International Affairs Forum:
The NATO military intervention in Libya, particularly in light of Germany’s refusal to aid in the ‘no-fly zone’ effort, has caused rifts within the EU member states. In light of this, how do you view current EU security and defense policy?
Dr. Jolyon Howorth:
There are several aspects to this which all interconnect. Twenty years after the outbreak of the wars of Yugoslav succession we recall that the then Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Santer, said that ‘this is the hour of Europe, not the hour of the Americans’, which made him something of a laughing stock around the world. Clearly the Europeans were not ready to tackle Yugoslavia in 1991. They gave themselves 20 years to develop institutions, decision-making procedures, and military and civilian capacity. All of that was set in motion over a 20 year period with precisely the purpose of allowing the European Union, if another crisis arose or when the next big crisis broke out abroad, to be ready. What Libya has demonstrated is that Europe is still not ready.
When we look at it in some more detail, that conclusion must be nuanced with a recognition that certain member states are ready and they're ready to cooperate with each other. Those states which have been involved in the military activity in Libya, largely the UK and France, still have power projection capacity way beyond the immediate European theatre. Then there are serious participants such as Italy, that has offered its airbases for use in the ‘no-fly zone’ effort, Belgium and Denmark which are hitting targets on the ground. However, Spain, Greece, Sweden and Turkey have caveats which restrict their role to air-air operations only. .
Now, a key question here is why did this become a NATO mission rather an EU mission? That's rather complicated to answer. My sense is that in Washington DC, there was an unspoken assumption that if America was going to take a ‘back seat’ in this particular operation, then the lead should be taken by the EU, rather than by NATO. There was a window of three or four days during which there was talk of handing over the US command to “another entity”. But the Obama administration did not want this to be a NATO mission because NATO is perceived around the world as an American-led alliance. It is awkward, to say the least, for the United States to be saying that it will do the initial heavy hitting and then hand over to a “European entity” which turns out to be NATO, which is of course commanded by an American admiral. So there was an assumption in Washington that this could be the first time we’d see the much vaunted European Security and Defense Policy, now called Common Security and Defense Policy, engaging in this sort of operation in a lead position. The Obama administration didn't want it to be NATO, Turkey didn't want it initially to be NATO, Germany certainly didn't want it to be NATO, and France didn't want it to be NATO, all for rather different reasons.
The fact that it turned out in the end to be a NATO operation was I think due to two circumstances. The first was that NATO is the only organization that has the necessary command and control capacity to organize such as mission. The other was that Turkey changed its mind when it sensed that France might emerge as the leader of this operation. For Turkey, opposition to any French lead proved stronger than opposition to NATO taking over the mission. . Remember, Cameron had signed a Defense Treaty with Sarkozy back in November 2010. The French hoped that this Franco-British entity could be the lead organization for the Libya operation. But Cameron was determined that it should be a NATO mission. Then the Turks joined forces with him and essentially succeeded in turning it into a NATO mission. So, from almost every angle, we see the Europeans failing yet again to generate the dynamics which could produce European leadership.
One further element is the political element. From the very outset of the Libyan crisis, the European member states were coming at the problem as they used to in the '60s and '70s. When the Germans initially and the British and the French suggested sanctions, the Italians, the Greeks and the Cypriots opposed those sanctions. Even on something as simple as sanctioning the Libyan regime, we find that there is no agreement or consensus internally within the European Union. When you get to much more significant instruments such as a no fly zone or military action, then there's even less agreement. So the politics of it, the military dimension, the strategic dimension, and the practical economic control dimension all added up to another European defection.
Do you think a strong EU defense policy strengthens NATO?
Absolutely. That has been the proposition on which almost all of the European defense developments have been predicated over the last 20 years. It will strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance because traditionally within NATO there have been far too many European free riders. That free riding has resulted in a sub-optimal European capacity to take on military or civilian/military missions.
From the end of the Cold War - and this was the case throughout the Balkans crisis - the message from Washington to the Europeans was very loud and clear: Europe had to get its act together because the United States did not feel that there was any obligation anymore to send American troops to places like Bosnia-Herzegovina or (now) to Libya. Also, if and when the Europeans got their act together, this would strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship, which is something bigger than simply NATO. It would strengthen the whole relationship and allow Europe to be a true partner with the United States.
That would obviously have some repercussions for NATO. Both the European Security and Defense Policy per se, and also NATO since the end of the Cold War, have been projects in the process of becoming. It's not entirely clear to anybody quite what either of these will eventually become and how they will interact. There have been millions of words written and oceans of ink spilt about the interaction or the relationship or the potential for cooperation between these two entities. Nobody has yet resolved that dilemma.
But there is absolutely no question that the greater the European capacity to engage in this type of crisis management operation, the more it will consolidate the Atlantic Alliance and the more it will be useful to NATO as well as to the Europeans.
Turning to Russia, President Medvedev recently said that systems protect Europe from missile attack risk being ineffective and threats to stability if they don't include Russia. What is your reaction?
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has made a number of overtures to the West, largely to the United States but also through Europe to the United States, to the effect that the interests of all of the countries in the northern hemisphere are shared interests against the potential of terrorist attacks from the south. They have been quite explicit in saying that, in Moscow’s view, that's where the attacks will come from. The underlying proposition is that we have shared interests and therefore we should pool our resources and coordinate our objectives. At the same time, Russia has blown hot and cold over its relationship with NATO, and one can understand this since Russia always saw NATO as the fundamental adversary. For people in the West to expect that Russia will join NATO or will even enjoy an easy relationship with NATO is probably unrealistic. Russians wanted something more general in terms of cooperation.
There’s also a geostrategic aspect if we are talking about a missile defense system that will protect both Europe and the United States against any future potential missile attacks from somewhere in the southern parts of Central Asia. Technically, yes, it makes sense for us to make use of resources the Russians have in terms of radar or possibly even intelligence. But that has proven to be very, very sensitive politically within the West and remains an unfulfilled promise.
Back to Libya and another quote. Sir John Major was recently quoted as saying the EU and NATO would be lost if Qaddafi clung to power. Do you agree with that?
I think that's putting it rather strongly. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 simply calls for military action to protect the civilian population of Libya. To a certain extent, that has been achieved. Yet, in their joint editorial a few weeks back, President Obama, President Chirac and Prime Minister Cameron upped the ante by explicitly saying that they would not rest, and NATO should not slow down on its efforts, until Gaddafi has left power. In that respect, this might well prove to have been a statement of intent that doesn't provide the means to deliver. If Qaddafi were to succeed in staying on in power and if Libya were de facto divided or partitioned, then in one sense the precise Libyan objectives of the Europeans and of NATO could be said to have failed.
But I do not think that if Qadaffi were to succeed in clinging to power one could say that NATO and the European Union’s CSDP would be “lost” as such. Both entities will continue to exist and they will continue to develop their capacity. They will engage in further missions in the future. But failure in Libya would certainly be a major blow, a political blow, to an operation which has gone off in rather ambiguous circumstances in terms of its precise military objectives.
He is also a Senior Research Associate at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (Paris), a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts (UK), Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (France), and Member of the Advisory Boards of the European Institute for Public Administration (Netherlands), the Centre for the Study of Security and Diplomacy (UK), the Institute for Strategic Research (Paris) and the European Business School (London). He has published extensively in the field of European politics and history, especially security and defense policy and transatlantic relations.
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