Debating Defense

BRUSSELS – The Haitian earthquake has made two things horrifically clear: security challenges are not only man-made, and military forces are often a vital part of humanitarian aid. This is a timely reminder, because security and defense are now the focus of a major debate within both NATO and the European Union.

Generals, it is said, always prepare to fight the last war – an old jibe, but one that contains an element of truth. Indeed, flexibility does not come naturally to armed forces, with the result that the two decades since the end of the Cold War have seen only slow adaptation to the military’s evolving roles.

But NATO’s priorities this year include a sweeping review of its own strategic purpose, something the alliance has not questioned since 1999, while the EU continues to struggle towards its goal of forging a European defense policy worthy of the name. In both cases, there are more questions than answers.

To begin with, what is meant by security? Does it refer to the geopolitics of international relations, or to protecting society against terrorist attacks? It is both, of course, but the sort of policies that will achieve these two very different objectives is far from clear.