Select Committee on Defence Eighth Report


European Security and Defence

37. Reading between the lines, we can readily discern that the decision to take the ESDI forward through the medium of the CESDP represents a bargain struck between the major European Allies. This bargain involves a series of trade-offs between political and military goals. The key political question about the ESDI and the CESDP is whether they will achieve the desired outcome of both giving the EU a military capability and strengthening the European pillar of NATO. The Helsinki proposals attempt to demonstrate that these goals can be reconciled. Before deciding whether they represent plausible means to achieve those ends, we must ask another, prior question—what is that end, or in other words, what is European security and defence for?

38. In the two-bloc world of the Cold War, the military security of Europe was based on a commitment to collective defence and to the maintenance of a full spectrum of military force from conventional to nuclear. This created the prospect that any overt military conflict in Europe might become a generalised war between the blocs, with the spectre of rapid escalation to nuclear war hovering over all probable scenarios. Whatever its dangers, this reality had the effect of sharing risks fairly equally among all European powers, both within NATO and between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and of having a restraining effect on all military actions. We will never know exactly how dangerous this system was, or conversely, what greater dangers it may, or may not, have averted. Nevertheless, this strategic concept set a pattern for NATO for over forty years. Since the end of the Cold War, however, the NATO Allies have been faced with a series of more fragmented, less predictable and more localised threats to European security. Such threats do not pose the obvious danger of a general European conflagration; they are not subject to the pressures of two coherent alliance systems; and they do not pose equal risks to the European countries. The accent now is on proactive crisis management within Europe, applying a full spectrum of diplomatic and military instruments. In this concept, the use of force may be contained and military engagement may often be seen as more appropriate earlier, rather than later, in the development of a crisis. Wider escalation that would create a general European crisis is certainly possible in present circumstances (although much less likely given Russia's weakened conventional power and more cooperative foreign policy), but this would be regarded as the result of political mismanagement rather than something intrinsic to the way the system worked. This, in very simplified terms, is the strategic context in which the ESDI has developed, and in which the CESDP was formulated.

39. The Secretary of State was keen to distinguish between what is proposed under the ESDI/CESDP and NATO's traditional role—

Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the core of NATO, states that—

    ... an armed attack against one or more of [the Allies] shall be considered an attack against them all and ... if such an armed attack occurs each of them ... will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking ... such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force

The ESDI/CESDP is then about crisis management, not about collective defence under the terms of Article 5. We sought to explore with the Secretary of State in what kind of circumstances Europe might act to manage a crisis by military means without the active involvement of the US. He confirmed that it was an "article of faith" with the government that NATO would remain the instrument of first resort for all future crisis management operations.[73] However, when asked if he could envisage the kind of circumstances in which the US would not wish to be engaged in the management of a crisis, but where they would be happy to allow the EU to use NATO assets, he told us that—

    The answer at the moment is dependent ... on the scale and the geographical location of the operation ... for most large scale operations we would expect that NATO would be fully engaged involving the United States ... there might be medium sized operations that would be peculiarly the responsibility of Europe, where ... there might well be circumstances where essentially the coalition of the willing would consist of European nations, perhaps with recourse to certain NATO assets that would assist in the operation; but ... for the moment—I think we have to be realistic about it—at the smallest scale of operations there could be circumstances in which this could be dealt with through the European Union ... until ... capability is improved we would have to recognise that the circumstances in which EU nations would be able to act together would be ... limited to rather modest operations within Europe.[74]

He could not envisage any circumstances in which the European Union would become engaged in a crisis management operation to which the US was so opposed that it vetoed the use of NATO assets.[75] At the very lowest end of the scale of operations, it is conceivable that no recourse to such strategic assets would anyway be needed.

40. There are, therefore, three types of crisis management operation envisaged under the ESDI. The first is where the North Atlantic Alliance as a whole is engaged. For the present, this is likely to be a precondition of engagement at anything near the high end of the scale of deployment. The second is where the EU takes the lead, but where the North Atlantic Council grants them access to NATO assets under the 'Berlin' terms. The third is where the EU acts without recourse to NATO assets. Beyond anything very modest in scale, recourse to this third option is for the foreseeable future inconceivable.

41. The range of activities the ESDI might cover, short of an Article 5 emergency which would necessarily engage the whole Alliance, have been defined since 1992 by the Petersberg tasks of "humanitarian rescue tasks and tasks of crisis management, including peace making".[76] The headline goal speaks of forces 'capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks ... including the most demanding'. In trying to get a sense of what might fall into the category of operations covered by this formula, we sought with the Secretary of State to get some feel for where the upper limits of the Petersberg tasks lie. He was reluctant to be precise, telling us that—

    ... the definition was left deliberately open in order to avoid artificial constraints ... what we are trying to find are practical mechanisms, not rather esoteric, constitutional debates about what might be in and what might be out.[77]

When pressed, the Secretary of State was prepared to say that Operation Allied Force (the campaign against Serbia in March to June of 1999) "could have been" a Petersberg task, but that—

    ...the scale of the operation was such that it is not something which today ... European nations could have conducted outside NATO ...[78]

Operation Joint Guardian, the current peace keeping operation in Kosovo, was something that the Secretary of State accepted "clearly" could be a Petersberg task, but that—

    ... the reality is still that we are dependent on American assistance ...[79]

When challenged as to whether a putative opposed ground entry to Kosovo would have been a Petersberg task, the Secretary of State responded—

    Petersberg tasks were dreamed up as a way of making quite clear the type of operation ... in political terms, that Europeans might undertake. The main thing is it is not collective defence ... there is not ... a rigid distinction between ... peace keeping and high intensity conflict. A Petersberg task can involve quite intensive conflict ...[80]

The Policy Director agreed that the "basic point" was that the definition of a Petersberg task does not relate to the means used but the end goal.[81] The Secretary of State confirmed that the ends not the means "... is the distinction between defence and crisis management".[82]

42. We should not be too ready to accept the Secretary of State's admonition against "esoteric"discussions about the nature of the Petersberg tasks. The first duty of a commander must be to understand the nature of the war in which he is about to become engaged. In our view, the Secretary of State's claim that the Operation Allied Force "could have been" a Petersberg task is already pushing at the limits of the definition of 'peace making'. A sense of what these tasks are about is fundamental to the debate about whether the development of the ESDI/CESDP risks decoupling the North American and European halves of the Alliance. In public debate about European security and defence, it needs to be driven home harder that this is not about waging war or defending territory. NATO, as the Prime Minister and others constantly seek to remind us, remains the 'cornerstone' of our collective defence. That is, currently, a largely passive role. In the more active and interventionist context of NATO's new missions, we should recognise that the interests of all the Allies may not necessarily be equally engaged by a particular crisis which, by definition, will be occurring outside the Alliance's territory. To that extent we consider it in some ways regrettable that 'defence' crops up in the title of the ESDI and the CESDP at all—what they are both about is the use of military means for crisis management, not for 'defence' in the traditionally understood sense of collective self-defence.

43. This terminological debate should not mask the fact that there are real differences of perception about the nature of the ESDI and the balance of risks and advantages it may offer. Some of those who oppose the development of an autonomous European capacity to deploy military means of crisis management do so because they hold the view that the distinction between crisis management and war is artificial. In particular some of those opponents believe that, in a crisis where the US was not engaged from the outset, the absence of the US could tempt opponents to escalate a conflict in the belief that the US would remain disengaged. When those arguments were put to the Secretary of State he rejected them,[83] saying that—

    Article 5 remains; NATO remains; the collective defence guarantee remains; so the deterrent effect is exactly the same.[84]

Those who, being sceptical of the distinction between crisis management and war, argue that the Allies should never act unless the US is directly involved are essentially adopting the position that the US should be able to prevent any military action being taken by the Europeans in which it is not itself prepared actively to participate. The proponents of a strengthened ESDI believe not only that Europe should have an autonomous military capability for crisis management but that this enhanced capability would, in turn, strengthen the collective defence, and therefore deterrent, capability of NATO. The government adopts the latter view.

44. The question that perhaps then arises in the context of a common European security and defence is whether, when we move away from the concept of collective defence, there is a distinctively European need for crisis management, distinguishable from if not opposed to a transatlantic need. On the face of it, there is no reason why there should not be, and this has been recognised since the foundation of the Alliance and encouraged, since 1991, by the Alliance collectively. There are obvious reasons why the Union should have an approach towards security issues arising in contiguous countries that may differ from that which the US or the Alliance as a whole might have towards them. Their historical and colonial legacies also impinge in different ways on the dimensions of different member states' bilateral foreign relations. An honest acknowledgement of diversity in the security concerns of the parties to the Washington Treaty is more likely to hold the Alliance together than any attempt to construct an illusion of indivisible purpose or impose an ill-fitting uniformity of interests.

45. The experience of Kosovo is one of the major factors which has given new impetus to the development of the CESDP. The Secretary of State told us—

    Events in Kosovo have demonstrated the need to begin modernising and strengthening Europe's armed forces, whether for use in NATO or for EU-led operations. It was clear, even before Kosovo, that the European countries simply could not provide the necessary capability to respond to a crisis sufficiently quickly ... experience in Bosnia and Kosovo highlighted the key European shortfalls in military capability ... In a sense what we are looking for ... is for Europe to have an SDR of its own ... to think through the implications of the changes that occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union and apply them collectively to the kind of capability that we will require to meet a much more challenging and uncertain world.[85]

But the fact that the pace of development of the ESDI has quickened should not give rise to an assumption that there has been a rupture with history—the purpose of reciting the history of European defence in the first section of this report was precisely to demonstrate that we are returning to well-trodden ground in the current debate. The crucial question about the latest initiatives on European security and defence is: will anything actually change this time? Will the invention of the CESDP enable the Europeans to become more capable of acting militarily in support of their own perceived interests?

46. Those who argue against the ESDI and those who argue against NATO stepping outside its traditional role of collective self-defence often deploy overlapping arguments. This can create an impression of inconsistency, since if they sincerely wished to preserve the purity of NATO's core purpose of collective defence from pollution by actions in support of more morally complex missions, they might be expected to welcome the ESDI/CESDP as providing a forum for action outside the North Atlantic Council. And if they wish either to advance a know-nothing policy towards humanitarian intervention or to oppose it on principle, they should perhaps not confuse their opposition to the Alliance's new strategic concept with the debate about the structure of its European pillar. The CESDP is not a lurch into the unknown. It is the latest attempt in a long history of initiatives to persuade the European half of the Alliance to become more self-sufficient. It cannot be said that the WEU has been overwhelmingly successful as the chosen vehicle to achieve this aim. Since governments have now chosen to pass this cup to the European Union, the EU should be judged by whether it proves itself capable of re-energising the process of creating a more potent European security capability. This is likely to be judged in Washington by the willingness of European countries to commit more resources to defence; the onus in this respect is particularly on Germany as the largest country and the lowest spender of the major European NATO countries.

47. Nonetheless, there are undoubtedly some risks involved in the future development of European security and defence. These are mainly in the area of its perceived potential to damage the integrity of the North Atlantic Alliance.

The Three Ds

48. The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, coined a slogan—"no duplication, no decoupling and no discrimination"—which has been readily taken up by other participants in the debate on the ESDI, whichever side they stand on. This has been elaborated as asserting that the security arrangements under the CESDP must—

Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of NATO, has added his three Is to the three Ds. They are that the CESDP must promote inclusivity, improvement and indivisibility in the Alliance.

49. We will be examining below the extent to which the Helsinki proposals seem likely to meet these criteria of success. But it will not help Europe to make progress if our American partners give the impression that they are dictating the terms of the ESDI—the Alliance is a bargain, and the ESDI is an attempt to renegotiate its terms so as to rebalance the contributions from each side of the Atlantic. We have our own three Ds to donate to the debate. In return for an undertaking from the EU that the CESDP will involve no duplication, no decoupling and no discrimination, the US needs to guarantee that it will seek no disengagement from the common purposes of the Alliance; no delegation of the manpower-intensive, high-risk elements of the Alliance's operations (such as ground operations where the risk of casualties is greater); and no domination of the political processes of the Alliance. We do not suppose either side contains serious players who wish to break the terms of this bargain. But accusations or insinuations of bad faith from those on one side of the Atlantic against those on the other will do nothing to achieve the laudable aim of the latest initiative—to create a better-balanced and overall more capable crisis management machinery.

Q 2, Q 31 Back

73  Q 66 Back

74  Q 67 Back

75  Q 68 Back

76  Q 35 Back

77  Q 35 Back

78  Q 36 Back

79  Q 37 Back

80  Q 38 Back

81  Q 39 Back

82  Q 40 Back

83  QQ 72-76 Back

84  Q 75 Back

85  Q 2, Q 86 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 11 May 2000