During the early stages of the NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo, it became increasingly clear that the war-making contributions from NATO’s European members were woefully inadequate. Ever since, NATO members from the European Union (EU) have been wringing their hands over what every NATO member, including the United States, agrees is an unacceptable situation.
Britain’s armed forces minister candidly acknowledged, “We have to accept the fact that Europe has not been pulling its weight in its own backyard.” Italy’s prime minister recently complained, “Europe spends over 60 percent of what the U.S. spends on defense but gets only 10 percent as much.” NATO’s secretary general, Lord Robertson of Britain, recently put the problem in perspective: “There are around two million people in European armies in uniform today, and yet the European allies had to struggle hard to get 40,000” or 2 percent of their troops “to go and serve in Kosovo.”
From one meeting to another, the defense and foreign ministers of European nations have pledged to increase sharply their defense capability. Finally, at an EU summit meeting in Helsinki recently, members formally approved the so-called European Security and Defense Identity, which calls for the development by 2003 of a new European rapid-reaction force of 60,000 troops.
Of course, identifying these needs and pledging to deal with them represent the easiest response to the capabilities crisis of NATO’s European members. Providing the funding to carry the pledges out is an altogether different matter. Lord Robertson recently reminded his European colleagues that “you cannot buy security on the cheap.” But it remains to be seen if Germany, for example, was listening. In recent years, Germany has permitted its defense spending to plunge to 1.5 percent of total economic output, about half the U.S. level. German Defense Minister Rudolph Scharping has acknowledged that it would cost Germany tens of billions of dollars to upgrade its forces, but Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has instructed him to cut yet another $10 billion from the defense budget by 2003. Other European nations will be equally hard-pressed to finance their pledges.
Another possible problem is that the plan would also create new institutions, including a separate military staff and a permanent political and security committee. Mr. Cohen has expressed concern that this new European military structure might unnecessarily duplicate NATO’s structure. Gen. Wesley Clark, the American who is NATO’s chief military commander, worries that such institutional duplication may eventually result in a “decoupling,” thus impeding the effectiveness of the NATO alliance rather than improving it.
It’s worth noting that this crisis-response force could serve European interests that may not involve the interests of non-European NATO members, particularly the United States. According to the Helsinki summit’s declaration, “The objective is for the union to have the autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and then to conduct European UnionU-led military operations in response to international crises.” As U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen has noted, the European defense initiative ideally would be “separable but not separate from NATO.” That goal is one the European participants ought to have before them at all times.