European security and defence policy: taking stock

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European security and defence policy: taking stock

When the eighth meeting of the European Security Forum was organised, Robert Kagan had not yet published his landmark article1 on US-European relations in the July issue of the journal Policy Review. Not surprisingly, the propositions set forward in that piece were at the centre of a particularly lively discussion, after the presentations given by:

  • Madame Nicole Gnesotto, Director of the EU Institute for Security Studies
  • Dr. Viktor Kremenyuk, of the Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Mr. Robert Kagan, Senior Research Fellow at the Carnegie for International Peace.

The presenters and the participants in the discussion were invited by the Chairman to bear in mind the following questions:

– What is the most relevant response to the emerging threat of terrorism of mass destruction? Are the traditional tools of military power the most relevant vis à vis what looks less like a Hobbesian jungle (where power goes to the big and the strong) than a fight against mutating viruses in which small is both ugly and powerful? Following, are military capabilities, and the readiness to use them, the primary benchmark for measuring power?

– Is NATO condemned to play an essentially regional role in managing a Kantian Europe (“OSCE in uniform”); or will it play a global role? And wouldn’t the latter option imply that the US military be fully part of NATO, not simply the comparatively small US European command (EUCOM): is such an evolution likely?

– Is the EU as feckless as it is sometimes portrayed? Are we all Woodstock-era flower children, despite the fact that most EU members have an imperial legacy and notwithstanding the recurring use of force by a number of European countries in recent years as well as in the previous decades?

– Conversely, is the US as ready to act decisively as we are sometimes invited to believe? More specifically, what does the US refusal to assault Tora Bora tell us about the US military’s readiness to run risks?

The Chairman also made two points, directed at Mr. Kagan:

– The choice of multilateralism is not a mere reflection of weakness. From 1941 onwards until the 1990s, the US chose the multilateral road whenever possible, with unilateralism being chosen if there was no other option. Multilateralism is not simply for wimps.

– To portray Europe as Kantian is largely correct; but it’s a double-edged depiction: Kant was not pursuing the quest for Perpetual Peace out of pacifism; he was the philosopher of the categorical imperative. Indeed, he was widely read in Prussian military academies. Kant is not for wimps either.

To these points Robert Kagan made the following remarks in his presentation:

– US instincts are not currently more unilateralist than they were at the beginning of the Cold War. Current unilateralist trends predated the Bust administration. However, 9-11 put “unilateralism on steroids”.

– Concerning military interoperability within NATO, the US is not going to make itself weaker in order to cater to European military insufficiencies.

– Europe has an ambitious worldview which calls for more expenditure on the means of power. Being upset with the US is not providing enough of a motive for the European to spend more money on defence. Indeed, a prominent European participant endorsed this view in the subsequent discussion.

In the ensuing debate, a participant made a vigorous set of comments:

– The US overemphasises the military component of power.

– Is Russia the most dynamic element in the current international landscape, as was put forward by V. Kremenyuk, or is it simply an unstable one?

– The US needs to take into account the burden represented by the reunificat ion of the European continent for the EU.

– To quote Guillaume Appolinaire, the Europeans need to learn from America’s ability to “dare and simplify”: there is a different US relation to power, with the EU not having the same sense of global responsibility.

Along similar lines, a number of participants queried the nature of Europe’s identity: is it simply “not America” or is it (as tended to be the view around the table) more than the negative definition? This query led in turn to the issue of the generation of an EU strategic culture.

This brought the comment from a European that it is through actions that a strategic culture would be generated. More generally, he pointed out that ESDP was motivated by reference to the US, albeit not in a negative sense: ESDP was established to do what the US wouldn’t do, as well as to work with US. As for EU introversion, the fact is that there has been no major debate on the EU’s global role in world affairs, because it hasn’t – until now – needed to have one: the Convention would have to work on this.

On the degree of divergence between the US and Europe, several European and American participants suggested that synthesis was more likely than incompatibility: the US is actually more engaged in soft power than is often acknowledged (and indeed sometimes more so than the EU, notwithstanding the latter’s unique contribution to Development aid); nor is the US unhappy at being a single superpower rather than being part of the more benign European vision; in any case, a Europe at peace is seen in Washington as a strategic asset for the US.

To this was added by an American participant the suggestion that the relative and absolute increase of US power during the last 20 years was probably slowing down, with information technology no longer driving economic growth, while the costs of homeland defence are rising: the US should be in the market for partners. Paul Kennedy has ceased to make his “strategic overstretch” argument: he was wrong at the time he made it, he may be wrong again by no longer making it.

These benign remarks drew some European ripostes: the US was acting in an aberrant, largely unpredictable manner, as an autocrat who didn’t care about the views of others. Indeed, notwithstanding US exhortations that the Europeans should spend more on defence, the US didn’t really want the Europeans to spend more: the US was quite content to see the Europeans confined to peace-keeping tasks, while making the point that it is the “mission which makes the coalition” (a form of denial of the relevance of permanent alliances), and shooting at European attempts to build up their aerospace and defence-industrial base (with US moves against ‘Galileo’ being a recent example).

As for the Europeans, the point was made notably from a Russian participant, that they had no reason to be unduly proud of their soft power role: the US was leading the field in the former Soviet Union whether in the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme, or in nation building in the Caucasus or on migration issues on the Chinese-Russian border. Similarly, Europeans deplored the EU’s incapability of “self starting” on the simple, obvious moves: there was no European-wide action during operation Alba in Albania or the recent deal on the evacuation of Palestinians from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Nor had there been a European-wide initiative to meet the obvious requirement to increase defence spending after 9-11: unfortunately, it looks as if nothing short of a 911 type attack against Europe itself would trigger a serious European response.

In closing the three speakers made the following points:

– The focus is on military power, because this is what divides the American and the Europeans most, not because it is the only measure of power (R. Kagan).

– The two forces which determine the current direction of Russian foreign polic y are the quest for security – with the US being the prime interlocutor – and economic development, where Europe should play a major role (V. Kremenyuk).

– Soft security or so-called low intensity tasks are neither easy nor risk free: indeed, they can be costly and high risk – but Europe thus tries to avoid the creation of “future jungles”. As for transatlantic disagreements, the debate on role of military power is not the most important divergence. The biggest disagreement is on global governance and democracy in international affairs.


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