The European Union thrives in every crisis.
This is what the European leaders want to believe. Crises, they say, galvanize the bloc. They give an impetus for more integration. They help the EU develop what it has long lacked: a credible defense and security policy. This is, supposedly, now the lesson of Afghanistan for Europeans, judging by the meeting of EU foreign ministers in Slovenia on September 2-3.
Josep Borrell, Head of EU Foreign Policy, noted Afghanistan had “vividly shown that shortcomings in the EU’s ability to act autonomously come at a price.”
As if these shortcomings were not well known: low capacities, duplications, the lobbying power of the defense industries, and the lack of trust and the glaring divisions between the Member States when it comes to defining ambitions and threats. safe.
Borrell noted the only way forward was “to combine our strengths and strengthen not only our capacities, but also our will to act”.
This means – and we go with the same refrain – “improving our ability to respond to hybrid challenges, filling key capability gaps, including logistics transport, increasing readiness through joint military training and developing new tools like the initial 5,000-person Force entry that we’re actually discussing.
Borrell added that such an entry force “would have helped us provide a security perimeter for the evacuation of European Union citizens in Kabul.” Wasn’t it asked in Slovenia why no Member State had suggested this in the first place, given the instability in Afghanistan?
As for the idea of a rapid reaction force, European leaders have been talking about it for more than two decades.
At Saint-Malo summit in 1998, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac announced the “main goalsFor European defense. They wanted Europe to have as many as sixty thousand troops at its disposal for peacekeeping and other missions.
This was spurred by the wars in the former Yugoslavia which exposed the EU’s non-military response. It was left to NATO, or rather the United States from bombing Serbian targets to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians.
Primary targets were scaled back in 2003, at the height of the US-led war in Iraq. Nothing came of these plans either. In 2007, a special EU Battle Group concept was introduced. This plan never saw the light of day.
Despite the war in Syria, the very dangerous conflict in Mali and other hot spots that directly affect European security, EU leaders have collectively been reluctant and unable to supplement the bloc’s economic weight with military force.
Why not? This is not for lack of trying, especially by France. President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly proposed the need for a strong European defense capacity and if necessary a European army, or a few coalitions of the willing.
When former US President Donald Trump lambasted NATO for being “obsolete”, Europeans sought refuge in the vague language of “strategic autonomy”. The reality is that the Europeans have only themselves – not NATO or the United States – to blame for not thinking and acting strategically.
The strategy is not easy for European states, be they members of the EU or NATO, and the majority of European countries are both.
Without the United States, NATO is a strategic pygmy. And with the exception of France – now that Britain has left the bloc – the EU lacks strategic forethought. He cannot defend himself. The United States is their guarantor of security, whether the Europeans like it or not.
The European caucus within NATO is not an advertisement for the EU in search of strategic autonomy. If this caucus were more coherent, more politically motivated and more open in its relations with the United States, it could be beneficial for NATO, the EU and the neighbors of the Union.
NATO and the EU are trying to work more closely together. But their inherently different cultures make it difficult to create real trust and cooperation. The EU is obsessed with the vague concept of crisis management and the belief that a dose of soft power is the panacea for all problems. NATO is anchored in hard power. Even then, he botched, in Libya, Afghanistan, and even closer to home in Kosovo. It is hard to believe that since 1999 NATO forces have still been deployed in this part of Europe.
So where does that leave Europe’s response to the Afghanistan debacle?
Beyond the immense difficulties of state building, if the EU is serious about having a rapid reaction force, the capacities and structures of command are already at its disposal.
The special Arrangements Berlin Plus, agreed in 2002, gave the EU access to NATO’s collective assets and capabilities for its own military operations. It aimed to avoid duplication and competition. Above all, it would have given the EU and NATO a real chance to strengthen the European dimension of the Alliance.
The Biden administration wants Europeans to take more responsibility for their defense. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg should embrace this idea instead of believing it would be a direct challenge for the Alliance. And if that means, like German Defense Minister Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer suggested, Europe establishing coalitions of the willing, why not, on condition of sharing the costs.
This debate has not yet started, leaving European citizens and its neighbors in defense and security limbo. So much for a crisis precipitating a European strategic culture.