Dr. Angela Kane, former UN High Representative Office for Disarmament Affairs and Under-Secretary-General for Management in the United Nations, opened the 14th CEO Roundtable of United Europe on a “Common EU Security and Defense policy” at the Austrian Embassy Paris on September 24, 2019. Please find below her full speech:
Following the Cold War when European states were trapped in the middle of a nuclear superpower stand-off, Europe enjoyed 30 years of peace and political stability. We are surrounded by friendly allies – or maybe we still think so, being lulled into a false sense of security after three decades.
The main threat to European security is not tanks or missiles – or nuclear weapons. Nor is there agreement what the threats are. Some may believe it is uncontrolled migration, Islam, cyber-attacks, autonomous weapons – there is no consensus in European countries.
Security has political, economic and social dimensions. It is both public and it is private. It implies active agency and is now recognized as a broader term aimed at securing the well-being of individuals and their communities.
Europe has been shaken by several political and economic calamities since the 2008 financial crisis: Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine in the Donbass, the migration crisis of 2015, the groundswell of anti-establishment populism and the accompanying rise of far-right populist parties. Then of course Brexit. In May, the EU Parliament elections deepened political fragmentation. There is more navel-gazing in Europe, more inward-looking scrutiny.
Let us look at the various factors that contributed to instability. Foremost: the election of President Trump in the US. He has shown that he believes that anything that strengthens another part of the world threatens US supremacy – hence a strong Europe is negative. His preference is not to work cooperatively with and through allies, but through economic coercion as a substitute for military force.
He has shown a deep aversion – I would even call it contempt – of Europe. We all know his constant demands for an increase in European financial contributions to the NATO budget, his characterization of European states as “freeloaders” who benefited from the US superior military protection. His take on alliances is narrow and transactional.
He abrogated the INF, he left the JCPOA – all actions that were taken unilaterally without apparent consultation with those affected most: Europe. He readily imposes economic and political sanctions (US programs have grown from 17 in 2004 to 30 this year) which are not subject to international rules – yet his actions – and threatened actions by tweet – are often impulsive and just as easily reversed as they are announced. This reveals a problematic pattern: he takes maximalist positions but does not appear to have a plan to carry it through.
The good news: the US has not left NATO, nor the WTO, nor the UN, despite US Secretary of State Pompeo’s criticism of a host of international organizations (including the EU) as “antithetical” to national sovereignty. Let me mention that he made this speech in Brussels in December, where he stated that “international bodies” that constrain national sovereignty “must be reformed or eliminated”.
For Europe, decoupling from international bodies, from globalization, is simply not an option, nor is the decoupling from the US. If Europe did, it would empower Putin and Xi Jinping additional leverage over Europe. Yet Trump gave a wake-up call to Europe: take leadership, take more responsibility for your security – you can no longer rely on the United States.
Europe’s security is intrinsically linked with NATO
Let us first look at NATO. After Brexit, 80% of NATO’s spending will be delivered by non-EU countries. This means that the EU cannot replace NATO and the combined power it represents. Until a few years ago, the focus was primarily on projecting stability outside Europe’s borders, focusing on crisis prevention, post-conflict stabilization, anti-piracy missions. Defence cooperation was not a priority, yet Putin’s annexation of Crimea meant that Russia was no longer interested in a strategic alliance with Europe. Trump’s arrival was a game-changer: if Europe would need to call on the US for military assistance, would it be given? (despite Article 5 of the Washington Treaty).
NATO’s Strategic Concept dates from 2010 and is clearly outdated. It states that “the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace” and that NATO-Russian cooperation “contributes to creating a common space of peace, stability and security” – no one would sign onto such language now.
No work on a new Concept has begun. It is feared that such discussions would open a Pandora’s Box, clearly exposing rifts among the Alliance. NATO is content with Summit communiques which give some direction for NATO. The latest, from July 2018, has 79 hefty paragraphs (10% dedicated to Russia alone) and many paragraphs that deal with political issues that overlap with the EU agenda. The lines between internal and external security challenges are blurred.
The Summit Communique also raises the question of the continued enemy posture of NATO. Realistically, there are few enemies that could seriously harm Europe and ultimately the world. Do we really need to protect ourselves from Russia – our largest trading partner for oil and gas?
While this latest document is heavy on achievements and self-congratulation, one cannot help but wonder whether increased military capabilities and hardware (presumably bought from the US in order to be NATO-compatible) would indeed counter current threats, as stated in the Summit Declaration:new threats from cruise missiles and the proliferation of related technology as well as from new challenges, such as unmanned aerial vehicles. Other threats that NATO will address are in outer space, while cyber and hybrid threats that are becoming more frequent, complex, destructive, and coercive. These new threats will be addressed in elaborating new NATO Policies, while intelligence build-up “with strong political oversight” is also included.
Let me mention one additional aspect: NATO’s enlargement. For some years, there was a pause in enlargement, then Montenegro joined in 2017. Now that Macedonia’s name issue is solved, that country will be next. Will this indeed be beneficial to NATO? To the EU? Again, the overlap with EU membership is evident. And the lines between allies and partners is blurred: partners like Finland and Sweden moved closer to NATO in recent years, and Sweden decided not to sign the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, citing closeness to its NATO neighbors.
Will the election of the new president of the European Commission, former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, have more of a focus on security issues than her predecessors? The five-year plan she outlined is ambitious: it focused on the environment (a Green Deal for Europe), leadership in the digital world, a Social Market Economy for the people, protecting Europe’s values and the Rule of Law, a new push for democracy in Europe. She also called for Europe being a responsible leader in the world (with NATO as the cornerstone of our collective security), but contrary to other focus areas, no detail is provided.
The five-year plan is ambitious and with the final result of the vote being a close shave — she won by a margin of just nine votes out of 757 — she will face resistance in the implementation.
Some words about the European Defence Union, the possibility of which was enshrined in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty (art. 42). In 2016, Commission President Juncker proposed a number of initiatives in defense (creation of a European Defence Fund, single HQ for operations, implementation of permanent structured cooperation, move towards common military assets). Full complementarity with NATO.
June 2016: Mogherini presented the global strategy for the EU’s foreign and security policy (EUSG). In November 2016, HR and NATO SG presented a package of 42 proposals. June 2017: launch of European Defence Fund and 2018 establishment of the EDF. PESCO: Permanent structured cooperation.
Question: how much overlap with NATO? What about EU member states that are not NATO members? Even PESCO was signed by neutral EU members: Ireland, Finland, Austria, Sweden). Would this become a “European NATO”?
Another difficult issue: Brexit
The UK is NATO’s second most capable military power. It also participates in the Five Eyes military intelligence. What will be lost to European security when the UK leaves? French President Macron has called for a treaty on defence and security (defining our fundamental obligations in association with NATO) and suggested the creation of a European security council to prepare collective decisions – a council in which the UK should be included, after Brexit.
UK possessor of nuclear weapons, a strong proponent of nuclear deterrence, a strong partner in defense. Also a strong ally of the US. Their departure from EU structures will be keenly felt, in substance but also financial matters. Increased vulnerability? How will the EU cope and fill the gaps?
What is the structure of international relations?
We need to widen the lens and look beyond Europe, beyond the transatlantic alliance. My generation was formed – and informed – by the Cold War. The bipolar system was stable: we knew the parameters and reactions. What we have now is a system in flux: maybe we could call it “emerging bipolarity”, meaning China and the US, with rest lagging far behind.
Do we call China a super-power already or is it on the way to becoming one? It is clear that this new bipolar system is not focused on the military and confrontation, but on the economy, trade and technology. And irrespective of whether China is not yet on a par with the US, the gap between these two nations and the rest of the world is getting larger.
In military expenditures, the US remains far ahead (nominal defense spending in 2018 was $649 billion, compared to $250 billion for China). The US accounted for 36% of total global defense spending (China for 14%). But the situation is changing: Chinese military expenditures grew by 83% between 2009 and 2018 – US spending declined by 17%.
Still, I strongly believe that competition is not in the military sphere. Look at China’s Road and Belt initiative, at locking in natural resources all around the world, at giving generous loans and acquiring important assets in countries around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. Look at the strategy to become the leader in technology, in artificial intelligence.
Europe, closely allied with the US, is clearly on one side. At the (German Marshall Fund’s) Brussels Forum in June, Federica Mogherini was asked if Europe was “betting on the wrong horse” with regard to improving military cooperation in Europe instead of economic power? She replied that Europe was not betting on military power, but that it made sense to use the economies of scale of combined European defense capacities. Yet she also pointed out that this was not an alternative to neglecting the European role in global issues: one of the key challenges for Europe was to better use economic tools in the global landscape.
So the question is: is the EU focused enough on its global responsibilities? Is relying on soft power, on its exemplary engagement as a multilateral player, committed to the rule of law, human rights, international organizations and collaboration, enough at a time of rising global instability? Can an “Alliance of Multilateralism” which will be proposed by France and Germany at the UN General Assembly this month, overcome levels of friction and risk? The EU sees great value in international stability and wants to protect bedrock principles of the post-war international order developed over seven decades. Supporting multilateralism is in the European DNA, according to Mogherini.
Supporting multilateralism is not enough, in my opinion. More activism is necessary. Europe needs to get its mojo back, it is punching below its weight. Needs to focus on the horizon.
This happened with the JCPOA which was the first truly international agreement that the E3+3 spearheaded and negotiated with China, Russia and the US. It was truly far-sighted, but was enough done to shore it up after it was abrogated by the US?
The equilibrium is shifting: uncontrolled escalation and accidental wars happen. What happens in the Middle East affects Europe immediately. The escalating situation in Iran due to the US abrogation of the JCPOA and the imposition of sanctions by Washington, the start-up of uranium enrichment in Iran, the reaction by Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium ostensibly for use in nuclear power plants, the wars raging in Syria and Yemen: there is more.
The recent escalation in South Asia between India and Pakistan, the instability on the Korean peninsula, with the DPRK further honing its missile capabilities; the upcoming Review Conference of the Nonproliferation Treaty in 2020, which will lay bare the deep divisions among the nuclear haves and the nuclear have-nots pressing for disarmament measures under Art. VI, and finally, while not in the military sphere: the escalating spiral of the US-China trade war which has strong repercussions in Europe.
This is the rising global instability that the title of this lecture points to. It confronts Europe at a time of looming economic downturn, of internal political pressures due to populism, a splintering of the political internal landscapes and also of the impending Brexit, with or without a negotiated deal.
Security is not measured in military terms alone, and while NATO and EU defense structures are indispensable for member States, other security threats are equally prominent.
Sixty-two prominent members of the European Commission for Foreign Relations recently sent a letter, with four points that are worth repeating here:
- Quest for strategic sovereignty of Europe
- Re-operationalize European security and defense
- Build stronger links between EU institutions in Brussels and national governments on foreign policy.
These are sound ideas – let us hope that vision, strategy and new policies will follow.