Europe’s Global Security Reach or Sad Failure?

An all day conference on April 26th, “EU’s Common Security & Defense Policy” (CSDP), was an EU effort to inform the American security and defense experts and diplomatic residents of Washington on the accomplishments and hopes for the EU’s hopeful capabilities in the security arena.

The good news is that some progress is being made, and the bad news is that the existing structure of this effort is largely still counterproductive for effective action. And there was no real sign that either the necessary resources or political will are likely to be seen in the foreseeable future. This is said with much sadness since I have long supported the concept of European Union integration and worked for decades in this field both as a diplomat and scholar.

What can be said, with respect, is that there was a large, if somewhat subtle, acknowledgment of this weakness among the EU speakers, and a strong desire to put on a good face and provide some hope. But the reality is that defense budgets in Europe are already very low, except until now for the UK which is now in the process of cutting its defense funding. The background is the economic crisis is forcing even more cuts in this area, including in foreign assistance. The possibility of independent action by the EU in the security sector is frankly diminishing rather than increasing. The EU decision structure is not underpinned by real capabilities, a fact highlighted by the recent NATO analysis of the Libya operations. 

Most acknowledge the difficulty of getting 27-28 nations to agree on any action, thus the pride among them that they were able to do anything. Good work has been done by the EU in some key places, especially in the Balkans and Horn of Africa. Yet the reality is that when the tough decisions were needed along with the necessary capabilities in key crisis situations, Europe in the guise of the EU was not there by-and-large.  

There was a good showing of U.S. officials at the meeting who diplomatically urged Europe to get their act together and make a greater contribution. Amb. Rick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, a new and needed State bureau, focused on oncoming crises. He noted that we will not likely go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan again, and the focus will be on places that are most significant, like Syria, Burma, Asia/China, Honduras, and Salvador. A key point he made was the need to focus on and deal with “thematic crises” rather than purely national ones. He said we have more “micro successes” than “macro successes.”   He also cited the need for internal coherence within the U.S. government, the United Nations, and coordination with other actors. He hoped now that America will be a more effective partner and believes we need to work together, including with the EU.  

At the meeting was also Amb. Phil Reeker, the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European Bureau. He also covers South-Central European affairs and his focus was the continued need to cooperate with the nations of the former Yugoslavia, with the EU still playing a major role in the stability of the region and eventually integrating fully these nations into the European and Transatlantic community. 

There was rightly discussion and a number of questions about how to “do more with less.” Some considerable skepticism was voiced of this concept, yet others said this was possible with better cooperation and focus on priorities. Clearly the U.S. can do this with less in the military area, given its already inordinately high DOD budget levels, but there are serious questions if the EU nations can do this and be capable of any major action on their own or perhaps even under NATO. Further, the State Department’s budget is under attack by the House of Representatives, which may seriously restrict our role of peacemaker and our ability to intervene with what we call “preventive diplomacy,” meaning a trajectory towards a big crisis and major conflict rather than acting early when less risky options are useful and effective.  

What was not explicitly addressed was the possibility of a divergence of goals, interests, and perspectives between the U.S. and Europe. There was need for more frankness and a better intellectual discussion of this issue and how to maintain unity of goals and purpose as well as action.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

6 thoughts on “Europe’s Global Security Reach or Sad Failure?

  1. Harry C. Blaney III May 7, 2012 / 10:11 AM

    Yes their actions do “belie” their wishes….not the first time for governments or alliances. But it is not so much a external enemy that is the problem but the question of being able to apply both diplomatic, and when necessary, peace making/keeping force to stop major emerging conflicts and mass killing as part of international action. Lybia was a case study and now Syria is a disaster for its people and the region partly due to inaction and lack of capability and will by the UN, NATO, Arab League, and others.

  2. Paul Sack May 1, 2012 / 7:25 PM

    I agree with everything Harry says above except that the EU “wish for a robust …defense capability,” which their actions belie. Perhaps, they just don’t see an enemy and are happy to “rely on U.S. forces.” The latter seems a good choice for EU political leaders.

  3. Harry Blaney May 1, 2012 / 12:52 PM

    In response to Paul’s last comment there is a key difference between adequate defense and inadequate or unbalanced defense capabilities. In the case of the U.S. we have a bloated, unbalanced, inefficient, and far too expensive defense base which needs major reforms and cuts in a number of areas. Our nuclear weapons especially need major cuts of unneeded costs of billions.

    American forces also probably need strengthening in some areas as well. These areas are oddly not expensive in comparison to some of the massive projects and programs, many mandated by Congress having nothing to do with true risks and not even wanted by DOD professionals. Many of these programs and weapons have little change of any real usefulness in a future conflict context we are likely to face. Improving our troops in training and protection are areas where we can make investments but they give little profit to large defense contractors. This is true when especially looking at asymmetrical warfare and certain quick reaction needs. But also in the need to support major peacemaking/peacekeeping activities on a global scale.

    Regarding Europe, they are totally lacking a true capability to act to deal with even near area serious conflicts. This is especially true in independent intelligence and logistic capabilities and even in coordination, and communications that are interoperable within NATO. And, given especially their wish for a robust EU defense capability, they have fallen far short. They think they can cut even further despite their now revealed failings as shown by reports after the Lybia actions. This extraordinarily inadequate capacity means they must rely on U.S. forces which is not especially fair, raises our risks, or is wise for us or them.

  4. Paul Sack April 29, 2012 / 10:01 PM


    I completely agree with your comment to me that Russia and China are not or need not be “enemies” and that the Germany-directed austerity is an economic disaster for Europe and potentially for us, too.

    I was responding to your statement that Europe was cutting its military budgets, which you seemed to regret because that leaves them “less capable of major military action on their own.” My point is that, if they do not have enemies (as we seem to agree), why should they not cut back on military expenditures and why worry about their ability to conduct an independent military action?


  5. Harry Blaney April 28, 2012 / 10:08 PM

    Thanks Paul for your comment!

    For some strange reason I think the time has come for us not to drive our global policy and our national security perspectives by conjured made up “enemies” rather than a careful assessment of both real major risks and our likely long-term interests.

    Already too many ignorant speeches have been made in this election about either Russia or China being our “enemies” which is counterproductive and historical. They certainly are difficult states and not always nice states, but they do not need to be our long-term enemy. We have already proved, under President Obama, that while we can and do differ and have different assessments of the international landscape and interests, we also have wide area of common goals and key element of interdependence. Let’s all start with a little rationality and careful analysis. The Russian and Chinese people are not our enemy and they have potential to be our partner and friend.

    Europe’s enemy at the moment is, as Pogo once said, is itself and its stupid (the nicest word I can think of ) unnecessary austerity complex, which is driving its people and many of their economies into the ground. We must not follow that “austrian” right-wing blind economic modal!

  6. Paul Sack April 27, 2012 / 5:59 PM

    The problem is that there is no enemy in Europe. Europe needs an enemy.

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