BRUSSELS | The emergence of a European Union force, separate from NATO, could lead to a drastic overhaul in the international security landscape as the two compete for scarce defense resources, analysts and officials say.
Although the European Union has no formal army, it increasingly has deployed forces on stabilization and peacekeeping missions under the EU banner.
This already is threatening NATO’s ability to garner the necessary military capabilities and could undermine the long-standing alliance between Europe and the United States, according to some analysts.
Starting in Macedonia in 2003, the European Union has staged almost two dozen missions. The operations are ad hoc, with troops and equipment supplied by participating nations on an as-needed basis.
At its inception in 1996, the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), an umbrella for missions by the EU, fell under the NATO framework.
However, the ESDP was removed from NATO and folded into the EU institutions in 1999, prompting then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to warn about a duplication of responsibilities.
Both alliances - one loosely assembled and the other formal - have engaged in missions related to terrorism, energy security and piracy.
“There was a sense that Europe needed to grow up a bit, and this was part of growing up,” said Nick Whitney, who served as the European Defense Agency’s first chief executive.
“This has been about politics from the start and not about what’s practical. It’s been about giving the EU … a sense of identity,” he said.
Geoffrey Van Orden, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament and a brigadier in the British army, warns that the ESDP and NATO missions are ultimately irreconcilable.
“Of the 28 members of NATO, 21 are EU members. So why do we need duplicative organizations when there’s such a major overlap of membership?” Mr. Van Orden asked rhetorically. “This whole approach is detrimental to NATO and a distraction from what we should be doing.”
He added: “Here’s a classic example of pure waste by duplication. The European Union merely rehashes capabilities that NATO requires from its members and passes them off as their own.”
Mr. Van Orden also is concerned that the dual military structure will send mixed messages to potential enemies.
“NATO and the U.S. might say one thing while they’re hearing another thing from the European Union. I don’t see a separate set of strategic threats which are distinctly European. The threat is to the world’s democracies, and they’re shared threats. Nobody can justify [EU operations] on any logical grounds,” he said.
In Brussels, from which both alliances are directed, some suggest that two competing missions compete for Europe’s scarce supply of military equipment and combat troops.
For example, the two jostled for helicopters badly needed for both the NATO mission in Afghanistan and the EU mission in Chad in early 2008.
“[It] turned into a beauty contest between NATO and the EU,” Mr. Whitney said.
Giles Merritt, director of the Security and Defense Agenda, an influential Brussels-based forum, described the helicopter issue as a turf war between officials and high-ranking commanders that was exaggerated unnecessarily as a contest between NATO and the ESDP.
“The reality is that on the European side, they’re the exact same forces. It just depends on what badge they put on them for political reasons,” Mr. Merritt said.
“The idea that some are European troops and some are NATO troops and that they are in competition with each other is complete fiction.
“The Europeans’ lack of resources, that’s the major problem.” Mr. Merritt said. “The Europeans are going to [have to] wake up to the resource gap on their defense spending and ensure that more than 2 percent of people in uniform are deployable to combat.”
NATO and EU missions can coexist peacefully, so long as they specialize, he said.
“Both have naval forces down [in the Gulf of Aden] at the moment trying to deal with piracy, and they seem to be happily cooperating,” said Mr. Whitney, the former EDA chief, now with the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“They don’t butt heads on a [regular] basis. Sometimes it seems best for NATO to respond, and sometimes it seems best for the EU to. NATO is more naturally qualified for serious warfighting because the U.S. is part of the picture,” he said.
“Europeans have less muscle, but they have some other advantages, like the ability to deploy policemen and government administrators,” he said. NATO is “purely military and doesn’t have civilian capabilities that most operations we’re embarking on now are in need of.”
“The other reason,” he said, “is that [NATO is] U.S.-dominated. The U.S. is by far the biggest ally, and that allows the other allies to sit in the back of the class and not participate. Afghanistan has been a classic case of this.”
Michael Ryan, defense adviser to the American diplomatic mission to the European Union, said the U.S. is not threatened by the European defense force.
The reason, he said, is, “It offers the promise that Europe will develop the capabilities to take on more of the burden of the challenges of the 21st century.”