardly matters, for if the French government is that hellbent on having its war although there is no evidence of danger I’d hope that the US would oppose the war. And I’d hope the French get a more responsible/sensible government soon, cause this one felt threatend by its own horror stories.
    – military readyness: as I said, we Europeans need a bigger boat
    – concerning the taxes and my fellow countrymen: I’m working on that one 😉

  11. Doug, about your hypothetical French war :

    That’s exactly what happened in 1956. And during Algeria’s independence war. So? It’s good the US acted against the French politicians these times. And until De Gaulle, the US remained an ally of France. Even kept bases there.

  12. It’s mostly replies, I’m afraid.

    Said Patrick (G)

    – Europe would be wise to make alternate arrangement for its military needs,

    Indeed it would. It would also be wise to consider the systemic benefits (global public goods, if you will) provided by the US armed forces. Who exercises deterrence in the Taiwan Strait? Whose security guarantees have gone a long way toward ensuring that Japan and South Korea do not feel the need to become nuclear powers? Whose forces do the most to deter piracy on the high seas? Whose air force settled Slobo’s hash? Whose navy keeps the Straits of Hormuz open?

    Europe free rides on many of these benefits and then kvetches about this and that that they don’t like. I think that real policymakers acknowledge the advantages that Europe reaps from the present configuration of the international system, even while pressing for individual advantage within it.

    But I don’t think Europe waits gleefully for the US to fall on its face. If I’m wrong about that, then we really will get to find out what a world is like in which the Europeans’ goal is to oppose the Americans.

    +++

    Said markus:

    – (qui tacet)

    Well then, I’m glad that you agree with all of my points that you didn’t address. Tempus fugit. (And eventually, de gustibus, but this debate still has some fresh content.)

    – when Turkey asked for help: the response was we’ll help when Turkey is in danger.

    Actually, what the German, French and Belgian governments said was, “No, let’s not plan for what to do if danger comes, even that’s what you asked for weeks ago, even if planning is just a wee bit late once danger arrives, because we don’t think you’re going to be in danger.”

    http://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/02/10/sprj.irq.nato.turkey/
    http://www.cdi.org/iraq/nato-turkey.cfm
    (CDI, generally on the left side of the aisle, notes, “Belgium has even stated explicitly, through its foreign minister, that the veto had nothing to do with the ‘legitimate security of Turkey.’ “)
    More at:
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=nato+%22article+4%22+turkey+germany&btnG=Google+Search

    If those three governments wanted to support the hard-line Republican position that treaties are generally worthless and only interests count, they acted perfectly. Unfortunately, that squares poorly with the rhetoric the German, French and Belgian governments generally use about international relations.

    And if one wanted to reinforce the stereotype of European unseriousness in defense, the sentiment, “Let’s not plan what to do if missiles start flying until missiles start flying” is a great way to go.

    – That said, I’m not proud of the decision, and I don’t think we’re treating Turkey the way we should.

    Point taken and agreed with. In many contexts.

    Turkey is one of the most important tests of how well the EU and European polities will cope with the 21st century. The results are definitely not yet in.

    -But in this particular case we didn’t question their democratic decisions, we did not answer to a request. Can you see the difference?

    Yes, quite clearly. But the governments in question reneged on a solemn treaty commitment. It’s not the sort of thing that inspires confidence.

    – concerning France: that your view of what happened? Seriously? Then again, it hardly matters, for if the French government is that hellbent on having its war although there is no evidence of danger I’d hope that the US would oppose the war. And I’d hope the French get a more responsible/sensible government soon, cause this one felt threatend by its own horror stories.

    That’s pretty much my capsule summary. The top levels of the US government made the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime their number one priority. Congress signed off on it, and in the executive the policy makers, well, made policy. France was unconvinced and did its best to derail the US policy.

    We can discuss the subtleties of the matter, time permitting, if you’re so inclined, but as a gross summing-up, I can live with it.

    (Examples of the French executive’s indifference to domestic and/or international opinion are not hard to find either – nuclear testing in the South Pacific, sinking ships in New Zealand, decades of neo-colonialism in Africa, gratuitous insults of Central European countries, poor management of the Nice summit at the end of the French EU presidency, defense of the CAP at considerable cost to the rest of Europe, etc etc etc. I mean it’s not as if this unilateral thing is an American monopoly.)

    Said Linca:

    -Doug, about your hypothetical French war :

    – That’s exactly what happened in 1956.

    Well yes, which reinforces my point. At Suez, the US had the power to make its wishes stick. With Iraq, France and Germany didn’t. Anyone who was halfway paying attention could have told you that France and Germany didn’t have the power to make their wishes stick. So those two governments – though chiefly France – espoused a policy (“Stop the US”) that was wildly out of proportion to their means. (Or at least to the means that they were willing to deploy; I suppose there were measures that either could have taken to prevent American action, but they would have pretty well destroyed the international system.) There are a number of explanations for why this might have happened, but none of them are very flattering to European leaders.

    And in 56 the European leaders were furious but made the calculation that, one year after West German rearmament and with Soviet tanks busily invading Hungary, holding up the Atlantic alliance was still a good idea. That structural constraint is gone these twelve years, but it took this spring’s crisis for it to hit home that there really are no limits to how bad US-European relations can get if either party wills it. That’s sobered some, intoxicated others.

  13. a mostly agree with what you said about Turkey, but for completeness you might want to consider this Slate Column: http://slate.msn.com/id/2078389/
    – concerning “unilateralism” and policy: IMO the US made a very poor case for war, hence the opposition. You say Iraq was an “existential threat” or at least that Bush thought it was. To this day I don’t understand how one can reach that conclusion. Just as with the French nuclear tests, I think one has to factor in the soundness of any policy into the picture, and that was missing from your first description.
    – concerning the ability to make one’s wishes stick: it’s nice to be able to do that, but likelihood of failure is not sufficient reason to avoid trying.
    That said, it was good to discuss this, I feel our positions are much closer than I’d have guessed in the beginning. Thanks

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