An all day conference on April 26th, “EU’s Common Security & Defense Policy” (CSDP), was an EU effort to inform the American security and defense experts and diplomatic residents of Washington on the accomplishments and hopes for the EU’s hopeful capabilities in the security arena.
The good news is that some progress is being made, and the bad news is that the existing structure of this effort is largely still counterproductive for effective action. And there was no real sign that either the necessary resources or political will are likely to be seen in the foreseeable future. This is said with much sadness since I have long supported the concept of European Union integration and worked for decades in this field both as a diplomat and scholar.
What can be said, with respect, is that there was a large, if somewhat subtle, acknowledgment of this weakness among the EU speakers, and a strong desire to put on a good face and provide some hope. But the reality is that defense budgets in Europe are already very low, except until now for the UK which is now in the process of cutting its defense funding. The background is the economic crisis is forcing even more cuts in this area, including in foreign assistance. The possibility of independent action by the EU in the security sector is frankly diminishing rather than increasing. The EU decision structure is not underpinned by real capabilities, a fact highlighted by the recent NATO analysis of the Libya operations.
Most acknowledge the difficulty of getting 27-28 nations to agree on any action, thus the pride among them that they were able to do anything. Good work has been done by the EU in some key places, especially in the Balkans and Horn of Africa. Yet the reality is that when the tough decisions were needed along with the necessary capabilities in key crisis situations, Europe in the guise of the EU was not there by-and-large.
There was a good showing of U.S. officials at the meeting who diplomatically urged Europe to get their act together and make a greater contribution. Amb. Rick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a new and needed State bureau, focused on oncoming crises. He noted that we will not likely go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan again, and the focus will be on places that are most significant, like Syria, Burma, Asia/China, Honduras, and Salvador. A key point he made was the need to focus on and deal with “thematic crises” rather than purely national ones. He said we have more “micro successes” than “macro successes.” He also cited the need for internal coherence within the U.S. government, the United Nations, and coordination with other actors. He hoped now that America will be a more effective partner and believes we need to work together, including with the EU.
At the meeting was also Amb. Phil Reeker, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European Bureau. He also covers South-Central European affairs and his focus was the continued need to cooperate with the nations of the former Yugoslavia, with the EU still playing a major role in the stability of the region and eventually integrating fully these nations into the European and Transatlantic community.
There was rightly discussion and a number of questions about how to “do more with less.” Some considerable skepticism was voiced of this concept, yet others said this was possible with better cooperation and focus on priorities. Clearly the U.S. can do this with less in the military area, given its already inordinately high DOD budget levels, but there are serious questions if the EU nations can do this and be capable of any major action on their own or perhaps even under NATO. Further, the State Department’s budget is under attack by the House of Representatives, which may seriously restrict our role of peacemaker and our ability to intervene with what we call “preventive diplomacy,” meaning a trajectory towards a big crisis and major conflict rather than acting early when less risky options are useful and effective.
What was not explicitly addressed was the possibility of a divergence of goals, interests, and perspectives between the U.S. and Europe. There was need for more frankness and a better intellectual discussion of this issue and how to maintain unity of goals and purpose as well as action.
By Harry C. Blaney III.