"MADRID With budgets exceptionally tight in Europe nowadays, worries about European defense have been growing. Paradoxically, however, developments in 2010 offer hope for the future.
The defense agreement signed in November by France and the United Kingdom is composed of two treaties, which cover joint deployment of their armed forces, nuclear deterrence, and improved equipment and communications. This initiative has the firm political backing of both countries' leaders, and expresses a clear determination to unite against common threats.
Implemented correctly, these treaties could become a hopeful precedent for the entire European Union. By transcending strictly national limits, these treaties chart the future path of European defense and will help determine the course of Europe’s relations with the United States and NATO.
To better judge the treaties’ worth, we must remember the context in which they were conceived. In 1998, the Saint Malo Declaration by French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated both countries’ determination to reinforce the EU’s security and defense capabilities. Originally reluctant to accept a Europe with autonomous military capacity, the United Kingdom had learned from the intervention in Kosovo that the EU must be able to respond to crises rapidly and efficiently.
The Saint Malo Declaration signaled that the EU’s leading military powers were prepared to develop their own defense policy, though one not fully autonomous of NATO. Indeed, through the Berlin Plus agreements, which facilitate use of NATO resources for missions undertaken under the European Defense and Security Policy (ESDP), NATO recognized the ESDP’s maturation over the past decade. Indeed, the EU has undertaken 24 missions in Europe, Africa, and Asia, differing in nature, scope, and aims, and combining military and civilian means.
Today, the EU is being asked to conduct complex missions in adverse circumstances. In doing so, Europe must draw on the lessons of its past successes. We Europeans need to respond favorably, quickly, and effectively. Defense missions must be more adaptable, prompt, multinational, and multi-instrumental. They must be focused on stability and security, regardless of the security situation or the nature of the conflict.
Yet it is clear that European defense is now struggling mightily with public financing. Moreover, the latest Eurobarometer poll shows that defense is the last thing that Europeans are worried about.
It is precisely here that the Franco-British agreement becomes vitally important. The treaties mark an attempt to balance action and ambition in a context of economic crisis, fiscal consolidation, large-scale defense transformations, increasing interdependencies, and global threats – from terrorism and nuclear proliferation to climate change, resource scarcity, and epidemics – that are impossible to tackle unilaterally. It also sets a precedent for the UK, preparing the way for future prime ministers to make advances in this direction.
Reinforcing both countries’ military capacities indirectly reinforces those of the EU. The quest for synergies and efficiency that is implied by the agreement could well become a driving force for the European Defense Agency. The British may now consider the EDA a defense expenditure, but, when better defined, it could represent a source of savings for every EU country.
Moreover, the agreements foresee cooperation on cyber-security, terrorism, satellite communications, and maritime security, which are also key elements of the Lisbon Treaty. Likewise, the joint expeditionary forces established under the treaties could lead to the eventual creation of a wider structure, as they already contemplate “bilateral cooperation with NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, or other operations.
Solidarity and agreement on political objectives are the pressing concerns of our age. The new pact between France and the UK could be a historic step toward rationalizing defense spending rather than toward demilitarizing Europe. It all depends on the path chosen.
In times of financial crisis, EU member states are unlikely to increase defense spending. But if France and the UK understand how much their projection of power is linked to that of Europe, if they make cooperation reciprocal and expand it to other European countries – according to the formula foreseen in the treaties – we could eventually see an EU with the ability to assume the defense role expected of it by the global community. By forcing greater efficiency and collaboration, misfortune can yield benefit.
This path can also ease US concerns about lower European defense spending. The Franco-British treaties do not address commitments to NATO, a key US interest, because any reduction in the number of European troops deployed abroad inevitably implies a greater economic burden for the US.
The Franco-British agreement does, however, imply progress toward joint European military action, both in Europe and on the international scene, which will encourage the US. So will the fact that the initiative comes from Europe’s two major military powers (whose combined defense spending represents half of the Continent’s total), both of which have permanent seats on the UN Security Council.
All of this is part of the transatlantic community’s continuing transformation from a set of organizations designed to defend territory against a known aggressor to something more flexible and dynamic. Establishing joint management and overhauling conventional defense capacities will be a two-pronged challenge: functional, owing to the traditional schema of defense organizations, and political, inasmuch as a cession of state sovereignty will be required.
Another, equally important challenge is cooperation between NATO and Russia, which agreed at NATO’s Lisbon summit in November to collaborate on the Alliance’s anti-missile defenses. This relationship must be based on cooperation that benefits both sides, and that respects certain common principals of governance and non-interference. But coordinating and sharing capacities can help both partners deal with the new nature of conflicts. Here, the EU can exercise leadership, for this is a political process that has only just begun.
As British Prime Minister David Cameron said of the agreement with France: "This is the beginning of something new, not an end in itself" - words that echo those of Jean Monet, one of the Union’s founding fathers, on cooperation in the West. “"This is not an end in itself," Monet said. "It is the beginning of the path toward a more ordered world that we must attain if we want to escape destruction."
The Franco-British agreement in 2010 was one hopeful sign for 2011 and beyond: a step along the arduous but necessary path toward greater European security.
Javier Solana, President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, is a former EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and a former Secretary-General of NATO.