The Balkans: when Washington assists Brussels

Article published on March 24, 2003
community published
Article published on March 24, 2003

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

The role of the EU in Bosnia and co-operation with NATO.

Not a positive answer

For several decades the defence of Western European nations has been guaranteed by an outside power, the United States. The means at the disposal of the European were limited before the military might of the former USSR. Above all they were divided: the effects of the failure of the EDC (European Defence Community) in 1954 had been felt. NATO had become the de facto defence organisation of Western Europe, and it is not surprising that a supporter of Europe as a power between the USA and the former USSR, General Charles de Gaulle, decided to leave NATO's integrated military structure. Notwithstanding its strengths (political but also financial), Europe's only true integration in the field of defence has taken place within the Atlantic Alliance. During a recent debate on the public French television channel, France 2, the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ana de Palacio, asserted that "the European Union must not develop in opposition to the United States". But can a militarised Europe develop in opposition to the United States? One part of the answer can be found, I believe, in the Balkans. It is not positive.

”Make room” for the Union

During his presidential campaign, Bush Junior repeatedly expressed his desire to bring back the American troops serving in this region and to promote better 'burden sharing', that is, a more equal division of the load with European allies. As of January 1st 2003 the EU replaced the UN in training the Bosnian police forces, giving life to Europe's first real act of civilian crisis management. Beyond the necessity of the mission itself (1), it constitutes the first test of responsibility for the Union and it opens the way for other tasks, this time on a more typically military terrain. The procedure followed to replace the UN in this police mission is the same as that foreseen for the military mission in Macedonia: positive advice from the UN Security Council, an invitation on behalf of the local authorities to the Council of Ministers, a decision by the until then expert authorities of ending their operations so as to 'make room' for the Union. In the meantime, a mutual decision taken by the Council has prepared the Union for its new tasks. At the time of writing, among other things, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) has not yet announced the end of the NATO mission in Macedonia. As well as in Kosovo, NATO is present in Macedonia as part of the 'Allied Harmony' mission and in Bosnia with SFOR (Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina). In both cases, European countries already provide the large majority of manpower. Moreover, not only the future members of Central-Eastern Europe, but also Canada, Norway, Turkey, Iceland and Russia have been invited to participate in future missions with the EU at the helm. The composition of troops on the field, therefore, will not change greatly. What will change is the operational command, that will no longer be held by NATO but by the EU. On the basis of the policy adopted by the Council of Ministers on January 27th 2003, political control and strategic direction will be wielded by the PSC (the Political and Security Committee, the most important organism of the CFSP) under the responsibility of the Council. On a political level, therefore, the replacement of NATO by the EU is total.


However, when you pass to a more properly military level, you see that the EU will, in fact, act alongside NATO. According to what this decision of January 27th has arranged, the person in charge of the military operation will be the Operation Commander, whose actions will be monitored constantly by the Military Committee, another organ of the CFSP. And, as Operational Commander, the Union has chosen the D-SACEUR (Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe), namely the second in command in NATO's hierarchy, currently the German Admiral Rainer Feist. Despite the personal capabilities of the Admiral, what the Union has chosen is not the man himself but the position that he holds and the structures of which he is in charge, namely SHAPE (Supreme Allied Headquarters Europe). As an advisor to Solana said, the Union "has nothing comparable with SHAPE as far as planning is concerned".

For the moment nascent militaries Europe must depend on NATO

The mission in Macedonia has already been decided on. NATO and the Union have also defined the final aspects of the so-called 'Berlin Plus Package', namely the use of NATO structures and forces on behalf of the EU to act in such cases where NATO decides not to intervene. The package concerns a small mission (about 450 men) in a state where the EU has always played an important role (namely from the outbreak of the crisis in 2001). More uncertain appears to be a future role for the Union in Bosnia. France and Great Britain, during the recent summit at Le Touquet, declared that in this State the USA would have to continue to maintain a presence even when operational control has passed to the EU, something that Brussels estimates will be possible by 2004.

In Macedonia, as in Bosnia, then the EU presents itself as 'willing' to take command and yet does not appear capable of doing so because of an operational gap that only time and a major investment on the part of the member states in the so-called 3Cs (command, control and communication) will be able to diminish. For the moment the nascent militarised Europe must depend on NATO, and therefore the USA. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it allows Europeans to work together and in the meantime to test their own structures. Whether, moreover, this situation remains transitory or becomes fixed for a longer period of time depends largely on the political desire of and the investment made by European countries.

(1) According to what the International Crisis Group has written in 'Policing the police in Bosnia: a further reform agenda', ICG Balkans report n.130, 10 May 2002, p.1 "the local police cannot be counted upon to enforce the law"; it "is inconsistent and infirm, suffering from jurisdictional divisions that do not hinder organised crime and from national-political manipulations that ensure there is one law for well-connected members of the population and another for powerless minorities". Cfr. link.

(2) as reported by L. Hill: EU shapes Macedonian mission, in Jane's Defence Weekly, 5 February.