Europe shouldn't imitate the
U.S. on the military front


PressInfo # 194

 January 28, 2004


Jonathan Power, TFF Associate


LONDON - Europe doesn't figure much in the Democratic primaries any more than it does in the White House. Perhaps it is understandable why France, Germany and Belgium, and to some extent, Britain, are pushing hard for Europe to have its own defense identity. NATO is too dominated by American decision making, so the argument runs, and Europe needs not only the freedom to deal with what it perceives as a crisis without having to win Washington's support but if it is to be a mature political entity it needs its own military establishment and command and control. Only when it has its own significant military might will America treat Europe with the respect and attention it deserves. Besides without a sense of forward momentum in the European idea the U.S. will have increasing success in its apparent policy of divide and rule.

But what exactly would Europe gain? And is there a point in going ahead with such a fraught and expensive enterprise when the one sure outcome is to feed American paranoia about European long term intentions? Besides, America is not going to stop being unilateralist-inclined just because Europe decides to beef up its own defense. Quite the reverse, in all likelihood. Unless European opinion is set on an irrevocable break with America- which manifestly it is not- is it not better to concentrate on what Europe does best- which is aid, diplomacy and peacekeeping- and continue its attempt through the joint institutions which exist, whether it be NATO or the UN, to temper the American bias towards too readily thinking there are quick military solutions to complicated problems? Moreover, isn't the last thing the world needs, in a time of unprecedented peace between the world's big powers, to be building up the military muscle of a new political bloc?

Giscard d'Estaing, former president of France and recently president of the European Convention, has talked of the anti Iraq war movement as marking the birth of a "European public consciousness". But it would seem to be a profound contradiction to translate this, as he has done, into a clarion call for a new military enterprise. Would it not be better to accept Europe's relative military weakness and to play to European strengths in finding alternatives to war (after all its own initial raison d'etre) and use its enormous economic muscle to fashion political instruments of diplomacy, advice and sometimes economic coercion that often work far better than military force?

In practical terms there is no way that Europe can bridge the gap with an America that spends 3% of its GDP on the military compared with Europe's 2%. Likewise, there is no way that the U.S., whether led by Republicans or Democrats, is going in the forseeable future to match European spending on the non-militaristic side of foreign policy. European countries contribute three times as much aid to developing countries and twice as much to the UN budget as the U.S.. European countries contribute ten times as many soldiers as the U.S. to peacekeeping and policing operations around the world- in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Eritrea, Mozambique and, most recently, the Congo. 90% of  Western aid to Afghanistan comes from Europe.

This is what Europe does reasonably well, and it should build on it so that its political and diplomatic energy can be made commensurate with what is the world's largest economic power. Yet since the 1999 EU summit in Helsinki it has seemed to want to go in the other direction- nearly all its initiatives and financial appropriations are for nurturing new military capabilities.

The lesson of the Balkan wars is not that Europe needed more jet-bombers but that it couldn't get its act together in the disturbing time of Yugoslavia's transition from monolithic communist state to individual, rival, nationalist dictatorships. Then the EU could have, by use of the kind of carrots it now deploys all over eastern Europe, persuaded Yugoslav public opinion to renounce those leaders intent on the charge to civil war and instead promote those who would have fixed their electorate's eyes on achieving peace and prosperity by working hard to enter the Union.

While there can be no doubt that Europe badly needs its own single foreign policy, beefing up a collective military points in all the wrong directions. Europe has ample opportunities to make a far-reaching contribution to dealing with the world's trouble spots with the power it already has. It just has to learn to use it better- as it recently did with Iran in the successful attempt to persuade its leadership to open its nuclear industry to outside inspections.

What the world needs most, as new powers like China and India are coming on to the scene, is at least one power that has learnt through its own history of fratricidal wars that there is a better way to go than building up military strength- and has the will to put this into practice.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2004 By TFF & JONATHAN POWER



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