October 21, 2008

The Service of Peace: Defence in the European Union

Robert Schumann, the French Foreign Minister whose declaration to the international press in Paris, on 9 May 1950, is celebrated as the start of the process that would lead to the European Union, was clear of the purpose behind his proposals.

Robert Schumann, the French Foreign Minister whose declaration to the international press in Paris, on 9 May 1950, is celebrated as the start of the process that would lead to the European Union, was clear of the purpose behind his proposals.


Anthony Lawrence

The Service of Peace: Defence in the European Union

Robert Schumann, the French Foreign Minister whose declaration to the international press in Paris, on 9 May 1950, is celebrated as the start of the process that would lead to the European Union, was clear of the purpose behind his proposals.  “The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations,” he said.  “In taking upon herself for more than 20 years the role of champion of a united Europe, France has always had as her essential aim the service of peace. A united Europe was not achieved and we had war.”
For its architects, European integration was first and foremost about bringing to an end the cycle of increasingly destructive wars that had engulfed the continent.  Fewer than 20 years after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’, Europe had let loose World War II , a conflict that would kill some 62 million people worldwide, almost three-fifths of them civilians.  The great insight of those early European architects was to recognise that if states were to share elements of their sovereignty and be required to solve problems together in structured, bureaucratic institutions and through structured, bureaucratic processes, they would create habits of cooperation that would lay the foundations for a perpetual peace among them.  Jaw-jaw – albeit detailed, mundane, technical jaw-jaw – would finally replace war-war.
Today, we reap the benefits of that insight.  The EU, and of course NATO, have been the primary engines of peace and prosperity in Europe.  It is inconceivable that EU member states could go to war with each other.  But, curiously, it is ever more conceivable that they will go to war together.  The EU has in just a few years created limited, but increasingly capable military structures.  Peacekeeping troops in Bosnia operate under an EU flag and the member states have expressed their willingness to use combat forces in peacemaking tasks.  They have declared their intent to be able to conduct military operations without support from NATO or the US and have developed targets for improving their collective military capabilities.  The European Security and Defence Policy – ESDP – is a reality.  It is, perhaps, a little contradictory that the members of an organisation founded to create peace should find themselves once again honing the tools of war.  Why then does the EU have a common defence policy?
Part of the answer is in the nature of the integration process launched by Robert Schumann and others.  The steady advance of European integration means that a defence policy was, if not inevitable, then at least very likely.  Like many of its original architects, many of those involved in the design of Europe today regard European integration as a project, to be completed step by step.  The member states will choose – or be persuaded – to cede ever more sovereignty and power to Europe’s central institutions and Europe will deepen with a slow, but certain march towards fuller interdependence.  Just as the European Coal and Steel Community gave way to the European Economic Community and then to the European Union, and just as Europe’s economic activities were joined by foreign policy activities and justice and home affairs activities, so will a future European construction include all manner of activities currently considered to be the preserve of the member states.   More political cooperation, including more defence cooperation, will ensure that the EU’s political weight will grow to match its economic one.  Each of the signatories to the Treaty has, after all, committed to working towards “an ever closer union” and more specifically in terms of defence, the Amsterdam Treaty notes that the framing of Europe’s defence policy will be “progressive” and “might lead to a common defence.”
The logic of building a common defence policy was given extra impetus by the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), codified in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.  CFSP, intended to ensure that Europe can speak and act as one, remains a weak instrument, largely because of the difficulties of persuading the twenty seven member states to act in common.  Those states who are still more at home practising diplomacy in a world in which they themselves are the dominant organising elements; after all, this has been the model according to which the world has been run since 1648.  But CFSP is still young and we should expect it to grow and develop – barring some unforeseen catastrophe, the steady march of European integration will most likely ensure that it does.  To do so, it will need better abilities to act, including military means, to underpin its principles.  War amongst Europeans may be obsolete, but armed forces, the physical means of power projection and coercion, remain indispensable instruments for conducting an effective foreign policy in the rest of the world.  If there is to be a real CFSP, it needs a bigger stick.
There is no shortage of proposals for further defence integration.  Angela Merkel, speaking to Bild Zeitung in March, is only the latest European leader to advocate a European Army.  The first negotiations for a European Defence Community, a considerably more integrationist conception than ESDP is or is likely to become in the next few years, were launched by the French in 1951 (and abandoned in 1954 after the refusal of the French National Assembly to ratify the Treaty).  Defence is irreversibly on the EU’s agenda.  We should be tempted to ignore ESDP in the hope that defence will somehow slip from the Union’s grasp and be returned to NATO’s sole preserve.  It will not.
But the dynamics of European integration only tell part of the story.  Defence is still different.  Exclusive control over the means of violence is one of the more obvious and powerful symbols of statehood and the member states tend to guard their sovereignty in defence more jealously than in other areas.  Indeed, the notion of Europe steadily progressing towards an inescapable conclusion is not at present a particularly fashionable one.  In recent years, the EU has focused at least as much on widening as it has on deepening and this process has brought a number of new members who are enthusiastic for the economic benefits of membership, but are perhaps less interested in ceding rediscovered sovereignty to a Union.  The rejection of the Constitution by France and the Netherlands is more evidence that the EU’s members prefer to see it, for now at least, as a club of cooperating member states, rather than a putative super-state.  In this Europe, the member states cooperate only where it benefits them to do so.  There are no automatic European competencies and a common defence policy must be justified by the requirements the member states have for it and the benefits it brings to them.  These can be found in at least two areas: in the character of much of the rest of the world, and in the nature of Europe’s relationship with America.
Armed force is still necessary for Europe’s successful dealings with the outside world.  Europe may have achieved its paradise, but the rest of the world remains a dangerous place.  The end of the Cold War, as is frequently observed, might have meant the end of the existential threat to Europe, but it also mean the end of the peculiar systemic stability it brought to the continent and the wider world.  A large range of lesser threats appeared on Europe’s doorstep.  Instead of retiring our armies and cashing in the peace dividend, it soon became clear that we needed to re-design our militaries and pack them off to help deal with the ‘new’ threats to our security.  As Robert Cooper puts it in The Breaking of Nations, his masterly survey of the condition of the world today, “”¦ when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of state outside the postmodern limits, Europeans need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary for those who still live in the nineteenth-century world of every state for itself.  In the jungle, one must use the laws of the jungle.”[1]  Thus military force remains key to guaranteeing our security.  Fifty years of transatlantic defence cooperation under NATO has shown that effective defence is something that states can best achieve together; especially states like our own prepared to invest only limited resources in our armed forces.  A common European approach is advantageous because a common response is cheaper and more effective.  It is also natural – the threats faced by European states are common to them all and deserve a common response.
In the second area – that of our relationship with America – most European states, including the most fervent supporters of European defence cooperation, are adamant that security and defence should remain essentially transatlantic issues.  Most Americans would agree, perhaps stretching the geography of transatlanticism to include like-minded states such as Japan and Australia.  But there is a persistent debate about how much Europe should rely on the US and, on the other side of the same coin, how much the US should be prepared to underwrite Europe’s security.  A European defence dimension can be seen as part of Europe’s response to this debate.  By developing the capability and will to engage in international security, Europe can demonstrate its continuing worth as an ally deserving of the US’s engagement and protection.
When the UK finally bought into the idea of allowing the EU a defence competence, resulting in the UK-French declaration at St Malo in December 1998, this was a major part of its calculation.  The UK was convinced that demonstrating Europe’s ability to bear a larger share of the security burden would be essential not only in persuading the US to support an EU defence project, but also in ensuring America’s continuing involvement in Europe’s security.  A closely associated idea was that European nations, or some of them at least, would respond better to the EU’s encouragement to improve their military capabilities than they had so far to NATO’s.  Europe would get militarily stronger and more capable, and so would NATO.
It was, again, the end of the Cold War that brought these ideas into sharper focus.  The end of the bipolar world with Europe as its battleground meant that Europe partly lost its strategic significance in the eyes of Americans.  The balance of the transatlantic security argument swung towards less US willingness to underwrite the continent’s security.  Europe had been won and other regions competed for America’s attention.  Building a European defence capability was not only necessary to preserve US engagement in European security, but also as an insurance against America placing its defence and security priorities elsewhere.  The wars in the Balkans, another indirect result of the end of the Cold War, were a sharp wake-up call for Europe.  On the one hand, America showed a great reluctance to intervene in Europe’s back yard.  On the other hand, Europe showed itself incapable of solving the problem itself, behaving, as Jaques Delors put it, “as a child confronted with an adult crisis”.  Europe was humiliated, but the experience strengthened the drive towards a defence policy to underpin the CFSP.
A further aspect of the transatlantic relationship is that US and European views on the use of force have tended to diverge in the post-Cold War world.  Europeans have become more squeamish about the use of hard power, while Americans have become reluctant to see their armed forces used in ‘softer’ tasks – as Donald Rumsfeld frequently remarked in the early part of the Iraq war, the US military does not do nation-building.  Europe is also more prepared to use its armed forces, in conjunction with its other crisis management assets, for more altruistic purposes.  American interventions tend to be security-driven, while Europe talks more about intervening for humanitarian reasons.  America may be a global policeman, but Europe aspires to be a global social worker.  These are, of course, over-simplified generalisations.  They may reflect capability as much as they do will and, due to the short time that ESDP has existed, are in any case unproven.  Neither Europe nor America would benefit from a division of labour proposed by some, in which America cooks the dinner and Europe does the dishes.  Nonetheless, Europeans and Americans do see armed force differently and this is one more factor driving the development of a European defence policy: there are times when it will be helpful for Europeans and Americans to work in separate structures, rather than trying to solve every problem together because the dogma says that security issues should be transatlantic.
There are then sound geopolitical reasons for a stronger European military contribution to its own, and the world’s, security.  But the explanation for ESDP’s existence is not complete without considering why, aside from the dynamics of the European integration process, Europe’s contribution should be made within the framework of the EU.  Why, in other words, could the European defence policy not be developed within NATO?  Although the Brussels Treaty is older than the Atlantic Treaty (and its collective defence guarantee stronger than NATO’s) NATO was, for fifty years, the only credible institution for tackling Europe’s security and defence issues.  It remains the organisation of choice for many European states, in particular those who have acceded to the Alliance in the past ten years.  Furthermore, NATO had already begun to construct its own European defence policy in 1996, when NATO foreign ministers created a European Security and Defence Identity.  This was aimed at enabling the European Allies to make a more coherent and effective contribution to Alliance missions and activities, reinforcing the transatlantic partnership and allowing European Allies to act by themselves.  There are, however, at least three good reasons why ESDP came to exist outside NATO, two practical and one more fundamental.
Firstly, there are some European states – notably France – who, for reasons too numerous and complex to set out here, would not be prepared and will not be persuaded to build Europe’s defence policy within the Alliance.  But a truly effective European defence policy could not be constructed without French participation.  France is one of Europe’s few serious military powers and remains an active player on the global stage.  European defence with the French might be frustrating, but European defence without the French would be barely credible.  Secondly, if the European defence policy is to support and underpin the EU’s CFSP, it would be an institutional nonsense for that policy to exist anywhere other than in the EU.  In the early days of ESDP, there were suggestions that the EU could somehow sub-contract its defence business to NATO, or European parts of NATO.  But there is little reason to believe that this would come to anything.  The coordination between the two international organisations would be simply too difficult to manage.  The EU had tried something similar at Amsterdam, and its tortuous formula – “the Union will avail itself of the WEU to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications” is an indication of the institutional complexities involved.
The third reason is that today, Europe’s security and defence is less about preparing to fight major wars on our own territory, and more about managing crises abroad.  It is about intervening elsewhere in the world to ensure peace and security at home.  And, in many cases, the EU is an organisation much better suited to this role than NATO.  Where Europe and America wish to act together, including if the need should arise to defend the territory of one or more allies, we should clearly do so through NATO.  But where Europe wishes or needs to act alone, the EU will usually be a much more suitable vehicle.  Crisis management is rarely, if ever, a solely military endeavour, but a broad effort involving a range of tools and instruments – diplomacy, trade and aid, institution building, judicial reform, policing, election monitoring, human rights and reconciliation efforts, enterprise and investment, anti-corruption measures, financial systems renewal, infrastructure development and numerous others.  Unlike NATO, the EU can mobilise all of these instruments.  It is unique in its ability to provide and to manage a multi-dimensional response to the multi-dimensional problems of modern crises.  Military security is just one component of a larger picture, but it is an essential component – the one without which none of the others is possible.  Through ESDP, the EU can apply, in a coordinated way, the indispensable military tools as well.
Returning, then, to the original question of why the EU has a common defence policy, it is surely not the result of a grand strategic design.  A combination of institutional and geopolitical factors favoured the development of ESDP, while the end of the Cold War provided the stimulus that nudged it into reality.  But this does not make ESDP invalid.  Fifty years ago, we put aside war amongst ourselves.  Today, through ESDP and other instruments, the EU has the opportunity to make a worldwide contribution, in the words of the Berlin Declaration “to ensuring that people do not become victims of war, terrorism and violence … to promote freedom and development in the world ”¦ to drive back poverty, hunger and disease ”¦ to take a leading role in that fight.”  We should seize it.
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[1] Robert Cooper, The Breaking of Nations.  Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century (London: Atlantic Books, 2003).

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