Over the next few months the editors of European Geostrategy will undertake a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this first interview, James Rogers discusses European military power with Daniel Keohane, formerly a Research Fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies, and now the Head of Strategic Affairs at FRIDE.
JR: Four years ago, you co-authored an excellent report on the potential evolution of European military power out to 2020. In the concluding chapter, you argued that the European Union’s Member States were ‘condemned to co-operate’ to improve their military capabilities. In light of declining defence budgets in almost every European country – and with only Greece and the United Kingdom now spending above two percent of their annual income on defence – do you think this is still the case?
DK: Yes – if Europeans really want to have a military option when responding to future international crises (whether autonomously or not), not least in their neighbourhood. But whether Europeans want to have that capability is the real question today. Four years ago, it seemed that Europeans were gradually getting serious about reacting autonomously to crises, such as in Chad, Georgia, or off Somalia. For a whole host of reasons, this momentum has been lost, and currently there seems to be very little will to act externally if required (whether though the European Union, Atlantic Alliance or the United Nations). Consider how little most European governments contributed to the Atlantic Alliance’s operation in Libya, while France and Britain were lacking or quickly running out of key military capabilities. If the ‘deutschmarks’ of European defence – France and Britain – are struggling to acquire key military capabilities in this age of austerity, and have already recognised the logic of co-operation, then yes Europeans are ‘condemned to co-operate’.
JR: Many experts have begun to argue – in light of the rise of new powers like China, turmoil in the southern neighbourhood and the financial crisis – that it is time to overhaul and update the European Security Strategy. Do you agree?
DK: Is there is a lack of European (not only national) strategic thinking? Yes. Is revising the European Security Strategy the only way to address this? No. I am not against a revision of the security strategy, and anything that spurs collective European strategic debate should be encouraged. But its revision may not be the only or best way to do that, since the revised document may not be much better than the original. Europeans should continuously debate their strategic priorities, including when using force might be necessary and how force should be used (which the European Security Strategy does not do). The new Italian-Polish-Spanish-Swedish initiative should be welcomed, as should ideas on how the European Union’s institutions could contribute more to strategic debate (here, for example, I would point to your recent post on European Geostrategy).
JR: According to some analysts, the Common Security and Defence Policy has started to give way to ‘islands of co-operation’ in Europe, in the form of the British-French alliance, Nordic Defence Co-operation, the Visegrad Group and Central European Co-operation. Might this be a better way of fostering enhanced European military capabilities rather than a centralised European approach?
DK: I don’t think this is a case of ‘either…or’; you need both. On top of its own initiatives the European Defence Agency can and should help coordinate the multitude of multinational initiatives that currently exist (at least on paper), so that others are informed of the various initiatives to help them plan their capability cuts and perhaps participate in specific projects. European Union capability generation efforts have been rightly criticised, but neither the Atlantic Alliance nor ‘islands of co-operation’ have produced much more…that suggests a deeper problem than the various methods or formats for co-operation.
JR: If we were still at the turn of the twenty-first century (i.e. 2000), and you could see where European defence is where it is today, would you have been disappointed or content?
DK: Looking to ten years after European defence was formally launched (to 2009), I would have been more content than disappointed; considering today’s state of affairs I would be very disappointed. The last three years has seen a real downgrading of European Union defence policy, to the sad extent that it has almost disappeared as a policy option for European Union external action. What is most worrying is the lack of ambition or vision – or even collective debate – about the future of European defence and its relevance for effective European Union foreign policies. This is in part down to the general melancholy regarding the European Union itself, but not only. And if it continues then Europe may become a suburb of geopolitics, a ‘nice place to live’ whose inhabitants have little or no say on global affairs.
JR: How do you think the United States’ ‘pivot’ – such as Washington’s recent decision to station sixty percent of its naval fleet in the Pacific by 2020 – is going to impact on the Atlantic Alliance? How should Europeans respond?
DK: Most analysts think that the US ‘pivot’ will gradually mean less United States involvement in Europe’s security concerns. I am relatively relaxed about that prospect as the rebalancing of American resources makes sense; Washington is not reneging on its Article Five commitments; while Europeans are collectively rich and capable enough to take on more responsibility for security in their neighbourhood (whether they want to is a different question). What is arguably more important for European security is not so much the United States’ ‘pivot’ to Asia, but how the American presence in the Middle East may evolve. Currently the Pentagon is increasing its (already large) presence in and around the Persian Gulf. But the United States has been greatly reducing its dependence on Middle Eastern energy in recent years, and concomitantly may reduce its presence in that region in the future – this could trigger more intense competition between China and India (and others) for energy supplies in Europe’s neighbourhood, which could bring new security challenges for Europeans. In other words, Europeans should stop worrying about American disengagement from Europe, and think much harder about their collective interests, their willingness to use force and their engagement with the world.
JR: Russia plans to invest almost €500 billion into its armed forces over the next ten years. This year, the Stockholm International Peace Institute claims that it overtook the United Kingdom as the world’s third largest military spender. How do you think Russia might become a greater threat to Europeans (or some Europeans) over the next decade?
DK: What is worrying is not so much growing Russian military strength, but its increasing geopolitical weakness and potential responses to that. Most Europeans tend to focus on Russia’s role in the Eastern neighbourhood, including the Caucasus (or Moscow’s obstructionism at the United Nations over Syria). The Atlantic Alliance’s existence ensures that Russia is not a direct military threat to most Europeans, albeit Moscow has used non-military methods against the Atlantic Alliance’s European members, such as cyber-attacks against Estonia. But more broadly Russia has structural problems – its economy is too dependent on carbon-based energy commodities, its population is rapidly declining – and growing strategic concerns in Central and East Asia, where Chinese influence is rapidly growing and Beijing’s defence budget is double that of Moscow. The growing prospect of new trade routes through the Arctic Circle may transform Eurasian commerce to Russia’s benefit, but could also cause new geopolitical tensions over untapped energy sources in the Arctic with Europeans, Canada and the United States; or over open sea lanes in the Pacific with Japan or China. In sum Russian weakness may cause it to act against European interests, not only in our shared Eastern neighbourhood, but also in Central Asia, the Arctic and the Pacific.
JR: What are the biggest impediments to European Union military co-operation today and how do you think they can be bridged?
DK: The lack of shared strategic vision and co-operation between France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The story of European Union defence policy has often been presented as a tale of two cities: Paris and London agreed an accord at St. Malo in 1998 that began the European Union’s defence policy at the Cologne summit in 1999. But even though they share similar military capabilities and strategic culture, British-French co-operation may no longer benefit the European Union directly, since their current collaboration will proceed on a strictly bilateral basis for the time being (and London is currently hostile towards European Union defence policy). New French President François Hollande has started to explore teaming up with Germany to revive Europe’s defence policy. But it is no secret that Berlin is uncomfortable about using force to solve international problems. This has translated itself into strong German support for developing the civilian dimension of the Common Security and Defence Policy, but with concomitant less interest in contributing to European Union military operations. To paraphrase George Orwell: currently European Union defence is (relatively) down in Paris, out in London and neglected in Berlin. And it is hard to see how the European Union’s defence policy can succeed unless it’s up in Paris, accepted in London and embraced in Berlin.