Western Europe Still Reliant on The US to Provide Security – Government Essay

Western Europe Still Reliant on The US to Provide Security – Government Essay
Between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the USSR in 1990 the United States was Europe’s security guarantor. The principle institution for

providing security for Europe against the hostile states of the Warsaw Pact was NATO. Established in 1949, NATO provided a collective security arrangement for the states of Western Europe against the Soviet threat (Reynolds 2000: 117). The principle source of strength in NATO and the ultimate guarantor of security was United States; which possessed the world’s largest economy and nuclear arsenal as well as a huge level of conventional forces. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 though the US has found itself lacking a clear role as it did in the Cold War, consequently so has NATO. Issues surrounding NATO’s role have been further clouded since 1990 by the ever increasing levels of European integration, especially as the EU attempts to develop its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Some have argued that NATO has become little more than an “American protectorate for Europe” (Calleo in Duke 2000: 175).

Traditionally, the US and Europe had been tied by four main features. The first is the strong economic ties between the two. The EU and the US are each others largest source of direct investment as well as being very important trading partners (Duke 2000: 183). Secondly is an appreciation of shared cultural and political values and a shared history. Thirdly is the US’ belief in its moral responsibility to ensure peace in Europe, for both political and moral reasons. Fourthly, as a combination of all these factors there is a strong political will in the US, both at the public and governmental level for supporting close ties to Europe (Geipel 1999: pp230-240). These arguments all make the case for US involvement in European affairs and there have been very few calls in the US to stop seeing Europe as a vital strategic interest (Howorth 2000: 64).

Powerful figures in the US have consistently argued that it is in the continuing self-interest of the US to have an active role in European security. Sloan (2000 passim) identifies three broad schools of thought in the US regarding involvement in European security. The first is the “traditionalist” who see a strong EU as important to maintaining a transatlantic community based on mutual values and friendship. The second, the “domestic interests”, sees the EU as working with the US to benefit US domestic interests, for example by bearing a bigger burden for its own defence. The final school, “US security interests” sees developments in the EU as weakening US national security and that the US must act in order to preserve its influence in Europe. These traditional views have been challenged by some in the US since 9/11 and especially since the Second Gulf War as the US moves towards a more unilateralist stance.
The development of the CFSP

Proposals for the CFSP for the EU were initiated in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and were further developed in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam which developed the relationship between the civilian community of the EU and the security community of the Western European Union. The idea was for the EU to play the role of the apocryphal phone whose non-existence Kissinger bemoaned. The ultimate aim was to have the EU acting as a single security actor in the international arena with a single foreign policy. The lack of European involvement and action in the latest Balkans crisis of 1998/9 highlighted how the military weakness and cohesiveness of the EU had not improved much since the EU’s failure to do anything decisive in the Bosnian war of 1995. Although operations in Kosovo were under NATO, they were only nominally so; the US conducted 90% of all air-strikes (Mawdsley & Quille 2004: 10). This was the second time the EU had failed to resolve a crisis in its own backyard and set the scene for the first moves towards the creation of a European military force at the St. Malo conference in 1998. The St. Malo summit created the grounds for compromise and since then the French and British have worked better together in relation to CFSP (Menon & Lipkin 2003: 4). The two states adopted the “Headline Goal” that the EU should aim to develop the European Security and Defence Policy, which should develop the capacity for

… autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so. (ibid. p11).

As with many other aspects of the EU, this process was complicated by differences between the two states. France wanted to give the EU greater autonomy with relation to security, whereas Britain remained in favour of an Atlantacist position that kept strong relations with the US (Deighton 2002: 125). At the Helsinki European Council meeting in 1999 member states agreed upon the need to create a standing military force (ERFF). The ERFF would be capable of responding to significant humanitarian, peacekeeping or crisis-management operations; the so-called Petersberg tasks (Howorth 2000: 37). This started the first moves towards giving the EU “teeth” and was a marked shift from it being a purely civilian power into one with a military aspect.

This has provoked divisions in the EU regarding the CFSP over which aspects of security member states believe the EU should adopt. Whilst Britain and France wanted the EU to have greater military capabilities, the traditional hard conception of security, other states such as Sweden argue that there should be more a focus on more normative soft aspects of security (Menon 2003: 636). This cleavage came to the forefront with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. The EU was divided between members who gave military support to the US, such as Britain and France, and the neutral states who did not, such as Sweden and Ireland (Maggorie 2003). More significantly is the issue of compatibility between NATO and the ESDP (Deighton 2002: 720). Problems between NATO and the EU started to develop in the mid-nineties with the NATO proposal for developing a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) within the structures of NATO. This aimed at giving the European states more autonomy and responsibility for resolving Europeans, while at the same time allowing the US to maintain an important role in Europe. However, it has not been developed to any great extent and appears to have fallen by the wayside as the EU states move towards developing the ESDP (Nekrašas 2003: 2). The US now appears to be more willing to accept ESDP, partly due to NATO enlargement which as given the US increased influence over the continent. It is also worth noting that many of the new NATO and EU member states have a much more Atlantacist than a European stance, for example the Prime Minister of Poland made comments in 2003 to the effect of claiming that only NATO could guarantee Poland’s security (Menon 2003: 635).

The EU is still far from achieving absolute independence in relation to security. Apart from the reasons above, namely the divisions in the EU and between the US/EU regarding the CFSP/ESDP, there are two other important factors. Firstly, in comparison to the US it spends a pittance on defence; $152.9bn in 2000 compared to the US’ $294.7bn (Howorth 2002: 10). Secondly the US still has most of the political power. For example when the EU wished to take over NATO operations in Macedonia it was kept waiting for months while NATO, i.e. the US deliberated over whether to allow this (ibid. p11).

By 2001/2 the UK, France and Germany were all much more committed to pursuing the EDSP and moved towards a formalisation of relations between the EU and NATO (Menon 2004: 643). This signified a shift away from trying to develop the ESDI within the structure of NATO. Nekrašas (2003: 2) attributes this to recognition by the EU that military forces are not needed for preservation of their territorial integrity, but to tackle smaller scale problems as they arise and a realist view that it would be unwise to constantly rely on the US. Eventually by 2002 the EU and NATO signed an agreement formalising their partnership and the first EU mission was announced in June. In April 2003 the EU undertook its first, though somewhat limited, military mission. The mission, known as “Concordia” was to take over from NATO peacekeeping troops in the FYR Macedonia. The aim of the mission was to symbolise that the EU was developing a military capacity and to provide the first step in implementing the EDSP (Felício 2003: 1). Despite this though, old tensions and concerns were apparent both before and throughout the mission. The main archeitech of the EU force going to Macedonia was France, however the British were against sending an EU force to Macedonia in case the situation should escalate for some reason, in which case NATO forces would be needed (Menon 2003: 636).

The difficulties in developing the ESDP were especially highlighted by the divisions caused both transatlantically and internally in Europe by the Iraq War. The divisions in the EU were generally between the Atlanticist and European looking states; Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and Italy on one side and France and Germany on the other (Menon 2003: 635). In addition to the divisions created by the war in Europe there was also a question of whether NATO was still needed in the post-9/11 world. The US’ shift away from using fixed bodies such as NATO and the UN towards “coalitions of the willing” as happened in both Afghanistan and Iraq, suggests that even the US may no longer see NATO as the primary instrument through which to carry out foreign policy (Howorth 2003: 236). If NATO were to be disbanded then it would be interesting to see whether the EDSP will be accelerated as a result of the need for collective security, or whether it will become increasingly difficult as the system looses the stabilising effect of US hegemony.

Theoretically the success of the EU appears to have proven the strengths of both neo-liberal institutionalism and neo-realism (Baylis 1999: 21). The neo-liberal institutionalists (e.g. Keohane 1986) can point to how closer integration between member states over 50 years has made war near impossible, whilst the neo-realists (e.g. Waltz 1979) can point to the difficulties surrounding ESDP as demonstrating how state’s will act in the national interest with regards to national security matters (Christiansen 2001: 508). Given the range and number of cleavages present in the EU, especially following enlargement, it is likely to become increasingly difficult to develop the CFSP/ESDC. The increased number of member states in the EU will make it increasingly difficult to address collective action problems such as the CFSP.

Despite the above problems and developments in the ESDP it is still early days for the idea of the ESDP/ERRF. Currently the US is still very much in a hegemonic position, demonstrated by its strength in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The divisions apparent over such a relatively small scale operation as Concordia highlight the difficulties that lie ahead for ESDP. When considering how long it has taken the EU states to agree on many less important and emotion factors than national defence, it is hard to be optimistic about the ERRF/EDSP coming into existence any time soon. Until the EU has developed a working and tested ERFF it is likely that in any other future crises in Europe that the US will be required for effective action.


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