Monday, 31 March 2008

Could the Bucharest NATO summit give birth to an EU army?

When it comes to great expectations, few summits could be said to be generating as much anticipation recently as the NATO summit in Bucharest this week. Besides hammering out a plan to rescue the military fiasco in Afghanistan, it is set to enlarge and restructure the alliance in a way that will fundamentally change it.

The Balkans are at the heart of this restructuring. With Kosovo having declared its independence in February, the nation is waiting with baited breath to see how NATO, which has been occupying the breakaway republic for eight years, will handle the situation. Some current members are insisting that stability in the region can only come from accelerating the membership of the region’s countries in NATO. Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey are already members, and Albania, Croatia and Macedonia may be invited to join at the summit.

However many EU countries are insisting it should be Europe itself that solves the crisis. The EU is working out a plan to create an EU police force to protect and stabilize the new country, allowing NATO to leave. With up to 1,800 police, judges and prosecutors it would be the largest such mission ever undertaken by the bloc. Whether or not this happens will depend on what occurs at the Bucharest summit.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has said he is considering returning French forces to NATO military command, and this agreement may also take place at the summit. French president Charles De Gaulle pulled the French military out of NATO 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. But recent comments by French ministers suggest that France likely wants something in return for re-joining NATO: the go-ahead from the Americans to build an EU army.

France has been trying for years 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 defense budgets enough for such a project.

In February French Defense Minister Herve Morin told an international security conference in Munich that the US has had a “schizophrenic” approach to European security and that Europe 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. He also criticised his German hosts for cutting their defense budget and preferring to rely on American protection rather than building up European military muscle. “Europe does not assume enough responsibility, it simply falls into dependence,” he complained. “Europeans must do more to share the burden, they will only do this if they grow up.”

This speech was followed in March with an editorial in the International Herald Tribune by Bernard Kouchner, France's minister of foreign and European affairs, which argued that the efforts to build a European defense, begun in the 1990’s, must be finalized soon if the challenges in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Darfur are to be solved. Koucher also argued that the Lisbon Treaty specifically allows the EU to set up an army through the common European Security and Defense Policy. The message seemed to be particularly aimed at NATO in an attempt to allay fears that such an army would destroy the alliance.

“Trust is built over time and through reciprocity,” he wrote. “Our openness to the United States and American support for the EU autonomously assuming its responsibilities shall advance hand in hand. European defense and Europe's anchorage in the Atlantic alliance are two facets of the same defense and security policy, pursued in the name of the values we share.”

All indications seem to suggest that Sarkozy will push this issue hard at the NATO summit, and that the meeting could end with not only new members and a redefined mission in Afghanistan but also with a specific NATO and US blessing for an EU army, starting with the EU policing project in Kosovo. Ironically, the most important thing to come out of this meeting may be the birth of an entirely different organisation that could one day replace.


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