Best Defense

By Yim, Soojin | Harvard International Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview
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Best Defense

Yim, Soojin, Harvard International Review

The US Role in the European Defense Identity

At the European Union Helsinki Summit in December 1999, EU leaders took a major step toward establishing a European military identity.

They agreed to organize by the year 2003 a "Rapid Reaction Force" of 50,000 to 60,000 troops capable of deploying within 60 days notice for missions of up to two years. Although the military force is to complement and cooperate with NATO, embarking only on missions where NATO is not engaged, it is also a call for greater European autonomy in conrast to the US-dominated NATO. But if the European Union hopes to make this force a reality, it will ironically have to depend on the United States. Europe's underfunded and outdated militaries make external US technological and political assistance necessary, but first the European Union must assuage US fears that this force will undermine the existing defense framework under NATO.

A common foreign and security policy has been one of the EU's objectives since its founding in 1992, but it was the Kosovo war that proved to be the impetus for the development of an actual military force. The Kosovo crisis made the large gap in military capacity between Europe and the United States painfully obvious. The United States launched 85 percent of the precision-guided munitions and 95 percent of the cruise missiles used during the Kosovo conflict because Europe's arsenals were outdated. After the airstrikes ended, the European allies struggled to muster 40,000 soldiers for peacekeeping measures, even though their combined armed forces numbered nearly two million. The experience of military inadequacy in Kosovo, as well as in previous Balkan efforts, motivated European leaders to rally around the idea of a European military force.

So far, there has been plenty of rhetoric but little action. Despite agreement among policymakers, European public opinion may prevent the tax increases needed to finance a revamped EU military force. Since 1992, European NATO members have cut defense spending by 22 percent. Germany, home to Europe's largest army, currently devotes only 1.5 percent of its GNP to defense--as compared to 3.2 percent for the United States and 2.8 percent for Britain--and plans to cut spending by US$10 billion over the next four years. EU leaders talk of spending more judiciously instead of spending more, but training and equipping up to 200,000 troops, the minimum number required due to rotation needs, will require more than just a reallocation of current spending. Such talk raises questions about whether Europe is politically prepared to sacrifice domestic programs in order to increase defense spending.

As a result of fiscal reluctance, EU military forces remain underdeveloped. They lag technologically in areas such as electronic warfare and precision-guided missiles capable of operating in all-weather conditions. The latter proved to be key in the Kosovo operations, where a large commitment of NATO ground troops or carpet-bombing techniques were politically infeasible. Only the United States, however, had the missile capability. More generally, while the nature of conflict has changed in the post-Cold War era, Europe's military forces have not.

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