January 2008 – Work in Progress: European Security and Defense Policy – Implications for Transatlantic Cooperation

by Stoyan Stoyanov. Stoyanov, a Fulbright Fellow, is JINSA’s Europe Project Research Associate.

by Stoyan Stoyanov. Stoyanov, a Fulbright Fellow, is JINSA’s Europe Project Research Associate.

Historically, security and defense have proved problematic on a continent that for centuries has been divided by mutual suspicion and devastated by frequent wars. Since the Second World War, attempts to establish a European Defense Community and build a pan-European military not only turned into a fiasco, but also stalled the European integration process for years. Today, however, the situation is vastly different. After the 2005 rejection of the European Constitution by voters in France and the Netherlands, the Euro Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) is one of the few areas where progress has been made.

The ESDP, a component of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), was intended to counter the prevailing notion of the EU as an economic giant, but a military dwarf. Often referred to by European officials as a “work in progress,” the ESDP stirs fears that it might undermine NATO and fracture the transatlantic alliance. Given the rivalries and the omnipresent fretting over sovereignty issues, however, the ESDP is unlikely to evolve into a full-fledged military organization which can match NATO.

In an attempt to overcome the confusion caused by the Dutch and French rejection of the European Union Constitution Treaty two years ago, EU leaders launched an Intergovernmental Conference on July 23, 2007 charged with streamlining decision-making, providing the union with legal personality and guaranteeing control of national governments over the EU institutions. Significant changes in the EU founding treaties were proposed for approval by the heads of state at the Lisbon Summit on October 18-19, 2007.

History and Evolution

One of the most important elements contributing to the ESDP’s establishment was the outbreak of war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It revealed EU members’ deficiencies and their inability to react without support from the United States. France, which championed the idea of EU military capability independent of NATO and U.S. influence, saw ESDP’s birth as a great success. France remains one of ESDP’s staunchest supporters.

The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty allowed for the development of EU military capabilities but it was only during the Anglo-French summit at St. Malo in December 1998 when British objections were overcome, that a specific agreement could be subsequently adopted. That initiative became the object of considerable debate at the 50th NATO Anniversary Summit in April 1999. Eventually, the NATO heads of state decided to make NATO military assets available for “EU-led operations.” ESDP codification appeared for the first time in the 2000 Treaty of Nice. In December 1999 in Helsinki the EU announced its “Headline Goal” to establish an institutional framework for a 60,000-man rapid reaction force by 2003 that could deploy within 60 days. These troops would be drawn from existing national forces and would be prepared to participate in humanitarian assistance, search and rescue, peacekeeping and peace enforcement missions – the so called “Petersberg tasks.” The latter cover a wide range of missions including humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks, and peacekeeping and peace enforcement. There were significant implementation problems related to the Helsinki Headline Goal which, in December 2001, at the Laeken Summit, prompted the launch of the European Capabilities Action Plan to identify capability gaps and shortfalls. In May 2003, the European Union declared its rapid reaction force to be operationally capable, but acknowledged shortfalls in certain defense capabilities, most notably strategic airlift.

When it became clear that it would not be possible to achieve the Helsinki Headline Goal within the specified timeframe, European Union defense ministers approved “Headline Goal 2010” in May 2004 focused on improving deployability, sustainability, and interoperability, with the key element being the battlegroup concept. The EU-approved Headline Goal 2010 envisaged the creation of a 1,500-strong high-readiness battlegroup capable of being deployed in 15 days for up to 4 months. In 2007, the EU announced it would support two such battlegroups simultaneously. Drawing from lessons learned during the French-led Congo mission in 2003, the battlegroup model is considered more practical and sustainable than the rapid reaction force. It will be expected to serve as a bridge for deployment of larger peacekeeping forces.

In June 2000, the European Union established a civilian police force of 5,000 and in 2001 it set targets for the number of deployable teams of law enforcement and civilian administration experts. In an effort to further improve its civilian crisis management capabilities, EU leaders agreed in 2004 on a Civilian Headline Goal for 2008.

Another effort to improve European military capabilities and interoperability in 2004 was the establishment of the European Defense Agency (EDA). Its focus is to improve cooperation in weapons research and procurement in the traditionally highly protected national security field. Despite doubts and criticisms over effectiveness, to date it has achieved some success, especially through encouragement of cross-border competition and procurement dependent on its members’ adherence to a voluntary code of conduct.

Since 2003, the European Union has participated in numerous peacekeeping and crisis management missions through the ESDP. EU-led forces took over United Nations policing operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina in January 2003, followed by the initiation of the EU peacekeeping Operation Concordia in Macedonia the same year, which replaced the small NATO mission there. In addition, the EU has sent troops to Congo and law enforcement units to the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia.

According to experts, the ESDP has overextended itself in an attempt to institute civil and law enforcement components. No doubt, future crises and counterterrorism operations will require not only military but also police and development specialists. The problem, however, in the case of ESDP is that it is encroaching upon resources and missions that traditionally fell under the most problematic and underdeveloped of the three pillars of the European Union – cooperation in justice and home affairs. That fact, together with insufficient funding and considerable over-bureaucratization, will impede future EU large-scale involvement in crisis management.

ESDP: Structure

The ESDP is integrated within the institutional framework of the CFSP. It is subject to intergovernmental cooperation, and institutions such as the European Commission and the European Parliament have virtually no influence on it. Before reaching ministerial and heads of state bodies – the General Affairs Council (GAC) and the European Council – the issues related to security and defense are elaborated in a network of committees composed of professionals from each of the EU member states. Three of these committees are the permanent political and military decision making bodies established by the European Council in Nice in 2000. They are the Political and Social Committee (PSC), the EU Military Committee (EUMC) and the EU Military Staff (EUMS).

The Political and Security Committee (PSC) plays a key role. It is the Council committee, meeting at the ambassadorial level, which is responsible for crisis management and strategic military options assessment. It delivers opinions to the GAC, examines draft conclusions of the latter, and coordinates between the bodies – which is especially necessary in crisis situations. Under Article 25 of the Treaty of the European Union, the GAC can authorize the PSC to exercise political control and strategic direction in military operations. The PSC maintains a privileged link with the Secretary General/High Representative and the special representatives, as well as providing a forum for dialogue with NATO. During operations the Secretary General/High Representative may chair the PSC, direct the activities in the Joint Situation Center of the EU, and report to the GAC. Besides the Situation Center, which supports the PSC and provides it with intelligence on crisis management, a Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management provides information and drafts recommendations to the PSC on civilian dimensions of crises.

The Political and Security Committee guides the work of the EU Military Committee and receives the latter’s recommendations and opinions. The EUMC is comprised of the Chiefs of Defense of the member states or permanent military representatives. The chairman of the EUMC, if necessary, takes part in PSC meetings, and liaises with the EU Military Staff. The latter consists of experts seconded to the Council Secretariat, which is headed by Lt. Gen. David Leakey from the UK. The EUMC has about 200 military experts seconded from member states to the Council Secretariat, and maintains liaison cells to the UN, the African Union, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). There is also a NATO liaison officer at EUMC.

The European Defense Agency

In an effort to streamline cooperation in security and defense, the General Affairs Council established the European Defense Agency (EDA) under a joint action in July 2004. The EDA is governed by a Steering Board headed by the Secretary General/High Representative and includes the Ministers of Defense from its 26 member states (all EU members except Denmark participate in EDA). The main functions of the EDA are to:

  • develop defense capabilities;
  • promote defense research & technology;
  • promote armaments cooperation;
  • create a competitive European defense Equipment Market and strengthen the European Defense, Technological and Industrial Base.

Besides EDA, there are two other official agencies under the ESDP – the EU Institute for Security Policy Studies (ISPS) in Paris and the EU Satellite Center in Torrejon, Spain. The ISPS provides research, policy options and explores ways to develop the transatlantic dialogue. The Satellite Center specializes mainly in satellite imagery analysis and electronic communications.

The latest addition to the ESDP network is the EU Operations Centre, staffed primarily by EUMS staff and officers from the European Union member states. Based in Brussels, it was announced operational in January 2007 and can provide autonomous planning capabilities and operational command to missions of limited size, i.e. up to two battlegroups with about 2,000 troops. The latest EU military exercise MILEX 07 in June 2007, while not involving any military units on the ground, was a command post exercise and tested the interaction between the EU battlegroup Headquarters in Sweden and the EU Operations Center in Brussels. MILEX involved about 200 military and civilian experts, and the scenario in play bore a striking resemblance to the situation in Sudan.

ESDP: Constraints and Challenges

Although the ESDP has achieved some operational successes, strengthened its institutional structure and closed some of its military capability gaps, it still faces a number of serious challenges. Possibly, the most daunting of these challenges is the rising concern among EU member states about protecting their national sovereignty and interests. This concern has become particularly acute since the most recent European Union expansions of 2004 and 2007. Some Western European countries fear losing control over the EU decision making process and even being unwillingly drawn into international conflicts. To counter this, the requirement for consensus within the EU remains and can potentially block politically sensitive ESDP initiatives and, therefore, undermine the ESDP’s effectiveness.

Europe’s history has created diverse security patterns across the continent which are difficult to change, posing yet another challenge to ESDP effectiveness. During the Cold War years, Norway, Sweden and Finland formed the so called “Nordic Balance” with Norway participating in NATO, Sweden being neutral and Finland maintaining close relations with the USSR. As a result, the latter two countries never joined NATO, and the only reason Russia did not oppose their later EU accession was that Moscow did not perceive the EU as a military threat. That might change, however, with enhanced EU defense policies and military capabilities. Furthermore, with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia now in the European Union, Russia may begin to view the EU as a potential threat.

Austria might prove another obstacle to ESDP cohesiveness. In 1955, Austria officially declared itself permanently neutral and passed legislation formally prohibiting membership in defense alliances. Its EU membership and, in particular, its participation in the ESDP is in breach of the May 15, 1955 Austrian State Treaty, which also incorporates the declaration of neutrality. As a result, Austria adheres to an abstentionist policy to avoid objections from Russia. While Austria participates in the ESDP it eschews participation in EU battlegroups. Malta and Slovakia also refrain from military involvement in ESDP, and Denmark refuses to participate in any decisions concerning security.

None of the abovementioned countries, however, represent as much of a security challenge to European Union defense policy cohesiveness as the Republic of Cyprus. Since 1974, Turkey has occupied some 37 percent of the territory of the island of Cyprus. The European Union has proved impotent in solving the problem, resulting in, what is arguably the European Union’s greatest security humiliation. The Cyprus situation is also an example of how the pursuit of national interests can hamper the security of the EU and offers an explanation of why nation states do not want to relinquish control over decision-making fearing a loss of sovereignty. The Cyprus case is considered a tremendous diplomatic success for Athens, which managed to turn the dispute with Turkey into a major problem for the European Union.

Another challenge for the ESDP is military interoperability. Every European state trains its troops in different ways using a wide variety of weapons systems. The latter presents a tremendous logistics problem effectively crippling joint operational and combat capabilities. This is particularly acute in expeditionary missions when forces depend on a long supply chain. The well-known problems experienced during the UN-sanctioned mission in Congo illustrate these difficulties. Although attempting to address troop interoperability by having each EDA member open training sites to other members, ESDP does not provide for a coherent EU-wide training program. Military officials have complained that each country uses a different “language.” Significant problems are also posed by the lack of an intelligence and communication sharing system.

Finally, the ESDP’s budget is extremely limited. EU members prefer to allocate funds to address social and infrastructure projects rather than defense. Compared to the U.S. Department of Defense’s $450 billion budget, the ESDP’s 160 million Euro budget is tiny and the bulk of the investment is made by states according to their national security programs, which are not necessarily synchronized. Moreover, there are huge discrepancies in spending levels among these states. EU members rarely spend more than two percent of GDP for defense, and their cumulative military spending is about $300 billion for a force of about 1.8 million troops. France and the UK champion defense spending and are the only countries which maintain potent expeditionary forces and airlift capabilities to deploy and sustain these forces outside Europe. Furthermore, all EU members have underfunded, and often redundant, research and development programs, hampering the development and production of advanced military tools such as guided munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite communication systems.
NATO vs. ESDP – What are U.S. Interests?

While the EU leaders view the ESDP as the next big integration project and seek to enhance it, the United States fears that doing so might inflict irreparable damage on NATO, the cornerstone of transatlantic cooperation. Many military experts point out that the majority of the most capable European expeditionary troops are double-hatted under both the NATO Rapid Reaction Force and the EU battlegroups. This raises serious concerns that in case of simultaneous crises, the two organizations might compete for scarce resources. The issue of which organization has claim to the units has not been resolved. Experts also cite the insufficient funds that Europeans allocate for their security commitments as a problem for the future.

The United States government supports European efforts to enhance their military capabilities and to build up capable expeditionary forces. Washington, however, prefers a less autonomous European defense policy, favoring one more closely tied to NATO. In that respect, U.S. policy is to encourage the improvement of ESDP capabilities, not institutions. Ultimately, America would like to see European forces integrating aerial refueling and airlift capacities, which could be made available for NATO missions.

Successive American administrations have called for increased defense budgets by European allies who, after the end of the Cold War, drastically reduced their military spending. The latter enjoyed the security bonus by diverting funds to social and economic development programs and relying on the United States to provide security guarantees, causing many American analysts to accuse European allies of “freeloading”.

The problems NATO faces in strengthening transatlantic cooperation arise in part from the fact that it operates in a totally different security environment than the one it was tailored to fit. Its emphasis is on military affairs, which might be suitable for countering nation-state threats, but cannot adequately address asymmetric threats stemming from non-state actors.

Efforts at transforming NATO and changing its mission to counter terrorism and non-proliferation have thus far met with limited success. Success in this sphere is dependent upon the sharing of information between intelligence agencies and tactical cooperation between law enforcement services. Both have been reticent to share information, fearing that methods and sources might be compromised. Although there is significant liaison and cooperation in the field, mutual trust is limited. The modus operandi of intelligence agencies is that there are friendly nations, but there are no friendly intelligence agencies.


If NATO is to remain the pillar of transatlantic cooperation, it has to incorporate intelligence and civilian agencies within its structure. Therefore, a new comprehensive agreement on missions, threats and capabilities must be drawn up by the allies. Blaming others for failures to achieve progress in that aspect is counterproductive. Europeans learned their lesson and know the United States will negotiate with the EU on matters related to security only if the EU structures possess capabilities. On the other hand, the ESDP is not the only culprit. The United States has pursued bilateral agreements and building “coalitions of the willing.” The latest example are American plans to deploy ballistic missile defense components in Europe without obtaining approval in NATO structures. That can be explained through justified fears that such discussions might delay or block deployment of the systems due to widespread opposition in major West European countries.

Some view ESDP as a dagger pointed at NATO’s heart. Others view NATO as a tool to impose American interests on Europe. The problems within NATO did not begin with the 2003 intervention in Iraq nor with the establishment of the ESDP. There is a long history of transatlantic disputes which failed to destroy NATO and the ESDP is unlikely to destroy transatlantic relations either. The ESDP is more of an attempt to unite a fundamentally disunited European Union and serve as a conspicuous accomplishment after the chaos into which the EU plunged after its latest expansion and the subsequent fiasco with the European constitution. Furthermore, the leadership changes in major European countries indicate an alteration in the approach toward transatlantic cooperation and NATO.

Unlike his predecessor, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is not hostile to the United States, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not as sympathetic toward the EU integration process and close relations with Russia as was her predecessor. Ultimately, it is the divergent views and struggles within Europe that will prevent comprehensive European agreement on the transformation of transatlantic cooperation. There are no indicators that these divisions will be overcome anytime soon.


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