William PfaffFor sovereignty, Europe must have its own defense
Paris, Tuesday, May 30, 2000
PARIS - The trans-Atlantic argument over Europe's defense initiatives has raged in recent months, the exchanges taking on a quality recalling those of a marriage coming apart, filled with allusions to old grievances and innuendo about hidden motives.
America's idea of building a national missile defense is currently the principal subject of NATO controversy (because it upsets existing arms-control agreements and potentially "decouples" U.S. defense from the allies).
But the real debate, the underlying one, sets a European assertion of sovereignty against America's old and unresolved uncertainty as to whether its security is better assured by dominating Europe or by withdrawing from it.
An American speaker at a recent trans-Atlantic conference warned his European listeners that if a new version of the Mansfield amendment (requiring withdrawal of U.S. forces from Europe) were put to the U.S. Senate today, it would pass.
The Washington policy debate is between those who "think the United States should pursue its global role with only minimal reference to the views of other nations" - quoting a paper by Stanley Sloan, formerly with the Congressional Research Service - and those Americans who believe in a "minimalist U.S. global leadership role."
The second, however, is a minority position. The next U.S. administration, whether Democratic or Republican, is almost certain to follow the Clinton administration precedent of regarding any effort to create an "autonomous" European foreign and security policy as a threat to the Atlantic alliance.
"Autonomy" is the key word. The U.S. position has not greatly evolved since 1994, when Washington reluctantly agreed to see a separate European "identity" established inside NATO.
It preferred a strengthened European "pillar" supporting the common effort, but the Europeans wanted more. Washington therefore agreed that NATO could subcontract limited tasks to European forces with a European commander. NATO - Washington - would keep a veto over what was done.
This has now been superseded by a European Union decision to establish a "common foreign and security policy" with a military force to support it. The decision was made last year to form an independent corps-size force of 50,000 to 60,000 men by 2003.
Washington has unenthusiastically acquiesced, but its position remains that this is unnecessary, a waste of European money and energy that should be going into improving NATO. New institutional arrangements uselessly duplicate NATO structures, Washington says, warning that an EU force not fully aligned with NATO could make Congress conclude that the Europeans no longer want the United States as their security partner.
Unsurprisingly, Washington has assumed that the hand of France is behind the "Gaullist" measures and has been disquieted to find that the most recent of these have been British initiatives.
The Blair government's recent decision to buy European air-to-air missiles and transport aircraft instead of U.S. equipment, confirmed the decision made jointly with France in December 1998, and subsequently joined by Germany, to establish an independent European military force.
What is the force to do? The answer is vague. It is to do so-called "Petersberg tasks" (named for the German meeting place where they were defined): crisis-management, peacekeeping, humanitarian missions.
What is interesting is that Europe has no need for an independent army to do Petersberg tasks. U.S. officials ask whether creating a European army solves a problem or creates one. Europeans reply that without an independent policy and army, Europe is not sovereign.
The European Union has a single market and a single currency. Now its principal members - Britain, France and Germany - are determined that it have a single security policy. The ultimate significance of that is a European claim to independence from the United States. To admit this would produce an explosive response from Washington. It could also split the European Union.
Several of the smaller members, and possibly even Germany, would reject anything that threatened the Atlantic alliance. The EU's East European and Baltic membership candidates, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, which are members of NATO, would object. U.S. diplomats have already made plain to them that the EU project might one day force them to make a choice between Europe and the United States.
This is an existential gesture: an assertion that Europe exists - and even, in a paradoxical way, that the European nations still exist. If Washington does not understand this - or, while grasping it, nonetheless sets itself against it - there will be trouble.
The countries behind the drive for an independent European military force are the former European great powers: Britain, France, and Germany. What they are doing responds to a bedrock reality of political existence. Sovereignty does not exist without the military means to defend it.
The European nations have not been fully sovereign since the war. The NATO intervention in Kosovo made plain to them just how subordinated to Washington they have become. Now they are doing what history tells them they have to do.