Thursday 10 April 2008

European defence – an unrealisable dream?

For this blog, a horrendous dilemma arises with a recent article on, where we find that we might be agreeing with something said by former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

In an essay published this week, he is saying that he believes that the EU is losing the will to go to war. Europe's leaders reluctance to risk soldiers' lives in Afghanistan, he adds, is rooted in the emergence of the European Union and the decline of nationalism and patriotism.

"The nations of Europe," he writes, "having been drained by two World Wars, have agreed to transfer significant aspects of their sovereignties to the European Union." However, he adds, "Political loyalties associated with the nation-state have proved not to be automatically transferable".

Thus does Kissinger argue that Europe is in a transition period, with nation-states weakening, even though the Brussels-based EU still lacks the authority or stature within Europe to emerge as a powerful international actor prepared to send troops to danger zones. "The capacity of most European governments to ask their people for sacrifices has diminished dramatically," he believes.

As far as Nato is concerned, this is evolving into an a la carte alliance in which only certain NATO members are prepared to carry heavy burdens, amplifying an argument he rehearsed in a recent Der Spiegel interview, saying:

The major events in European history were conducted by nation-states which developed over several hundred years. There was never a question in the mind of European populations that the state was authorised to ask for sacrifices and that the citizens had a duty to carry it out.

Now, the structure of the nation-state has been given up to some considerable extent in Europe. And the capacity of governments to ask for sacrifices has diminished correspondingly.
That "Europe" is in a transitional stage is not entirely at odds with concerns expressed about the effect of the constitutional Lisbon treaty on Nato, most recently expressed by shadow defence secretary Liam Fox in The Sunday Telegraph. He warns of the danger that the emerging EU defence capability will duplicate many of the functions of Nato, potentially competing with rather than complementing Nato.

EU integrationists, he writes, have slowly been constructing institutions to build an EU defence identity by duplicating Nato institutions - planning cells, an EU military staff, a European Defence Agency (concerned with issues such as procurement), the European Rapid Reaction Force and then the Battlegroup concept. The European Security and Defence Identity became the European Security and Defence Policy - a telling change of name.

None of these, writes Fox, have expanded European military capability, led to increased military spending or given the EU more "teeth" when it comes to executing policy decisions.

That much is indeed true, but the facts of EU defence integration are that they were never intended to. Kissinger has it right in that he avers that the EU is losing its will to make war – but only partially so. As an entity, the European Union never really had the will. It knows it can never lay claim to the affections of EU "citizens" to the extent that any one of them would ever be prepared to lay down their lives for "Europe". The EU is interested in a military "identity" only as yet another mechanism for achieving political integration.

Thus did we see in a recent Reuter's analysis the observation that, "When something blows up in the world, the Americans get together and ask 'What are we going to do?', while the Europeans get together and ask 'What are we going to say?'"

The European Union is more concerned to develop institutions and structures than it is capacity – pursuing its "soft power" doctrine of "jaw-jaw" rather than "war-war". The military structures are seen merely as giving the EU leverage which will enable it to make itself heard on a wider world state, rather than an instrument for exercising power in its own right.

As for the member states, many of them are not particularly interested in military power at all. They see in EU defence "co-operation" not greater power but a means of spending even less money and devoting even fewer resources to defence than they already are.

Currently, each of the 27 member states are maintaining their own armed forces, each duplicating – to a greater or lesser extent – command structures and the full range of capabilities that are required to field balanced, independent forces.

Under the EU "defence umbrella", however, some of the smaller countries like Austria can chose simply to offer limited components of a larger force without having to go to the expense and trouble of funding a coherent military force which can operate in its own right. Others, like cash-strapped Italy and Spain, which do not have the funding to field credible military forces, can keep up a pretence of maintaining a military capability when they can no longer afford the price tag.

Here, France is probably out on its own. Unlike most of its partners, it does see in the European defence "identity" a means of improving capability, although – as always – it sees this through the prism of national self-interest. Any EU defence structure, in its own eyes, will be harnessed to promoting French interests, by which means an EU Army will be a way of getting other member states to pay for its own ambitions, effectively a re-run of the Common Agricultural Policy. As such, this makes France the strongest and most powerful driver of European defence integration, as long as by "European" you accept the word "French" which, in the French political vocabulary, mean the same thing.

Germany, on the other hand, is a special case. Punching below its weight on the international stage, it would like to pursue a more robust foreign policy but, even sixty years and more down the line, it is still haunted by its Nazi past. As in 1950, therefore, when it originally supported the idea of a European Army, its motivation is to reassure its European partners (and especially the French) of its benign intentions by wrapping its own military efforts in the European flag and accepting continued French leadership.

This puts the UK is an anomalous position. Politically committed to European political integration, it nonetheless is also committed to fielding a military force that actually works and is capable of operating independently or, as need be, with allies outside the European fold, including and especially the United States.

Thus, while the British government sees economic and operational advantages in closer defence co-operation with EU member states, it is not actually interested in subordinating its entire military effort to the European Union, much less the French.

Unfortunately for Sarkozy, therefore, while he might have ambitions of his own, and is looking to extend the St Malo dream of greater British involvement, he is going to find that the UK is too pre-occupied with current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for it to pander to his ambitions for a more powerful French aka "European" defence identity. The UK is engaged in the exercise of "hard power" and has neither the time nor inclination to play games with the super-soft Europeans.

Nevertheless, to pander to the Foreign Office and the integrationalist tendencies within the British establishment, the UK government will go through the motions of agreeing with Sarkozy, offering token support for his "New European Security Strategy".

The reality, though, is that our armed forces are fighting alongside the Americans and our MoD – after a brief flirtation with a common European procurement strategy – is back to buying more American equipment. Furthermore, our forces are working closer with US forces than they have been for a long time, and are developing common doctrines and systems which are strengthening practical bonds. We will "talk the talk" with the Europeans, but our path leads in a different direction.

This may the real reason for Sarkozy's new-found enthusiasm for membership of Nato – and his willingness to deploy an additional battalion into Afghanistan. To cultivate the affections and further involvement of the British, he must – like a suitor who takes the trouble to discover the interests of the object of his affections – cultivate a common cause with the British.

If the UK is embedded with Nato in Afghanistan and working closely with the Americans, he too must do likewise. In other words, in order to wean the UK off its Atlanticist relationship, France must first become – at least overtly – more Atlanticist itself. Since the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must come to the mountain.

What Sarkozy must calculate is that, by working closer with the UK under the aegis of Nato, as and when operations in Afghanistan wind down and the US withdraws its forces – albeit that this might be decades into the future – the working relationship built up between the French and British will provide the foundation for closer European integration.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy is already developing his own template for that eventuality, employing the neo-Gaullist deputy Pierre Lellouche, former President of the NATO's Parliamentary Assembly, Elysée counsellor and the UMP delegate for defence.

The core of this template is what is known as the eight "Lellouche proposals", which start with reinforced cooperation among the largest European Nations: a kind of military G6 composed of France, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland, with smaller nations able to join at any time.

Secondly, the strategy aims to set a standard military budget which will have to be equivalent to two percent of the GDP of each of the six countries. The third proposal concerns the creation of a common market for the defence industry, through the European Defence Agency which, with the Lisbon treaty, becomes an EU institution.

Fourthly, Lellouche builds on the St. Malo plans for a European Rapid Reaction Force, controlled by a single command and consisting of 60,000 effectives (10,000 from each country). This is linked to the fifth proposal, which aims to do the same with each nation's military bases abroad, each becoming multi-national (i.e., European) rather than exclusively national bases.

The sixth proposal concerns the launch of infrastructural development projects in strategic fields such as space collaboration – not least Galileo, intelligence and communication satellites - and anti-missile defence. The seventh involves a common protection plan for the civil population in the event of terrorist attacks waged with non-conventional weapons and the final proposal relates to the definition of a common European policy on nuclear disarmament and armament control.

Sarkozy has already discussed these proposals with Gordon Brown, which he did during the French-British summit on 26-27 March, but will be careful to pursue them under the cover of a commitment to Nato, to avoid the appearance of competition with the US agenda. Perversely, however, he must also be careful not to appear too Atlanticist, for fear of alienating his other European partners,

And then, also, he must square his relationship with whoever replaces Bush in the White House, a man (or woman) who may have an entirely different agenda.

So much for the plans of mice and men. Unfortunately for Sarkozy, behind his high-flown ambitions does lie that singular truth identified by Kissinger – that European nations have developed an antipathy towards military adventures which largely rule them out as serious military powers, either independently or under the European umbrella.

For the time being, the UK still retains some enthusiasm for robust military action – although that too is waning – which means that there is a major chasm between the European and British approach.

In all this, therefore, the new Lisbon treaty is going to have little direct influence on events. Further European military integration, with British involvement, is going to require a convergence of attitudes between the French and the British, the former becoming more Atlanticist in the short term in order to convince the latter that it should become less so, until the UK can be peeled away entirely.

Events, though, are not in Sarkozy's favour. To be a convincing Atlanticist, he is going to have to put troops in harm's way and make a real rather than token contribution to the "war on terror". For that, he has no domestic support or mandate, and neither do his troops have the equipment or experience to make a worthwhile contribution. They may be expert at beating up ex-colonial Africans, but they are unversed in the realities of modern counter-insurgency operations. This means that, in the final analysis, Sarkozy cannot deliver. And it will take more than fine words and gesture politics to detach the UK from its alliance with the United States.

After the invasion of Iraq – which effectively scuppered St Malo - by a strange accident of history, Afghanistan may prove to be the final wheel on which the French ambitions of European defence integration founder.