on "The
and Defense

May 4, 1998

"ESDI in the Atlantic Alliance"

Remarks by Ambassador Alexander Vershbow
U.S. Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council

The United States and its European Allies have been talking about -- and at times even arguing about -- Europe's role in its own defense for the better part of the last 30 years. The role of the WEU, the "Eurocorps" and even the security dimension of the European Union have all been the subject of considerable transatlantic controversy. This was particularly the case at the start of this decade, when the notion of a European security and defense identity picked up steam in the context of the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty.

At Maastricht - and in NATO's 1991 New Strategic Concept - it was agreed that the Western European Union would be both the defense arm of the European Union and the means of strengthening the European pillar of NATO. But this double role meant little in practice - indeed, it almost amounted to a double negative. This was because it papered over the question of whether ESDI was going to be built primarily inside or outside the framework of the Alliance.

Some in Europe believed that you could have a common defense within the European Union, separate from the common defense we already had in the North Atlantic Alliance, and that WEU would eventually be absorbed by the European Union. Many of us in the United States, however, felt it was impossible to do this and still have a common defense through NATO. (After all, can there be two common defenses - or do they cease to be common?)

Underlying the dispute over institutional relationships was a more fundamental disagreement about whether, in the post-Cold War world, the United States could be counted on to "be there" when European interests were threatened, or whether Europe needed to be able to act on its own. Transatlantic differences over Bosnia only exacerbated European anxieties in this regard. So the debate continued.

Things began to change when Bill Clinton took office in 1993. The President did not share the ambivalence of his predecessor regarding the notion of a stronger European security and defense identity. Indeed, in his first year in office, he embraced the idea of a stronger ESDI, seeing it as a means of addressing traditional concerns in the United States about insufficient burdensharing on the part of the European members of the Alliance.

But the President argued that, for ESDI to work, it would need to be based on the concept of "separable but not separate" European capabilities. By avoiding a wasteful duplication of defense structures, a "separable but not separate" ESDI would be the best way to preserve the transatlantic link.

Implicit in the President's approach was a reaffirmation of the view, shared by all his predecessors, that U.S. and European security interests remained linked, even in the more benign post-Cold War environment. He felt, therefore, that it was essential to avoid creating the impression that the United States would not "be there" when major threats emerged. He also wanted to refute the notion that NATO, because of the United States' preponderant role, somehow served as a barrier to the assumption of greater responsibility by its European members.

This being said, the President accepted the fact that, in some situations, American interests may not be as directly engaged, and in some cases, American capabilities may not be essential to the success of low-intensity operations. In such cases, it made sense to enhance the potential for the European members of the Alliance to act - using the vehicle of the revitalized Western European Union - with the U.S. in a largely supporting role.

President Clinton's vision of ESDI was endorsed at the 1994 NATO Summit. Allies also adopted the concept of combined joint task forces as the mechanism for organizing operations more effectively, whether led by NATO or the WEU.

While the issue was resolved in theory at the 1994 Summit, it was not until the 1996 Berlin NAC Ministerial that the Alliance managed to translate the theory into practice. From then on, all 16 allies agreed that ESDI would be built within the Alliance. Ministers also agreed that a series of institutional steps should be taken to create the necessary links between NATO and the WEU so that the WEU could draw on NATO planning and organizational structures when there was political agreement on WEU leadership for a particular mission.

The key decision at Berlin, of course, was that NATO assets could be made available to WEU-led operations on the basis of a decision by the North Atlantic Council. This put to rest concerns that the United States, when push came to shove, would deny WEU the NATO support that it would need to be effective.

We have been working since Berlin to put these decisions into effect. The political will is there, at least inside NATO, and much of the work is nearing completion. Let me say a word about what ESDI in NATO really means:

  • First, it means enhanced responsibilities for the Deputy SACEUR in preparing for and commanding WEU-led missions.

  • It also means more European officers in command positions within the NATO command structure.

  • The Deputy SACEUR is, in effect, at the top of a WEU command chain, embedded in the NATO command structure, that could be activated in a crisis that the European allies decide to manage through WEU.

  • In addition to command arrangements, there is extensive work underway between NATO and the WEU to make joint operations possible down the road. This includes harmonization of planning and decision-making procedures so as to facilitate the transfer of NATO assets when there is a political decision to do so.

  • We are also completing the implementation of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept, which will enhance NATO's flexibility for crisis management operations and at the same time serve as the mechanism for WEU-led missions.

In December, the Alliance reached agreement on a streamlined command structure that, when fully implemented, will put these arrangements in place; it was on this basis that Spain decided to integrate its military fully into the reformed command structure.

My government was disappointed that France did not see all these changes as far-reaching enough to justify French reintegration along with Spain. We hope that the work underway to implement the new NATO-WEU arrangements and establish CJTF structures will also serve as the basis for a state-by-step process of rapprochement between France and the NATO military structure. Such a process, we believe, can lead to greater interoperability between French and other Allied forces and, perhaps over time, to full integration. Our experience in Bosnia and the Gulf War has demonstrated that our militaries work better together when they have planned and trained together in an integrated fashion. Moreover, greater French involvement in NATO military structures - with or without integration - will make ESDI within NATO stronger, given the capabilities that France brings to the table.

In the coming years NATO and the WEU will begin exercising the arrangements being established for ESDI based on the Berlin framework. Exercising is, of course, what the Alliance does in peacetime, and it enables nations to respond more effectively when a crisis emerges in which a WEU-led mission is judged to be appropriate.

The question, however, is: Will the European members actually use the new arrangements in the real world? As I have said before, I think that last year's multinational force led by Italy in Albania was a missed opportunity for the WEU.

The question of how to develop and make use of ESDI will be a central issue in the review of the Alliance strategic concept that we are working on now in Brussels. Building on the 1991 New Strategic Concept, this revised strategy will likely define even more broadly the challenges to Allied interests in the 21st century and call for greater flexibility in designing potential NATO responses.

One key purpose of the 1999 strategic concept will be to provide guidance to NATO military authorities on what are the threats and challenges to the Alliance and what kind of forces we must build to meet them. Clearly we will want more mobile, well-equipped, highly effective and versatile forces able to meet a broad range of threats on short notice. We must be able to project and sustain these forces at great distance if necessary, whether the mission be low intensity peacekeeping, a more robust peace support operation as in Bosnia, or high-intensity warfare, such as a NATO-led operation like Desert Storm.

The same kinds of forces that would be required for NATO operations out of area are those that would be needed for WEU-led operations under the Berlin framework. The European members of the Alliance have made significant progress in creating additional capabilities for mobility and force projection over the past decade - but there is still some way to go.

Fortunately, Berlin means that NATO planning, command and control, and other support - including logistics, lift and intelligence - can be used by WEU nations to make operations possible. Thus, the challenge of building a European defense capability within NATO should be a good deal less daunting and costly than it would be to do so outside the Alliance.

But there is a still real danger that the European members of the Alliance could fail to seize the opportunity to give military substance to ESDI. If the revision to the strategic concept fails to generate the increased European capabilities needed for force projection and sustainability, then the United States will end up shouldering a disproportionate share of the responsibility, as it does now. This would leave ESDI as something of an empty shell. That would be neither good for NATO nor good for those who sincerely hope to see ESDI become a reality.

For the United States, development of an enhanced capability for the Europeans to undertake security missions on their own, when appropriate, is essential to sustaining U.S. support for the Alliance as a whole. But we cannot want ESDI more than the Europeans. It is important for European governments that credible European defense capabilities exist to ensure that ESDI is more than a slogan.

The review of the Alliance's strategic concept is an opportunity for a "win-win" outcome: a stronger, more capable and more flexible NATO oriented toward the new threats and challenges of the 21st century; and a stronger ESDI within NATO, based on a WEU that has the political and military means to make it a reality. That should be our common goal as we prepare our security institutions for a new century

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