The Nando times - The changing face of European security

By JEFFREY ULBRICH

BRUSSELS, Belgium (December 5, 1999) - For years the United States pressed its European allies to bear more of the burden of their own defense. Now that Europe is forging ahead with a plan to do just that, Washington suddenly is worried it could split the NATO alliance.

Tidal changes are washing across the continent. People whiz past borders without even slowing down. Free trade within the European Union is a virtual reality. A single currency was launched by 11 EU countries last January.

So it was inevitable that another step in European integration would be defense.

That's fine, Washington says, as long as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains at the heart of European security.

Some fear the European Security and Defense Identity, or ESDI, a NATO program to be formalized at the upcoming European Union summit in Helsinki, Finland, is the first crack in the solidarity that has kept the peace in Europe for 50 years.

In the extreme, some Americans see ESDI as an insidious French plot to drive the United States out of Europe. On the other side, some Europeans view Washington's plan for a new national missile defense system as the first step toward abandoning Europe and withdrawing into isolationism.

"I recognize some people think that way. They're wrong," said NATO's new secretary-general, Lord Robertson of Britain.

"My job is to reassure the Americans that what we're doing is in the interest of the alliance, and to reassure the Europeans that the Americans are going to continue to be linked to Europe because it is in America's interest to do so," he said.

One thing is certain: The face of European security is changing. The nature of the beast that kept fingers on triggers from Norway to Portugal to Turkey has been transformed from a fearsome Soviet bear to a faceless terrorist, a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, regional instability, ethnic strife and the forces of nature.

For more than 40 years, NATO prepared to defend against a Soviet armored onslaught across the plains of central Europe. Today's threats require a different kind of army - tougher, faster, more flexible.

While territorial defense can't be abandoned altogether, it is less important than small, mobile units with sophisticated weaponry needed for new challenges.

"Actual combat operations, if you forget the Gulf and Kosovo, tend to focus on ... keeping order in society," said Espen Barth Eide, military expert at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy. "From winning territory, it's about maintaining civilized behavior within a territory."

Which is not to say Russia can be forgotten.

The Russians, everyone says, are no longer the enemy and must become partners with the West in maintaining European security.

Nonetheless, the draft of a new Russian military doctrine is causing concern. People who have seen it say it is much more aggressive and confrontational than the previous one, portraying greater competitiveness with the West.

Some see attitudes hardening in Moscow, with the military gaining greater influence in decision making. As examples, they point to Russia's war in Chechnya and to the standoff at Pristina airport in Kosovo, where Russian soldiers rushed in to pre-empt NATO's peacekeeping operation.

"It doesn't mean a revival of the Soviet threat, but a predictable revival of Russian national assertiveness," said Gordon Adams, director of security policy studies at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs. "Anybody who thought the Russians would just go home hasn't been reading history."

Not everyone believes Europe's new assertiveness is for real either. The European allies long have pledged to do more on defense, but haven't.

The Kosovo air campaign clearly embarrassed them, however. The United States provided 85 percent of the punch in airstrikes against Yugoslavia. Then, with more than 2 million men and women in uniform, European states struggled to find 50,000 to send to Kosovo.

At its Washington summit in April, NATO launched its Defense Capabilities Initiative, which set upgrade objectives for the Europeans. This coincided with the EU's decision to move into the defense business.

The desire in many capitals for a more European flavor to NATO still may founder. While there is a lot of talk about spending more effectively, the upgrading would bring a big price tag.

The French and British have proposed starting with a European corps of 50,000 to 60,000 men armed to the teeth, backed by 300 to 500 aircraft, 15 or so naval vessels, and able to deploy on very short notice.

Less clear is the potential mission for such a large force. It is difficult to imagine a European crisis that would require the corps and not be of interest to the United States.

Robertson noted that such a force would also be available to NATO.

Building effective European militaries not only is going to be expensive, it is going to take time, and a lot more debate.

"The next years are going to be dominated by a dialectic between the theory of increased European responsibility and the reality of increased challenges in the Balkans and perhaps elsewhere," said Gen. Wesley Clark, the American who serves as NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe.

The United States has expressed its support for the European Security and Defense Identity, saying a stronger Europe is in America's interest. But some Americans are worried the day may come when Europe won't bother to ask Washington if it wants in on an operation.

"We would 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," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott told a London conference.

Adams, the George Washington University professor, said some American officials are alarmed by the French-British collaboration now driving ESDI.

"The French are dancing with the British and seducing them away from their natural trans-Atlantic tendencies," he said. "In parts of Washington the paranoids are out, more in the executive branch than in Congress."

Robertson insists Europe is incapable of taking any major action without NATO and says all the concern "is a bit of a storm in a teacup."

"The Europeans only contributed 15 percent toward the air power in the Kosovo conflict," he said. "Let us say that we doubled that - and that would require heroic efforts to be made in terms of planes and guided missiles as well as electronic warfare and tankers. With 30 percent, you still couldn't start World War III."

The reality is the Europeans need the fig leaf of autonomy for pride. They also need it for practical reasons. Building European punch for European reasons is easier to sell at home than pushing for it because the Americans say so.

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