EU-NATO : European defence after Bucharest

Article published on April 21, 2008
Article published on April 21, 2008

This year, the NATO summit took place in Romania from April 2nd to April 4th. Besides the membership agreements which ended up with the entrance  of Croatia and Albania and the refusal of Georgia and Ukraine, this should have been a crucial event of international policy. After the Nicolas Sarkozy’s statements concerning, on the one hand, France’s reintegrating NATO’s integrated command structures and, on the other hand, the common destiny of NATO and the EU, we expected revolutionary declarations… but revolutionary is not part of the international language.

A fake European summit

Since the speech pronounced by the American ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, on February 22nd and 25th in Paris and at the London School of Economics, American leaders had never considered the European defence serious enough to be discussed at the international level. The ambassador recognized it herself in London : “You will think this is strange, a little suspicious -- to have the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, standing here, urging you – the British and international leaders of the future to build a stronger EU.” And indeed, this is a step forward. Eventually, leaders dare acknowledge the existence of another international organisation capable to secure the safety of citizens worldwide… No! We’re going a little bit too far here, aren’t we? Of course European defence does exist – quite difficult to ignore the institutional and operational reality of an organisation NATO actually sealed a strategic agreement with in 2003. But having the Americans say that the European Union is able to secure the world’s safety, there is an insurmountable epistemological obstacle. Less adventurous than his Ambassador, President Bush never took the risk of speaking about “European security and defence policy”, or maybe was it anecdotal.

EDSP : A legitimacy recognized

Considering what American leaders say, if ESDP is not completely finalised yet to be regarded as equal to the powerful NATO, it has reinforced European military presence all around the world – not only in the Balkans. As a consequence, EU has become a crucial political and strategic counterpart. Crucial for the future of NATO itself, which urgently needs to reconsider its priority accordingly with the new “global threats”; crucial also from an organic perspective as, today, 21 States over 28 which are members of NATO are also members of the EU. The United-States which, as everybody knows, handle NATO’s capacity budget cannot fairly ignore the efficiency of a European defence to which the 8/10th of its own members contribute. This leads George Bush to say, and this is unique, that “The building of a strong Alliance also needs a strong European defence capacity”. But, once more, be careful! Do not speak out the words of the American president because he actually speaks about strengthening the “European defence capacity” and not European defence as such. If he encourages the European partners to improve their defence budget, George Bush mentions nor the institutional neither the political strengthening of European defence structures – e.g. the European Defence Agency, the Operation Centre, the EU major state – and God knows that between statements and the implementation of forces and finance there is a wide gap. However, if coordination and operational structures remain minimalists, it’s just as if you were filling a hallowed basket.

What could have been interpreted as a conceptual revolution on the part of the US simply is, if you look better, just another example of its impertinence : “So at this summit, I will encourage our European partners to increase their defense investments to support both NATO and EU operations. America believes if Europeans invest in their own defense, they will also be stronger and more capable when we deploy together.” In other words, no way ESDP should act as a free rider? We encourage you to develop yourself only if we can benefit from it.

An autonomous European defence … but not an independent one.

As for president Sarkozy, the words he pronounced at Bucharest echoed what he had been repeating for months since his speech to the Ambassadors last August 27th “ This Summit is extremely important? It is a way to confirm the Alliance and to strengthen the European defence. We need the United States and the United States need strong allies.” This last sentence speaks for itself: both of the institutions are inevitably linked. So even if the French president keeps on saying that he wants an “autonomous” and “stronger” Europe, he also admits that it will continue to depend on the Americans. Americans hold the defence economy to such an extent that it has become outrageous to speak about “NATO’s umbrella” – we should better speak about a “capacity drip”.

Finally, it is very laudable to support Europe’s autonomy, but until EU member States will continue to have their defence interests determined by economic and industrial agreements orchestrated by the US, there will never be any real independence. And if there’s no self appropriation of the European defence economy, then ESDP will always be the thing of an invisible hand called NATO.