Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report


History of the ESDI

In oral evidence to that inquiry Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the then Secretary of State, told us that the government had looked with a new focus at the way in which Europe handles security and defence for two main reasons: first because the EU had decided to appoint a High Representative for CFSP matters which would have the effect of "sharpening" and "personalising" the EU's impact on foreign and security policy; secondly, because the brewing Kosovo crisis had brought Europe "face to face with [a] credibility gap and the Prime Minister believed it was right we should start focussing attention on that..."[45] Subsequent experience of the campaign of coercion against Serbia reinforced this latter conclusion.

24. These developments rapidly led to a questioning of the WEU's continuing role as the instrument through which the ESDI would be pursued. Lord Robertson had told us in March 1999 that three alternatives were possible; to merge the WEU into the EU, to strengthen the WEU so that it was capable of performing properly the roles it had already taken on, or to devolve its political roles to the EU and its military roles to an ESDI component within NATO.[46] It seems that the political will to strengthen the WEU was not there, and that the course that finally commanded the largest degree of consensus was the first of Lord Robertson's options, with elements of the third. The MoD's memorandum supplementing our inquiry into the 1999 Defence White Paper commented—

    At Washington, NATO welcomed the new impetus given to strengthening the common European policy on security and defence and agreed to the further development of European Security and Defence Initiative [sic] (ESDI) within NATO. It signalled its readiness to "define and adopt arrangements for the ready access by the EU to the collective assets and capabilities of the Alliance, for operations in which the Alliance as a whole is not engaged militarily as an Alliance" building on procedures already agreed between WEU and NATO. This is in line with the UK's approach to develop within the EU a capability to support decision making on military matters (including the means to take political control of crisis management operations); while the bulk of military capacities for planning and conducting any EU-led operation would be drawn from the resources available to NATO. NATO has started work to elaborate the practical implications of the Washington agreement. Ministers received a progress report at their meetings in December.[47]

It is that Progress Report, which we are examining in this report, which elaborates proposals to 'fold' the WEU into the EU and the consequences. The Policy Director of the MoD argued that this had been a pragmatic decision—

    ... because the purely practical arrangements that had been developed did not give us a great deal of confidence. You had a system where the EU, as one political organisation, although a very important one, was going to, if it got into crisis management ... avail itself of another organisation, the WEU, which had a very limited military infrastructure and capability, which, in turn, would turn to a third organisation, which we all think is a very good organisation—NATO. Essentially, the Ministry of Defence ... view was we ought to try and simplify this into a pragmatic arrangement and get a proper relationship between the two big players.[48]

25. Mr Hatfield's attempt to pass off the latest European defence initiative as a purely practical response to some institutional problems seems a (perhaps deliberate) understatement of its significance. No choices about the future of the Alliance are made on pragmatic grounds alone. As the short history outlined above indicates, throughout its history there have been conflicting political perceptions of the purpose of the European pillar of the North Atlantic Alliance. By some it is portrayed as an attempt to build a European defence capability separate from NATO and linked to the EU; by others, it is depicted as an endeavour to cement the Alliance by increasing the military capabilities of the Europeans within NATO. Political compromises which attempted to avoid confronting these differences have resulted in inertia. There was a hope in the 1990s that a 'variable geometry' of security structures in Europe would succeed in combining political flexibility with the development of a real capability for an appropriate European military response where circumstances required this. These hopes were not realised. Instead, the arrangements for developing the ESDI using the WEU led to a complex institutional structure behind which the very real inequalities between the European Allies in terms of capabilities could be hidden. It also allowed the Europeans to avoid confronting the truth that they were largely unable to act independently of the US.

26. The Government has decided to work with its EU partners to establish a CESDP as the means to move from the rhetoric of a European Security and Defence Identity to a reality capable of serving military purposes. In his report on the Helsinki European Council, the Prime Minister told the House—

    ... the European Council endorsed our view that the top priority is for European nations to strengthen their military capabilities ... There have been suggestions that this agreement to increase the options open to use in future crises has adverse implications for NATO, or that the European Union is creating a European army. That is the opposite of the case. The European Council made it clear that the EU will launch and conduct military operations only where NATO as a whole is not engaged. The process will involve full consultation and transparency with NATO. The six non-EU allies will be involved and consulted before decisions are taken, and will be able to take a full part in resulting operations. The EU will avoid unnecessary duplication with NATO. Final decisions on whether to involve troops will remain firmly with national Governments. These arrangements, as the Helsinki Council made clear explicitly, do not imply a European army ... As a result of our participation [the debate on European defence] is moving in a clear direction—reinforcing NATO, not in opposition to it.[49]

We will examine whether there is the possibility of achieving these ambitions when we go on to examine the arrangements which flow from the decision to 'fold' the WEU into the EU.

The Transatlantic Debate

27. The ESDI then is most often presented by the government as a way of getting Europe to shoulder more of NATO's burden. The transatlantic debate within NATO over 'burden-sharing' between the US and Europe is as old as the Alliance itself. In the aftermath of the Second World War, some elements in the US political establishment recognised pragmatic as well as altruistic grounds for investing in stability in Europe. The foundation of NATO, effectively the first peacetime military alliance joined by the USA, was a demonstration of the assessment that the balance of advantage outweighed the cost of commitment. Even then, it was only after some soul-searching that the long-term deployment of US forces in Europe was agreed as a defence against potential Soviet aggression. That transatlantic bargain, marked by some grumbling from both sides, endured through the Cold War. But the collapse of the Soviet Union, the consequential draw down of US forces in Europe (they have fallen from 320,000 in 1989 to a limit currently set by Congress at 100,000[50]) and the rapid change in the culture of NATO in the past decade, have all changed the terms of the debate.

28. The burden-sharing debate has continued to be fuelled by international crises since then, especially the catastrophic consequences of the disintegration of Yugoslavia resulting in the subsequent NATO interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as the 1991 Gulf conflict and continuing problems in that region. During this period NATO has come to accept 'new missions' which are essentially about security rather than collective defence, about projecting stability rather than force. In its new Strategic Concept, promulgated at the Washington Summit, the Alliance declared that—

    In pursuit of its policy of preserving peace, preventing war, and enhancing security and stability and as set out in the fundamental security tasks, NATO will seek, in cooperation with other organisations, to prevent conflict, or, should a crisis arise, to contribute to its effective management, consistent with international law, including through the possibility of conducting non­Article 5 crisis response operations ... Taking into account the necessity for Alliance solidarity and cohesion, participation in any such operation or mission will remain subject to decisions of member states in accordance with national constitutions.[51]

The new Strategic Concept also declared the Alliance's collective support for the further development of the ESDI, stating that—

    The Alliance, which is the foundation of the collective defence of its members and through which common security objectives will be pursued wherever possible, remains committed to a balanced and dynamic transatlantic partnership. The European Allies have taken decisions to enable them to assume greater responsibilities in the security and defence field in order to enhance the peace and stability of the Euro­Atlantic area and thus the security of all Allies. On the basis of decisions taken by the Alliance, in Berlin in 1996 and subsequently, the European Security and Defence Identity will continue to be developed within NATO. This process will require close cooperation between NATO, the WEU and, if and when appropriate, the European Union. It will enable all European Allies to make a more coherent and effective contribution to the missions and activities of the Alliance as an expression of our shared responsibilities; it will reinforce the transatlantic partnership; and it will assist the European Allies to act by themselves as required through the readiness of the Alliance, on a case­by­case basis and by consensus, to make its assets and capabilities available for operations in which the Alliance is not engaged militarily under the political control and strategic direction either of the WEU or as otherwise agreed, taking into account the full participation of all European Allies if they were so to choose.[52]

29. The decision of the Helsinki Summit to adopt the proposals set out in the Finnish Presidency's Progress Report, and the further progress in their implementation made since then, suggest that there is now a greater consensus on this side of the Atlantic that the European powers have to address the question of their deployable defence capabilities and the circumstances in which they might be used. Within NATO, the European powers account for more than 60% of the Alliance's population and over 60% of its armed forces' personnel. On paper, European-NATO countries collectively spend on defence the equivalent of around two thirds of the US defence budget (although it is important to note that proportionately more of the European spend is allocated directly to NATO).[53] Yet it is still the case that the European Allies can deploy much less than the capability of the US, partly because of the duplication of capabilities between European states. The capacity for expeditionary deployments is particularly limited, a legacy of Cold War strategic planning. The EU's External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten recently claimed that Europe's capacity to project military force was 10-15% of that of the USA.[54] There are also major deficiencies in terms of interoperability (within Europe as well as with the US) and in the provision of some key assets (such as strategic intelligence) which have traditionally been left to the US to provide. The emphasis on NATO's new missions, brought into stark relief by Kosovo and Operation Allied Force, means the calculation of burden-sharing will no longer revolve around the performance of a single major Alliance function. But as the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, has said, it—

    ... is a fundamental and enduring truth: the well-being of the United States depends in large measure on what happens in Europe: the US will not prosper without an economically vibrant Europe; the US will not be safe without a secure and peaceful Europe.

    ... We're in favour of ESDI. We want there to be a capability within the Alliance whereby the European members can address and solve problems without always requiring US combat involvement. That's in everyone's interest ...[55]

But he has also warned—

    ... as with every aspect of modernizing and adapting NATO, this particular innovation, ESDI, carries with it risks and costs; and it carries with it an obligation for the highest possible degree of transparency and consultation. If ESDI is misconceived, misunderstood or mishandled, it could create the impression—which could eventually lead to the reality—that a new, European-only alliance is being born out of the old, transatlantic one. If that were to happen, it would weaken, perhaps even break, those ties that I spoke of before—the ones that bind our security to yours.[56]

30. US policy-makers within the Executive appear to view the enhancement of the ESDI as a positive advantage in the transatlantic burden-sharing debate[57] while, for some Europeans, it represents the prospect of greater military competence in operations that they may see as vital to their interests.[58] However, although many in the US appear to have been reassured that a more energetically pursued ESDI will not undermine NATO and will not serve to exclude the US and other Allies from key decision-making ("no discrimination ... no decoupling"), opinion in Congress and elsewhere appears more divided and sometimes hostile.[59] In a paper presented to a joint meeting of the NATO and WEU parliamentary assemblies in December 1999, Congressman Douglas Bereuter commented—

    The strategic perspectives that may be elaborated as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, or the ESDI, should be harmonized with and not contradictory to those of NATO ... there should be complete transparency and coordination with NATO so that the guiding strategic precepts of the CFSP do not differ from those of NATO. If a serious gap between the strategy of NATO and the EU were to arise, it would have destructive, and perhaps dire consequences for the trans-Atlantic relationship.

    It needs to be clear to our European allies that the creation of competing institutions in Europe that detract from NATO's capabilities and solidarity would endanger public and Congressional support in the United States for its commitment to the North Atlantic Alliance, and over time perhaps lead to greater friction between North America and Europe. The process of creating the ESDI needs to be managed in such a way that it does not strengthen those forces on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere that want a decoupling of the US from Europe. Participants in the discussion and decisions on ESDI and the Common Foreign and Security Policy within the EU need to understand that there is a very sizable US audience listening in order to hear a justification for the United States to disengage from Europe.

    Even if located in the European Union, the ESDI should be institutionalised within NATO. That is perhaps the only way to ensure that it remains fully imbued with and continuously demonstrates a trans-Atlantic perspective.[60]

These concerns in the US are largely fuelled by a suspicion that the EU's CESDP will increasingly diverge from NATO's ESDI in the direction of an alternative and autonomous European defence structure outside NATO.

31. The St Mâlo Declaration of December 1998 between France and the United Kingdom—the two most important European military players in this debate—stated that—

    ... the European Union will also need to have recourse to suitable military means (European capabilities pre-designated within NATO's European pillar or national or multinational European means outside the NATO framework).

That phrase 'multinational European means outside the NATO framework' stirred up anxieties about the relationship between the CESDP and the ESDI and reminds us that a key element in this debate will be France's role within NATO. There is no objective reason why France should not re-enter the Integrated Military Structure (IMS) and resume its place as a full Alliance member. Prior to 1997, such re-integration was regarded as inevitable. The dispute over command of NATO AFSOUTH in the autumn of 1996, however, has effectively ruled out any formal re-entry of France into the IMS or the Nuclear Planning Group,[61] before the next French Presidential election at least. In strictly military terms this problem may be more apparent than real. French defence ministry officials are keen to set in place procedures and mechanisms that would improve its armed forces' co-operation within the NATO structure.[62] However, suspicions exist—and not only in the US—that France may still be attached to a view that the development of the ESDI, and now the CESDP, is more about separate development of European defence than reinforcement of the transatlantic Alliance. While the trap of supposing that there is an entirely consistent 'French' attitude to NATO and the CESDP should be avoided, a high-ranking French diplomat did tell us that the ESDI represented a 'Copernican Revolution' in European defence (perhaps suggesting that it will be discovered that the Alliance does not revolve around either the USA or Europe).[63] Such Gallic enthusiasm worries those who prefer cautious evolution. Differences between French and American perceptions of NATO's future are likely to remain for some time to come, and have the potential to cause the Alliance major problems.

32. Although the German government appears to be fully signed-up to the ESDI/CESDP, it also has its own emphases. From its perspective, European security has three essential elements: the political; the military; and the industrial. We were told by German diplomatic sources that Kosovo had brought home the need for political structures to enable integrated crisis management. But the German commitment to the more immediately deployable military elements set out in the headline goal will be tested when the Commission reviewing the structure of the Bundeswehr reports shortly. Those restructuring proposals will have to deliver a proportionate contribution to the 60,000 strong rapid reaction force, and more especially the assets to back it up and sustain it, and that may well involve increased expenditure.[64]

33. The Germans still see the creation of a rationalised and competitive European defence industry as an essential third element of the ESDI/CESDP (alongside the military and political integration). The Declaration of the June 1999 Cologne European Council highlighted—

    ... the need to undertake sustained efforts to strengthen the industrial and technological defence base, which we want to be competitive and dynamic. We are determined to foster the restructuring of the European defence industries amongst those States involved. With industry we will therefore work towards closer and more efficient defence industry collaboration. We will seek further progress in the harmonisation of military requirements and the planning and procurement of arms, as Member States consider appropriate.

The Finnish Presidency's Progress Report to the Helsinki European Council claimed that—

    Encouraging progress has been made towards the restructuring of European defence industries, which constitutes an important step forward and contributes to strengthening the European industrial and technological bases. Such developments call for increased efforts to seek further progress in the harmonisation of military requirements and the planning and procurement of arms between the Member States.[65]

All those whom we met on our visit to Bonn in 1999, whether from government or industry, emphasised this industrial element of the ESDI.[66]

34. In the intensified European discussion of the development of the ESDI over the past two years, the UK government has always preferred to concentrate on the capabilities side of the question, and latterly to emphasise the initiative's links with measures to implement the NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI). The Secretary of State again stressed on 16 February that—

    Our main focus ... has consistently been on strengthening Europe's military capability, not on constitutional and organisational change.[67]

The DCI was formally announced at the Washington Summit last April (although it had been under way for some time before that).[68] The DCI seeks to improve alliance capabilities and inter-operability—themes given added weight by the examinations of performance by the Alliance in the Kosovo campaign.[69] The Initiative looks to make improvements in key areas of identified weaknesses, which include—

  • rapid deployment
  • extended sustainment of deployed forces
  • protection of forces
  • command and control, and IT systems
  • inter-operability generally, including the need for common doctrines, training and operational procedures.

The process is being carried forward by a High Level Steering Group within NATO. More specific details of capability improvements have yet to be published, but reports have singled out as priorities a new NATO C3 systems architecture; more and better precision-guided munitions for European aircraft; and more large airlift and sealift assets.

35. Related to this NATO initiative is a recently completed (November 1999) European 'audit' by the WEU of its members' assets and capabilities.[70] In its written evidence to our inquiry into the 1999 Defence White Paper, the MoD told us—

    Work on European defence continues to be focused on means to strengthen Europe's defence capabilities, for use in NATO operations or in EU-led operations. The final report of the WEU audit of assets and capabilities for European operations was presented at the Luxembourg WEU Ministerial meeting in November. It highlighted the need to improve collective capabilities and operational forces, placing a particular emphasis on the need to improve availability, deployability, strategic mobility, sustainability, survivability, interoperability and operational effectiveness. ... Specific targets for readiness and sustainability were also set [at Helsinki] and the European Council agreed to develop collective capability goals in the fields of command and control, intelligence, and strategic transport, shortfalls that had been identified by the WEU audit. Finally the Council agreed to develop a method for reviewing progress against all of these goals, which will capitalise on existing defence planning procedures, including those available in NATO and, for non-Allies, in the Planning and Review Process of the Partnership for Peace.[71]

36. Having sketched in the background to the document we have been asked to consider by the European Scrutiny Committee, we now offer the Opinion they have requested on the matters of principle and policy it raises, and on other more practical questions arising in connection with it.

45  ibid, Q 318 Back

46  In each of these cases, many special arrangements would be required to cater for the needs of non-EU NATO countries and European non-aligned states. Back

47  Second Report, Session 1999-2000, op cit, Ev p 145 Back

48  Q 17 Back

49  HC Deb, 13 December 1999, c 22 Back

50  110,000 including SFOR and KFOR Back

51  See HC(1998-99) 459, p xxi Back

52   ibid Back

53  Third Report, Session 1998-99, op cit, Q 36  Back

54  Speech to joint meeting of EP Foreign Affairs Committee and NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 22 February 2000 Back

55  Speech to RUSI Conference, March 1999 Back

56  ibid Back

57  Q 66 Back

58  Q 78 Back

59  Q 80 Back

60  Paper published on 22.2.2000 updating a paper presented to a joint meeting of the Presidential Committee of the WEU Parliamentary Assembly and the Steering Group on ESDI of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid in December 17, 1999 by Douglas Bereuter, US House of Representatives Back

61  Meeting at IFRI, Paris, 19 January 1999 Back

62  Meeting at MoD, Paris, 19 January 1999 Back

63  Meeting at NATO HQ, Brussels, February 2000 Back

64  Q 54 Back

65  op cit para 15 Back

66  Meetings at MoD, Foreign Office, Bonn, 4 March 1999 Back

67  Q 2 Back

68  Q 10 Back

69  Q 2 Back

70  Q 65 Back

71  Second Report, Session 1999-2000, Ministry of Defence Annual Reporting Cycle, HC 158, Ev p 145 Back

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