IISS/CEPS European Security Forum

Chairman's Summing-Up

by François Heisbourg

Fate determined that the 4th meeting of the European Security Forum occurred on the eve of the epoch-changing attack of 11 September. Therefore, this summing-up will be somewhat out of the ordinary to the extent that it will attempt to single out those elements of the discussion which may prove of relevance after the hyper-terrorist outrage, while leaving to the side those which have been overtaken by events.

At the outset, the Chairman requested the three paper-givers to take three questions into account in their oral presentations:

Charles Grant, speaking from a European perspective, gave as a clear answer to the "what for" question: beyond the Balkans, the force also has to be able to operate in Africa and the Middle East.

In budgetary terms, the EU's defence budgets are now mainly flat, rather than dropping overall. One particular item of expenditure, the A-400M military transport aircraft, would be indicative of the seriousness (or lack thereof) of ESDP. He deplored the current relatively low public and political profile of ESDP which is now essentially taken seriously by Defence Ministers – whereas higher level involvement would make it more likely to resolve contentious issues such as Turkey. On this score, he expected things to get worse before they would get better: Cyprus's prospective entry into the EU in 2004/2005 would not be taken gladly by Turkey.

Finally, he noted that the EU's current institutions are less than optimal if one wishes to effectively integrate the impressive array of European soft and hard power instruments.

Dimitri Danilov, from the Russian perspective, made the point that Moscow doesn't work on ESDP on its strategic or military merits, since it is far from clear that ESDP actually exists: Russia's attitudes towards ESDP and its RRC are essentially driven by political considerations: the EU (and ESDP with it) is considered as politically positive insofar that it furthers the Russian aim of a "multi-polar world", and because the Russian / EU (and ESDP) interface helps place Russia in Europe, while partnership with the EU (and ESDP) increases Russia's voice in Europe.

Kori Schake, as the American paper-giver, attributed the Bush administration's relaxed attitude towards ESDP in part to Prime Minister Blair's visit to Washington: on this occasion, Tony Blair was understood by his interlocutors as emphasizing that ESDP was only about Petersberg tasks, and that the latter were essentially about peacekeeping. This minimalist vision of ESDP was not the one of the Clinton administration had been exposed to.

On the autonomous planning issue – which is the bone of contention with Turkey – Kori noted that the US has been doing plenty of autonomous planning of its own in EUCOM, alongside, not inside, NATO. Therefore, there is little reason for the Americans to get excited if the EU wishes to do the same.

In the subsequent debate, a senior ESDP figure confirmed that military budgets were in a steady state. On the planning issue, he noted that Turkey should not be singled out, that some found it convenient to hide behind Ankara. On the substance, he recalled that what was at stake in that discussion were not US assets but collectively owned NATO assets – such as AWACS.[1] Finally, he suggested leaving the scope of Petersberg open to ambiguity, for case by case decision-making.

Other participants were highly critical of current European attitudes:

However, an official from an EU and NATO country downplayed the consequences of limited high level support: after all, the show is on the road, and a compromise would occur with Turkey in time for the NATO Summit in Prague in November 2002. As for planning, many European countries used SHAPE as their multilateral venue of choice: national planning by Britain or France posed a problem to such partners who were by definition left out.

Turkish participants, while not expressing unanimous enthusiasm for Ankara's PR strategy, rejected Charles Grant's characterization of Turkey as "unreasonable and inflexible". The difference between US and EU perceptions of Turkey was underlined: unlike the Europeans, the Americans look at Turkey in a broad strategic perspective.

An interesting debate took place on the emerging division of labour between the US and Europe. One American participant considered that this trend was driven by military and technical reality rather than by political design: interoperability was becoming more and more problematic, as American military transformation, supported by defence spending increases, overtook European efforts. A European participant however also stressed the fact that the US was actually encouraging the EU to think essentially in peace-keeping terms – as confirmed by the account of the Bush-Blair meeting given earlier by Kori Schake. A European official did not accept that any given geographical location could be ruled out (with East Timor being cited here) and Petersberg operations could be of a much higher risk intensity and tempo than NATO's UN-style collection of arms in Macedonia.

A former US official indicated that a deliberate geographical and functional division of labour would be deeply destructive.

On the issue of access to NATO assets, another former US official pointed out that NATO assets as such were rather limited – AWACS and a totally useless pipeline, as it were – and that what was ultimately at stake was access to US assets. And Mogadishu had proven that even for low end peace keeping one needed high end assets as back up.

In the concluding round of statements by the paper-givers, the following points were made:

[1] Subsequent to the 11 September attack, 5 NATO AWACS have been put at the disposal of the US for the protection of US airspace, thus releasing national US AWACS for use in US-led operations in the Indian Ocean.