Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
The short answer is yes. Why can't 500 million rich Europeans be responsible for their own security? The reasons why Europe will not make this jump in the foreseeable future, however, are numerous. But there are several factors. First, it is psychologically difficult for a teenager to leave the security of the nest. Second, it is cheaper to rely on the American security umbrella. A third factor is that it’s also in the America’s interest, as it gains considerable political influence from its security commitment to Europe. Think how many European countries would have sent troops to Afghanistan without a push from Washington.
Another key question is how long the American public, struggling to maintain their standard of living, will put up with defense spending that is higher than the next ten most developed countries in the world? And with the U.S. pivot towards Asia, it will be ever more important for the Europeans to take responsibility for their own security and to play a bigger role in regional security. Although this is what should be done, there is a striking lack of leadership in Europe at present. I guess we shall not be waving goodbye to Uncle Sam anytime soon.
A world in which Europe were not reliant on the United States for security is nowhere in sight. Even if NATO’s European members were to commit somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 % of GDP to defense—the Alliance’s stated goal--it would take well over a decade to develop the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and refueling capabilities necessary to conduct a robust Libyan-sized mission on their own. All the while, Europe would continue to be a free-rider on the security America’s military presence in the Middle East and Pacific Asia provides European interests. Nonetheless, dramatic cuts in US defense spending, a sizeable drawdown of American forces in Europe, and a shift in US strategic priorities toward the Asia Pacific, confront Europe with a clear choice. Europe can either increase its defense capabilities or surrender the ability to limit the political, economic, and humanitarian consequences of increasing instability in its backyard.
Neither side can stop relying on the other. But both sides need to think far more strategically and more honestly about the realities of diminishing resources for traditional defense, the true security challenges facing the trans-Atlantic partnership in the future, and, as a result, the kind of security relationship the two sides will need to build. It will require less reliance on traditional military capacities, and a greater emphasis beyond the Euro-Atlantic defense alliance structure to cooperate across public and private sectors to prevent and respond to new risks arising from actors seeking to exploit, disrupt and destroy the fundamental systems—especially the free and licit movement of people, goods, resources, capital, technology, and information—which underpin the prosperity and stability of modern societies. A very different threat, but one which cannot be mitigated without Europe and the United States looking to one another for cooperation.
Americans would be the first to cheer if Europeans proved capable of taking care of their own security and resolving European conflicts on their own. Unfortunately, Europe remains as fully dependent on American military capabilities today as it did sixteen years ago in the Balkans, despite all of the intervening rhetoric and institutional innovation designed to strengthen Europe’s capacity for independent activities. Europe's economic crisis has led some European governments to slice defense budgets even further. As a consequence, many European states are on the verge of losing even basic defense capabilities. Despite consistent and highly public American admonishment, there seems to be little prospect that European governments will halt the decline in their military capabilities or narrow their differences over the use of armed force as an instrument of policy. National decision-making is likely to remain decisive, with EU military expeditions limited to the least demanding of cases.
Ten years after Robert Kagan’s book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order was first published, the German Marshall Fund organized a debate on the piece at its annual Brussels Forum. In the book, Kagan asserted that Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus, agreeing little and understanding each other even less so. The forum’s discussion on whether this relationship with regard to international relations still exists was fascinating. Kagan’s original analysis expressed the anger of the world’s sole superpower at its perceived loneliness. More recently, however, Anne-Marie Slaughter has countered this analysis by citing the case of Libya, where it was European leaders urging for NATO intervention. Not so, Kagan retorted, arguing that, as usual, the operation was carried through to its completion by the United States.. As a former GMF fellow, I can see the merit of both arguments…
Yes, but what are the incentives for Europeans not to rely on the United States? Why bother carrying out robust military operations alone, or investing in new military capabilities, when the US will save the day anyway?
Libya is a good example. Qaddafi spent roughly $1 billion a year on his armed forces. Surely France ($62.5 billion) or Britain ($62.7 billion) alone could have defeated him? It would have taken longer, may not have relied mainly on air power, and therefore would have been much more difficult - but they could have done it.
Why does the United States let Europe rely on it? Like parents with their teenage children, Americans can’t really complain about Europeans not taking more responsibility if they don’t let them learn from their own mistakes. If a Libya-type scenario occurs again in Europe’s neighborhood, where the United States has no interest, Americans should leave it to the Europeans.
Europe should realize that it will become more responsible for its regional security as the US turns its attention and focus towards Asia. A new division of labor will arise. Being a credible regional actor is the EU’s best stepping stone in taking on a more serious global role. There will be no more Kosovo-like situations as in 1999, where the American military came to the rescue in the end. The future will hold situations like Georgia in 2008 and Libya in 2011, where Europe is in the lead and the United States, at best, is ”leading from behind”. This means that Europe has to work harder to develop joint capacities for ensuring regional security. Pooling and sharing resources amid defense spending cuts, such as the French and British agreement takes step to do, is a solution to the fewer resources that will be at Europe’s disposal. In reality, Europeans strengthening their capabilities to handle security issues in Europe will also lead to a strengthened transatlantic relationship.
An early step that Europe can and should take to assert greater autonomy from the U.S. is to reboot its relationship with Turkey - a major partner that, apart from the notable outreach of High Representative Catherine Ashton, has been mostly surrendered to be handled by Washington. EU states, and especially France, need to work back to the policy that pacta sunt servanda so that Turkey’s EU negotiations proceed. This is not about Turkish EU membership, something that is at best a decade or two away, when both Turkey and the EU will both have changed and when the next generation of politicians on both sides will decide what works best. It is about having a healthy EU relationship now with the biggest military and economic power between the EU and India, with whom full and open cooperation would be a major asset for EU policies to manage the current turmoil in the Middle East.
Defense is the missing word from the European dictionary. We are not preparing for post-Cold War challenges, east or west. The US is refocusing on the Pacific area, China plans a blue water fleet, yet the pan—European army dear to Churchill is a mirage. There is no coordination at all in the defense field - even short wave radios in EU armies do not connect. With no military muscle to flex, Europe will continue to simply be a junior partner in the old alliance.
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