IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, 8 July 2002

Chairman's Summing-Up

by François Heisbourg

When the eighth meeting of the European Security Forum was organised, Robert Kagan had not yet published his landmark article "Power and Weakness" on US-European relations in the June-July 2002 issue of "Policy Review". Not surprisingly, the propositions set forward in that piece were at the centre of a particularly lively discussion, after the presentations given by:

The presenters and the participants in the discussion were invited by the Chairman to bear in mind the following questions:

The Chairman also made two points, directed at Mr. Kagan:

To these points Robert Kagan made the following remarks in his presentation:

In the ensuing debate, a participant made a vigorous set of comments:

Along similar lines, a number of participants queried the nature of Europe's identity: is it simply "not America" or is it (as tended to be the view around the table) more than the negative definition? This query led in turn to the issue of the generation of an EU strategic culture.

This brought the comment from a European that it is through actions that a strategic culture would be generated; more generally, he pointed out that ESDP was motivated by reference to the US, albeit not in a negative sense: ESDP was established to do what the US wouldn't do, as well as to work with US. As for EU introversion, the fact is that there has been no major debate on the EU's global role in world affairs, because it hasn't – until now – needed to have one: the Convention would have to work on this.

On the degree of divergence between the US and Europe, several European and American participants suggested that synthesis was more likely than incompatibility: the US is actually more engaged in soft power than is often acknowledged (and indeed sometimes more so than the EU, notwithstanding the latter's unique contribution to development aid); nor is the US unhappy at being a single superpower rather than being part of the more benign European vision; in any case, a Europe at peace is seen in Washington as a strategic asset for the US.

To this was added by an American participant the suggestion that the relative and absolute increase of US power during the last 20 years was probably slowing down, with information technology no longer driving economic growth, while the costs of homeland defence are rising: the US should be in the market for partners. Paul Kennedy has ceased to make his "strategic overstretch" argument: he was wrong at the time he made it, he may be wrong again by no longer making it...

These benign remarks drew some European ripostes: the US was acting in an aberrant, largely unpredictable manner, as an autocrat who didn't care about the views of others. Indeed, notwithstanding US exhortations that the Europeans should spend more on defence, the US didn't really want the Europeans to spend more: the US was quite content to see the Europeans confined to peace-keeping tasks, while making the point that it is the "mission which makes the coalition" (a form of denial of the relevance of permanent alliances), and shooting at European attempts to build up their aerospace and defence-industrial base (with US moves against 'Galileo' being a recent example).

As for the Europeans, the point was made notably from a Russian participant, that they had no reason to be unduly proud of their soft power role: the US was leading the field in the former Soviet Union whether in the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programme, or in nation building in the Caucasus or on migration issues on the Chinese-Russian border. Similarly, Europeans deplored the EU's incapability of "self starting" on the simple, obvious moves: there was no European-wide action during Operation Alba in Albania or the recent deal on the evacuation of Palestinians from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Nor had there been a European-wide initiative to meet the obvious requirement to increase defence spending after 9/11: unfortunately, it looks as if nothing short of a 9/11 type attack against Europe itself would trigger a serious European response.

In closing the three speakers made the following points: