By William PfaffFalling out over European defense
Paris, Thursday, April 13, 2000
PARIS - The latest argument in Washington's criticism of the European plan to create an independent defense "identity" is that it must be open to non-EU members of NATO. This is meant to assure that any European Union military structure will be placed under NATO's overall authority, which of course means under American authority. It is an effort bound to fail.
The U.S. ambassador to Germany, John C. Kornblum, told a German forum on March 30 that the United States supports the EU plan "on the understanding that it will not duplicate existing NATO structures or activities and will not exclude those allies who wish to cooperate."
Norway and former Warsaw Pact countries that are now members or candidates for NATO membership do not belong to the EU. Several of the latter are estranged from it, saying it went little beyond words in welcoming them to Western institutions after 1989. They now have joined the United States in arguing that the EU's European defense initiative could undermine NATO, which for them is a precious security link to the United States.
Tension is building between the EU and Washington on several issues. Felix Rohatyn, the U.S. ambassador to France, recently attributed Europe's "frustration and anxiety" to America's overwhelming power, which sometimes "negates the notion that our interest is also in their interest. It creates the totally opposite point of view - that only the weakening of America can be good for them."
Feelings are divided about the autonomy of a new European foreign and security policy. The big countries want to rebalance the established trans-Atlantic relationship to reflect Western Europe's economic power. Smaller members of the EU are apprehensive about change.
France, Germany and possibly Britain - to judge from the Blair government's actions since the December 1998 St. Malo agreement on cooperative defense - seriously intend to give Europe an integrated military force able to act independently.
This force is not intended to take NATO's place, so long as NATO exists (a more pertinent proviso than many think). It is meant to serve independent European interests, under European authority, when these interests diverge from those of the United States.
One might think that a reasonable idea, since Washington has long called for the Europeans to assume greater military responsibilities. The American public would almost certainly approve European defense autonomy.
The opposition comes mainly from two sources: the national security bureaucracy in Washington, accustomed to an obedient alliance and jealous of its prerogatives, and a community of foreign policy intellectuals and advisers who, during the decade since the Cold War's end, have drunk deeply of the strong brew of global power.
Europeans, mostly, have until recently politely obfuscated their criticisms of American behavior, in the interest of minimizing trouble with Washington. This no longer is true. Some of their criticisms are unreasonable. Some are justified and are leading to action.
Two eminently respectable elder statesmen of European unification, former President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing of France and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, have just published a proposal to create a streamlined inner alliance of EU countries willing to forge ahead on unification.
They say an enlarged EU (30 countries or more) can hardly become more than a free trade zone. That, they sharply remark, would "mainly please those in Washington who aspire to maintain some control over Europe in order to facilitate America's global aims - and, sometimes, illusions."
Indispensable to their version of Europe, "a political entity on the European continent like the United States on the North American continent," would be integrated armed forces based on the military resources of the countries that already "possess a significant military capability" and on a public commitment to "a mechanism of quick and effective decisions." This sounds like considerably more than the peacekeeping auxiliary to American-led NATO that the United States would like to see.
An American effort to head off a streamlined Europe, especially if it tried to split the Europeans, would eventually fail, destroying NATO and inspiring much bitterness. Modern history demonstrates the futility of trying to stop serious nations from asserting their full sovereignty.
Moreover, why bother? What has the United States to lose from a new and sovereign European "political entity," friendly to American values? It has much to gain from a Europe that looks after itself and plays a larger political and strategic role in the world.
To judge from the policy debate today, and the political campaigns, Washington is not in a mood to listen.