The Europe of Defence

Massimo de Leonardis

I thank Lt. General Gian Marco Chiarini for inviting my today to deliver this lunch talk and the distinguished audience for attending it. It is not the first time he invites me to speak, and this reassures me of not being too silly. Of course I am only an historian and my views are entirely personal and expressed with complete freedom. It is nice being a scholar and not an officer or a diplomat, since you don’t risk being sacked by the Minister of Defence or by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

One century ago the Great War transformed the face of Europe and announced the end of its hegemony over the world, which appeared evident only after the Second World. The Great War was a turning point in the governments’ and public opinions’ attitude towards the war. «Before 1914 – writes the British Historian Sir Michael Howard – war was almost universally considered an acceptable, perhaps an inevitable and for many people a desirable way of settling international differences».

In 1919 apparently everybody wanted peace. «In the fifteen years after the First World War, – Edward Carr wrote – every Great Power (except, perhaps, Italy) repeatedly did lip-service to the doctrine by declaring peace to be one of the main objects of its policy. But [...] peace in itself is a meaningless aim [...] The common interest in peace masks the fact that some nations desire to maintain the status quo without having to fight for it, and others to change the status quo without having to fight in order to do so». Carr was a Marxist, but above all a realist.

The moral condemnation of war was widespread after the Second World War. However the removal of the use of military force as a possible option was much stronger in the defeated countries, Germany and Italy, than in the victorious ones, United Kingdom and France, moreover since the latter had to face the conflicts of decolonization. But the Suez crisis signalled that no European power still possessed the essence of sovereignty, the power to make war.

In any case a general war was made impossible above all by the balance of terror, the mutual assured destruction. The war in Europe was only “cold”. Armed forces played only a role of deterrence. In 1957 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan told to SACEUR General Norstad: «Nowadays armed forces no longer serve to make war, but to avoid it». Deterrence and Cold War were not at all new concepts. In 1914 Kurt Rietzel, an intellectual who was secretary to the German Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg, wrote that a great war was no longer desirable and guns should no longer fire, but only speak as a tool for negotiation. In 1939 the then Colonel André Beaufre described Une forme nouvelle des conflits internationaux, called by him paix-guerre: «La paix-guerre – he wrote − repose sur l’idée de profiter de la crainte de la guerre catastrophe pour exercer des pressions plus importantes qu’autrefois, tout en évitant de créer une tension suffisante pour amener l’ennemi à recourir à la guerre totale».

The European Economic Community had no competence in the field of defence, which was the domain of NATO, and only in the ‘70s, taking advantage of a period of détente and crisis of the American hegemony, started having an embryonic foreign policy, which was mainly based on the policy of cooperation to development. In the 90s, the end of the Cold War opened the second «decade of illusions», as Jean-Baptiste Duroselle described the 20s. Silly ideas such as the «end of history» or the «new world order» were circulated. Actually the “order of Yalta” was replaced by disorder and conflicts, also within Europe.

I will not describe here the long and difficult path to build a European military capacity, with discussions which recalled the medieval one on the sex of the angels. Had the Western European Union to be the European pillar of NATO or the military arm of EU? Should the EU only have a Common Foreign and Security Policy, or move towards a European Security and Defence Policy, and finally become a Defence organization with a precise casus foederis like NATO? This was only achieved with the Treaty of Lisbon.

In the meantime EU had developed a panoply of instruments, largely on the model of NATO, as the Military Committee, to which the gentlemen here are the Permanent Military Representatives, with the double hat, when appropriate, of Representatives also to NATO Military Committee, since the Treaty of Lisbon says that «the common security and defence policy of the Union respects the obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty of those Member States which see their common defence realized in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which remains the foundation of the collective defence of its members, and is compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework».

EU also started a relevant number of missions abroad. Their difference with NATO missions is not in their geographic outreach, since they also span across various continents, but in their character. NATO performs, or performed, combat operations and robust peace enforcement, while EU concentrates on peacekeeping, police, judiciary and civilian missions.

In 2003 the EU approved its first Security Strategy. In my opinion it described the situation took much in pink colours, on the basic assumption that Europe was in peace. The document implicitly adopted the concept of Europe as a «civilian power», elaborated in the 70s by the French scholar François Duchêne and rightly criticized by Hedley Bull as «intrinsically contradictory». A «civilian power» relies on its soft power, not on military power, considered outdated. The document was revised in 2008 but without changing its basic perspective.

On the contrary, the document prepared by Lady Ashton in view of the European summit of autumn 2013 in Brussels opens with a concise but complete statement on the necessity of military capabilities: «I would say there are three cases for security and defence. The first is political, and it concerns fulfilling Europe’s ambitions on the world stage. The second is operational: ensuring that Europe has the right military capabilities to be able to act. And the third is economic: here it’s about jobs, innovation and growth». The first two sentences are significant of a coming to terms with reality for an organization like the EU which for a long time refused to accept military force as a key parameter of its presence on the international scene.

The decisions taken by the summit were rather low key. It did not accept the operational suggestions for strengthening the cooperation in the military field using the tools provided by the Treaty of Lisbon: neither a Permanent Structured Cooperation in the field of Defence nor the creation of a Start-Up Fund to finance the preparation of specific missions not included in the EU budget, nor an initiative for monitoring the European Defence in order to synchronize the planning of national budgets and fix parameters of convergence.

Deluding the expectations raised in the past (Saint Malo in 1999), the United Kingdom confirmed its traditional position opposed to a paramount EU role in the field of Defence, which according to London must remain primarily a competence of NATO and of the membre States. In the cases of the French military operations in Mali and the République Centrafricaine was not renewed the bilateral cooperation between London and Paris launched at the Lancaster House in November 2010, which was at the origin of the unfortunate intervention in Libya the following year.

Approaching my conclusion, I just wish to mention briefly three points. The first one is an old one, the relationship between EU and NATO, actually the question if Europe should be a little, rather, or completely autonomous from the United States. Each State answers this question according to its own diplomatic tradition. We face a dilemma. The leadership of the United States has declined: the Americans are no longer the sons of Mars, if they have ever been. At the same time they remain the paramount military power and a Europe in economic depression is certainly not eager to increase the defence budgets. The old question of avoiding the duplication of efforts remains. The pragmatic solution of the recent years has been the division of labours I described earlier. To be effective it requires a transatlantic common strategic view on the international situation. I need not to recall that military power is a tool of foreign policy. As ancient philosopher Seneca quipped: «If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable». The question is therefore: will the EU ever have an effective foreign policy?

Here I come to my second point. We should avoid extreme positions. On one hand saying that in order to have a foreign and defence policy Europe must become a strong federation. On the other simply maintaining that this goal is utopian. Europe can only be a confederation trying to reach in foreign and defence policies, first of all among the major nations, a consensus more or less strong. This perspective might look gloom to enthusiast federalists, but it is better than treading water in a mortar.

The final point is the easiest one and summarizes the core of my argument today. I am absolutely convinced that we are not facing a new “Cold war”. We suffer the consequences of the lack of an agreed peace after the end of the bipolar confrontation and come home to roost the unsolved problems inherited from the Great War. The illusions of a liberal international order are crumbling and the words of American Secretary of State John Kerry condemning Russia catch this evolution: «You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext», even if they appear bizarre from the representative of a country responsible of the same behaviour even in the recent past. More soundly Henry Kissinger writes in his last recent book, that the old Western system is weakening worldwide and this announces a period of troubles. This being the case, no responsible actor can do without a military capability.

I conclude quoting King Frederick II of Prussia, who loved both music and armies, and once expressed with elegance the same principle I mentioned earlier saying: «Negotiations without weapons make little impression, like scores without the instruments».

I fear you might enjoy the lunch more than you enjoyed my talk, therefore I most grateful for your attention and I am ready to answer any question you might ask.

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