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Europeans Contemplate a New Defense Identity

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2000, Feb. 24, 2000 – “The problem in NATO is not too much America, but too little Europe.” German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping's one-liner last December put in a nutshell the problem Europeans are having building what they call a security and defense identity.

For 50 years, NATO has been the shield of Europe and North America, and the United States has been the alliance's linchpin. But that was the Cold War, and this is now. European leaders have spent the past 10 years grappling with how they'd douse a flareup on the continent if the United States stayed parked in the firehouse.

That concern spurred the 15-nation European Union to try creating the European Security and Defense Identity. The European Union is composed of Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and 11 NATO members -- Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom.

The search for a European security identity is not new. Europeans since the end of World War II have striven for a unified continent. The European Union -- the old Common Market -- is the descendant of an economic movement that started in the early 1950s. Today, bills in European Union countries list the price in both Euros and the local currency.

So economic consolidation is happening. The development of a European defense identity has not kept pace, however. Part of this was due to the Cold War, according to Javier Solana, European Union high representative for common foreign and security policy, speaking to a defense audience in Munich in early February.

“For over 50 years NATO has been the only institution capable of responding to the challenge of both safeguarding trans-Atlantic links and of organizing the effective defense of a free and democratic Europe,” Solana said. Though Europe may no longer face a massive attack, he said, “There are new challenges. They may not threaten our existence, but they do threaten our way of life, our values and our interests.”

Solana, immediate past secretary-general of NATO, said the crises in the Balkans sounded an alarm bell for Europe. “[Bosnia and Kosovo] revealed the shortcomings of European national and collective military capabilities,” he said. “Europe may have sufficient numbers of troops, but it does not have the capabilities required to project and sustain them in order to manage today’s security challenges, let alone those of tomorrow.”

It is strange, he said, that after years of some American critics maintaining that Europe has not done enough militarily, those same critics are worried about the Europeans trying to do too much.

U.S. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the United States believes a stronger Europe means a stronger partner.

“NATO is, and should remain, the principal foundation of trans-Atlantic and European security,” Cohen said. “A coherent European capacity to act in its security interests should multiply NATO’s power, not divide it. We believe that every step toward (the European Security and Defense Identity) should meet that test.

“In short, a stronger Europe strengthens NATO,” he said. “A stronger NATO will, in turn, strengthen Europe.”

Cohen said the American view is that any formulation of a European security identity must involve the eight NATO allies who are not European Union members. The eight are Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Poland, Turkey and the United States.

"(They) must be able to participate in the European Security and Defense Identity in meaningful ways, in planning and preparation, not just as spectators,” Cohen said. “Both organizations can grow stronger, but only if they grow together, not apart.”

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson also welcomes efforts to forge a European defense identity. During the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels in December, he said, “I detected broad support for my three "I's": The ESDI must bring an improvement in capabilities, it must be inclusive of all allies, and it must reaffirm the indivisibility of allied security.”

Leaders at a European Union summit in December agreed to an ESDI “headline” goal: a proposal to create a rapid reaction force of 60,000 troops that would be available for a variety of missions within 60 days when NATO as a whole is not engaged. The force would not be a European Union army; rather, it would cover anything from humanitarian relief to peace support operations. Member nations would voluntarily contribute forces.

European Union officials have stressed they would launch an operation only after full discussion with NATO.

Cohen and German minister Scharping insist that people not view the ESDI alone. Both say, for instance, that NATO’s Defense Capabilities Initiative calls for members to acquire more and newer assets that will strengthen the alliance -- and provide NATO and European Union leaders with more and better options.

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