Select Committee on European Union Fifteenth Report


What is the Common European Policy on Security and Defence?

1. The European Council met at Helsinki in December 1999 and discussed two progress reports, prepared by the Finnish Presidency, on developing the European Union's military and non-military crisis management capability as part of a strengthened common European policy on security and defence. The Council adopted these reports and underlined "its determination to develop an autonomous capability to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and conduct EU-led military operations in response to international crises".[1]

2. This policy has become known as the Common European Security and Defence Policy (CESDP)[2]. It marks the most significant attempt made so far by the European Union to enter a policy sector which has previously been left to Member States and other international institutions. It thus represents a major addition to the roles of the European Union.

3. The Helsinki declaration is a major step forward in a long search for an agreement between the European Union's Member States on security and defence. The agreement reached there has wide-ranging aims, but most attention has been focused on the "headline goals". These were defined in the declaration as:

    "- co-operating voluntarily in EU-led operations, Member States must be able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least 1 year military forces of up to 50,000-60,000 persons capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks[3];

    - new political and military bodies and structures will be established within the Council to enable the Union to ensure the necessary political guidance and strategic direction to such operations, while respecting the single institutional framework;

    - modalities will be developed for full consultation, co-operation and transparency between the EU and NATO, taking into account the needs of all EU Member States;

    - appropriate arrangements will be defined that would allow, while respecting the Union's decision-making autonomy, non-EU European NATO members and other interested States to contribute to EU military crisis-management;

    - a non-military crisis management mechanism will be established to co-ordinate and make more effective the various civilian means and resources, in parallel with the military ones, at the disposal of the Union and Member States."[4]

4. The first of the headline goals, for the creation of a rapid reaction force[5], is the most important, and it is in support of this that all the other goals have been set. Although the goals are limited, they are nonetheless very ambitious. They aim to allow the EU to create a co-ordinated force whereby the Union can lead military missions, the range of which is defined by the term "Petersberg tasks". The nature of these tasks will be discussed at greater length later in the Report (see paragraph 29). They do not extend to territorial defence against external aggression, which in the case of NATO members will remain a matter for NATO.

5. It has been stressed to us that the CESDP is not about the creation of a European army. The Helsinki declaration makes this explicit: paragraph 27 states that the policy "does not imply the creation of a European army". The Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon. Geoff Hoon MP, was at pains to state this (Q354); and on another occasion, to emphasise this point Mr Emyr Jones Parry, the Political Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), informed us that in the run-up to the Helsinki Council

    "the British Foreign Secretary proposed in the December General Affairs Council that we add for total clarification a sentence in the form "it is clear that we are not in the process of establishing a European army." There was not a Member State who opposed that proposal and indeed it went through with acclamation instantly. So as a matter of record the Union is committed to not doing this and everyone supported that concept." (Q317)

Instead, the policy aims to create a European "capacity", pooling the resources of Member States in such a way as to allow the EU—acting inter-governmentally—to act when it sees fit. Normally, this will be in support of the United Nations: paragraph 26 of the Helsinki declaration states that "the Union recognises the primary responsibility of the United Nations Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security". Nor does the CESDP envisage an EU role for territorial defence: this will remain a matter for NATO.

6. In developing the CESDP, the Member States of the European Union are searching for a distinct European military capability, a project which, in the context of the Cold War, had its origins in initiatives launched in the 1950s. Hitherto, defence co-ordination has only been practical in the context of NATO and the transatlantic alliance. However, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent destabilisation of parts of Europe have led to a new impetus to create a European capability of a different nature, to meet the new threats to security in the post-Cold War world. The EU Member States aspire to create a capacity for the projection of which may be used as a humanitarian force.

The impetus for the development of the CESDP

7. These efforts have gathered momentum in the last two years, with the important agreements made at the Anglo-French St Malo summit in December 1998 and, twelve months later, at Helsinki. There are several causes for this.

8. First among these is the fact that European countries have needed to adapt to the end of the Cold War. While they no longer see territorial defence as the overwhelming priority, in many cases they have not been able to reallocate resources to take this imperative into account. Limited territorial defence requirements were replaced by the need to provide adaptable and deployable forces for limited conflicts and small operations of the kind seen in Bosnia and Kosovo. In consequence, there is now a recognition that some degree of co-ordination is necessary between states providing forces for these purposes. This has proved to be a difficult problem. European countries together spend 60 per cent as much on defence as the US; and the countries comprising the EU have 1.9 million men and women under arms while the US has 1.4 million. Despite this, only 2 per cent of European forces were capable of being deployed in Kosovo. The Europeans only provided half the number of military forces specified for the Kosovo operation. This has resulted in the fact that European governments have had to acknowledge that too much is being spent on conscript armies with limited military utility, when they instead need highly mobile well-trained and combat-ready forces, including operational logistical support to allow projection of power[6] to the theatre of operations. This will be very expensive.

9. Secondly, European countries have had to acknowledge that they are over-dependent on the United States. Europe possesses few of the military capabilities necessary for handling major European crises, and this has been made clear by the débâcle of Bosnia and deficiencies in Kosovo. In the latter case, the Americans provided some 75 per cent of the firepower, and the European allies lacked reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft as well as long range precision weapons and bombers. British ministers have drawn attention to the fact that European governments spent two-thirds as much as the Americans on defence, but could deploy only 10-15 per cent of US troop levels[7]. Significant problems remain in European governments' capacity to deploy and sustain forces.

10. Thirdly, there is the decline in defence expenditure in NATO Member States, and especially in European Member States, since the end of the Cold War. In the words of General Klaus Naumann, former Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, after the Cold War "we were too generous in allowing ourselves a peace dividend which led to deficiencies in our armed forces" (Q283). This decline in expenditure has created tensions within the alliance. In particular the United States Government seems to take the view that European partners are not carrying a sufficient share of the financial costs of the alliance.

11. Fourthly, the two most effective military powers in Europe at present, Britain and France, have moved closer in their appreciation of the need for Europe to contribute more to military and humanitarian missions and to rely less on the US. This does not mean that their philosophies have converged: on balance, it is true that the French still look at defence from a "Europeanist" perspective, and the British from a more "Euro-Atlanticist" perspective. Nevertheless, the British Government accepts that France is unlikely to rejoin the integrated command structure of NATO and that the EU should now provide the framework for a European defence pillar. Moreover, the French Government now accept that Europeans are not willing to duplicate their forces when defence budgets are decreasing, and that any steps towards a European military capability should complement, but not attempt to duplicate, existing NATO capabilities necessary for the conduct of missions. Other EU member governments have supported this initiative.

12. Finally, European governments have come to accept that in the future they cannot take for granted US involvement in the humanitarian, crisis control and peace support missions in which the EU has an interest. Congressional backing for the Kosovo mission was noticeably half-hearted. The mood, according to Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is "that the Americans do not wish to be involved in all these activities and that they wish their European allies to be capable of operating on their own, with the Americans taking a back seat." (Q81).

The implications of the CESDP

13. The proposed development of the CESDP is consistent with the commitment contained in the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht treaty) which referred to 'the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence'[8]. The development of a CESDP represents a major opportunity for Europe to address crises in its own neighbourhood, such as Bosnia and Kosovo, and to contribute to smaller operations further afield such as East Timor and Sierra Leone at the request of the United Nations. However, the initiative raises many issues, which this report attempts to address. The initiative will greatly affect the relationship between the EU and NATO, whose memberships overlap but are not identical. It will also affect many other states that are members of neither the EU nor NATO. At the moment, European defence is marked by an exceptionally complicated matrix of institutions, which will be described in greater detail later in the report, but whose overlaps can be illustrated by the diagram we have included as Figure 1. The CESDP adds yet another dimension.

1   Declaration of the Helsinki European Council, paragraph 27. Back

2   Also occasionally known as the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Back

3   For a definition of the "Petersberg tasks", see paragraph 29. Back

4   Helsinki declaration, paragraph 28. Back

5   There are grave doubts whether it can be considered a 'rapid' reaction force. This issue will be further explored in Part 4. However, the term is commonly used to describe the EU's planned reaction force, and the report therefore utilises this term throughout. Back

6   We take power projection to mean the ability to deploy military force to meet a variety of missions ranging from humanitarian to peace enforcement tasks. Back

7   Other figures quoted were that 75 per cent of all aircraft, 80 per cent of the ordinance and most of the intelligence were provided by the US. See Christopher Patten, "The EU's Evolving Foreign Policy Dimension-the CESDP after Helsinki", 22 February 2000. Back

8   Article J.4(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Back

previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 2000