Political club or the Pentagons foreign legion? The new Nato and the difficult European choice.

Article published on Dec. 9, 2002
community published
Article published on Dec. 9, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

What is the real nature of Nato? How does the Prague enlargement translate into the evolution of this structure which directly competes with a potential European defence?

The importance, as well as the relevance of the Atlantic Alliance, was put into question first by the collapse of the bipolar order, then by the advent of terrorism as a new structural threat of the international security architecture. The recent developments of the Prague Summit seem however to breathe a new life into Nato: although the classical alliance which remains at its heart remains weakened by the disappearance of the enemy, Nato is tending to redefine itself towards a politico-military organisation. Its radius of action now extends everywhere where conflicts of high intensity erupt. If the terms werent contradictory, one could say that with the creation of its Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), Nato is trying to become a sort of organisation of regional security with international reach

Even if the disappearance of the Alliance was considered as a too radical an alternative, all the same the reinforcement of its action was not the most envisaged horizon. The disengagement of an American government which is doing without most of the European capacities in its war on terrorism on one side, and the will (?) of Europe to empower itself of autonomous means to manage its security problems on the other side, was suggesting to some a drifting of the Alliance towards a new nature of political landscape, the importance of which would be very symbolic. The decline of the threat of the East would have thus reduced the engagement of assistance to the status of umbrella, more or less reassuring for the Europeans and notably for the new members, and would lead to the weakening of the integrated military organisation.

The end of a divide of tasks too favourable for Europeans

Facts have not followed this course, notably because of the American interest in supporting the Alliance as a powerful instrument of American influence in Europe, but also because of the hesitation of the European countries, not at all prepared to renounce the USAs protection. Because it is not the availability of the RRF which the latter needs, but the European engagement to contribute to the global responsibilities in security matters and the limits that this engagement will impose on the vague desire of a few European countries too inclined to autonomise the European defence and to turn in on the management of the continents problems. Nato will probably not be Americas privileged tool for military actions in the future, except, maybe, to legitimise them; however, its new orientation will allow to maintain, or even reinforce, the interweaving of the American and European capacities, and most of all the role subordinated to these capacities. In view of the restrictions of their capacities of power projection, the European countries will probably put to the disposition of the RRF, elements destined for the European Force, even though it was conceived for more modest missions. We would thus abandon the path to a division of tasks judged too favourable to the Europeans but also, maybe, the possibility of a European management of the continents security problems, especially if the United States succeeds in thwarting initiatives such as the construction of the A400M aircraft.

European defence effort emptied of its meaning

It could be thought that the participation in an ultramodern force could contribute to a certain improvement of the European capacities in key domains, subject to the celebration of the permanent arrangement still blocked for the use of Natos means. However, the effective use of the supposed capacities would at the same time become difficult, as it would imply for the Alliance the immediate unavailability of the RRF. It will thus be necessary to wait for more precisions on the engagements of the contributing states, even if a few voices notably French ones already have warned against the establishment of a right of first use favouring the Alliance at the expense of the European Force. To this danger must be added that the European preference of the United Nations for outer-zone operations, as well as the reluctance of a few European countries to grant enlarged intervention means to an organisation largely dominated by the United States, seem for now to beat a retreat.

Thus, the superiority of the Alliances means and credibility as a military tool, in Europe or elsewhere; the slowness of the European progress; and finally, the probable success of Washington in reaffirming the dependence of the European military means vis-à-vis Nato, risk to largely empty of its meaning the modest but crucial effort to endow Europe with autonomous capacities for the management of its security.