Let Europe Defend Itself: By Sarwar Kashmeri & Jolyon Howorth

June 18, 2013

NATO was set up 64 years ago to defend Europe against  the Soviet Union. The North Atlantic Treaty that created the Alliance hitched  the United States’ military might to the defense of Europe and ring-fenced the  Soviet empire until it collapsed, leaving Europe without any significant threat.  Thanks to European industry and NATO’s defense umbrella, Europeans rebuilt their  US Army soldiers behind a designated mine-detecting device operator in an area notorious for IED caused injuries and deaths. (Tony Karumba/AFP/GettyImages)countries from the devastation of World War II, created the European Union and built  of the largest economies in the world.

 But NATO also left two corrosive legacies on the transatlantic allies: Europeans became accustomed to getting their defense on the cheap via the U.S. taxpayer; the United States has drunk deeply from the jug of “leader of the free world” and has difficulty passing even a regional baton to the Europeans. The result: an anemic European security establishment that is regularly criticized by American leaders.

Witness the Libyan war, in which European military forces could do little against the middling power of Mummar Qaddafi until the United States deployed its high tech weaponry to bail out its allies, in their backyard, at a cost to the U.S. taxpayer of $1 billion. Can this unbalanced division of labor in which one NATO member, the United States, is permanently responsible for the protection of 26 European countries continue to be viable forever?

Given the massive cuts to the U.S. defense budget looming on the  horizon and America’s “pivot to Asia,” we don’t think so.

Let’s first  correct  the commonly held, but erroneous, perception in America that  the Europeans do  not spend enough on their defense. Even after the  recent cutbacks, NATO’s  European members’ annual defense spending tops  $250 billion dollars, almost  equal to the U.S. defense budget prior to  9/11. A huge sum considering that the  Europeans have no interest in  policing the world.

It is not that the Europeans  do not spend enough on  their defense, they just spend it inefficiently on duplicate military  procurement programs and acquisitions that benefit  individual countries  rather than contribute to a Europe-wide defense profile.  Can the  Europeans ever think in terms of a European defense profile? We believe   they can, but it will take a dose of tough medicine from Washington to  point  them in the right direction.

Twenty years ago the EU set up its Common Security and Defense Policy  to  create an autonomous military capability for Europe. Over the last  15  years, it has deployed some thirty overseas missions – some of  them  quite robust, such as the brigade (3,700) size EU force sent to  Chad in 2008 at  the request of the United Nations. The mission was  sustained in the middle of  Africa for some 14 months and protected half  a million refugees, using  firefights when necessary.

These deployments  demonstrate what can be achieved  by Europeans when they decide to  define and defend their collective interests.  But, for a variety of  reasons, including strong initial objections from the  United States to  the European CSDP initiative, a fear of rocking the NATO boat  and  angering its American underwriters and reluctance to leap into the  unknown  of handling its own military affairs, after an initial burst of  activity, CSDP  has been marking time. NATO, meanwhile, has degenerated  into a mechanism for  generating coalitions of the willing.

Because the bipolar constraints of the Cold War dictated tight  solidarity  between all Alliance members, the original NATO truly was an  alliance as  traditionally understood.  But now, post-1989, in the  absence of any  existential threat, regional crises impact NATO member  states in very different  ways, and they are freer to pursue their own  interests. Consequently, there is  little likelihood of unanimity.

What  about all the talk from NATO headquarters  about a global role for the  Alliance, the long- time American preference? It  has never found favor  with Europeans and has probably been administered the  coup de grâce by  their experience of Afghanistan, which, however strong the  official  spin may be, is almost certain to be judged by history as a military   and political failure.

It is time to re-think the relationship between CSDP and NATO. To  move the  CSDP-NATO conversation forward and to generate debate, we would  like to propose  the following agenda:

  • As part of the U.S. defense budget trimming  exercise, the U.S.  Congress should make it clear that within a specified number  of years  America expects that the responsibility for the defense of Europe and   its periphery will be assumed by the EU, with Americans acting largely  as force  enablers for a transitional period.
  • The United States should  progressively turn over the leadership  of NATO to the EU by replacing Americans  with Europeans in key NATO  positions.
  • NATO’s “Board of  Directors,” the North Atlantic Council, was  designed for a world  without the EU and consists of permanent  representatives from individual  European countries. It should be recast  to include one representative each from  the EU, U.S., Canada, and from  each non-EU member of NATO such as Norway and  Turkey. This reformed  body would serve as the transatlantic military  link, while the EU’s  Political and Security Committee would assume the NAC’s  functions for  Europe area operations and decisions.

Imagine how different the international reaction to the crises in  Libya, Mali or even Syria might have been had these modifications  to the  transatlantic security architecture been made immediately after  the Cold War. A  robust CSDP/NATO entity would have given the EU the  muscle and the institutions  to lead in its own immediate neighborhood,  with the United States in a  constructive supporting role.

It is time  for Europeans to stop believing  that the transatlantic defense and  security equation cannot work without U.S.  leadership and time for the  U.S. to accept that it does not have to lead  everywhere in the world, and certainly not in Europe where its closest and richest  allies dwell.  NATO has been the jewel in the transatlantic crown but it is time  to  tailor it for the new century.

Sarwar Kashmeri is a senior fellow at  the Atlantic Council’s  Brent Scowcroft Center for International  Security and an Adjunct Professor at  Norwich University.

Dr. Jolyon Howorth  is a Visiting Professor of  Political Science at Yale, and Emeritus  Professor of European Studies at the  University of Bath (U.K.).

(Read Article & Comments on US News & World Report)

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NATO Interview– PBS “Great Decisions” TV program (transcript)

Each year the Foreign Policy Association’s PBS “Great Decisions” HD TV Series drills down into headline foreign policy issues. My argument that NATO needs an upgrade and it is time to merge NATO with the European Union was a featured topic in 2013.

Here’s the transcript