This commentary appeared in Wall Street Journal on May 17, 2002.
Reprinted with permission of The Wall Street Journal, © 2002 Dow Jones &
A case in point is the European Union's de facto unilateral abandonment of
the European Security and Defense Policy and its designated instrument, the
European rapid-reaction force. Has anyone else noticed? While ESDP and RRF remain
labels that are thrown about in speeches here and there, the EU has evidently
decided not to provide the considerable resources that would be necessary to
turn the facade into a reality.
This action or, more accurately, decisive inaction, follows nearly a decade
of fulsome rhetoric, innumerable conferences, white papers, communiques and
negotiations intended to convert ESDP from a concept into a reality. The underlying
concept was to provide a collective security capability for the EU that would
put into effect the Union's emergent foreign and security policies.
The initial U.S. reaction to ESDP was lukewarm, if not negative, because of
the concern that an autonomous EU security establishment would weaken and perhaps
sunder the NATO alliance. This concern was heightened by the fact that ESDP
was being promoted at about the same time as an initiative was getting underway
within NATO to upgrade and modernize the military capabilities of the alliance's
European members. Hence, it was feared by some Americans that ESDP might distract
attention and subtract resources from this Defense Capabilities Initiative within
But many within U.S. policy circles also took a favorable view of ESDP. While
initially only a minority, supporters had become predominant by the time William
Cohen ended his tenure as secretary of defense in 2001. The central premise
of this view was that, in light of the European's sorry experience in the Balkans,
European military capabilities and military technology were so badly lagging
that perhaps ESDP could play a valuable role in upgrading them.
Moreover, as the ESDP discussions with the Americans as well as within the
EU evolved, the capabilities envisaged for the rapid reaction force increasingly
suggested that they could have a complementary rather than conflicting relationship
to U.S. and NATO forces. Specifically, it was to be a 60,000-man force developed
from existing European military units or by forming new ones. According to the
"headline goals" of ESDP, the force would be "interoperable"
with U.S. forces. It would also be rapidly deployable and equipped with advanced
command-and-control and other high-tech military systems reflecting the so-called
revolution in military affairs.
As a result, U.S. concerns about ESDP were replaced by the view that ESDP might
be useful as a potential contributor to more equitable burden-sharing by the
EU in international, "out-of-area" peacemaking and peacekeeping by
the EU. The belief that ESDP would be beneficial to U.S. global security interests
became the prevalent one.
While this altered perspective preceded the attacks of September 11, there
were reasonable grounds in its wake to hope that an upgraded, high-tech, flexible,
and interoperable EU force could, on balance, also be a valuable asset in the
global war on terrorism. For example, if the EU force were a reality rather
than a rhetorical figment, it could play a major role in Afghanistan, thereby
contributing to its stability and reconstruction. Interoperability between the
force and U.S. special and regular forces engaged in search-and-destroy operations
against remaining al Qaeda and Taliban forces could thus be mutually advantageous.
At this point, enter European unilateralism. As the discussion of ESDP evolved
over the past decade, much of the agenda dealt with concepts, doctrine, and
policies. It seems little concrete attention was devoted to the costs that the
rapid-reaction force would entail if it were to be seriously pursued. Preliminary
analysis at RAND has conservatively estimated the military investment costs
(i.e., development and procurement) of the force to be in a range between $24
billion and $56 billion -- an amount about twice that of current annual military
investment outlays in the four major EU countries -- Germany, France, Britain,
As the time approached to face up to the need to boosting defense outlays --
especially in light of Sept. 11 -- the EU has quietly and unilaterally shelved
ESDP. With the exception of the United Kingdom, Brussels has placed ESDP in
a limbo zone from which it is unlikely ever to emerge.
Yet there may be some partly redemptive aspects to this exercise of European
unilateralism. Maybe America's European allies will be less disposed to complain
in the future about what they regard as instances of U.S. unilateralism if they
are reminded of their own. A possible rebuttal by the EU that its abandonment
of ESDP is strictly an internal matter, hence not properly construed as "unilateralist,"
is a flawed argument. Abandonment of ESDP has repercussions -- what economists
call "externalities" -- that affect the interests of the United States,
Turkey, and others, but consultations with these affected parties were not held
prior to the unilateral jettisoning of ESDP.
And finally, perhaps those in the U.S. policy community who were initially
skeptical that ESDP and its rapid reaction force would complement rather than
conflict with NATO may have been right all along. The unilateral abandonment
of ESDP, however, effectively removes this concern.
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