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European defence policy forecast

Hajnalka Vincze

First of all, it is worth underlining that neither the French elections of 2007, nor those in the United States in 2008 are bound to alter in a notable way - i.e. in addition to the gestures and effect-based announcements scheduled for these occasions - the traditional orientations of the two countries’ foreign and security policies. Likewise, the calvaries of the new European treaty, the actual rhythm of the EU’s blind rush to enlargement, and the endless transatlantic initiatives based on stylistic changes in Washington are equally secondary from the point of view of the real evolutions in European integration and in our relationship with the United States.

Transatlantic and European context

In the field of European-American relations, the fundamental determinant remains the structural tension between two series of antagonistic interests: one (American) aimed at securing overall control and absolute predominance, the other (European) seeking to preserve an autonomous room for manoeuvre. In the short run, one cannot expect to escape from the current stalemate in which the United States is no longer able to prevent Europe from gradually moving towards more independence, while we Europeans are not yet ready to fully accomplish our emancipation.

As regards intra-European divisions at the origin of all these procrastinations, we are faced with what Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had named “the collision of two philosophies”. In fact, the visions of the Member States are incompatible both with regard to the bases of the partnership to be established with America (unilateral dependence or European autonomy guaranteeing transatlantic reciprocity), and the very content of European integration (supposed to erode or, on the contrary, to multiply our collective capacity of political decision and action).

As long as these contradictions remain, there are, at the all-EU level, only two possible scenarios. Either negative integration (limited, as the lowest common denominator, to the deconstruction of internal barriers but without building a common political entity) results inexorably in the disappearance of our European sovereignty, or, as a reaction, each one reverts to their national dimension, which is, however, highly insufficient vis-a-vis today's challenges. Sooner or later, nevertheless, every scenario leads to the only possible solution: Europe - or, initially, an avant-garde of European countries - will have to take on genuine political content in order to defend authentically European interests and priorities. For the one simple reason that nobody will do it in our place.

By a double paradox, the solution will come from the most delicate and controversary field, namely that of an increasingly autonomous European defence, whose progresses will, in addition, continue to be largely inspired by the United States which is however firmly opposed to it. In fact, the blatant pursuit of absolute supremacy awakens, by rebound, the instinct of self-preservation in others; the all-security discourse inevitably rehabilitates the role of the State and political considerations; and the open promotion of the concept of “economic security” contributes to the realization of the intimate link between power and prosperity.

Simultaneously, one can expect the “politization” of a whole panoply of technological, industrial, research and procurement issues related to the military sector. These questions, long time kept away from the political debates under the pretext that they would be too “technical”, will be increasingly appreciated at their right value, as being at the heart of the power games that determine our societies’ mutual relations and conditions of existence.

European security and defence policy (ESDP)

As regards the general dynamics of ESDP, it is to be recalled that its setting up proceeded in full gear even at the very moment when Member States were wrangling over the US war against Iraq. The development of European defence is simply ineluctable. This does not exclude possible blockages in the future, not for circumstantial reasons, but because of the fundamental divergences that can constantly come to the surface. But in a temporary way and, paradoxically, in the long term with a revitalizing effect for the whole process. Since blockages at Twenty-five open the way for advances in a small number of voluntary countries, who will thus be able to show the way towards more ambitious and resolute policies.

Priority issues

Among the topics already figuring on the agenda, three deserve particular attention.

·   In the field of research and development, harmonization of operational needs and co-operation on specific armament programs will continue to be carried out on the basis of variable geometry (i.e. among those willing and able to participate). Nevertheless, the area of security-related research opens a long-awaited breach for the Brussels Commission. Its involvement will be legitimate insofar as the safeguarding of European technological-industrial bases and the exploitation of civil-military overlaps are increasingly present in the initiatives launched at the European level.

·       Given the growing number of ESDP operations, the development of the co-operation in the field of intelligence is also inevitable. Nevertheless, beside the progressive improvement of the Union’s relevant structures, the “Big states” will continue to share their most sensitive information through well established and restricted networks, and will maintain their (by the way completely legitimate) reservations towards any kind of clearing house at Twenty-five, which is by nature suspect and uncontrollable.

·          Before anything else, space policy is to play an absolutely crucial role in the transformation of Europe into a fully-fledged strategic actor on its own right. Contrary to rather demure official speeches, the obvious link between civil and military space aspects is today known and recognized by all, so much so that a first inventory of space systems essential to ESDP has already been drawn up. Debates are nonetheless in sight over issues such as anti-missile defence projects, military application of Galileo and GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) and, more largely, between the proponents of a short-term approach, focusing on purely commercial terms, and advocates of a long-term strategic vision for space policy.

Certain taboo issues cannot avoid to find themselves, sooner or later, in the spotlight.

·       The thorny question about the introduction of a European preference in order to preserve our technological and industrial bases will arise with a growing acuity. This in spite of the predictable re-emergence of the traditional equation which combines a fierce opposition inside (under pretexts of short-term economies), and concessions coming from the outside designed to discourage the European allies’ quest for independence. The specific measures which will have to be introduced include, inter alia, European counterparts of existing American provisions. Such as legislations inciting to “Buy American” and identifying companies of strategic importance which must remain in American property. Furthermore, procuring armaments of European origin could be encouraged via various Community instruments, including the appropriate adaptation of the Stability Pact.

·          The issue of a common territorial defence is far, very far from being closed with the ambiguous formulas of the new “constitutional” treaty. Texts (with the treaty of Maastricht of 1993 already outlining the prospect of a “common defence”), practice (thanks to the multiplication of EU external operations and the activity of common border control units), and symbolic (due to European leaders’ pompous speeches) all contribute to a situation where a genuine mutual collective defence guarantee becomes, slowly but surely, impossible to circumvent. Be it at an all-EU level or in a kind of avant-garde to begin with, such a commitment will have to be reflected in the doctrines, structures and capabilities.

·          Opening even larger perspectives, the question of nuclear deterrence seems more and more like an elephant hidden under the carpet. If there have always been a tacit agreement behind ESDP to keep “the atom” at safe distance from anything that could even resemble to an agenda of the 25 EU leaders, this vow of silence becomes definitely obsolete today. In addition to the “test balloons” sent out regularly from Paris (evoking with insistence the European dimension of the French deterrent force, in order to assess the reactions), world events can propel, at any moment, the nuclear issue to the top of the European agenda. As for the role of catalyst, there is a wide range of choices: anti-missile defence plans, forthcoming renewal of the British nuclear arsenal, shortcomings of international non-proliferation regimes, potential terrorist acts implying radioactive materials, CBRN threats against European troops in external operation, possible military nuclear accidents, polemic about US nuclear warheads still stationed in Europe, or concerns vis-a-vis the new nuclear doctrines (doctrines of use this time) envisaged in Washington.

Transatlantic dimension

Finally, EU-NATO relations are to be mentioned, keeping in mind that they are merely the (more or less) visible tip of the iceberg of transatlantic relations. Consequently, they are marked by the structural tension already evoked at the beginning. Or, in the words of the director of the European department of William (Bill) Clinton’s National Security Council: “For now it is Europe that is emerging as America’s only major competitor”. Rather in spite of herself, let us add immediately. By a simple reflex of self-preservation.

In any case, as regards EU-NATO relations, a series of unsolved problems will reappear from time to time in very tangible form (e.g. controversies over priorities to be granted to one or the other organization; two-way accusations of duplication; search for way outs to escape the obligatory consensus between allies; competition for financing, manpower and capabilities). And that despite the fact that a precarious stalemate ensures - for the time being and for sometimes diametrically opposed reasons  - the pursuit of co-operation. In the long run, however, there is only one way to establish and preserve a genuine partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic. It is to put an end to our unilateral dependence and to base transatlantic relations on the principle and practice of reciprocity between sovereign parties. Any other scenario would steer Europe towards discredit outside, loss of legitimacy inside, and - even in the best of the cases – complete marginalisation and powerlessness.


Ongoing reconfiguration of power relations on the international scene, as well as the creeping pressure of “survival crises” (related to environmental pollution and depletion of natural resources) put the entire European policy in a radically new perspective. One in which the cost of inaction is felt in an increasingly direct way. Jean Monnet’s remark is today more timely than ever: “We only have the choice between those changes that we will be dragged into, and those which we will have known to want and to accomplish.


europe de la défense, armement, dissuasion nucléaire, relations transatlantiques, avant-garde

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