October 17, 2003



SUBJECT: NATO & EU Defense Plans

According to today's Financial Times ("NATO Urged to Challenge European Defence Plan"), U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns "has called an extraordinary meeting of NATO to challenge the creation of a new security and defense policy for the European Union." He was correct to do so. This meeting follows on the heels of a recent decision by Paris, Berlin and London to move forward on the creation of a European Union defense planning organization, independent of the NATO.

Most American commentators have viewed the creation of a separate EU defense capability as more a nuisance than a real problem. And given the meager defense budgets in Europe it certainly is the case that an independent EU defense force will not be a challenge to NATO anytime soon, if ever.

Nevertheless, institutions do matter: they shape behavior; determine priorities; require resources; and take on an authority all to their own. And while an independent EU defense capability is not some "dagger aimed at the heart of NATO," it may well be a barbiturate that, over time, will drain energy and legitimacy from NATO.

For many, what has been surprising is London's role in this decision. When Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium announced last April their intent to create a separate command headquarters, the four were challenging the existing agreement between the EU and NATO not to have competing planning elements. Indeed, ever since the Anglo-Franco decision in 1998 at St. Malo to create a EU defense capability, London has insisted that it would be accomplished in harmony with NATO's own plans or organizations.

Of course, the Blair Government's overall goal is to balance British Atlanticism with a commitment to Europe. To do so, London wants to both maintain NATO's central role in European security, while working within the EU to help make it a more outward-looking and effective organization. And while this sounds fine in theory, it falls short in practice. As long as France holds adamantly to a position, and Germany supports it, Britain has only two real choices: break with the French-German consensus, causing a major rift within the EU, or compromise with it. Hence, as long as Paris knows that Blair cares about being a good "European" as much as being a solid "Atlanticist," it will be in position to determine what being a "good" European is. Over time, this dynamic cannot help but give momentum to the French agenda of undermining NATO's place in European security - as we have now seen with the decision to go forward with this independent planning command within the EU.

The decision to establish an independent EU defense planning organization is a small but important precedent that needs to be challenged. The irony is, this is happening precisely at a time when the Bush Administration has reversed its attitude of "benign neglect" towards NATO - by creating new military capabilities, and reforming command structures and basing. Both London and Berlin should be aware that, by "compromising" with the French agenda on these matters, they may be undermining the very institution - NATO - that is key to their own desire to see American power exercised more, not less, within multilateralist organizations.