Europe's Military Revolution

BRUSSELS: Creating the euro – a revolutionary innovation in an EU whose nature is to evolve slowly, by fits and starts – provoked debate across the continent and beyond. Plans for a common EU defense policy, however, have thus far attracted less attention. No longer. Americans increasingly ask: “Why bother?” and point to the efficacy of NATO. Europeans often find such questions hard to answer, partly because there is no single answer.

For believers in a more united Europe, closer cooperation on defense is self-evidently desirable. Others emphasize the pragmatic, pointing out that EU members can achieve far more in foreign/defense policy by working together than on their own. These pragmatists stress the growing number of external challenges – in the Balkans, Middle East, Africa or elsewhere – requiring a concerted response.

A third argument, held by some French Gaullists and many EU left-wingers, says that Europe needs a common foreign and defense policy to resist American hegemony. This anti-American view, however, is not widely held. Supporters of a common EU foreign/defense policy see a Europe capable of looking after its own defense as a better partner for the US.

Confusion and doubts arise now because of vagueness about the likely uses of the Rapid Reaction Force, a key step in developing these common policies. The Rapid Reaction Force, it is said, should be capable of fulfilling the so-called “Petersberg” tasks. Yet “peacemaking” (one of those tasks) could cover anything from Operation Alba – which in 1997 saw Italy lead a 6000-strong European force into Albania to suppress anarchy – to an attack on Sierra Leone rebels resisting UN peacekeepers, to Gulf War type conflicts. Because all EU governments know that, for the foreseeable future, Europe will be capable of only modest military operations there is no great value in defining now how the Rapid Reaction Force will be used.