|Author (Person)||Abbott, Dennis|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.20, 23.5.02, p6|
THE European Union will need to carry out an 'agonising reappraisal' of its approach to defence if it wants to be taken seriously by the US as a military partner, according to NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson.
The experience of tackling al-Qaeda and the lessons of operations in Bosnia and Kosovo had proved that 'soft' power, such as economic sanctions, was of little value without the credible backing of 'hard' military force, he said.
Robertson, addressing a defence and security conference in Brussels, highlighted the growing gap in military technology between America and its European allies.
The United States spends about 3 of its GNP on defence, and this figure is rising as a result of 11 September. By contrast, NATO Europe spends only a near-static 1.8.
Robertson said the EU needed to undertake an 'agonising reappraisal', similar to that threatened by America 50 years ago when Europe showed signs of failing to get its act together on a common defence.
'Irrespective of declarations and new committees, Europe is still not seen as addressing the transatlantic capabilities gap. Even the EU's much-heralded 'headline goal' appears to be about numbers rather than new capabilities,' he said. Failure to resist the perception that European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is producing more bureaucracy than capability would end in 'a transatlantic capability gap and a European credibility gap'. 'This is hardly the recipe for healthy transatlantic relations in the 21st century,' said the Alliance chief.
Robertson was scathing about the suggestion - mostly from academic circles - that NATO should become a 'more political' institution, while Europe should focus on regional peacekeeping operations and leave high-intensity conflict missions to the better-equipped US forces. 'This 'post-September-11-fatalism' school of thought has got it terribly wrong. There is no future for NATO as a purely 'political' alliance. NATO's uniqueness derives from its ability to translate political decisions quickly into military action.' Neither NATO nor its allies wanted a NATO 'lite', he added. Suggestions for an EU White Paper on ESDP or the introduction of 'convergence criteria' for defence budgets missed the point, according to Robertson.
'I don't believe they will get us around the toughest question of all: whether there is sufficient will to spend more and spend better on defence.' He said that European defence shortfalls had 'real operational significance' in areas such as 'strategic airlift'.
In Afghanistan, this had meant long delays in deploying the international security assistance force in Kabul and problems transporting heavy equipment from supply trucks to armoured troop carriers and chemical and biological detection vehicles.
He was also concerned about Europe's lack of precision-guided weapons compared to the US, which could employ them 'day or night, in good or bad weather'. If unresolved, such weaknesses raised the 'spectre of high-tech US forces taking the cutting-edge role while the Europeans fight below in the mud'. If this trend continued, it could become an 'untenable situation'.
Robertson urged the EU to focus on those capabilities most critical for the success of a transatlantic coalition and to improve cooperation on arms procurement. 'There have been a number of calls for this over the years, but we need now to change gear and set our sights higher,' he said.
In particular, the US could help its NATO allies in Europe by easing unnecessary restrictions on technology transfer and specifically to liberalise its exports policies. Some 42 defence company CEOs supported reform of export controls in a recent letter to President Bush and US Assistant Secretary of State Lincoln Bloomfield was undertaking a 'comprehensive review' of the current export regime, Robertson told the Forum Europe conference.
The NATO chief was also encouraged by signs that the Pentagon was ready to allow the export of the 'Predator' Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to a European ally, declaring that the Afghanistan campaign had underlined the 'remarkable capabilities' of UAV technology.
Access to this technology would 'undeniably' help the Europeans in their efforts to close the credibility gap and remain effective as a 'high-end' war-fighting partner to the US.
The speech was well received by the audience, which included European NATO ambassadors Benoit d'Aboville (France) and Gebhardt von Moltke (Germany), and defence ministers Björn von Sydow (Sweden), Ioan Mircea Pascu (Romania) and Rastislav Kacer (Slovakia), as well as senior representatives from major European and US defence firms.
Report of a speech by NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson, at a Forum Europe Conference, Brussels, 17 May 2002.
|Subject Categories||Security and Defence|