- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 1999

The Helsinki Summit saw important decisions on European defense. This has been the subject of a great deal of speculation in recent weeks much of it inaccurate, some of it deliberately misleading. It is time to set the record straight.
Let us first be clear about what last weekend’s decisions do not mean. The European Council explicitly did not sign up to a single European army. A decision on whether to commit British forces to military operations will continue to be a decision that is taken by the British government. Nor is this part of some continental conspiracy to construct a vast European superstate.
Of course in matters of security the British government along with other sovereign governments will in the main operate as part of an alliance. It is now very unlikely that any major military operation in Europe or elsewhere would be conducted by Britain or any other European nation acting alone.
For 50 years the main focus of our military effort has been through NATO. And this will continue because NATO has always been a partnership between America and Europe. But we have found increasingly that this partnership has become unbalanced. The quality and abilities of forces contributed by the European nations has not been sufficient set alongside the input of the United States. Europe must pull its weight. We have to shoulder a greater share of the burden of our own security. So what we are doing, and what we got from Helsinki, is a commitment to enhance capabilities available to the nations of Europe. We need to do this not as an alternative to NATO, but to make NATO still stronger.
This prospect is accepted indeed welcomed by our American allies. Every senior figure in the U.S. security establishment has encouraged a stronger, more capable Europe. As U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said recently, “For many years, members of Congress have been asking Europeans to assume a greater share of the burden … We welcome this, and as long as it is understood … that this is done within the context of having a European capability that will strengthen NATO itself, there is no ground for this speculation that somehow, this is leading to a division between Europe and the United States.”
So “more Europe” does not mean “less America.” Indeed it is most unlikely that we would do a Kosovo-style operation again without the United States, which means through NATO. This has always been and will continue to be where the most difficult, the most challenging and the most intense operations will be planned and executed.
But we should not assume that our American allies will always want to commit forces to every peacekeeping operation affecting Europe. The nations of Europe need therefore to act decisively, when the alliance as a whole is not engaged. First of all this means modernizing Europe’s armed forces. With too few exceptions these forces are still structured to meet yesterday’s world war threats. We have found during Kosovo that the large forces we have on paper are not readily available. We have problems getting them to where they have to be, and sustaining them when they get there.
We must therefore raise our game. For some countries this may mean spending more on defense but the first task has to be to spend more wisely. There is too much duplication. Although in Europe we spend something like two-thirds of what the United States spends on defense, we get nothing like two-thirds of the capability. In the United Kingdom, we have reshaped our forces through the Strategic Defense Review and now have greater emphasis on strategic lift, logistics, and deployability. We look to others to follow that lead.
In Helsinki, on the basis of U.K. proposals, European Union (EU) leaders committed themselves to specific defense performance targets. They specified the scale of armed forces that they should be able to deploy rapidly, with the right skills and equipment, to make a difference in a crisis.
As with NATO, we do need to be sure that when EU nations decide to act together they can do so with maximum effect. The EU as an organization does not yet have the structures or the experience to run military operations. But this is something that can and will be developed, drawing on NATO’S experience.
We do not envisage a large military bureaucracy duplicating NATO. This would make no sense, financially, politically, or militarily. The bulk of military capacities for planning and conducting European operations will come from those resources available to NATO. And NATO has already announced in its summit in Washington, in April, that it is ready to develop arrangements that will allow the European nations access to its assets and capabilities.
No one doubts that Europe is setting itself a demanding target. The real test is whether these changes will leave us stronger or weaker. It is difficult to understand those who say first that Europe is failing to punch its weight, yet also say that if it tries to do better this will somehow weaken the involvement of the United States. This is a defeatist argument. Of course we can never provide the same level of resources and the same power as the United States. But that is no reason for European nations not to do more.

Geoffrey Hoon is Britain’s secretary of state for defense.

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