Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Geoffrey Van Orden MEP

  As Conservative Defence Spokesman in the European Parliament since 1999, as a Member of the Defence Sub-Committee of the European Parliament, as a Member of the Parliament's Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and as a former Executive Secretary of the International Military Staff at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, while serving in the British Army, I have closely followed the development of European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) as well as the fortunes of NATO.

  I am concerned that ESDP has an essentially political purpose—namely to promote European integration and enhance the role of the EU as a global actor in the sphere of foreign and defence policy—and that it adds nothing to military capabilities. On the contrary it is a diversion, weakening wholehearted commitment to the North Atlantic Alliance.

  I respectfully make the following submission to the inquiry of the House of Commons Defence Committee, and would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence.


  Attitudes to EU involvement in defence matters are undoubtedly determined by the more general approach to the EU. Those who favour ever closer European political integration, and the development of an EU able to act independently on the world stage, will welcome a strong ESDP and seek to find practical justification for it. Those more cautious of transferring further sovereign competencies from member states, particularly in the areas of defence and security, will take a more critical approach. They will argue that the transatlantic relationship underpins our national security, and that international military operations are best conducted through the well-established intergovernmental alliance that is NATO, binding the US to the security of Europe. I am firmly of this latter persuasion.

  My view is that pressure for the EU to adopt a defence-related role has come from those seeking to add state-like attributes to the Union, rather than military value to common objectives. They wish the EU to pursue its own distinct foreign policy objectives, requiring the full range of foreign policy instruments, and including the use of military force. It is not clear where the political drive for these ambitions is located. Whereas it is easy to suspect the hand of Germany, France, or its stalking horse Belgium, nevertheless both the British Government and the US Administration must bear a heavy responsibility—either through confusion of political objectives or naivety. For its part, the US has failed to take proper account of the advice and concerns of key allies in handling crises, it has invested insufficient political capital in NATO, its most important multilateral alliance, and it has been indifferent to the impact of the emergence of ESDP.

  At St. Malo in 1998 the British and French governments agreed that the EU should have "the capacity for autonomous actions, backed up by credible military forces"[122]. This was a reversal of the position of previous British Governments, regardless of their political persuasion. Although the earlier Maastricht Treaty includes reference to an eventual EU defence policy[123], it could be assumed that any move in this direction would always be blocked by the British Government. Since 1998, ESDP has become a flagship policy of the EU. It is my contention that it is duplicative and divisive. It competes with NATO, complicates decision-making there, and introduces a need for co-ordination mechanisms, surely superfluous given the overlapping memberships of the two organisations. ESDP produces no new military capabilities, it encourages reductions in defence efforts, and detracts from civil operations which could be a useful EU contribution and a helpful division of labour.


  The most immediate effect of ESDP has been a proliferation of unnecessary EU bodies. The effect of this duplication is, firstly, that valuable resources and the time and effort of key commanders and senior staff are wasted. Secondly, differences are generated between those involved in one institutional arrangement but not the other. Different political signals are transmitted to potential adversaries, offering scope for exploitation of divergences. This was certainly the case in the lead up to the Iraq war, when Turkey applied for Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty to be put into effect and was blocked by France, Germany, and Belgium. Saddam took heart and Turkey was offended.

  Proponents of ESDP deftly claim that NATO remains the cornerstone of collective defence while the EU merely takes on limited crisis management operations. This in fact consigns NATO to the bottom drawer—there in case it is needed—while the EU fulfils day to day military operations that are so much in demand. The Treaty of Lisbon signed in October 2005 contains the provision that "The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides." [124]This would be a clear replication of NATO's most fundamental guarantee.


  We now have a situation where both NATO and the EU act "out of area"—NATO is going global, but so is the EU, which does not wish to be restrained to a regional role; where both are engaged in military, humanitarian and reconstruction operations; where both are involved in crisis management, and both insist on a collective defence obligation. There is nothing going on in the EU, including the work of the European Defence Agency, which is not already happening in some form in NATO. ESDP is the proverbial elephant in the NATO corridors that no one likes to mention.

  At first, the EU maintained it would limit its military activities to the Petersberg Tasks, humanitarian and rescue missions and peace-keeping—although "peace-making" was also included. Since then it has evinced a clear intention to assume a global role. In the European Security Strategy of 2003, Javier Solana claims that "the EU is inevitably a global player" and should "be ready to share in the responsibility for global security and in building a better world"[125]. This is the reason why the EU refuses to countenance a security role that is limited in any way. The EU is fortunate to have been endowed by its Member States with financial instruments that NATO lacks. If the EU focused solely on the provision of "soft" power, where it has experience and may be able to add value, the EU could yet complement NATO military efforts. But, as this would deprive the EU of the opportunity to develop its military aspects—perhaps the single most important characteristic of a fully-fledged nation state—this division of labour between NATO and the EU is ruled out in Brussels.

  The consequence of the EU's refusal to accept a narrower role is demonstrated, unfortunately, in Darfur. In April 2005, NATO responded to a request for logistical support for the African Union's military operation in Darfur, but the EU also decided to get involved militarily. There was some discussion as to whether EU and NATO efforts could be managed jointly but there was no agreement. As a consequence, the NATO airlift support was planned at Mons while the EU effort was directed up the road in Eindhoven. Given this duplication and confusion it is not surprising that the overall international intervention in the Darfur tragedy has been so unsuccessful.

  Commitment to NATO is weakened because an alternative structure for international military expeditions is available. EU nations point to their military contributions in Bosnia, Congo and even Lebanon, which reduce their ability to reinforce Afghanistan. Such competitive deployment into the same theatre of operations is wasteful and dangerous.

  At this time of threat to the democracies, when solidarity is needed, it is disastrous for Europeans and Americans to have competing strategic visions or, indeed, two defence organisations, with overlapping membership and competing claims on the same limited defence resources. Before ESDP, Western democracies had one forum for joint discussion and decision-making in relation to crises, but the same nations (more or less) now assemble at two separate locations.

  Of course there will be times when Europeans may wish to act alone or bear the heaviest responsibility for a particular military action, especially in their own vicinity. But this sort of decision should be taken around the NATO table with the Americans and other allies and with their full support. Not only is there no need for meetings to take place in separate buildings or for separate military staff structures to pore over such matters, but such separate activities will only undermine confidence between the US and its EU allies and give comfort to our common enemies.


  Having created an artificial divide in defence, much time, resources and diplomatic capital is now being expended on trying to find ways to coordinate the efforts of two organisations whose membership largely overlaps. In the hands of the EU, this is a cumbersome bureaucratic and administrative matter, meaning that no fresh synergy or new capabilities are being created.

  The situation in Afghanistan epitomises the dire state of EU-NATO relations. NATO's ability to generate the forces it requires to sustain its operations is constrained by competing demands and politically-imposed caveats that limit the operational flexibility of many of those troops actually made available. While the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands bear the brunt of combat operations, only Poland responded positively in late 2006 to an urgent request for more combat troops. Both Germany and France have significant numbers of troops deployed in Afghanistan, yet these troops are located in the relatively quiet north, are deliberately constrained from offensive operations, and are therefore not involved in the often fierce fighting underway in the south and east. NATO's drive to increase troop contributions to Afghanistan is made even more difficult when the EU suddenly decides to issue a competing call for troops, for instance the military mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Summer 2006.

  The vital need to consolidate military successes with immediate reconstruction and development assistance is frustrated by separate decision-making chains. For many years, the EU has sponsored humanitarian and development assistance in Afghanistan mainly through NGOs. The EU has its own Special Representative in Afghanistan answerable to the EU Foreign Policy chief, Xavier Solana. The lack of coordination and cooperation between this "civil" effort and the military campaign has created a situation which the former NATO commander described as "close to anarchy". He wanted to synchronise the civil and military effort and provide a "security cloak" to enable reconstruction programmes to push ahead in areas of instability. This presupposed a common strategic approach and shared political objectives. The lack of commitment to NATO operations threatens the very future of the Alliance.


  With minor exceptions (eg AWACS), NATO owns no military forces, nor does the EU. There is only one set of military forces in each nation for the full range of military tasks. If troops are made available for an EU operation then clearly they are not available for NATO or other tasks. EU talk of a 60,000 strong rapid reaction force or indeed its less ambitious `battle group' concept is smoke and mirrors in that these draw on precisely the same forces that a country might also make available for NATO, UN or indeed national military tasks. ESDP merely places an additional burden on our existing armed forces and does not generate any additional capacity.


  The vast majority of the 19 ongoing or completed "EU operations" are on a small-scale, and only a handful have been purely military in nature. They are often the result of the EU scouring the globe for places where it can plant its flag and claim to be doing effective work. The Aceh Monitoring Mission comprised only 53 EU civilian monitors and the police mission to the Palestinian Territories was made up of 33 unarmed personnel. The UK contribution to the recent EU military operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo consisted of one staff officer in Potsdam and one officer in Kinshasa. Conversely, Operation Althea was, until recently, composed of approximately 7000 troops. Here, however, the EU took over the main military responsibilities from NATO, but this was only once the difficult military mission was effectively completed. The troop contingents in Bosnia over the last 13 years, whether under UN or NATO control, have always been overwhelmingly European. The addition of the EU flag introduced no additional or different military forces, serving only to complicate the chain of command and inflate EU military pretensions.

  We hear four main themes in the arguments for an extended military role for ESDP. Each of them can be rebutted.

1)   A common foreign policy is a more credible foreign policy

  It is argued that European nations would have more influence on the world stage if they combined their military and diplomatic resources to speak and act with a single voice. Member-states of the EU have a combined population 50% larger than that of the US, a (fractionally) bigger GDP, and a higher rate of GDP growth. Even the UK, which has the highest defence budget of any EU member state, spends barely 13% of the US total, whereas the EU as a whole spends over 54%. A more credible partner, it is suggested, would be a more equal partner with the US. In the same vein, it is averred that a united front would enable more effective action in Middle Eastern or African countries where real or alleged divisions between Western allies are currently being exploited.

  This is a noble theory, but it assumes that there is a distinct and agreed "European" strategic interest or foreign policy and that our armed forces would increasingly be willing to show allegiance to the EU. Furthermore, the practical reality is that ESDP expeditions have done more to damage than build up the collective credibility of the EU member states. In Chad, where more than 60% of the proposed EU force will come from France, there is every appearance of the French government exploiting the EU label to obtain their own military objectives in a country where their historical record makes unilateral action difficult. In Afghanistan, despite being operative since June 2007, an EU police mission has received only half of the promised 160 instructors, and safety fears have confined these 80 personnel to base, to the inevitable detriment of EU standing in the region. The bureaucratic and technical problems that underlay the resignation of General Eichele, have been equally well publicised and both locally and internationally have had similarly negative consequences for EU prestige.

  There is also evidence to suggest that a transfer of responsibility from member states to EU institutions simply alters the forum in which divisions emerge. The most notable rift in recent months has been over the participation of Zimbabwe in the EU-Africa Summit, and this has come about as a direct result of EU institutions, not in defiance of them.

2)   Common action is more efficient

  It is suggested that ever closer co-operation in security and defence matters inevitably leads to efficiency savings, in procurement, in communication systems, and in a reduced number of operational headquarters.

  EU involvement produces the opposite effect. As at NATO, there is now an EU Military Committee, composed of national Chiefs of Defence represented on a day to day basis by their Military Representatives. Just as there is an International Military Staff at NATO, there is now an EU Military Staff, and, just as at SHAPE, there is now an EU Operations Centre, designed to enable the EU to run military operations without recourse to the operations centres of EU Member States or NATO. The EU is now in the initial stages of setting up a WMD Monitoring Centre, which will, of course, echo the work of the NATO WMD Centre established in 2000.

  Of course, there is often political and industrial merit in collaborative equipment schemes, but these certainly do not require the involvement of the institutions of the EU.

3)   ESDP can go where the US cannot

  In some areas, notably the Middle East, the reputation of the US has been tarnished, resulting in some regional resistance to US involvement there. The EU has sought to capitalise on this problem. The resumption of conflict in Lebanon in 2006 was an instance where the US considered it prudent not to assume a high-profile role in the subsequent UN peacekeeping operation. European nations, not the EU, took the lead in providing additional troops to and commanding the enlarged UNIFIL mission in Lebanon. Those who advocate a stronger EU role in defence cite this example to prove that the EU can act where a strong US presence would not be beneficial.

  But the EU flag is seen by some as acceptable, because it is relatively unknown and free from US association. This would necessarily change were ESDP to begin large-scale military projects. It also encourages the EU to distance itself from the US. In any case, there is also a plethora of other organisations able to go where the US cannot, including the UN, AU, ECOWAS in Africa, ASEAN and MERCOSUR.

  It is true that there are and will be occasions where nations other than the US must take the lead, but this does not automatically lead to a role for the EU. As in Lebanon individual European nations can take the responsibility to lead UN operations without any reference to the EU at all. EU members of NATO can also opt to use NATO structures and assets when the US decides not to get involved. This was first proposed through the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) in 1996. At the 1996 NATO Summit in Berlin it was agreed that ESDI would be carried out by the Western European Union (WEU) but structured within NATO, using NATO headquarters and assets, preventing a weakening of the transatlantic alliance and wasteful duplication. Thus ESDI became a "separable but not separate" part of NATO.

  Although ESDI was superseded with the creation of ESDP in 1999, the principle of working within NATO was retained, through the Berlin Plus arrangements. But even these were a palliative—useful in calming the nerves of those fearful about the growth of EU ambitions, and concerned about the future of NATO. But the real objective of dispensing with NATO did not disappear. This is dangerous and divisive, at a time when Western solidarity should be a foremost strategic requirement.

4)   ESDP can use a range of instruments that NATO lacks

  It is suggested that the EU can support ESDP missions with civilian, diplomatic and economic policy tools unavailable to NATO structures. With a budget of €7 billion pa, the Commission is the world's largest donor and provider of humanitarian aid.

  However, it is important to emphasise that such soft power is not an intrinsic feature of the Union, but is made available entirely through the goodwill of individual states. The EU can, for example, buy support through programmes such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, covering Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and North Africa, which has a foreseen budget of €12 billion for 2007-13[126]. Meanwhile, urgent forward reconstruction operations in Afghanistan have been neglected. The EU can offer trade incentives, humanitarian aid and development programmes as part of its solution. It is here that the EU should concentrate its effort, leaving military operations to NATO.

5)   ESDP enhances European nations' military capabilities

  This is the contention of the European Defence Agency (EDA), and a stated aim in the Lisbon Treaty published in October 2007. But the capabilities of European militaries will only be enhanced if national government have the political will to increase their defence budgets to an acceptable level, however unpopular this decision might be. Within NATO, there is an unspoken agreement to a base level of 2% of GDP spent on defence but only six NATO members currently meet this minimum requirement. In the EU spending on defence is as low as 0.7% of GDP in Austria and the Republic of Ireland.

  The EDA's mandate is "to support the Council and the Member States in their effort to develop defence capabilities for crisis management operations, to sustain the European Security and Defence Policy as it stands now, and will develop in the future"[127] and it is to achieve this by promoting European armaments cooperation, strengthening the European defence technological and industrial base and creating a competitive European defence market. The favourite mantra of the EDA is that it is not the size of defence budgets that matters but how they are spent.

  This is a misleading and cavalier statement. By claiming that European nations can improve their military capabilities by making different procurement decisions alone, instead of by raising their defence spending, the EDA contributes to the prevalent European trend of declining defence budgets. The solution to this problem is simple and it is not the one advocated by the EDA: it is to spend more money on defence.

  The EDA also suffers from delusions of grandeur. Seen by most Member States as a middleman to facilitate collaborative intra-European defence projects, the EDA's Chief Executive, Nick Witney maintains that "it is at the strategic level that we can ultimately add most value—which is why arguably our most important output to date is a document called the Long Term Vision, published last October, which attempts to look forward over the next two decades and draw some conclusions about the environment in which ESDP operations will take place"[128]. This is mission creep of the worst kind, with the unelected members of an EU off-shoot agency taking it upon themselves to assess the strategic threats that European nations might face in the coming years. My confidence rests with the strategic planners in the UK and NATO, rather than with the bureaucrats in the EDA.

6)   NATO and the US support ESDP

  It is certainly true that NATO and the US offer ESDP qualified support, at least provided it does not conflict with NATO or try to replicate NATO functions. The lack of stronger public opposition to ESDP reflects NATO's lack of robust champions. Its senior representatives are government nominees, most are European, and governments of EU Member States have decided to support ESDP. There is, therefore, a vicious circle of self-debilitating compliance. While US representatives voice their concerns about ESDP in private, Mr Blair's support for the US in Iraq meant that the White House would not publicly state anything that undermines the Blair position. Hence, when Mr Blair told Washington that ESDP was acceptable, Washington accepted it.


  The military role of ESDP is established but not yet entrenched, and military capabilities can still be brought back to NATO. For this to be widely acceptable, and for its own sake, it is clear that NATO must also change. Fresh strategic thinking is required on the future role, structure, geographical reach and capabilities of the Alliance. NATO needs to be reinvigorated to concentrate on what it does best—the application by the democracies of military force across the full spectrum, from peace support operations to war fighting.

  Firstly then, the NATO allies need a fresh political compact which defines the nature of the Alliance and what it is for. Through what means, for example, are the problems of terrorism, WMD proliferation, energy security, cyber security, protection of critical infrastructure, and civil protection best addressed? The command structure may need revisiting. If the Europeans committed more then it could become more European. Of course, if France were to rejoin the integrated military structure of NATO, and if the US would accept that its forces may operate under foreign command, then many of the problems of recent years would be resolved at a stroke.

  The capabilities and skills of the US and its European allies are complementary in terms of regional and global power projection. The US provides the ultimate backstop and has the capability to impact on any area of potential conflict. As a specific example, at a time when energy security is of increasing importance, the US is the only country with sufficient naval assets to defend all the maritime "chokepoints" where the flow of oil might be interrupted, and with the capability to provide the necessary surveillance of potential chokepoints in the land pipelines. The UK and France have a more limited ability to project power globally. Turkey is a major player in the Black Sea/Caspian area and the Middle East. At the same time, its actions have influence in the wider Islamic world.

  Secondly, there is an urgent need for the democracies to generate more defence capabilities, but the European response has been to create more institutions. European nations already spend very little on defence. Even the UK—among the most active military powers—is spending less now as a proportion of national wealth than at any time since the 1930s. But the UK's 2.2%[129] of GDP puts it in a super league compared with Germany's 1.4% or Spain's 1.3%. Turkey meanwhile is spending 3.2%.

  The US might reasonably complain that it bears a disproportionate share of the common defence. More equitable burden-sharing is not a new problem. The Europeans' share of the defence burden certainly needs to increase, but that does not require the involvement of the EU institutions whose meddling in military matters has proved divisive and a distraction from real security needs. Given the motives that drive it and the track record of declining defence expenditure among so many European nations, ESDP will not provide the solution.

  Budget reform has been on the NATO table for many months. There is an agreed cost share for each country calculated on gross domestic product. The question is whether more elements could be covered by the common funded budget. NATO Common Funding currently totals about $2 billion and comprises three elements: the Military Budget, the Civilian Budget and the Security Investment Programme. The main contributors are the US, Germany and the UK. There is a case for rebalancing this budget—for a start, France needs to make a fairer contribution for her seat at the top table. There is also a case for more common NATO assets, such as a strategic airlift component.

  Thirdly, more attention needs to be given to so-called "soft power" non-military capabilities. The EU can play a valuable role in "soft" security—conflict prevention, humanitarian aid, development assistance, post-conflict reconstruction—leaving military matters to NATO. Such an institutional division of labour would be enormously helpful. Indeed, there is a need for forward civil reconstruction capabilities to consolidate and complement NATO military operations.

  Finally, fresh attention should be given to regional alliances to which NATO could provide support. This would take account of the growing importance of regional powers such as India, the role of Australia and perhaps South Africa, and the need to support moderate Islamic countries in North Africa and the Gulf.


  A plausible ESDP narrative has now been carefully constructed. It would be too easy to sit back and accept this as a reality, and just try to make ESDP work better. I believe the consequence of this would be the erosion of our independent foreign policy, the decline of NATO, and a weakening of the transatlantic relationship.

  When the next strategic crisis implodes on the democracies we should not then be surprised if our defence forces prove inadequate and the US was absent at the critical moment.

  No spokesman for ESDP has been able to provide a credible military justification for it. A British government should begin to undo what is to all intents an unnecessary and counter-productive political device that does not serve our national interest.

30 October 2007

122   Joint declaration on European defence, St. Malo, 4 December 1998, Paragraph 2 Back

123   Treaty on European Union, Maastricht, 29 July 1992, Preamble, Article B, Article J.4 Back

124   The Lisbon Treaty, October 2007, Article 27.7 Back

125   A Secure Europe in a better world: European Security Strategy, Brussels, 12 December 2003, Page 1 Back

126   Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy: New proposals from the EC, 4 December 2006 Back

127   Council Joint Action 2004/551/CFSP of 12 July 2004 on the establishment of the European Defence Agency Back

128   Europe Is Not in a Zero-Sum Game with NATO, Washington DC, 14 February 2007 Back

129   UK Ministry of Defence, 2005/2006 Budget Back

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