Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Do European Union Defense Initiatives Threaten NATO?

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

Do European Union Defense Initiatives Threaten NATO?

Article excerpt

Key Points

European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) is now the main item on Europe's security agenda because of a focus on establishing a crisis management force capable of acting independently of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Although transatlantic policies will be colored by issues such as the Kyoto treaty, missile defenses, and relations with Russia, ESDP is likely to dominate defense debates as the European Union (EU) tries to meet the Helsinki Headline Goal of developing a corps-sized expeditionary force that can deploy military forces capable of ensuring diverse tasks and establish new political and military structures that will enable the EU to guide and direct such operations.

To meet the Helsinki Goal, the European Union must surmount three problems: ensuring sufficient forces, building confidence in the quality of their performance, and finding substitutes for critical NATO assets. The approaches that EU members take to these tasks may indicate how serious they are about meeting the goal in fact as well as in name.

As the Bush administration develops policies on transatlantic relations, it should move away from efforts to restrict EU development. The United States will benefit if EU states are more able and, even more importantly, willing to take responsibility for solving security problems without relying on U.S. involvement. The extent of European dependence on the United States poses a greater threat to U.S. interests than what might develop if the European Union becomes a more independent actor in defense policy.


Building a capacity for "the eventual framing of a common defense policy which might in time lead to common defense" has been a major European Union (EU) preoccupation since the Maastricht Treaty in 1991. The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 defined the area for defense coordination as "humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking" (known as the Petersburg Tasks). The project gained momentum after Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France agreed at St. Malo in 1998 that "the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises." The St. Malo summit agreement committed the two leading military powers in Europe to building capabilities and institutional structures for a common defense.

Britain's acceptance of an EU defense role facilitated the consolidation of effort between the European Union and Western European Union. By gaining an agreement that European defense efforts will remain intergovernmental--that is, coordinated among members in the Council of Ministers rather than the supranational European Commission--Britain was assured that it could prevent the European Union from making decisions over British objections. The United States also benefited from the St. Malo approach because it kept decisions (which require unanimous approval by member states) at a level that allows considerable U.S. influence. That agreement preserves America's ability to work bilaterally as well as multilaterally to ensure that EU choices are consistent with U.S. national interests.

An enormous amount of the work needed to translate the St. Malo agreement into practice has been done in the European Union and in national planning staffs to advance the prospects for EU defense policy and capabilities. However, more work has been done to create an organizational structure than to improve forces to carry out the mandate.

New Structures

The European Union has agreed on a decisionmaking process and created the necessary supporting staffs. It established the post of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy to advise the council on defense issues and gave the job to Javier Solana, former Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). …

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