Prepared for the IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, 10 September 2001

Managing Divergence

by Kori Schake, Senior Research Professor at the Institute for National Strategic Studies of the National Defense University, Washington D.C.

Many opponents of emerging EU defense capabilities, both in the US and Europe, are concerned that it will presage the divergence of US and European military forces. This is occurring, and will continue to occur, whether or not the EU focuses its defense policy and money on meeting the Helsinki Headline Goal. The divergence is primarily a function of the technological and, increasingly, organizational change occurring in US forces. EU states are unlikely to spend the requisite money to keep pace with US transformation (except for Britain and possibly France), largely because they are not occupied with the demanding non-European scenarios driving innovation in US forces.

The important improvements in power projection and forces for peacekeeping underway in the EU as a result of the Headline Goal will benefit US interests by providing a force capable of filling the gap between US-led military interventions and the United Nations standard. Turkey's refusal to allow the use of NATO assets is likely to continue, raising the cost to the EU of pursuing ESDP. However, devising alternatives to "assured access" is likely in the interests of both the US and EU, irrespective of Ankara's actions. If the EU were to emphasize constructive duplication – innovative ways to replicate by more cost-effective means the high-end capabilities on which US and NATO forces depend – it would make the use of force by the EU genuinely autonomous. It would also make EU states an even more valuable set of allies for the US because, instead of drawing on assets scarce even in US forces, they would be making a critically important contribution to coalition warfare.

The Bush Administration has taken a much more encouraging approach toward ESDP than its predecessor, but that support is contingent on ESDP developing as outlined by Prime Minister Blair: with a NATO right of first refusal, and missions limited to peacekeeping.[1] Secretary of State Powell, widely considered the architect of the more EU-friendly posture in the Administration, believes he has assurances from his EU counterparts that ESDP will develop "in a way that will be fully integrated within the planning activities of NATO."[2] This actually secures for the Bush Administration the constrained ESDP that the Clinton Administration's "three ds" policy had been designed to produce.

The Bush Administration is also less interested than its predecessor in the use of military force for conflict management – the Petersberg tasks that ESDP is being designed for – either in or outside Europe. An EU reaction force optimized for peacekeeping would facilitate the Administration's "à la carte multilateralism", reducing the pressure on the US to become involved by filling the gap between NATO operations and the much less capable standard of the United Nations.[3]

The Turkish veto remains a wild card in the development of ESDP. Many in the EU explain Turkish objections to the use of NATO assets solely as an aspiration to leverage influence for Turkish accession to the EU, without giving sufficient credence to Ankara's concerns about deployment of EU forces negatively affecting Turkish security. Turkey should be suspicious of an EU role in the Aegean, especially if Cyprus becomes an EU member, and likely has supportable concerns about the EU intervening in the Caspian region, Palestine, or even in support of Kurdish communities. Sanctimonious commentary from the EU about only members being able to influence EU decisions hardly facilitates resolution, either.

However, Ankara seems oddly unwilling to come to terms, which suggests a more punitive strategy. By preventing the use of NATO planning staffs and other assets, Turkey can potentially force three damaging effects on the EU:

Moreover, these could appear to be problems of the EU's own making, since the EU would have to choose to initiate planning outside of NATO.

Whether the US would or could constrain Turkey's options is unclear. The common interests Ankara and Washington have in managing Turkey's neighbors (Iraq, Iran, and Syria), and supporting Israel gain Turkey the benefit of the doubt. Americans are more sympathetic than EU states to Turkish concerns about ESDP, more likely to believe the EU should carry over rights that had been provided Turkey in the WEU, and very skeptical of the soundness of bringing Cyprus into the EU.

Resolving the Turkish veto would require three unlikely things to happen: (1) the EU to give Turkey full participation in decisions about deployments to regions affecting Turkish security (at a minimum, the eastern Aegean and Cyprus); (2) the US to be willing to provide US assets directly to the EU if Turkey prevents the assignation of assets through NATO; and (3) Turkey to accept that its exclusion from the EU has a legitimate basis in the domestic structures and policies of the Turkish government. None of these three conditions are likely to pertain.

Turkey withholding NATO assets to the EU may, in fact, turn out to be beneficial to the EU, NATO and the US. It will force an end to the politically expedient but potentially catastrophic reliance on "assured access" to NATO – and, implicitly – US assets. The two most important practical problems with the EU relying on NATO assets are:

The very assets the EU will most likely want to rely on NATO to provide are strategic intelligence collection and assessment, theater reconnaissance, secure communications, airlift, precision strike forces, logistics to sustain deployed forces. These capabilities are very expensive and scarce even in US forces. The EU is unlikely to be able to rely on guarantees of availability for European crisis management of assets that the US also needs for fighting wars and managing crises globally. A real assurance of availability would mean that the crisis management priorities of the EU would take precedence over the other responsibilities and interests of the US.

The Kosovo campaign, although smaller in scope than anticipated Major Theatre Wars, employed nearly the entire allocation of air assets for an MTW and adversely affected US commitments elsewhere. Had the US been challenged in Korea, the Persian Gulf or Taiwan, the US would have reduced the tempo of operations in Kosovo or, depending on the severity of the contingency, withdrawn altogether as the critical military assets were assigned to those higher priority missions.[4] If the retasking of US military forces were considered during a NATO operation, it is even more likely that the US would withhold or withdraw them from an EU operation.

The kinds of information and communications technology the US has bought into its military forces for more than a decade have given our military the ability to see the battlefield more precisely from greater distances, transmit information securely to forces more widely dispersed, and acquire targets more accurately. The change has been occurring for a sufficient amount of time that it is beginning to affect how the US organizes for, trains, and even thinks about warfare. Maintaining the ability to fight together in transatlantic coalitions will become more difficult as a result of these changes occurring in US forces.

The shrinking US government budget surplus will likely encourage even greater experimentation and transformation. The Bush Administration, Congressional leaders and the military all agree that we cannot execute the current strategy or afford to sustain the current forces. The service chiefs' request for an additional $100 billion – an additional 1% of GDP! – made their solution out of the question. Even Americans' amazing tolerance for high defense spending will not likely countenance an additional $100 billion with so little threat to the country. Hard choices will have to be made about priorities, risk tolerance, and other seminal issues; and the Administration cannot equivocate on the choices in a fiscal environment this tightly constrained.

The EU's focus on improving power projection forces – while greatly to be commended – will also aggravate the problem, as the very low rate of commitment to meeting Defense Capability Initiative Goals demonstrates. In the same time frame that EU defense planners will be concentrating on constructing interoperable forces at the lower-end of the conflict spectrum, the US military will be accelerating in its efforts to capitalize on the information and communications technologies that are transforming US operations at the high end of the spectrum.

We should no longer pretend that either the EU or NATO is going to spend its way out of the problem. Money that could be made available through reprogramming – "spending smarter" – has not materialized. The defense budgets on which EU states are operating will not permit them the luxury of replicating in the EU the same patterns of military organization and operation that exist in NATO, even before accommodating the transformation underway in US forces. While indexing EU defense spending in constant dollars is perhaps unfair, the IISS analysis drives home the point that EU defense spending increases are marginal. The dependence of EU militaries on very expensive and scarce US assets cannot be overcome by modest increases in spending unless the EU finds very creative ways to employ force with greater cost effectiveness (and perhaps tolerating greater risk). The EU will simply not be able to employ force the way the US is going to, or even the way NATO currently does.

Which is not to say that the EU cannot, or should not employ force autonomous of NATO and US support. It can and it should. The EU is just going to have to think differently, and much more cost-effectively, about sufficient and sustainable ways of providing capabilities. This would be a painful transition, as it will likely involve relinquishing comfortable ways of doing business that produce jobs and status symbols. But it will gain for the EU a near-term, substantial increase in their capability to meet the Helsinki Headline Goal and successfully conduct the Petersberg tasks.

As an example of how the EU could improve on strategic lift, instead of pursuing the A-400M, perhaps the EU should look into some combination of leased governmental lift from countries like Ukraine and Russia, creating a civilian reserve air and sea fleet program to enlist the commercial lift of EU states for crisis deployments, and pooling funding to purchase existing aircraft. None are solutions as satisfying as developing and buying the A-400M, all the approaches have associated risks, and the project would require intensive multinational planning and tighter integration of EU forces. However, the EU probably cannot afford to meet all the demands of autonomous operations if it does business as expensively as developing the A-400M. Similar solutions are in range for strategic intelligence, theater reconnaissance, strike forces, and research/development/procurement.

Such a radically different way of doing business would make interoperability more problematic in the near term. NATO would likely have to accept a division of labor corresponding to geographic areas of operation since the US and EU forces would be less able to connect with each other. But a geographic division of labor is surely preferable to a functional division of labor of the sort in evidence during the Kosovo air campaign. NATO's military structure could even – in the long term – end up as the two pillars connected only at the top wished for by many a French diplomat. But the Atlantic Alliance is strong enough to manage the divergence of US and European militaries as long as NATO continues to have common interests and military forces on both sides of the Atlantic continue to make politically meaningful contributions to coalition warfare.

The status quo of transatlantic military interoperability is not sustainable. Beginning by allocating scarce defense Euros to duplicating capabilities that both enhance EU autonomy and reduce the burden on heavily-taxed US military assets creates the prospect of constructive duplication of assets between the EU and NATO. Improving the European Union's ability, and fostering its willingness, to take more responsibility for managing crises with less reliance on the US need not damage NATO. The practical problems are manageable, and trying to sustain the status quo would be equally problematic.

Note: This article is based on a monograph forthcoming from the Centre for European Reform.

[1]Bush, Blair Joint Press Conference at Camp David, 23 February 2001 (

[2]Powell, Patten Discuss ESDI and Iraq, 27 February 2001 (

[3]Ambassador Richard Haass, "U.S. Foreign Policy: How Much Change is Possible? How Much is Desirable?", Speech given at the Nixon Center, 28 July 2001.

[4]US Department of Defense, Kosovo Lessons Learned Report to Congress, pg. 120.