America's Future Rival: Europe

Europe Learns Lesson From Kosovo: It Needs Military Might Independent of the United States

By David Abel  |  The Boston Globe  |  7/16/1999

WASHINGTON - One day not long from now, if Europe's leaders have their way, the United States will not be the world's lone superpower.

If NATO's nearly three-month war with Yugoslavia proved the potency of US air power, it also demonstrated Europe's continuing military dependence on the United States.

So the continent's leaders on June 3 declared it was time to use the euro, their new currency, to end the disparity and build a powerful Europe capable of acting without help from across the Atlantic.

"The European Union shall play its full role on the international stage," stated a communique issued after the European Union's 15 nations met in Cologne, Germany. "The union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, and a readiness to do so."

The leaders agreed for the first time in the European Union's 42-year history to appoint a single foreign and security policy chief by late 2000 to speak for the increasingly united organization of nations, spearhead the modernization of the continent's military forces, and take charge when diplomacy fails.

While it is unlikely to revive the bipolar tensions of the Cold War, an emboldened Europe, whose total armed forces are greater in size than the US military, might act independently of the United States, pursuing its policies even if they collide with Washington's interests.

Although the commitments from national militaries to a unified European force are far from complete, Europe would eclipse Russia in terms of economic support for any unified military contingent, and its nations possess a nuclear capacity far beyond that of China.

"You could certainly imagine a stronger Europe could conflict with the US in any policy," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who doubted Europe had the wherewithal to make the necessary investments. "But I would love to see Europe more independent. The more they do, the better."

The United States and the unified Europe already have disagreed on economic and political issues, such as the banana trade and the US embargo against Cuba.

Still, at least in the short term, most officials and analysts on both sides of the Atlantic view a more powerful Europe as good for the United States, which has long urged leaders in France, Germany, and Britain to pay for their share of Europe's defense.

They argue the emerging military union would not replace but complement NATO. Its purpose would be to respond to medium-scale crises such as those in Bosnia or Kosovo without direct military help from the United States. Europe's security against larger threats, such as any challenge from a resurgent Russia, would remain NATO's task.

"From our perspective, this is just fine," said Army Colonel Richard Bridges, a Pentagon spokesman. "I would say this is part of the maturation process of the European Union. It's the logical step forward."

European leaders have long dithered on empowering Brussels militarily. The continent, which has suffered catastrophic bloodshed this century, has been wary of rearming and has deferred to the United States since World War II.

But with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s - as the United States removed two-thirds of its military presence from Europe, Germany reunited, and violence surged in the Balkans, prompting the worst humanitarian crises in Europe since the post-World War II era - a consensus has emerged.

The European Union's 15 leaders have decided to absorb the security foundation built by the 10-nation Western European Union, a long-dormant defense alliance founded a year before NATO in 1948 and also based in Brussels. Former Spanish foreign minister Javier Solana, now NATO's secretary general, agreed to take over as Europe's security chief.

Austria, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden, which are neutral or nonaligned European Union nations, will be able to opt out of any European military or peacekeeping mission, officials said. Besides Britain, Germany, and France, the other EU members are Italy, Belgium, Greece, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Portugal.

Colonel Norbert Stier, Germany's military attache to the United States, says there are two main obstacles to Europe's military integration: securing the billions of dollars necessary to build a legitimate force and uniting the political will of the European Union's 15 members.

"The goal is to be able to deal with problems ourselves," Stier said.

While many of Europe's armed forces are well equipped, they lack the ability of the United States to project power anywhere in the world.

The backbone of that power is airlift capability, satellite intelligence, aircraft carriers, and technically superior aircraft.

Though most mock the idea of Europe emerging as a military threat to the United States, they do not doubt that if the continent demonstrates resolve to build military industry, European firms could win lucrative contracts in new NATO countries or in nations that now buy from US defense companies.

"Kosovo has crystallized a lot of things for Europe," said Edwina Campbell, a military historian who specializes in Europe at the National Defense University in Washington. "There may be rivalries and competition, and certain companies may get hurt, but in the long term, it's for the good. You don't want weak allies."