Same Bed, Same Dreams?

Europe's Search for Autonomy in International Security

Security !
Same Bed, Same Dreams? : Europe's Search for Autonomy in International Security - Alfred van Staden

In the early 1980's, Andre Fontaine wrote a book entitled Un seul lit pour deux rêves1. In this book, the former director of Le Monde argued that both East and West had embraced the quest for detente as the primary objective in their policies towards each other but, at the same time, held quite different views on the content of their mutual relationship. Why am I recalling this? Because the question arises whether the countries of Western Europe are experiencing the same dreams when they sleep in the common room of the European Union, with their thoughts lingering on Europe's identity, security and defense. Most observ­ers would agree that, until very recently, the answer was bound to be negative. Indeed, EU member states were inclined to perceive European interests quite differently, their preoccupations with security priorities turned out to be very much circumscribed by geographical proximity, and their political aspirations were not identical. Thus, for instance, France tried to enhance the geopolitical dimension of the European Union to serve the wider goal of creating a multipolar world with less influence by the United States (repeatedly described by the French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine as the hyperpuissance americaine) in Europe. Further­more, Britain was anxious to preserve the transatlantic linkage and to protect the cohesion of NATO while Germany, caught in conflicting bureaucratic views, took a position in between those countries. Finally, the four neutral and non-allied EU members plus Denmark, favoring a civilian Europe, wanted to keep the security profile of the EU relatively low by opposing the inclusion of security guarantees, as specified by Articles of the modified Brussels Treaty. Not surprisingly, few offi­cial attempts, if any, have been made to define European identity in clear political terms. Consequently, the notion of the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) was often described very loosely as just a more visible European pres­ence in NATO.

However, this rather pessimistic picture has been overtaken of late by new developments of resulting in a convergence of national views as well as fresh initiatives taken to achieve closer security and defense cooperation among EU member states. In this regard, the Kosovo war of 1999 acted as a catalyst, creating a sense of urgency in Europe. Indeed, Europeans were pressed to take some formal decisions to translate their economic weight into military clout. During the war, they found themselves embarrassed by the level of their military de­pendence on the United States. The US had to fly the lion's share of the risky missions in NATO's air campaign and to foot by far the biggest bill. This caused a "never-again" mood, not only among leading American politicians, but also in political circles on the European side of the Atlantic. European countries recog­nized the need for building a military capacity of their own to deal with those international crises that touch upon European interests but not necessarily on American ones.

In this article, I will further discuss the underlying reasons for the Euro­pean countries to seek closer cooperation on security and defense. Then I will briefly analyze why, to date, little progress has been made in achieving this goal. Next, recent developments at the official level giving cause for cautious optimism are addressed. And, finally, some ideas will be put forward about practical steps that must be taken.

Forces underlying security and defense cooperation

In explaining the drive towards closer European security and defense co­operation, it is useful to distinguish between "push" and "pull" factors. The first derive from the dynamics of the integration process as a whole. According to functionalist logic, successful cooperation in one policy field generates forces that move towards cooperation in adjacent policy fields. It has been an article of faith, however, that beneficial spillover effects and virtuous circles of one step leading to another only take place in the field of low politics with highly interdependent social and economic sectors. High politics (foreign policy and defense) was supposed to be separated by a wide gulf from welfare politics2. However, the successful establishment of the Economic and Monetary Union increased pressures to build a full-fledged political union. In view of the many cross-linkages between eco­nomic and security problems it was increasingly difficult to maintain that the Euro­pean Union could remain a halfway house. The argument was leveled that there is no point in developing a common currency if Europe is incapable of guaranteeing peace, security and freedom for its citizens. The occurrence of severe international crises (such as in the Middle East) might damage the economic interests of Europe and consequently undermine the confidence in the Euro in financial mar­kets. Europe's failure to effectively respond to these crises was believed to weaken its political credibility and diplomatic authority. It was beyond comprehension that the largest trading block in the world, with a total income slightly more than the US, remained a military basket case. Therefore, it was concluded, Europe must be able to provide effective military intervention should the need arise.

The "pull" factors are related to changes in the external environment. German unification, being the immediate blessing of the end of the Cold War, triggered the "deepening" of European integration as a means of anchoring a more powerful Germany to the European institutions. This entailed replacing the former European Political Cooperation with a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as set out in the Maastricht Treaty. The Treaty stated that the CFSP "shall include all questions related to the security of the European Union, including the eventual framing of a common security policy, which might in time lead to a common defense3." The Western European Union (WEU) was defined as "an integral part of the development of the European Union," and it was stipulated that this organization, upon the request of the European Union, will elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union "which will have defense implica­tions4." A second relevant development was the decision of the US to withdraw many of its troops from Western Europe and the growing American reluctance to commit ground forces to operations in Europe, accompanied by numerous calls on Europeans to shoulder a bigger part of the common defense burden. Washing­ton refused to accept a division of labour in the Alliance according to which Eu­rope was to take responsibility for "soft power" issues like foreign aid and hu­manitarian assistance, while only the US was in the business of" hard power'' with · the use of force. It became increasingly clear that Europe could not remain allied to the US because of its weakness and addiction to American protection, to bor­row the well-known phrase from Stanley Hoffmann5. If it was to carry military weight in the new strategic environment, Europe had no other choice but to dimin­ish its military dependence on the United States.

A Europe which proves to be unable and unwilling to take care of its own security interests is more damaging to the transatlantic relationship in the long run than a broad-shouldered Europe demanding to be taken seriously in American calculations. American isolationism feeds on continuous complaints about Eu­rope's failure to put its own house in order. In a country with strong NATO credentials like the Netherlands, a clear recognition of the fact that there need not be a contradiction between being a good European and a good Atlanticist has grown.

Europe's Failures in the 1990

Why has Europe's record on international crisis management been that poor in spite of high expectations raised by the conclusion of the Maastricht Treaty? There are three familiar explanations6. There are those who put the blame on the institutional shortcomings of the CFSP enterprise, i.e., the rule of unanimity in the Council's decisions, the weak position of the Commission, and the rotating presi­dency of the EU councils. But I doubt whether a better-equipped foreign policy machinery, however important, would have made a substantial difference in EU' s capacity to solve problems in, for instance, the Balkans, the Gulf and Central Africa.

Other observers attribute Europe's impotence to the lack of military ca­pabilities (such as command and control systems, strategic intelligence and sur­veillance, and strategic lift capabilities) that are required to project military power on trouble spots at Europe's rim. This point, of course, is well taken. On the other hand, it is begging the question of why the nations of Europe, while together spending almost two thirds of what the US does on defense, are, for instance, hardly able to deliver 10% of the transportable defense capability for prompt long range action. Nor does the total size of European defense expenditure give any justification for the aforementioned fact that the US share in the air strikes against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo campaign was reportedly about 80%. There is a terrible mis­match between defense inputs and defense outputs in European countries. The reasons are not difficult to identify: obsolete Cold War planning with strong em­phasis on territorial defense towards major thrusts in Central Europe and national duplications of costly military infrastructure.

The third explanation is even more familiar than the other two, namely the lack of political will. I believe that this apparently self-evident concept is blatantly superficial and not very helpful in finding the right answer. It is true that govern­ments are sometimes reluctant to take action because they consider the risks of military intervention too high relative to their interests. But there are also occa­sions in which governments are ready to take action but cannot agree on a com­mon approach because their perceptions of the interests at stake differ signifi­cantly. This has repeatedly been the case in the European context. In addition, the larger European countries, particularly France and Britain, find it difficult to pool sovereignty on defense since they still believe they have military options of their own. There is also the relevance of the theoretical argument wielded by neo-realists (like Joseph Grieco7) about considerations of national power as a major impediment to international cooperation. Also in settings where all countries con­cerned have something to win by joining their forces, they may feel inhibited to do so because other countries could gain even more through cooperation. Given the strictly intergovernmental nature of any conceivable form of European defense, participating countries have reason to ask about the distribution of relative gains. Which countries will be brought into positions of leadership and enjoy extra pres­tige? Which countries, by contrast, have to accept a place in the backseat?

It is interesting to look at the reasons for the quite different results in mon­etary integration on the one hand and defense cooperation on the other. Why did the EMU turn out to be successful and the CFSP not? Is it because international security and defense strike at the heart of national sovereignty or, to put it in another way, because it is touching on national identity? Perhaps. But giving up one's national currency is not a small matter in terms of sovereignty and identity either. There may be other reasons to be taken into account. Influential, transnational interest groups have lobbied for the EMU; there is only a weak constituency in European societies making the case for defense cooperation. This situation might change if the ongoing mergers between national defense industries lead to one big European player. Another consideration to be taken into account lies in the win-win situation that the EMU represented. Indeed, there was some­thing to win for all interested countries. Germany's partners were able to gain access to German monetary policies (which, for a long time, de facto dictated the policies of most Western European countries), whereas Germany could reward itself by making its enhanced political weight acceptable to its partners.

Recent developments

Now what have been the official events, as referred to, giving cause for cautious optimism? Three developments are worth being singled out. The first concerns the evolution of NATO and the adoption by the Alliance of the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF). At NATO's summit in Berlin in 1996, the US agreed, when it chose not to become involved in an operation to be con­ducted in Europe, to approve of NATO's support for European operations under the political authority of WEU by making NATO assets available to European allies8. One should bear in mind that there are two different interpretations of the phrase "NATO assets," namely, a restricted and a more extensive one. Strictly speaking, the expression refers to the 13,000 personnel serving in NATO military headquarters, in specialized units like the NATO Air Defense Ground Environ­ment System (NADGE) and in the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AW ACS) aircrafts assigned to SACEUR. But, more extensively, "NATO assets" are also commonly taken to cover particular US military capabilities like strategic intelli­gence, strategic lift, theatre reconnaissance, and communications that the US could provide to European operations in the event of its deciding not to take part in these operations. NATO's new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Alliance 50th anniversary summit at Washington (April 1999), re affirmed the Berlin decision. The document airs the view that "the Alliance fully supports the development of the European Security and Defense Identity within the Alliance by making avail­able assets and capabilities for WEU-led operations9." It was understood that assistance to European allies would take place on a case by case base and by consensus.

The second development arises from the entering into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam (May 1999). The treaty contains some new provisions on security and defense. The Union's common defense policy was given substance by in­cluding the so-called Petersberg tasks into the treaty text. These tasks, which had been agreed upon by the members of the WEU in June 1992, consisted of" hu­manitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace making." I note that "peacemaking" was ac­tually meant to be" peace enforcement10." Also, the treaty clarified the Union's relationship with the latter organisation. The WEU was considered" an integral part of the development of the Union, providing the Union with access to an operational capability." Accordingly, the Union was obliged to" foster closer in­stitutional relations with the WEU with a view to the possibility of the integration of the WEU into the Union11 ." The wording embodied a compromise between the French and British positions. France wanted to place the WEU in the position of military arm of the EU, whilst the UK looked at the WEU from the perspective of developing a European pillar inside NATO.

The most important new development, however, occurred in October 1998, with the reversal of long-standing British reluctance to support defense cooperation in the framework of the European Union. The December 1998 joint declaration of the British Prime Minister Blair and the French President Jacques Chirac (in cohabitation with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin) in St.Malo was par­ticularly significant. The two sides agreed that" the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces"12. What made this declaration really important was that it left open the possibility of European mili­tary action taken outside the framework of the Atlantic Alliance, that is to say without use of NATO assets. Probably, the reappraisal of the British position was the result of the British government being very anxious to move to the center of European politics and assume a leading role in the EU. Because of its self-exclu­sion from both "Euro and" and "Schengenland," international security and defense was the obvious choice for Britain to enhance its European profile.'

The Cologne European Council of June 1999 endorsed the idea of creat­ing "a capacity for autonomous action" as stated in the British-French declaration. Furthermore, the Council decided to develop more effective military capabilities and to establish new political and military structures. It also called for a transfer of functions from the Western European Union to the EU, paving the way for a merger between the two organizations13. It was believed that the European coun­tries had crossed the rubicon by explicitly mentioning the possibility of EU-led operations with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities and without their use. The latter option meant military operations without involvement of the United States. Also the subsequent Helsinki Summit, 11-12 December 1999, was described as a "historic breakthrough." In the Finnish capital, European leaders decided to benchmark their ambitions on common security and defense in concrete military targets. They agreed that member states, cooperating voluntary in EU-led opera­tions, must be able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least one year military forces of up to 50,000-60,000 persons (full corps level with 15 brigades) capable of executing the full range of Petersberg tasks14. However ambitious this goal, in contrast with the public impression that was created, the Helsinki agreement did not entail the establishment of a fully integrated, permanent army. European countries interested in participating in EU-led military operations were called on to earmark national units that could serve as modules or building blocks for ad hoc military formations. The creation of a standing military force is still a long shot.

EU member states recognized the need to develop military capabilities (especially mobile headquarters) that are suited to crisis management operations. In this respect, apart from financial considerations, the European countries are facing a very difficult task: how can they solve the dilemma of achieving real au­tonomy on the one hand and avoid unnecessary duplication with NATO capa­bilities on the other? And how can the goal of European autonomy be reconciled with the preservation of political cohesion in the Alliance? All European countries, France included, have subscribed to the view that the development of an autonomous European defense capability should not collide with NATO interests. But many Americans are concerned about permitting an EU caucus to emerge within NATO. They fear that the process of developing a consensus will shift from NATO to the EU, and that the Europeans will then present the US (and for that matter Canada, Norway, Iceland and Turkey) with a common position that is not one to negotiation. This is the fear of gattisation of NATO, rooted in America's bad memories of Europe's behavior in the predecessor of WTO.

In a major speech in London (September 1999), Strobe Talbott (the U.S. deputy Secretary of State) recalled the image of long-standing US ambivalence to Europe's military ambitions. To be sure, he reiterated American support for the further development of the ESDI. However, he made it clear that the Americans do not want to see an ESDI ''that comes into being first within NATO but then grows out of NATO and finally grows away from NATO, since that would lead to an ESDI that initially duplicates NATO but that could eventually compete with NATO15." Obviously, if the EU states adopted such a ''take it or leave it" pos­ture, their relations with other NATO allies would rapidly deteriorate. Such a development is not inevitable, though. It is, as I see it, within the power of the EU members to ensure that NATO meetings remain venues for building consensus and common purpose. After all, it is in the long-term interest of Europaen coun­tries not to antagonize the Americans. So I agree with Fran9ois Heisburg's con­clusion: "A shifting of the burden together with a greater European role can prob­ably be managed without destabilising the Europaen-Americanrelationship16."

Several suggestions have been made to accelerate the process of Euro­pean security and defense co-operation17. One of these is to set Maastricht-like convergence criteria for reforming the armies and defense industries of EU coun­tries to improve their military capabilities. Thus, for example, the French Presi­dent, in his annual address to France's ambassadors in August 1999, spoke of "de veritables criteres de convergences auxquels devront obeir ceux qui entendent partager ces responsabilites en matiere de securite et de politique etrangere communes18." Important yardsticks would be the restructuring of military budgets in order to allocate more money for training and investments, and a clear commitment to building considerably more professional and readily deployable military forces. However tempting the application of EMU-like crite­ria of convergence to the field of military affairs, one should be aware of important differences between the two domains. First, it is difficult to set purely quantitative criteria for all relevant dimensions of military strength. Thus, for example, qualita­tive technological and organizational factors may prevail over large quantities of outdated weapons19 • Second, it is rather easy to exclude free riders from the fruits of monetary integration (transaction costs etc.) but it is much more difficult to deprive them of the benefits of military cooperation, i.e., the creation of security and stability mainly in Europe's periphery. This consideration raises the question of what might be the incentives for particular countries to try to meet the criteria of convergence in the first place.

Another suggestion would be the creation of a European defense industry and to take a Europe-first approach to military procurement. The ambition of pursuing an independent EU military role logically implies a determination to main­tain an independent European defense industry. But is Europe able, one might ask, to keep up with the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)? It is widely held that the US is so far advanced in the military application of information technology that everyone else is out of the game. On the other hand, one could argue that the RMA proved less revolutionary in Kosovo than, many had assumed as far as its impact in destroying Serbian capabilities. What's more Europe's high-tech record with military aircraft, Airbus and the Ariane, gives no cause for deep pessimism. Nonetheless, European countries are trailing far behind the US in terms of pro­grams for advanced military research related to high technology. To prevent any widening of the gap in this respect, the creation of a special European fund for military research and development deserves serious consideration.

Above all, European militaries must enhance their capacity for projecting and sustaining power. Indeed, it is essential to get more deployable troops per Euro, not by duplicating the command structures and headquarters of NATO but by removing the wasteful duplications among the armed forces of European coun­tries. Building "common force elements," based on the idea of pooling national resources, could add to Europe's military strength. Obvious candidates for such schemes are strategic air and sealift capabilities, refueling aircraft, communication facilities and IT systems for logistical support.


Will the European Union, in the new millennium, be ready to conduct Kosovo-like military operations without the active involvement of the United States? Are the European countries now about to share not only the same bed but also the same dreams, to use the metaphor from the beginning of this essay? Or, by con­trast, will more demonstrations of European impotence, however agonising and exasperating, be required to bring about areal breakthrough? After all, the learn­ing curve of European integration has proven very long as far as security and defense are concerned. Some sceptics believe the ambition of developing a com­mon European security and defense policy to be fundamentally incompatible with the very idea of Great Power politics. Thus, for example, the British scholar Barry Buzan has argued that European citizens today do not put much trust in their governments and are no longer prepared to die for their countries. Individualism and a consumer ethic are supposed to have transformed Western European citi­zens into lethargic free-riders, looking mostly in vain to an illusory "international community20 ." But, as far as this argument holds water, it is striking to note that a similar observation has also been made about public attitudes in the United States21.

I am inclined to take an agnostic view. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. In other words: the will of the European countries to pull their military forces together must be tested in the next international crisis. For Europe to pass this test, at least two prior conditions have to be met. First, European governments must succeed in transforming their traditional defense forces into modem, rapidly deployable intervention units, the importance of which has already been emphasized. One of the main tasks the governments are likely to face is to recruit enough youth willing to volunteer for military missions outside their home territories. Of the European countries that already maintain profes­sional armies, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium are currently struggling with manpower problems. Should European governments fail to find a satisfactory solution for these problems, the goal set by the Helsinki Summit to field, if neces­sary, the equivalent of an army corps that is able to respond rapidly to trouble spots on Europe's flanks or farther away, will most certainly not be attained.

Second, the question of political leadership has to be dealt with. This question has been neglected in discussions to date. Unlike NATO, the European Union lacks among its ranks a member state that is powerful enough to perform critical leadership tasks in crisis situations or other serious contingencies. It may be argued that over the years the Franco-German coalition ("axis") has served as a substitute for leadership. But in the realm of security and defense Germany remains a relatively weak player as it is still reluctant about projecting military power beyond its borders, whereas the military contribution of Great Britain is essential to any European scheme for defense cooperation. Besides, the Franco-German coalition has lost, for various reasons, much of its appeal and political vitality. One might think of the possibility of entrusting the larger European nations with primary responsibility for the political guidance of military operations. How­ever, the creation of a so-called directoire of these nations (UK, France, Ger­many and perhaps Italy) is most likely to arouse resentment and feelings of marginalization on the part of the smaller European nations. The exclusion of the smaller member states from the making of important political and military deci­sions would enhance the likelihood of their becoming free riders.

How to strike a balance between the need for military effectiveness on the one hand and the legitimacy of political decisions guiding military actions on the other? This problem can only be managed in close consultation among all coun­tries (large and small) that are willing to make substantial contributions to any particular military operation and to accept a fair share in the risks involved. After all, as recent experience has shown, some of the smaller member states did supply more troops and military capabilities for peace operations in the Balkans than member states that like to be considered "large." The guiding principle should be "no taxation without representation" but as much, "no representation without taxa­tion."


Dr. Alfred van Staden is Director of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, "Clingendael" (The Hague) and professor of international relations at Leiden University.