Prepared for the IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, 8 July 2001

ESDP: A European View

by Nicole Gnesotto, Director, EU Institute for Security Studies

As at mid-2002, taking into account the impact of 11 September, the prospect of EU enlargement and the emerging work of the Convention on the future of the EU, most commentators tend to believe that the momentum for ESDP has been lost: the Europeans appear to be as divided as ever, the technological "gap" between European and American military forces is supposedly increasing every day, the NATO-EU relationship is still in limbo and, except for the Balkans, where the EU is showing real political involvement, the Europeans are suspected of being unwilling to tackle any security issue seriously.

There is no doubt that the Europeans are having some difficulty in adapting to the new international context created both by the terrorist threats and by political and military developments in the US after the attacks. Over-militaristic and hyperunilateralist, the United States has somehow become a destabilising factor in traditional European security thinking.

1) New world, new rationale, more ESDP

But it would be a mistake to conclude that the momentum for implementing a European Security and Defence Policy within the EU framework is dead. The momentum is changing, simply because the rationale for ESDP is today totally different from what it was in 1999.

Back to Saint-Malo, there were two main reasons why the 15 decided to include defence among the EU's normal competencies. The first related to internal European debate and policy: a defence dimension was felt necessary in order to complete CFSP and give the EU more coherence in its foreign policy; the lessons from the Balkans crisis, and, moreover, the weakness of the EU during the military campaign in Kosovo, played an essential role in the EU's new determination. The second rationale had to do with transatlantic relations and the future of NATO: a European military capability was considered necessary to compensate for the new uncertainty over US military involvement in crisis management in Europe (both the French and the British learned this from their experience in Bosnia). It would also be a way for the Europeans to influence seriously US military strategy, in cases where the US decides to be involved. And finally, it could help to strengthen NATO by strengthening European military capabilities, once it was clear that NATO itself had failed to create, within the old rules of its ESDI, any European political or military momentum.

What has changed in 2002? On the EU side, the issue is not so much ESDP as how to improve the EU's CFSP. The real issue is the functionning of CFSP itself via the questions raised by the Convention: how can the EU define a common foreign policy with enlargement approaching? What do the 15, and later the 23 or 27, want to do in common vis-à-vis the rest of the world? What might be the international role of the EU, especially in crisis prevention and crisis resolution, once it has become the leading economic and demographic power? How will an enlarged EU be able to decide and to act? In other words, it is now policy, and not defence, that is (rightly) at the heart of the European debate. Defence has reverted to its normal role as a technical instrument at the service of a common policy.

On the transatlantic side, the issue is no longer NATO but the US itself. There is no point, in this short paper, in listing all the drastic changes that President Bush has imposed in US military and political thinking. But there is little doubt, in Europe, that the United States has become a totally new and different actor. Actually, three conclusions can be drawn from this new US policy. First, regarding peacekeeping, there is no US uncertainty any more: we know that the US has other priorities than peacekeeping in the Balkans, Afghanistan or anywhere else. The US is even more explicit on its refusal to accept this burden. But we also know that somebody has to do it. So the Europeans will have to do the job, whether they like it or not, more and more, and increasingly by themselves. Second, US aversion to multilateral constraints, including within NATO, will change the ways and means the Europeans will have to find if they still wish to influence any US policy: this can be done through bilateral relations, or by creating greater European capabilities. If the US understands only military criteria, then the EU will have to do more in that area too. Third, if NATO moves from being a collective constraining organisation to a flexible reservoir of ad hoc coalitions, then strengthening this new – and enlarged – lego-type NATO may become problematic: whatever the Europeans decide to do, it could appear more and more irrelevant to the future of NATO.

The result of this new security context is clear: the paradoxical effect of terrorism is to make the Petersberg tasks more urgent and more necessary. For the EU, ESDP is no longer an option but a necessity, whether the Europeans like it or not:

Less America in Europe, more ESDP: this could be the defining formula in Europe post-11 September.

2) National sovereignty, still

Since Maastricht (which established the CFSP) and Cologne (ESDP), European security and defence policy has been implemented within the limits of two essential constraints: the national sovereignty of member states on the one hand, the US role and the Atlantic Alliance on the other. The two basic dilemmas have been how to reconcile national sovereignty and political integration, and how to reconcile a strategic and political Union with a strong and permanent NATO. ESDP has been created and implemented in the room for manoeuvre left by these two issues.

In 2002, these two factors still help to explain both the progress and the limits of ESDP. But there is now a marked difference between these two traditional constraints:

The result is that national sovereignty remains the main obstacle to the development of a military Europe. Implementing CFSP and ESDP depends more upon the political will of member states than upon the state of the Alliance. This does not mean at all that ESDP is becoming easier. The problems are well known : first, the discrepancy in the EU between interventionist and abstentionist states, and between the specific military strength of each of them. Second, the different perceptions of power among the member states. Third, the question of big and small, which can be a kind of red flag in all debates on the future organisation of a more political EU.

These are the main questions the Convention will have to address. 2003 will be the moment of truth both for ESDP and for the EU: by the end of the year, the headline goal will have to have been met (for the time being, the member states have fulfilled more than two-thirds of the 144 capability requirements identified in the Helsinki Catalogue). Equally, at the same date, the Intergovernmental Conference will have been completed under Italy's presidency, with the obligation to adopt the new rules, institutions, and decision-making processes which will enable the larger EU to work, decide and act, including in security and defence matters.

3) Military power, but for what?

But all future developments of ESDP and CFSP will depend on the common vision that the Europeans arrive at, or not, of the proper international role of the EU, and thus on the objective and use of power. No doubt the European view and practice of power are markedly different from America's.