What place for a European army within NATO?

, by Lionel Luttenbacher, Translated by Elena Montani

What place for a European army within NATO?

Europe and NATO, a long story: in 2009 NATO will celebrate its 60th birthday. In a reformed NATO, what place is there for a structured and independent European defence?

At the moment of its creation, the objective of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was to avoid the military and economic annihilation of Europe by the communist ogre, ready to launch its armoured divisions on the European territory.

Following the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire, several questions arise on the interest for keeping the organisation alive. At some moment, its existence seemed to be compromised, but the rise of extremism (and terrorism) as well as the existence of an increasingly aggressive Russian policy has given it a new meaning. NATO counts today 26 members (from 12 founding members in 1949: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, United States, France, Island, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom/ and then Greece and Turkey in 1952, West Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary in 1999, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004).

The state of relations between the EU and NATO

If NATO represents for the majority of European countries the guarantor for their security it is because it has defended them for 45 years from the communist threat and has proven its efficacy, something that the EU is instead incapable of doing as independent political entity. In order to build its own strategic posture and to be recognised as an entity capable of guaranteeing the security of the European countries, the EU needs to pursue its external missions as it has been the case with Concordia in FYROM/Macedonia and Artemis in DR Kongo, and today in Chad.

The following three points show the multiplicity of opinions on the future of NATO.

- The French case Only one country in Europe, France, wishes a bigger room for manoeuvre for Europe within the NATO structures. We have witnessed the risk of an important fracture, especially after the failure of Chirac in 1996 - which pushed for a European command of the fleet based in Naples - and the proven limits of the European Security and Defence Identity within NATO. But the last developments entail the perspective of a bigger space for Europe within the NATO structures. In particular, the declarations of the French President take into consideration the possibility for France to return within the integrated structures.

- The Aznar Report

The Report written by the former Spanish Prime Minister, entitled “Alliance for Freedom”, aims at transforming NATO in an anti-terrorist structure and to assemble all “democratic” countries, including India… In fact, the real objective is to encircle Russia and China. Beyond the image of defence of democracy and human rights, the goal is to run a policy of containment vis-à-vis China and Russia.

- The anti-missile shield

As pointed out by several political actors in Germany, the EU has not been consulted on this project, although it is strongly concerned, as some of its member states are directly involved and the entire strategic security of the whole Europe might be threatened on the more or less long term. We should not let somebody else dictate us our policy vis-à-vis our Russian ally. Europe must be united on this issue and keep all necessary room for manoeuvre for building an independent strategic policy.

What future for the European Union within NATO?

After the collapse of the USSR, and thus of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has lost its raison d’etre and is trying in all ways to transform itself into an organisation defending freedom against Islamic totalitarianism and the so-called “Axis of evil”.

But several challenges still need to be tackled. In the XXI century, the EU is still looking for an identity, and needs to adopt a position vis-à-vis a state like Russia, which is trying to gain some lost respectability back. Should the EU become a transcontinental entity, or focus on the security of the European continent?

The US against an independent European defence

Under the pressure of the French President Sarkozy, the demand for an ‘independent’ European defence has become more pressing.

But this idea of independence needs to be addressed as a possibility to progress towards a more advanced intergovernmental structure. It does not include the possibility of creating a proper European army, idea which is incompatible with the American vision of Europe. The enlargement of the EU, disturbing element, has always gone together with the enlargement of NATO, in order to reach a similitude of borders.

What role then for the European Union, economic giant but political and military dwarf? The transatlantic partnership is important, but it must be revised on an egalitarian basis, allowing the emergence of a real autonomous strategic European policy!

Image: logo of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation taken from the official website ofNATO.


Your comments
  • On 20 April 2008 at 20:33, by adaniel Replying to: What place for a European army within NATO?

    I think there a fourth viewpoint should be taken into account. Central European countries which were under Soviet rule and still regard Russia as a threat are very keen to participate in NATO. The fact that there are still countries that are very much keen on joining shows that the principle reason of NATO’s existence is still there. From a historical point of view the Russian and the ex-Soviet threat are not very different for many European countries.

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