Dr. Anand MENON

University of Oxford*
Director of the Centre for European Politics, Economics and Society



Since the St. Malo Anglo-French summit of December 1998, via the European Council meetings at Helsinki, Cologne and Nice, defence policy has become a central element of discussions over the future of the European Union. Moreover, from proponents of the so-called European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), proclaiming the success of the venture, to Eurosceptics, decrying what they see as a further irrevocable step towards a European super state, to members of the American administration, voicing concerns over the implications of recent initiatives for the transatlantic partnership, everyone has something to say about the ESDP. The aim of this paper is not to chart these developments - excellent accounts of which have been written by individuals with a better grasp of the subject than I (see notably Howorth, 2000). Rather, my intention is to examine the prospects of, and suggest several problems inherent in, the recent attempts made by the European Union to equip itself with both a defence policy and the means by which to implement such a policy. The arguments presented here can be simply summarised: the EU is unlikely to be able to equip itself with an effective defence policy in the short or medium term; moreover, the potential implications of ESDP (whether successful or not), threaten to be deleterious.

Prospects: Three Obstacles

Given much of the press coverage and political rhetoric (both positive and negative) accompanying its development, one could be forgiven for thinking that ESDP - indeed a European Army - is already a reality. However, significant obstacles stand in the way of the effective realisation of either, three of which are worth mentioning here.

The first concerns the willingness or otherwise on the part of West European governments to commit the necessary financial resources. Defence is an expensive business. The headline goal announced at the pledging conference of November 2000 committed EU leaders to creating an intervention force of 60000 troops deployable within a month for up to a year. On one reading, such an ambition is hardly excessive, in that the numbers involved are not dissimilar to those announced by President Chirac for France alone (Yost, 2000). Yet arming and equipping such a force would not be cheap. The harsh reality is that European defence budgets have been in decline for some time, and there seems little prospect of significant short-term increases. A truly `autonomous' ESDP - that is to say one that is not reliant on American military hardware - would necessitate the West Europeans equipping themselves not only with the necessary forces, but also with the means to transport them and provide them with accurate intelligence. A RAND study carried out in 1993 estimated that a force of 50000 would cost between 18 and 49 billion dollars to equip over twenty five years, with an additional bill of 9 to 25 billion dollars for the creation of a satellite intelligence capability (Berman and Carter 1993, O'Hanlon, 1997: pp. 10-11, Gordon, 1997\8: pp 93-4)).

The second potential obstacle relates to the differing visions within the European Union as to what form an ESDP should take. At least three potential dimensions of contestation exist. First, there is no agreed notion of what defence policy is actually for. The fifteen member states have historically adopted very different attitudes towards the concept of defence, ranging from neutrality (Sweden fought its last war in 1813), to an acceptance of military engagement, often far from home, as an integral part of a nation's `mission'. Differences of emphasis characterise discussions over, for instance, whether a putative ESDP should be a tool to stabilise Europe's periphery or, rather, something used globally as a means of increasing Europe's political weight. Similarly, there seems to be no consensus over whether priority should be placed on the `soft' or `hard' end of the Petersberg spectrum. Thus, on the one hand, Sweden has insisted on greater priority being given to including a significant police element in any EU reaction force, while Finland will not participate in peace enforcement missions. On the other, Britain and France have focussed on the `harder', more military end of the Petersburg spectrum. Such differences will almost certainly complicate future bargaining, not least because the rotation of the EU Presidency every six months allows different states to set the agenda of the institution as they see fit (something that will doubtless be particularly marked under the current Swedish Presidency in comparison to its French predecessor).

The second cleavage concerns the appropriate relationship between the EU and NATO. France and Britain, the two states who have been at the heart of the drive to create the ESDP, appear to have significantly different ideas on this score. Certainly, some of these concern only the longer term - the French are keen to see Europe develop one day into a global player that can rival the United States. However, even as far as the short term is concerned, French officials are prone to stress the notion of European autonomy more than their British counterparts, and to argue in favour of the EU being able to carry out missions independently of NATO, whilst London, in contrast, emphasises the need for the EU to work with NATO in the security sphere. The French went to great lengths to stress the separation between the two institutions during their Presidency at the end of last year, insisting that meetings between the EU and NATO be carried out on a `fifteen plus nine' basis, rather than at twenty three. Another revelation of the French Presidency was the fact that the implications of ESDP for the governance system of the Community are viewed differently in the different national capitals. France has been keen to minimise (if possible to remove) the role of the European Commission, even, in recent months, in softer areas of security such as mine clearance operations, where the Commission has traditionally played a role. Certainly, no member state is at present proposing an active involvement for the Commission in defence matters per se, and the Commission itself has kept a strikingly low profile in meetings dealing with defence. Nevertheless, opinions differ as to the degree to which the institution should be allowed to participate in discussions of defence. Several member states objected to the French practice during their recent Presidency of inviting Javier Solana to meetings, but not Chris Patten. Interestingly enough, these cleavages are cross-cutting, which serves merely to exacerbate the uncertainty concerning the future of ESDP. Thus the two most `muscular' states have different preferences concerning the relationship between ESDP and NATO. The Dutch are strongly Atlanticist, but also communautaire - to the point of taking legal action following the introduction by Javier Solana of rules blocking public access to EU documents dealing with security matters. Yet, ironically, NATO has insisted on just these kind of safeguards as a sine qua non of effective co-operation and information sharing between the two organisations.

Finally, even assuming that the Union succeeds in creating a meaningful military force with an agreed role, it remains to be seen how effectively the Union can take the decisions actually to deploy it. Even if all the member states came to share the same attitude towards defence matters, their perceptions of legitimate interventions would continue to differ as a result of their different histories and traditions. Yet decision making in the ESDP is purely intergovernmental. Not only does the Commission have no formal role, but decisions are taken on the basis of unanimity. This immediately raises the spectre of the Council being unable to reach a unanimous decision on intervention - Luxembourg could theoretically veto such intervention single handedly. Interestingly, the decision-making system of the Union stands in stark contrast to that of NATO in two crucial respects. First, unanimity provisions notwithstanding, the presence of the American acts as an indispensable catalyst for effective decision making, even when disagreements seem to exist between the member states. Second, very much like the European Commission when dealing with `first pillar' matters, the NATO Secretary General along with the civilian and military staffs plays an important role in shaping discussions within the organisation, not least via his role as chair of Council meetings and through the provision of draft documents for discussion amongst the allies. (for a more detailed discussion, see Menon 2000b). Recent experience in the second pillar suggests that purely intergovernmental decision-making arrangements, absent an honest broker or agenda setter, may well be a recipe for immobilisme. Moreover, the marginalisation of the Commission calls into question one of the central claims made by proponents of the ESDP.

Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative, claimed at the inaugural meeting of the EU's Political and Security Committee in Brussels that: Our aim is to equip the Union to respond effectively to international crises using all the tools at its disposal: diplomacy, economic measures, humanitarian assistance and, ultimately, the use of military force. The ability to integrate these measures will set the EU apart and allow it to play an international role consistent with its responsibilities and the expectations of its citizens.

Yet, even assuming that an ESDP is put into place, it is hard to conceive of it fitting neatly and seamlessly within an overall external strategy for the EU, simply because the different aspects of that external policy are guided by different institutions and decision-making procedures. Consistency will, therefore, at the least be hard to ensure (as was evinced during the Kosovo crisis, when the declarations of the General Affairs Council on occasion did not tally with those adopted by other sectoral Councils, notably ECOFIN). Logically all this seems to point towards the need for greater Commission involvement (given that institutions centrality to other areas of external policy such as external economic relations), at least in a co-ordinating role - something neither the member states nor, apparently, the Commission itself, are willing to countenance.

Potential Problems

There are, then, good reasons to suspect that the creation of an effective ESDP will prove more difficult than many currently seem to suspect. Perhaps more worrying still is the fact that even the attempt to pursue its creation may well spawn negative consequences for both the European Union itself and for its relations with other significant international actors. To deal with the latter first, the ESDP has the potential to damage relations between the EU and at least two of its most important international partners. Recent developments connected to the ESDP have already had a damaging effect on the relations between the EU and Turkey. Ankara has reacted angrily to what it perceives as the dishonesty of the EU member states, with Turkish officials claiming that the decision-making structures put in place to manage the ESDP effectively marginalize Turkey and therefore go against at least the spirit of the Washington declaration of 1999. Hostility is focussed in particular at the so-called Contributor's Committee, created at Nice, which will include all those states contributing forces to an EU-led military operation. Turkish commentators point out that this committee will be responsible only for the day to day management of such operations, with overall strategic and military planning being carried out in the Political and Security Committee, within which non-EU members do not participate. The fact that Turkey, in the words of its Prime Minister, has been `unfairly' treated by the EU member states is highly significant. It need hardly be said that Turkey's strategic position makes it a crucial ally for the EU. In more practical terms, moreover, Turkey, as a member of NATO, enjoys full voting rights on the North Atlantic Council, and it is not inconceivable that, if the country feels betrayed by the EU, it will take a dim view of requests for the use of NATO assets for EU military operations (Özen, 2000).

Second, ESDP has implications for European relations with the United States (for a more detailed discussion of this issue, see Sloan, 2000). Broadly speaking, Americans fear that the development of the ESDP will have negative consequences for NATO cohesion and effectiveness. Partly, this is because of a belief that the Europeans' desire to focus on new European institutional structures will distract attention from the more pressing question of ensuring adequate military capabilities for peace keeping operations. The theological discussions between NATO and the EU on, for instance, seating arrangements for the chairmanship of NATO-EU meetings last autumn did little to undermine such claims. Moreover, as Secretary of State Albright made clear, Washington is opposed to any European moves that could imply a duplication of military means as representing an unnecessary waste of resources. US officials view particularly French rhetoric on the need for European autonomy as paving the way for precisely such duplication.

Third, Washington has traditionally both feared and opposed the creation of any kind of European caucus within NATO, and some senior officials in Washington believe that this will be the eventual result of the EU's defence initiatives. The dangers confronting the EU in terms of relations with Washington are twofold. First, some claim that the transatlantic squabbles spawned by the ESDP project might undermine solidarity within NATO and strengthen the hand of those in Washington who wish to see the Europeans left to take on more security tasks on their own. `How', they ask, `can we be expected to continue to support NATO when it appears the European themselves are out to undermine it?' Equally worrying is the fact that supporters of the ESDP project in Washington expect the EU to deliver in terms of increasing European contributions to the common defence effort. Thus, the status quo ante is not an acceptable outcome even to American europhiles. Given what was said earlier about the financial implications of the ESDP, Europe is in danger of raising expectations to an unreasonable level, and the consequences, should nothing come of these, could include the alienation even of sympathetic members of the administration.

Finally, the ESDP provides cause for concern for those anxious to see the European Union remain an effective forum for interstate cooperation in Europe. Whatever its flaws, the EU has been a remarkably successful experiment in such co-operation. The fifteen member states are enmeshed in a previously unimaginable network of negotiation on virtually every aspect of public policy. Within the Union, the culture is very much one of bargaining, of trade-offs, of openness and of a system backed up by the force of law and policed by the supranational institutions. The problem is that attempts to introduce institutions for dealing with defence may threaten this culture. Defence is a specific kind of policy sector which is simply not amenable to the kind of treatment to which the other core sectors of Union competence are routinely exposed, such as log-rolling, trade-offs across issues, or transparency (see Menon 2001a). Institutionally, the marginalisation of the Commission to a degree as yet unmatched threatens not only the effectiveness of the ESDP, as argued above, but also the institutional unity of the EU system. Fragmentation of this kind is potentially damaging in its own right, but it could also signal attempts by the more intergovernmentally-minded member states to spread this system to other aspects of the Union's remit (as arguably the French tried to do during their presidency).

Second, the decision to expand the Council secretariat to incorporate the EU's military staff may have implications not only for the ability of this organisation to carry out its work effectively, but also for its relations with the Commission, of which it could conceivably come to be viewed as a rival. Whether or not the secretariat manages to perform its functions adequately is also a matter for debate, in that the intention is to populate the military staff with short-term secondees from national capitals, thereby reducing the possibility of the development of any institutional independence from member state influence of the kind that even the international staff at NATO enjoys. This is not to say that the institutional solution chosen for defence will not work. Simply, to fundamentally alter the structures of a key institution in order to force defence into the Union seems to be a risky undertaking.

Third, defence policy raises the question of how most effectively to reconcile the problems of relative voting weight within the Council. The question of balance between large and small member states has been a particularly acute in recent months, culminating in the scenes at Nice with the Belgian Premier left isolated and deeply dissatisfied. In defence policy, as the larger three member states are fond of pointing out, there is simply not an option to let the smaller members dictate policies which could affect the lives of their troops. Yet the smaller member states show no signs of being accommodating on this front. They reacted angrily a few years ago to what they perceived as signs of a directorate developing in NATO. All the evidence suggests they will react even more strongly to moves in a similar direction within an institution which has been founded on the need to be sensitive to the needs of the small, and within which formal equality before the law - particularly in terms of decision making, has been a guiding principle. Again, the difference with NATO is striking. The smaller European states have always accepted American pre-eminence in that organisation, partly because of the sheer power differentials involved, partly, too, because the US is an extra-European power that they find easier to trust than the larger European states. For these reasons, the logic of hegemony is simply not acceptable to them in the context of the EU. Finally, there is the question as to whether the development of ESDP really presents the most effective way of sharing out security tasks between Europe's various international institutions. The European Union is actually pretty well adapted to the softer end of the Petersberg tasks such as crisis prevention and management. It possesses both economic and diplomatic resources and expertise, and has a proven track record of undertaking tasks such as post crisis rebuilding and policing. In contrast, NATO, despite its obvious flaws, is a relatively effective military organisation. It is hard to envisage a purely European force managing the military dimension of the Kososvo affair as effectively as did NATO, not only because much of the hardware was American, but because NATO has systems and procedures in place to deal effectively with crisis situations. The division between 'soft' and 'hard' security between the EU and NATO, therefore, seems an eminently sensible one. Now, however, it seems the EU wants a hard military capacity. This raises not only the potential problems highlighted above, but also the danger that the softer aspect of security will slip down the EU's list of priority areas, undermining efforts to enhance the effectiveness of EU action in an area where it enjoys a real comparative advantage in favour of a sector with which other international institutions are better equipped to cope.


Perhaps it would be useful, by way of a conclusion, and given the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that have greeted these ideas when presented verbally, to emphasise what this argument has not been.

First, it has not been an 'Anglo-Saxon' argument of that kind that 'anything which serves to undermine NATO is automatically bad, because NATO is ideal'. NATO is far from perfect, and American leadership of NATO has often, particularly since the end of the Cold War, been high-handed and counter-productive. Accepting this, however, does not mean accepting the desire to create the ESDP. In fact, as I argue at more length elsewhere, counterbalancing undue American weight in NATO is a task best carried out within NATO.

Second, the argument presented here is not one based on euroscepticism. Indeed, quite the contrary. To deny that the EU should be active in every sphere is not an eurosceptic argument. To deny this on the grounds that certain policy sectors may have the capacity to undermine the institutional coherence and unity of the EU system which has served the interests of Western Europe so well for so long, is certainly not one.

Finally, the arguments presented here, particularly those to do with the Commission, do not represent some kind of federalist ambition. Certainly, it has ben argued th at, even in the defence shere, there is a need for an independent third party to act as agenda setter and to maintain and police cooperation between independent member states. Even in NATO, there is a Secretary General and international staff who perform these functions. If only to a limited extent. The problem for the EU is that, given the massive political and symbolic importance of defence policy, it is perfectly reasonable that the member states are unwilling to allow an institution like the Commission (which, after all, carries a considerable amount of political and symbolic baggage) to play a significant role in its formulation or implemantation. But absent such an institution for the ESDP, it is hard to foresee the EU achieving either effective decision making in this sector, or coherence across the whole gamut of its external policies. The logical conclusion, therefore, is not a federal state with the Commission at its helm, but rather caution in attempting to endow the EU with a defence policy of its own.

In summary, the aim of this paper has been a modest one: to act as a palliative to some of the more extreme claims that are made both by politicians and the press on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the EU's defence policy ambitions. These ambitions are not only further from being realised than is generally accepted, but they also contain within them the seeds of serious problems of which we should at least be aware.

* From March, 26, 2001 Dr. Menon is Professor of European Politics and Director of the European Research Institute ERI at the University of Birmingham.

*Berman, M. B. and Carter, G. M. (1993), The Independent European Force: Costs of Independence, Santa Monica, California, RAND
*Gordon, Philip (1997/8), 'Europe's Uncommon Foreign Policy', International Security 22, 3, Winter
*Howorth, Jolyon (2000), "European Integration and Defence: The Ultimate Challenge?", Chaillot Paper, No. 43, Paris, WEU Institute for Security Studies, November
*Menon, Anand (2001a), "Sectorial Determinants of International Cooperation: Defence Policy and the European Union", Paper presented at the European University Institute, Florence, March
*Menon, Anand (2001b), "Institutions, Institutionalism, Integration and Defence", Paper to the ECSA Biennal Conference, Madison, Wisconsin
*O'Hanlon, Michael (1997), `Transforming NATO: The Role of European Forces', Survival, 39, 3, Autumn.
*Sloan, Stanley R. (2000), "The United states and European Defence", Chaillot Paper, No. 39, Paris, WEU Institute for Security Studies, November
*Özen, Cinar (2000), "Consequences of the European Security and Defence Policy for the European Non-EU NATO Members", Lecture to Cicero Foundation Conference, Paris, 14-15 December.
*Yost, David S. (2000) "The US-European Capabilities Gap and the European Union's Defense Dimension", Paper presented to the conference on "The Transformation of NATO and the Question of European Unity", Seattle, University of Washington, May, p. 24.