Over the past few months the editors of European Geostrategy have been undertaking a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this seventh interview, Daniel Fiott talks with Jamie Shea, the Deputy Assistant Secretary General of the Emerging Challenges Division, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The first part of this interview was published on Sunday, 3rd March 2013.
DF: What are your thoughts on the United States’ ‘pivot’ to the Pacific region? Will countries such as Australia, Japan and South Korea become increasingly important for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation? How likely is it that these countries will eventually become members? What does all this mean for Europe?
JS: Firstly we should not exaggerate the significance of the United States’ pivot to the Asia-Pacific. It is not as if the United States has just discovered this region. It has been a Pacific power since the late nineteenth century. It had as many forces there as in Europe during the Second World War and has continued to have alliances, security relationships and permanently deploy troops and bases in the region ever since. So the pivot is more a relative realignment of United States’ forces than a 180-degree shift. This said, it is still something that Europe needs to take seriously as it does mean that there will be fewer American forces available for deployment to Europe in the future and that therefore Europe will not be able to assume that the United States will always be there automatically (as it was in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya) to make up for the shortfalls in Europe’s own capabilities in its wider neighbourhood. But this is also and perhaps even more due to the major cuts that are now affecting the United States’ defence budget as they are the result of the pivot to Asia. Consequently, the United States and the European Allies do need a frank discussion on what the United States would generally be willing to provide its Allies (such as air transport, or intelligence) and what the United States henceforth expects them to provide themselves (such as aircraft, air tanker refuelling capacity or precision-guided munitions). There is also the related question of whether the United States wants Europe to make its own contribution to Asia-Pacific security or whether it intends to shoulder this responsibility itself (together with its Asian partners) and thus foresee a new division of labour in which the Europeans take on the responsibility for counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and stabilisation operations in their own area.
It is difficult to predict the future because much will depend on how particular crises are resolved and it is difficult to see the United States refusing to offer its support to the Europeans if they really need its help – as was clearly the case in Libya. The United States is also clearly committed to Article Five collective defence, as it has shown recently by installing American missile defence systems in Europe and committing to preserve its interoperability with Europeans post-Afghanistan. But the pivot to Asia and the United States’ defence cuts which will reduce also its own readiness levels, will make the United States push even harder for the Europeans to spend their defence euros more wisely through pooling and sharing and the development of multinational capabilities.
As for Australia, Japan and South Korea, the Atlantic Alliance certainly has an interest in preserving its close partnership with these countries even though they will no longer participate in the International Security Assistance Force operation in Afghanistan once it ends in 2014. They have demonstrated that they are important global actors willing to contribute to security beyond the Asia-Pacific region and they have important things to contribute in new areas such as cyber defence. But the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will need to have a broader relationship with them beyond simply asking for money or troop contributions in places like Afghanistan, and they will undoubtedly be more interested in their more immediate security challenges in the Asia-Pacific in the future and as long as the current bilateral and territorial disputes remain unresolved. So Australia, Japan and South Korea will expect the Atlantic Alliance to take more of an interest in the Asia-Pacific region. It will become more of a two-way street relationship in the future. But they cannot join the Atlantic Alliance because the North Atlantic Treaty reserves membership to European countries.
DF: At the end of this year European Union ministers will hold a dedicated Council meeting on security and defence policy. What are your thoughts on this? What would be a good outcome for the Atlantic Alliance?
JS: Europeans are at a critical juncture. Their defence budgets have reduced considerably and given the economic situation in Europe are not likely to go back up any time soon. Yet the security challenges facing Europe both internally and on its periphery are considerable. This means that the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy will have to be an active one and will need a full spectrum of instruments, including the ability to deploy substantial military forces. So the task of the European Union summit on security and defence in December is to bridge the gap between the requirements and the resources. This will mean pushing ahead with European industrial consolidation, with European pooling and sharing efforts and a greater role specialisation, and a better definition of Europe’s core security interests. Europeans will also need to show more solidarity in assisting each other with operations. If the European Union has a security strategy for the Sahel, and is willing to send a training and assistance mission to Mali, then why should France have to bear the brunt of the military operation to prevent extremists and insurgents from taking over the whole country? Strategies have to be consistent with implementation. Also, Europeans will have to ask themselves if they can really in future maintain a full spectrum of forces at the national level or only at the European level and what this means in terms of further European military integration. As the head of the European Union military planning staff has recently pointed out, pooling and sharing of capabilities as currently foreseen may well save €300 million but this will not have much impact if, in the meantime, European defence budgets are going down by €30 billion.
So Europe’s defence solutions will need to take far more account of the budgetary realities. In short, the fewer the resources, the more radical the solutions will have to be, especially when it comes to eliminating duplication. As stated earlier, the Europeans will have to come to a serious understanding both among themselves and vis-à-vis the United States on what they will have to be able to do in future without United States support and where they can continue to count on United States capabilities in extremis. So the summit at the end of this year is of crucial importance in providing the political momentum to preserve Europe as a strategic actor in the world in the twenty-first century at a time when Asia is now spending more on defence than all of Europe and even the budget of Saudi Arabia has now overtaken that of Germany.
DF: Within the next five years the United Kingdom may hold a referendum on its membership of the European Union. Assume for a minute that the British do leave the European Union: what sort of impact would it have on both European defence policy and the Atlantic Alliance?
JS: It is perfectly possible for a country to be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation without being a member of the European Union. This is currently the case with Norway, Iceland, Turkey, and at least until 1st July 2013, Croatia. This said, a United Kingdom firmly embedded in a strong united Europe is vital if Europe is to remain as a global strategic player in the future. And, as some senior officials in the President Obama’s administration have recently pointed out, the United Kingdom’s status and influence in the world is also firmly tied to its place in Europe. I am confident that if a referendum is held on Britain’s European Union membership, these fundamental realities will finally be properly debated and will prevail. It is in Britain’s interest to be in the European Union as much as it is in the European Union’s interest to have the United Kingdom as a member. A referendum might be a good opportunity to highlight these fundamental realities which are sometimes obscured by the day to day frustrations that some British citizens and newspapers have with the institutions in Brussels and vice-versa.
DF: The European Union was recently awarded the Noble Prize for Peace. I do not think anyone would disagree with the mammoth achievements of European integration, but do you think we have somehow neglected the role the Atlantic Alliance has played in ensuring the right security conditions for integration to flourish?
JS: I think that the European Union thoroughly deserves the Nobel Prize and it has all my congratulations. But as this is a Peace Prize, I would also very much hope that the Atlantic Alliance would be a very eligible candidate on a future occasion. It is my view that the peace of Europe after the Second World War and European integration were made possible by the existence of both organisations and the transatlantic link that the Atlantic Alliance represents. Of course it is always nice to have public recognition such as that afforded by a Nobel Peace Prize, but the constantly high levels of public support that the Atlantic Alliance enjoys in Europe demonstrates – to my mind – that people still appreciate the importance of the organisation as a guarantor of peace and stability whether we receive the occasional prize or not. After all, it is this public support, the regular votes in our parliaments in favour of the Atlantic Alliance’s operations in places such as Afghanistan and the fact that so many countries still aspire to join the organisation that are the best recognition we could hope for and what really matters in the end.
NB: The views expressed in this text are those of the author alone. They do not represent an official position of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.