European Defence: A Crazy Situation

‘It is unsatisfactory that 450 million Europeans rely so much on 250 million Americans to defend them’. So wrote the British diplomat Robert Cooper in a recently-published book. On 12-13 December the heads of government of EU members and candidate members -25 in all – will be meeting in Brussels to agree a new European constitution. The draft constitution, drawn up at a convention chaired by former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing, is an attempt both to meet the challenge of enlargement and to give the EU a bigger foreign policy and defence ‘presence’. It proposes to establish a new post of EU ‘minister of foreign affairs’, and a ‘capabilities agency’ to coordinate defence technology research and encourage harmonised procurement. The constitution would also allow a ‘vanguard’ of members to cooperate more closely on defence matters.

These tiny steps to develop an independent European military capacity have been predictably resisted by Britain on behalf of the USA. Ever since 1950 Western Europe has been defended by NATO. NATO was a political and military alliance run by the Americans, with European contributions. It was set up –in a well-known phrase- ‘to keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out’. Today only the paranoid believe there is a Russian threat or German threat. So why is it still necessary to keep the Americans ‘in’? Why doesn’t the EU politely say to the United States: ‘Thank you very much for all you have done, but we can now defend ourselves’?

To this two kinds of answer have been given. The first by the American ‘neo-con’ Robert Kagan is that the Europeans have lost the capacity and will to defend themselves. ‘Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation…today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus’. This is the reason, he says, that ‘old Europe’ –by which he means mainly France and Germany –didn’t support America over Iraq. It is used to America protecting them, and gets alarmed when American actions threaten that security –for example, by exposing it to terrorism.

There is some truth in this. But apart from the fact that Russia, which hardly lives in Venus, didn’t support the Americans either over Iraq, there is one major flaw in his argument. Actually, the EU spends a great deal on defence, about half of the United States. The figures for defence expenditure are US $380 billion, EU $180 billion. Compare this with China’s $XX billion, and with Russia’s $40 billion. The problem is that, apart from the small but efficient British and French armed forces (which include operational nuclear forces) EU military expenditure is largely wasted. Many European armies are scarcely more than branches of the social services. This is what creates the impression that the EU is largely powerless.

Undeniable that if $180 billion were efficiently spent the EU would have very powerful armed forces indeed –more than enough to deal with any threats to its security. The reason it fails to do so has less to do with its pacific outlook than to the fact that the EU cannot make the transition into a state capable of developing a coherent foreign and security policy. The British, who dread the emergence of what they call a European ‘super-state’ block any attempt by France to create the even the rudimentary sinews of EU independence –an agreed foreign policy and an independent military capability. So Britain remains a vassal of the Americans and France and Germany critics of US unilateralism, within a military alliance, NATO, which has ceased to have any purpose. The Russians are too polite to say ‘This is a crazy situation’, but this is what they must feel.