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ESDP and Missile Defense: European Perspectives for More Balanced Transatlantic Partnership

Authored by Mr. Martin Aguera. | December 2001

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Are transatlantic relations currently in a crisis? The public debates over U.S. plans for a missile defense shield and European efforts to create a coherent and stronger military force might support such a thesis. However, as the author argues, transatlantic relations with NATO as its main security institution are not in a crisis. Rather, the European Security and Defense Policy as well as missile defense are transatlantic approaches, although not always commonly organized in the past, that seek to adjust to a more fragile international system. These new approaches have become necessary since the end of the Cold War, but only cooperation and mutual understanding for both projects will guarantee their final realization.


In conclusion, a few worthy points should be summed up. Transatlantic relations are in no crisis,50 but Europe and the United States are reorganizing their security structures. These are changes that have become necessary with the end of the Cold War and that are affecting not just international security as a whole but also the world?s most successful military alliance.

ESDP and MD are transatlantic approaches, although not always commonly organized, that seek to adjust to a more fragile international system characterized by many intrastate conflicts with severe human rights violations or the proliferation of WMD by weak states, terrorist groups, etc. The 1990s have vividly demonstrated this new, fragile international system. They have also demonstrated that, more than ever before, an alliance such as NATO is the key to safeguarding not just transatlantic security, but also international security.51 There is no replacement for it?not now nor in the foreseeable future. Its member states must do all to safeguard this important cornerstone to international security and avoid all that could drive wedges into the common bond.

For Europe, this discussion has brought up two major conclusions: First, it must shape up its rhetoric as far as ESDP is concerned. Europe must reassure the United States at all times that ESDP is a worthy project which is to support the NATO alliance, maintain transatlantic partnership, and not just create a standing European army out of frustration over American hegemony. Then, Europe should, in any case, delete the word ?autonomous? from itsvocabulary because it is a contradiction. Europe?s unified defense efforts will create everything but an ?autonomous? force compared to NATO or U.S. military superiority. Wherever the Europeans might be called upon to intervene militarily, they will be in need of NATO and, subsequently almost certainly, U.S. assets in order to prepare, to conduct or to sustain their mission. Light peacekeeping operations may pose a difference here since Europeans have well proven themselves in Bosnia or Kosovo where they carry the bulk of responsibility today. Yet, every other type of military intervention which succeeds peacekeeping in scope or intensity?such as peace enforcement or war-fighting interventions52?will be a bridge too far for European capabilities alone.

The second implication, arguing from a moralistic standpoint, is embracing the transatlantic relationship as one of the luckiest things that has happened to the West in the last 100 years. Europe has simply far too long benefited from American protection and friendship. The transatlantic relationship was overall characterized through sincere cooperation, not animosity. Of course, American leadership within NATO served both sides and interests. It preserved America?s influence in Europe, but served European interests as well. Europeans knew all too well that there was a strong partner at their side whenever they may have needed one. Now, the time has come to possibly rebalance this transatlantic relationship?again, in favor of both sides. It is in the interest of the United States to have a militarily stronger partner in Europe. This interest not only stems from the fact that the United States will shift much of its security policy efforts away from Europe to Asia in the coming years, but also because U.S. forces were, for decades now, heavily committed worldwide. This has partly put at risk America?s ability to maintain an overwhelming military force due to a very high operations tempo. Europe, on the other side, cannot continue the path it has been walking on for too many years. ?The degree of dependence on the United States is unhealthy.?53 It must build a strongEuropean Expeditionary Force that can be rapidly deployable and still make a meaningful contribution for the whole spectrum of crisis reaction operations. However, the Europeans should not focus on creating such a European Expeditionary Force primarily for peacekeeping operations, but rather designed for high-intensity warfare operations comparable to a 1991 Gulf War scenario. Leaning on American concepts such as the Air Expeditionary Force of the USAF could be helpful in this regard.

As far as the United States is concerned, it should continue pursuing its plans for a missile defense, though in a more cooperative and limited manner. The reasoning for a missile defense, as was made unambiguously clear, is the growing threat through the proliferation of WMD in the hands of actors that are not controllable by international norms. For that reason, the strategy of deterrence as we know it, is indeed no longer enough. Accordingly, the advocates of missile defense made the right strategic assessment by claiming that international treaties such as the ABM-Treaty need modification. President George W. Bush explained correctly in his May 2, 2001, speech at the National Defense University why that is the case,

Like Saddam Hussein, some of today?s tyrants are gripped by an implacable hatred of the United States of America. They hate our friends, they hate our values, and they hate democracy and freedom and individual liberty. Many care little for the lives of their own people. In such a world, Cold War deterrence is no longer enough. . . . We need new concepts of deterrence that rely on both offensive and defensive forces. Deterrence can no longer be based solely on the threat of nuclear retaliation. Defenses can strengthen deterrence by reducing the incentive for proliferation.54

But, at the same time, this should not mean that the ABM Treaty has become obsolete. It needs modification due to the changed international security circumstances, but it was and should remain a very important controlling measure for global disarmament between two nations, the United States and Russia, that still possess thousands ofintercontinental nuclear missiles. With the modest deployment of a missile defense system and by agreeing to cut back further nuclear arms, the United States could make a significant step forward in achieving a consensus with Russia.55 A one-sided withdrawal from the ABM-Treaty by the United States would resemble a ?foreign policy disaster? since:

Russia would respond by abandoning its commitment under the START-2 Treaty to slash its nuclear forces and by suspending bilateral programs designed to secure and destroy its ageing arsenal. Russia?s more than 5,000 strategic nuclear warheads still pose the single largest threat to Western security, and the possibility that terrorists might steal a Russian nuclear weapon remains a grave concern.56

In addition to that, the build-up of a missile defense will not happen unilaterally for several reasons. A fully operable system will most likely end up being a ?protection package? for a number of countries that work along with the United States. Only through cooperation with close allies and partners can a missile defense receive the international consensus it is still lacking today. ?Even Mr. Big needs friends? to realize all this.57 Having reached such a consensus, we could indeed be living in a safer world, if as many states as possible finally benefit from such a limited missile defense umbrella. Certainly, the United States can neither undertake all initiatives alone nor can it be best friends with everybody. However, the United States has an enormous responsibility within the international system and missile defense is a topic that is extraordinarily affecting it. For a positive outcome of this process, the United States must pave the way for it, along with its allies and friends. With this, in return, the United States could pass the ball back to its closest allies. Europe?s understanding and support will be extremely helpful, as Dr. Simon Serfaty rightly points out.

The transatlantic partnership need not be made hostage of a consensus over NMD, but Europe?s support for, and involvement with, (N)MD development and deployment will help. Our European allies and friends often misunderstand the U.S. interest in NMD as a replay of past debates over missile defenses or as the hidden reflection of a continued interest in disengagement. The reverse is true on both accounts: missile defense is the down payment for a major debate over the nature of deterrence in the 21st century, and it is a precondition for the continued engagement of U.S. forces abroad during and beyond the coming decade.58

Then, creating the currently most-feasible missile defense system?that is favoring the so-called ?boost-phase? system?the United States would need many allied nations to station radar stations or missile defense systems close to those ?states of concern.? Intimidating the allies or partners means losing their support for a missile defense and that could most likely equal no workable missile defense at all.

Cooperation, as well as vivid communication, will be the key to creating the new transatlantic partnership in the future that equals the strong transatlantic bond we had in the past. The strategic parameters of the international system?not a new conclusion?have changed. However, this does not automatically mean the end for an alliance such as NATO or benevolent transatlantic relations in general. In fact, it does mean exactly the opposite. Since the areas of responsibility for the United States as the world?s leading nation have increased, especially after September 11, the responsibilities for the Europeans as important allies have increased as well. The increased number of possible and actual conflict areas have shown that nothing can replace multinational military operations, once the military is called upon to resolve a crisis. No Western country will use its military unilaterally unless the survival of its country is at stake. Yet, much of NATO?s continued prosperity and that of transatlantic relations as a whole will strongly depend on its member countries and their will and ambitions to keep these important ties effective.


50. For quite a different perspective, see Christopher Layne, ?Death Knell for NATO? The Bush Administration Confronts the European Security and Defense Policy,? Policy Analysis, No. 394, Washington DC: Cato Institute, April 4, 2001, http:! !www.cato.org.

51. One example is the second Gulf War 1991. Although NATO as an alliance did not fight this war, many member countries supported the lead country, the United States, in freeing Kuwait.

52. In order to understand the various dimensions of the different types of military interventions, see the great discussion by Richard N. Haass, Intervention. The Use of American Military Force in the Post-Cold War World, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 1994.

53. Ag├╝era.

54. Remarks by the President to students and faculty at National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington DC, May 1, 2001, http:! ! www. whitehouse.gov20010501-10.html, accessed May 2, 2001. !news !releases !2001 !05!

55. See Michael O?Hanlon, ?ABM Treaty Under Attack,? The New York Times, April 26,2001; and Lee Feinstein, ?Russia the key to missile plan,? The Baltimore Sun, May 9, 2001.

56. Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay, ?Unilateral Withdrawal From the ABM Treaty Is a Bad Idea,? International Herald Tribune, April 30, 2001.

57. JosefJoffe, ?America ├╝berAlles? Take Care, Even Mr. Big Needs Friends,? International Herald Tribune, April 16, 2001.

58. Dr. Simon Serfaty, ?The U.S.-European Relationship: Opportunities and Challenges,? Testimony Before The International Relations Committee Subcommittee on Europe, Washington, DC, April 25, 2001, http:! !www.csis.org, accessed April 30, 2001.