European Security and American Restraint

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Skorski and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Skorski and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009.

This summer the Center for International Policy is fortunate to have some very talented and thoughtful interns working on key issues America faces in national security and foreign policy. We therefore welcome two of these with their post below on European Security and American Restraint, their analysis of our future defense and security relations with Europe, and commend it to your attention. They are the cutting edge of a new generation of engaged professionals whose voices will grow over the years. Julia Jacovides is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and is interested in refugee issues, ethnic conflict, and international law. Jacob Marx is a 2013 graduate of Colby College who is interested in security policy and international development. We will see more of their voices in the coming years. (Harry C. Blaney, III)

By: Julia Jacovides and Jacob Marx

There is growing bipartisan consensus in the United States that we should not, and cannot afford to, continue in our role as the world’s policeman. The U.S. has reached an untenable juncture where defense spending dictates defense strategy at the expense of domestic programs Americans need most.

A course correction – including the reassessment of sometimes hidebound security arrangements with foreign governments –  is long overdue. Our allies should take a greater amount of responsibility for their own geopolitical security. As the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine illustrates, nowhere is this more important than in Europe. Here, the world’s largest trading bloc has the economic and political influence to respond to Russian aggression but lacks the military will to either discourage Russia in the first place or perhaps to conduct peacekeeping in the aftermath.

The Ukraine situation has made it undeniably clear that to wield soft-power responsibly (its historical mandate) the E.U. must be willing and able to shoulder certain hard power consequences. Meeting these obligations will create more stability within Europe, enhance E.U. soft power, and lessen the need for U.S. security patronage.

The European Union was founded to promote peace and unity in Western Europe via economic and political cooperation. In the seventy odd years since it began, the E.U. has steadily expanded its mandate to the east and south. There have been some notable security accomplishments, such as the Schengen Treaty (which introduced a borderless Europe) and the growth of Interpol. However, these fall within the context of homeland or domestic European security, not defense or foreign affairs.

Historically, the E.U. has been free to pursue a soft-power agenda while NATO and the United States have taken care of defense policy. In 2002, for instance, the E.U. and NATO signed the Berlin Plus Agreement, which allowed the E.U. to use NATO resources in a crisis situation. By 2012, defense expenditure in the E.U. had declined to a paltry 1.5% of the region’s GDP. France and the United Kingdom, meanwhile, accounted for 45% of Europe’s defense budget, 50% of its military capacity and 70% of all spending in military research and development. The U.S.’s NATO allies benefit from about one-third of all U.S. military spending; non-NATO Europe benefits from less than one-thirtieth. This is not to hold up the United States as an exemplar of security budgeting, but such an imbalance in foreign policy tools is untenable for both Washington and Brussels.

President Putin has used the EU’s promotion of European values on its eastern border as pretext for his recent incursions into Ukraine. It is arguably a great thing for Europeans and Ukrainians to share democratic principles and take part in an economic and cultural exchange. Indeed, this was the reason for the European Union in the first place. That mission remains as important as ever, but failure to pair hard and soft power policy tools has created regional instability.

If the E.U. wants to continue exporting soft power on its periphery it should take some modicum of responsibility for hard-power in the same geopolitical space. In April, Ukraine’s acting president Turchynov asked the U.N. to deploy peacekeeping troops to the country’s eastern region. This would have required the approval of Security Council members, including Russia, whose interests were clearly at odds with Europe’s during the time. NATO’s response of Black Sea regional training exercises was hardly more inspiring. Quite simply, this situation made it clear that there is no organization with the political will to conduct security policy on the E.U.’s borders. If Ukraine shows us nothing else, it is that the responsibility for European security lies largely with none other than the E.U. itself.

Since Poland ascended to the E.U. in 2004, it has come to represent the very best the European experiment has to offer. During the financial crisis it was the only E.U. member to avoid a recession. In fact, its economy grew by 1.6% in 2009 while the E.U.’s GDP declined overall by 4.5%. Its political and social institutions are strong as well (although this might be due to the fact that finding consensus among the E.U.’s 28 member states is a difficult task): Brussels provided $139 billion in economic stimulus between 2007 and 2013 as a reward for Poland’s anti-corruption successes. If there is one country that stands to gain from demilitarized European budgets, it would be Poland.

So, when Poland’s Foreign Minister is caught calling his country’s military relationship with the U.S. “downright harmful,” it is time to pay attention to how the European community conducts security policy. In a secret recording recently released by the Guardian, Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski – who was, until then, a candidate to replace Catherine Ashton as the E.U.’s top diplomat – told a confidant “You know that the Polish-U.S. alliance isn’t worth anything…it creates a false sense of security. We’ll get in [a] conflict with the Germans, Russians, and we’ll think that everything is super, because we [trusted the Americans].” This recording illustrates the inherent insecurity of the EU’s current defense strategy. E.U. member states should not have to appeal to a country on the other side of the world for help with what is fundamentally a regional problem.

Some might argue that strengthening E.U. defense policy is inconsistent with the core values of the European Union. In reality, though, this is not true. The E.U. was founded to prevent war on the European continent through shared economic, social, and political institutions. In the modern era this must include shared responsibility for security, which would have the added benefit of reenergizing the E.U. and providing a counterweight to nationalist schisms in the European Parliament. Creating a workable balance between hard and soft foreign policy tools would allow the E.U. to wield greater influence on its own periphery. The E.U. has been a world leader in fair elections, free trade, and human rights. A security policy that deters Russian expansionism would likely create an environment in which these values can be spread more effectively.

These suggestions are not an attempt to turn the E.U. into a military power. They are, though, part of a response to possible future U.S. drawbacks in the region. We envision a European Union in which soft power objectives are supported with credible and limited hard power means akin to what NATO has traditionally provided. Strengthening security is an expensive and politically-charged slope. But, given the shifting geopolitical landscape, it is a responsibility that Europe needs to assume.

One thought on “European Security and American Restraint

  1. Paul Sack July 8, 2014 / 1:56 PM

    Perhaps the problem is that the E.U. has “steadily expanded its mandate east and south,” challenging Russia. Why not cede to Russia its influence over its near neighbors who were also part of the former Soviet Union?

    And perhaps Poland should abandon the idea of getting into conflict with the Germans and Russians. For centuries, the Germans, French, and British had conflicts with each other–including two world wars in the 20th century. Today, it seems inconceivable that any of these three countries would attack one of the others. Why cannot it be the same for Poland and its neighbors?

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