Tuesday, 12 February 2008

France to Europe: grow up

French president Nicolas Sarkozy may be considering returning French forces to NATO military command, but comments yesterday by the French defence minister reveal that the country might want something in return: the go-ahead from the Americans to build an EU army.

France has for years floated the idea to build up an EU army with a military headquarters, but it has met resistance from both Washington and its European allies. Washington has regarded the efforts as a threat to NATO unity and as an unnecessary duplication of NATO’s functions. At the same time, European nations have refused to increase their defence budgets in order to develop a European standing army.

French president Charles De Gaulle pulled the French military out of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) 40 years ago over concern about American domination of the alliance. The system, set up primarily for the defense of Europe from the Soviet Union after World War II, has historically been considered by many as an American military protectorate over Europe. In April a conference in Bucharest, Romania is scheduled to work out a major overhaul of the alliance, largely in reaction to its difficulties in Afghanistan but also to deal with its proposed enlargement to Eastern European and Caucasus nations bordering Russia. The conference could also bring a commitment by Sarkozy to hand French troops back over to the alliance.

However, comments by French Defense Minister Herve Morin at an international security conference in Munich yesterday suggest that France’s policy shift may be more about strengthening the EU than strengthening NATO. At the conference, Morin complained to assembled delegates, including US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, that the US has had a “schizophrenic” approach to European security and that France’s European allies had developed an “infantile” dependence on American military power that needs to be fixed.

Morin complained that the US is constantly urging the European NATO members to take on a greater defense burden, but at the same time it has strongly resisted French efforts to build a security role for the EU. The beef is essentially over who’s fault it is that the NATO mission in Afghanistan is not going well because of a lack of troops and resources. European members have blamed the US distraction with it’s non-NATO invasion of Iraq. Washington has blamed Europe for continuing paltry defense budgets even while the alliance is at war.

Interestingly, Morin suggested that it is indeed Europe’s fault that the Afghanistan mission is careening toward failure, but that the reason European nations haven’t increased their defense budgets is that Washington has encouraged a system of military dependence on the US. Morin criticised his German hosts for cutting their defense budget and preferring to rely on American protection rather than building up European military muscle, complaining:
“Europe does not assume enough responsibility, it simply falls into dependence. Europeans must do more to share the burden, they will only do this if they grow up.”
Morin argued that it’s not enough for Europe to simply whine about the Americans abandoning the NATO Afghanistan mission to focus on Iraq. Instead, they should have stepped up to the plate and increased their own military commitment to the effort. However, attached to that is a caveat that the only way that can be done is if European nations are allowed to develop a European military independent of the United States.

It will be interesting to see if these comments are elaborated at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April.


Grahnlaw said...

I don't know how much to expect short term, but in a longer time frame it is hard to understand if the EU member states do not realise that they are rich enough to defend themselves collectively (under normal circumstances), while retaining the transatlantic partnership through NATO.

It would be unfortunate if waning US interest in Europe would be combined with obstructionism towards an EU defence.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that!

Jon Worth said...

The Charlemagne Column in this week's Economist looks at a similar issue - regarding the proposed EU military mission in Chad. Well worth a read.

Grahnlaw said...

Jon, if failure in the Balkans was one starter for EU attempts to build a real foreign and security policy, the missions in Afghanistan and Chad may be defining moments for the EU's self-image this year, I commented on the DJ Nozem blog earlier today.

That the common security and defence policy is in its infancy is no exaggeration, as the Charlemagne Column aptly shows.

Chad is not full scale war, just a support operation for UN peacekeeping of a few thousand. It shouldn't be beyond the EU even at the toddler-stage.

rz said...

grahnlaw said:
"I don't know how much to expect short term, but in a longer time frame it is hard to understand if the EU member states do not realise that they are rich enough to defend themselves collectively"

I think is is one thing to defend yourself, and something rather different to send troops to an area of the world which is totally alien to us. Clearly the Balkan mission was an important one, and I also, more ore less, agree with the operations of EU troops in Afghanistan. But still, we are not the World police.

Grahnlaw said...

rz, you touch on a very difficult subject. The security threats have changed since the days of the Cold War, and they have become much more complicated. External and internal threats are more intertwined than before, and distance is not necessarily decisive.

Failed or rogue states can be breeding grounds for quite serious problems.

Or should we start policing only when we have been hit at home?

rz said...

well, as you already said it is a difficult subject. Clearly, if we have some mandate (by the UN) to do peace-keeping it is most likely in the European interest to do it and to do it well. But the financial burden scales with our scope of operations.

Most armies.. well, at least the German army, have to change their structure to conform to this type of mission. Essentially you need a small professionals army and not an army of draftees as we have it in Germany right now.

I strongly oppose this type of change, because I fear that we end up with some type of mercenary corps who don't feel connected to civil society anymore.

SUN said...