The current state of Atlantic Relations: Part II of II

How a European defense force can be created and why a Photo: Associated Press

SEOUL, June 21, 2011 — The fate of the existing European military demonstrates in no uncertain terms that if the Europeans try to build a continental defense force on their own, they will have an army that serves only as the handmaiden of a dominant European state or an adjunct of NATO. Of the five military missions conducted by the existing European army, three (Congo 2003, Congo 2006, Chad 2008) were effectively French missions under an EU flag, while the rest were subsumed under NATO. In none of these missions was a security interest of Europe involved; all were cases of political posturing, that is to say, of humanitarian intervention. When a crisis which implicated Europe’s security did appear, in the form of Libya, the EU was not even considered as a vehicle for intervention.

The creation of a European defense force requires the active leadership of the United States if it is to flourish, and not only for technological or operational reasons. The United States is the only country which has ever considered, and looked after, the security of all Europe. None of the European states have ever born such a burden; all have considered the security of Europe through the narrow prism of their own interests.

That the European defense force has grown up so badly must in part be blamed on us, for we have conducted in Europe, over many decades, a policy of contradictions. On the one hand, we have urged the Europeans to assume a greater share of the burden for their own defense, implying that our own commitments will be in like proportion diminished. At the same time, we insist that all European efforts at self-defense be subject to the NATO command, that there be no “duplication.” But if the Europeans are to share in the burden, is it not fair that they should also gain in authority? Why must the defense of a continent as large as Europe be subject to a single military command? If Europe has room for national armies and even nuclear powers, surely there is room for an independent European command.

Our fear of “duplication” was justified during the nineties, when it seemed to us quite clear that the Europeans were plotting to counterbalance our power. But thanks to the Transatlantic Crisis, the superpower chimera is dead, and our fear of this bogeyman can now be laid to rest. Moreover, the weakness of France versus Germany requires her to walk closely by our side. Add to this our natural ties with Britain and we have a combination which can outweigh any Bismarckian scheme that Germany and Russia can put forth. A diplomacy conducted along these lines, by an active American leadership, will turn Germany toward the Atlantic and away from the Urals and, in so doing, preserve the unity of Europe.

What we must fear in the 21st century is not a united Europe but a divided one. In the years following World War II, the nations of Europe were weak, but they were united. Today, those same nations are strong, but the thread that once bound them has frayed, and if a stronger rope does not replace it, we will face the dissolution, not only of European unity but of Atlantic unity as well. The great lesson of the Transatlantic Crisis is that European unity cannot survive without Atlantic unity; it is no less true, however, that Atlantic unity requires European unity for its own survival.

There is a temptation to take a Machiavellian approach to Europe, in the grand tradition of conquering by dividing, and treat the European states individually based on how much they contribute to our ventures abroad. But this will be a Machiavellianism of small, petty goals, unbecoming of a great nation. Moreover, in such a game, the advantage will not accrue to us but to Russia, whose dream it is to make Europe a geographical and not a political expression. The European Security Treaty, which the Russians have espoused since the dawn of time is nothing more than a scheme to parcel Europe into chunks, to dissipate the American presence, and turn NATO into a thing of the past. Nor is such a conclusion unlikely. Indeed, I fear that if events are left to their own momentum, all of these objectives can materialize for Russia with only the slightest effort on their part. If the Russians are wise, they will refrain from treating the states of Eastern Europe in their typical bullying manner. They will refrain from holding military exercises on the borders of the Baltic States. They will refrain from cutting the gas supply of their neighbors – that stupid and senseless policy which has done them only harm. A wise Russian policy would aim not to break the Atlantic Alliance but to melt it, and as one who hopes dearly for the renewal of Atlantic unity, I am inclined to fear Russia’s embrace more than her heavy hand.

Opportunities are not lacking for our cause. The Transatlantic Crisis has removed the obstacles which in previous years may have doomed a policy such as this. With the return of France to NATO, all of the important members of the EU have now become members of NATO, and the stage has been set for the former to create its own military command, one that is responsible for the security of Europe, independent of NATO, but at the same time subject to the control of NATO’s members. If such a force had existed in 2011, it would have been the perfect candidate for the mission to Libya, where the interests of Europe may have justified a military action but not the interests of America. Under the current arrangement, every time such a case appears, as it will appear sooner or later, NATO will be dragged into the middle, and a spotlight will be shined on America’s commitment to Europe. A bona fide EU defense force will prevent such misfortunes; will strengthen not “duplicate” NATO. Indeed as NATO returns from Afghanistan in its current disheveled form, I am convinced that an EU defense force may prove to be its very salvation.

As I have mentioned, there is an almost complete overlap between the memberships of the EU and NATO. But of course, there is one glaring exception. The United States is not, nor will she ever be, a member of the EU. But if the United States is to bless this project, she must have some say in how it will be used, and moreover a true unity between the European states cannot arise without an American hand which strengthens the weak and weakens the strong. How is this dialogue to be pursued? One is tempted to urge the course that has been promoted by both Europeans and Americans, which is to recognize the EU as an equal partner and engage more fully with it. But such an arrangement will become nothing more than a duplication of NATO, with all the confusion that assembling 28 governments will entail. Such a body cannot be a center of decision, and it is the wrong venue for tackling the highest questions of policy.

If the European states and the United States are serious about a joint approach, they must form an institution composed only of the United States and the EU3, that is, France, Germany, and Great Britain. Even within the EU it is the EU3 who must agree before a common approach can be taken. If the EU3 and the United States can form a permanent institution it is bound to have a dominating influence on both the EU and NATO. I am not suggesting that either of these institutions should be undermined. The EU would and should remain the institution of European unity and NATO the institution of Atlantic unity; but, hovering over them, there would be a “directorate” to lead and to guide them.

Students of European history will recognize that the idea of a directorate to manage Western affairs originated from the mouth of Charles de Gaulle who proposed such a grouping in 1958 and considered it to be crucial for the future of the Atlantic Alliance. But in those days, the United States enjoyed a dominant position within NATO, and it saw no reason to raise two lesser powers to its rank, while the British for their part were jealous of their special relationship with the United States. Both countries politely rejected the proposal, and de Gaulle responded by pulling his troops out of NATO. Would it not be a pleasant irony if the occasion of the French return can bring about the revival of de Gaulle’s vision, this time with the addition of Germany? For times have changed drastically, and the United States can no longer hold the near dictatorial sway that it once held over NATO. A joint approach is needed with sensitivity and understanding from both sides. Such a scheme, when one considers the options, is not an innovation but a necessity.

Of course no body of nations is any good without the will and indeed the need to cooperate. But such a need exists. How else can NATO, disheveled in Afghanistan, gain a new breadth on life? It can only be through a consultation that goes beyond military matters and reaches the highest levels of decision. How else can a common Atlantic policy be formed regarding the Caucasus and the Black Sea? It can only be through a body which includes the key states of Europe and the primary guarantor of its security. How else can a common European defense be constructed? It can only be through a body composed of the nations who will make the largest contributions toward that effort. Such a body will represent a beginning not an end, for the questions remain to be answered, but at the very least, it will be a long awaited spark which, with proper leadership, will bring about an Atlantic Alliance, reunited and renewed.


Benjamin Ra is a recent graduate Sciences Po Paris. American foreign policy is his main interest. Read more of Benjamin’s writing in A Word on the National Interest in the Communities at the Washington Times.

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Benjamin Ra

Benjamin Ra is a recent graduate of Sciences Po Paris. He writes mainly on foreign policy and is currently residing in South Korea. 

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