".... when the New World in all of its might will come to the rescue of the Old."
-- Winston Churchill, 1940
"France cannot accept a politically unipolar world or the unilateralism of a single hyperpower."
-- Hubert Vedrine, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1998 (1)
The two disparate visions of those epigrams define the political schizophrenia that passes for the strategic relationship between the United States and Western Europe. Since the end of World War II there has been a constant debate among America's European allies as to what comes first, being a good Atlanticist or a good European. Despite these contradictory emotions, for 50 years the North Atlantic Alliance has proved to be history's mostresilient military coalition and a foundation for stability on the historically fractious continent.
The premise that informed the postwar order, however, has disintegrated. Europe is no longer threatened by the specter of armored legions racing toward the Fulda Gap. Both NATO and the European Union are expanding into Central and Eastern Europe; indeed, European political and economic integration is almost complete. The United States stands as the most formidable military and economic power since the Rome of Augustus. But contrary to the expected script, America is embroiled in a world conflict not with rampant Leninism but against masked brigands with designs on weapons of mass destruction. The European democracies, in spite of their wealth and optimism, are also on the hit list and can no longer afford to make shortsighted bargains with terrorist states. If the Western allies are to survive the terrorist assault, it is imperative that they create a new and symbiotic military relationship. Old jealousies that point fingers at American hegemony or European indolence need to be put aside. NATO with its Americ an primacy can provide the strategic framework for operations outside the European theater, while a combination of NATO and European Union members can and should create a military force capable of dealing with contingencies on their own doorstep.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO became an organization in search of an identity, even as it expanded to include states that once stood behind the line from "Stetin to Trieste." The first warning that NATO's military structure had become a sclerotic shell of its Cold War self came in Kosovo. Conducted in Europe's backyard against a low-tech Serbian foe, the conflict stretched Europe's military resources to the breaking point. Two thirds of the 38,000 air sorties in Operation Allied Force were conducted by the United States. The US Navy and Air Force carried out an even higher percentage of the smart attacks. (2) The Europeans had difficulty mobilizing, much less deploying, several thousand troops. This was more disturbing given that there are over two million regulars on the muster roles of NATO's continental armies. British Defense Secretary (now NATO Secretary General) George Robertson noted, "Deploying a force of even a few tens of thousands, that is less than 2 percent of the total military person nel available to us, stretched our collective resources." (3) It also was apparent that the ability to prosecute joint and combined missions had deteriorated to the point that many of the allies were a danger to each other. There had been little joint training above the regimental level, and this is a trend that continues to haunt European plans for an independent defense capability. The pronounced gap in capabilities was also evident in logistics, airlift and sealift, surveillance and reconnaissance, and communications. Such was the level of American domination, there was actually a fear in some European capitals that congressional reaction in Washington would signal a retrenchment behind America's ocean barriers, rather than see the United States continue to bear a disproportionate burden of European defense. (4)
The 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States further served to highlight NATO's desperate condition. The invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (the collective self-defense clause) signaled NATO's mobilization for war, at least on paper. In reality, the allied response to the terrorist assault was reduced to an Anglo-American joint venture in Central Asia. It is not a surprise that British and American forces were the first to engage the terrorists on their ground, since historically these are the two NATO partners willing and able to project significant power outside the alliance on a regular basis. To be honest, several NATO allies have deployed small units to the Afghanistan theater, and during Operation Anaconda the French played a visible role in tactical air operations against Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts. Phillip Gordon of the Brookings Institution points out that there was actually hope hidden in the alliance's meager military action. (5) The alliance's political unity was impress ive, as was the apparent understanding that modernization and military interoperability are essential for full partnership in the remainder of the global campaign, although that unity apparently has come to grief over Iraq. (6)
The subject of an independent European defense capability is not the product of the late 20th century or the events of 11 September. It traces its origins back to the 1950s with an attempt to launch a European Defense Community. (7) Indeed, John F. Kennedy urged the NATO allies to build the "European pillar" in the alliance. (8) Since the early 1960s, the debate has always been whether the pillar President Kennedy mentioned would be built inside or outside of NATO. However, the efforts on either end never reached fruition as European political integration continued in its inchoate state and America remained absorbed in its nuclear brinkmanship with the Soviet Union. At best, American support for European defense tended to be ambivalent. Burdensharing was always a word that emerged in the halls of Congress when American leaders looked at the defense balance sheets or when various Europeans expressed views similar to those of the aforementioned Monsieur Vedrine. However, whenever Europeans make too many noises about security flexibility, Washington tends to pull back for fear that NATO, the crown jewel of American foreign policy, will be damaged and America will lose influence on the continent. For the United States, history is a grim teacher. Repeatedly in the last century America reached across the Atlantic to rescue Europe from itself.
Several American administrations have preferred that the European defense pillar be built inside NATO. At the European Union's 1996 Berlin Ministerial Conference, the Clinton Administration lent its support for the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) with …