IISS/CEPS European Security Forum

Chairman's Summing-Up

by Klaus Becher

The horror of the unprecedented terror attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and against the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 changed the agenda of international security in many respects. It was therefore essential for the European Security Forum to address the consequences this change was having on European security in the first meeting after the events. At the time of this meeting, the military campaign against terrorism was still in its early stages in Afghanistan, with uncertainty over the duration and effectiveness of air attacks. The discussion focussed on three main aspects: (1) implications for Europe's alliance with the US, (2) strategies vis-à-vis Middle Eastern countries, and (3) the importance of values for long-term success in the war against terrorism.

The first speaker David Gompert defined the strategic task the US and others were facing as reacting to the "failure" of 11 September in a way that would keep both safety and values intact without triggering an adverse escalation of the fundamental problems that exist in the wider Middle East, or even triggering a "global civil war" as Osama bin Laden may have been hoping. This required a long-term strategy to reduce vulnerability to large-scale terrorism, mainly through improved law enforcement and intelligence efforts as well as civil and infrastructure protection. In addition, a process of reform, political openness and renewed legitimacy would be required in the Middle East to remove the roots of terrorism. Such a long-term strategy could only be pursued effectively in a multinational manner, not unilaterally by the US. The US-European link had to be at the heart of this effort, setting a role model for a more equal and more global joint approach to international security.

Alexei Arbatov underlined from a Russian viewpoint that the strike against Al Qaida in Afghanistan had become a test case for the wider war against terrorism and therefore needed to succeed. He suggested that Russia had emerged as the principal political partner for the US with a broad potential for improved cooperation. However, President Putin had to be able to show positive results lest he may be forced to turn away again from his Western course. Russia therefore would have to be involved in the planning of operations and in post-war arrangements, and receive Western support for strengthening its own defence against the new threats. In his analysis of the emerging strategic situation in and around Afghanistan, Arbatov stressed the dangers of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal getting out of control and the need to rebuild Afghanistan economically to replace the drug trade.

François Heisbourg provided a systematic interpretation of the extent and nature of the "epochal" strategic change since 11 September. The reality of existential terrorism had accelerated the end of the post-Cold War era. Russia had shifted closer to the West. The vulnerability of developed societies had been demonstrated, as had the problem of failed and dysfunctional states. Europeans would have to pick up more of the burden in the Balkans. In the mid- and long-term, there had to be an expectation of violent change in the Middle East.

NATO's old rationale, the automatic defence of Europe by the US, was dead. NATO had gained a new role in non-article 5 operations, but after the Kosovo campaign the US would be unlikely to ever again tolerate a parallel chain of command through NATO. All this came at a time when the EU was at a crucial point in defining its future identity, role and structure. Europe's reaction after 11 September had been schizophrenic: Instead of displaying a common position, Europe had turned to its national leaders and their bilateral links to Washington. At the same time, extraordinary new initiatives of deep European integration such as the European arrest warrant proved possible in the field of justice and home affairs, doing away with national sovereignty. In defence, however, there was no readiness for moving beyond the limitations of the Petersberg tasks and for increased spending.

Finally, François Heisbourg pointed to the weakness of the "coalition" in the war against terrorism. It was not a coalition at all, certainly not akin to the Gulf war coalition. Instead, the US had chosen to be alone in the lead, with some consultation. He suggested that a restatement of the values that bind the US and its worldwide allies together in the new era of existential terrorism, like the Atlantic Charter that was proclaimed by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941, would provide both legitimacy for the joint effort and guidance for shaping the new era, especially vis-àvis the Middle East.

Authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia should be put on notice that in exchange for ensuring their security they will in the future have to abide by a set of rules that imply major change In the discussion, American participants underlined that the US strategy in the ongoing war against terrorism was unilateral only in respect of military operations – because this was a case of self-defence –, but not as matter of principle. It was multilateral in all other respects. Those who feared that the US commitment in the wider Middle East would be ephemeral ought not underestimate the degree of change in the US mind. Americans felt they had been forced to go to war and were now prepared to reliably engage in a long-term effort.

One participant suggested what was truly new since 11 September was that for the first time a non-state actor had had a major strategic impact by exploiting a new dimension of asymmetric warfare. Other discussants pointed to the achievements and further promises of the ongoing military transformation in US defence for coping with this kind of challenge. It was suggested that the US needed to promote a better understanding of the quality and strength of its own asymmetric war-fighting capabilities – with rapidly deployable, versatile forces with effective force protection and precision-strike capabilities – to prevent an unnecessary and damaging downscaling of political objectives vis-à-vis the terrorist challenge in spite of having both legitimacy on one's own side and control of unprecedented military capabilities. Regarding the desirable scale of military objectives in Afghanistan, one discussant warned that conquering and holding territory and taking control of the capital would be of limited value unless one could be certain that one would eventually leave it in better shape.

On the transatlantic alliance, it was remarked that there was no equality between US and EU – especially not in military capabilities –, but that there were common interests. It was noted that Europeans were disappointed over the US rejection of their offer of direct military support under article 5, and that for political reasons the US should have been more open to such a multilateral framework. Several European participants suggested that European NATO countries needed to strengthen their military capabilities and increase outlays both for internal and external security.

Also, it was felt that with the new unity of effort in the war against terrorism, ESDP would have to move into collective defence because the "Petersberg world" could not be separated anymore from the "article 5 world". One speaker suggested that once European defence would face up to the military implications of the large potential security risks in the Middle East, similar military transformations as already underway in the US would be required in Europe. Then there would be a new opportunity to work together in NATO to get right.

Since 11 September, the EU – and especially the European Commission – found themselves thrown into the security realm, including issues such as critical infrastructure protection. Several participants stressed that the EU could do more in support of the war against terrorism in home and justice affairs, especially with respect to the control of illicit financial transactions. These efforts were recognised as a strong likely impulse for institutional change and more integration in the EU.

Some discussants proposed that to win respect in a Middle East context it was essential to avoid any impression of weakness and to employ overwhelming force even if this was not "politically correct". One Russian participant commented that overwhelming force had not been a successful, stabilising strategy in Chechnya. Others felt that it would also undermine support in Western societies. It was accepted that in response to the virtually open-ended threat of Al Qaida terrorism to kill Americans wherever, the concept of proportionality would indeed allow very intense levels of force. However, efficacy and political sustainability were likely to put the focus on special operations forces, not just in the case of the US.

The war against terrorism was also seen to have a public relations aspect as an effort to win the hearts and minds of people both at home and vis-à-vis the Islamic world. The latter, as one participant remarked, did not just consist of foreign countries but was also present in European cities. It was observed that most of the Muslim world was apparently still in a state of denial and was not facing the question why Islamic societies had produced this extreme form of terrorism. While there was a recognition that improved welfare and education in those countries would be desirable, most participants felt that it was above all the deficit of democracy and its underlying values that was causing the problem in societies where dissent was only possible through violence and under the cloak of religion.

Several speakers thought it was necessary to define rules for dealing with authoritarian regimes in the wider Middle East that were supportive of the fight against terrorism or were otherwise helpful, such as Saudi Arabia for energy supply security. One speaker wryly commented that this was a case of A.O.S. – all options suck. A realistic view, it was claimed, would recognise that Islamic societies were not ready for the imposition of democratic values, and any such attempt would risk provoking the wrong results. Others blamed such a narrow realist approach for the present problems and stressed that it was conceptually insufficient for coping with the challenges of relations with Islam.

Several speakers underlined that the community of democratic societies would not possibly have the required staying power for sustained joined efforts if the population were not driven by idealism and shared values. No part of the world was off limits for universal values. There was no reason to assume that Islam and democracy couldn't coexist. As elsewhere, the rise of the middle classes with their economic, political and legal demands would likely lead to democratic change. One participant reminded discussants to be inclusive in this context and not to speak of "Western" values as this would undermine the anti-Islamist efforts in secularised, moderate Muslim societies.

At the end of the meeting, there was – on the one hand – a feeling that the still uncertain, unfolding events in the war in Afghanistan would determine the future course of many of the issues discussed. On the other hand, there was agreement that since the attacks of 11 September old rules and priorities had clearly changed, as reflected in the determined, impressively well-focussed actions taken by governments on the national and international level since then.. In many respects, however, it remained unclear which systemic and institutional consequences the new era would generate. It was clear, though, that the quality of political interaction and cooperation between North America and Europe, including Russia, would be one of the crucial factors that would shape this new era.