Mon, 07 Feb 2000

New balancing act for Europeans, Americans

By Michael Stuermer

BERLIN: "If you can't ride two horses at once, what are doing in the circus in the first place?" Lord Robertson of St. Helen, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary-general since summer 1999 and before that British defense minister, summed up in his famous question all that there is to say about ESDI from a NATO point of view. In the alphabet soup of the strategic alliance, the new acronym stands for European Security and Defense Initiative.

In contrast to the European Political Cooperation (EPC) of the 1970s and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) or PESC as the more memorable French acronym has it) of the 1990s, for the last few months the participating Europeans look as if they mean what they say.

It certainly helps credibility that the old blockades are now a thing of the past. And ESDI only includes as members those nations which are willing and able to set in motion a muscular foreign policy and put soldiers in the field.

On the cards is a rapid reaction force with the numerical strength of a NATO corps, 50,000 to 60,000 men, with air and sea back-up units. The force should be ready by the end of 2002 to go into action at two months' notice and be capable of pursuing a campaign of one year.

The last requires suitable spheres of operation, however. It excludes, for example, the classic NATO case, outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. This comes to bear, heaven forbid, in the event of a joint defense against an attack on the territory of a NATO partner.

There are as yet no geographic terms of reference limiting the range of such an operative unit. In principle, its scope and ambit is unlimited although practice locations and emphasis seem to suggest its commanders envisage an area similar to the Province in southern France but with much worse infrastructure as far as roads, bridges, water supplies and clinics are concerned.

But however the borders between NATO from ESDI are drawn, the Europeans will continue to depend on NATO help and massive American support in the areas of command, control, communications and information. The same is true of air and sea transport. But this support will not be forthcoming without U.S.-imposed conditions.

Everything began with the Anglo-French decision taken at St. Malo in December 1999. The European heads of state or government who approved the plan and promised support in word and deed, took their lead from the measures to ensure peace, chiefly through peace-keeping and humanitarian assistance, detailed in 1993 in what is known in strategic jargon as the Petersberg tasks.

Peace enforcement, which can bear striking similarities to a small-scale war (see Kosovo), remains in NATO's ambit. Or, in less protocol-bound language, the Europeans are saying: We don't want to get involved in uncertain and escalation-prone engagements without the Americans.

What the Europeans are demanding remains limited. The assumption, though, is that in bitter reality, limits are rarely static so that the ambitions of a France or a Britain will still reach further than that of a Germany, for example. Here pan- European conflicts lurk at every turn.

The British would like to see their involvement in "the Eurocorp framework" of German, French, Belgian and Spanish units, from which they are currently excluded. They would dearly like to bring their strategic leadership capabilities and their special relationship with the United States into Europe, especially as regards reconnaisance.

France sees in ESDI the chance to pull its partners in a more Gaullist direction. The Germans, for their part, want to save what they can from the political union, notwithstanding their strategic shortfalls.

Conflicts are bound to occur, principally with America. Although Washington and the Pentagon have given their seal of approval to ESDI in all its forms and, if push comes to shove, their assistance as well.

But the strategic dissent is already making itself felt, because the sort of operations ESDI will undertake will be the ones the Americans will steer clear of. If that is because of their insignificance, then so much the better; but if the non- involvement stems from serious differences, then things could get dangerous. It may be too that the United States is engaged elsewhere.

The world's sole remaining superpower may still be aiming for the skies -- literally, with their theater missile defense system and metaphorically with a military revolution, that high-tech mega-project which couples reconnaissance and long-range weaponry to ensure a completely mastered field of engagement.

As the latest report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington has shown, however, its abilities to wage conventional war is decreasing concurrently. The United States is a maritime power, and engagements in the heart of a far continent are neither in its tradition nor its national interests.

In the first and final analysis, it was this skeptical appraisal of strategic content that prompted the British in 1998 to extend their unconditional "NATO first" concept, which has its roots in World War II and the beginnings of the Cold War.

Europeans and Americans, ran the credo, should become indispensable partners. That, however, presupposes a balance which has never existed: the fact is that during the long years of the Cold War, NATO was -- and remains no less today -- a force largely determined by American leadership, strategy and technical superiority.

This imbalance is less a product of American aspirations of world hegemony than of European interests in strategic aid. During the days of the Soviet threat from the East, the Europeans were at pains never to give the United States the impression that they could if necessary hold the fort alone.

With the exception of France and Britain, the Europeans henceforth accommodated themselves nicely under this umbrella, heedless of their inadequate defense budgets, ageing ordnance and superannuated command structures.

But in point of fact, the Americans were not always prepared to accept a "strong European pillar". Although John F. Kennedy demanded it forty years ago and Henry Kissinger called for it in the "European Year" of 1973, what Washington really wanted was strategic and material relief from the weight of their responsibilites. In short, what they termed "burden-sharing".

At the same time the Americans feared a Europe-wide Gaullism taking root. There is still a decisive tendency in Washington to confront the European with pre-formed decisions, to get drawn into conflicts which were not their own -- and in the end to foot the strategic bill.

For the British government, ESDI was not only dictated by security considerations. As Britain is likely to stay out of the Europe's core project, the single currency, for a number of years yet, it was in the British interest to play on and profit from its peculiar strengths. Its European partners, for their part, saw their chance to employ pragmatic British ideas on ESDI to overcome the thicket of institutions the incongruence of EU and NATO, EU and Western European Union (WEU).

ESDI will demand that both sides, Europeans and Americans, do what George Robertson so eloquently described: ride two horses at the same time. What may confound the laws of physics, thankfully does not apply to statecraft.

-- Die Welt