Wednesday, April 30, 2003

What Mission?

The leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg met in Brussels on April 29 for a mini-summit on European defense coordination. In a joint statement following the meeting, the leaders endorsed a list of proposals designed to enhance European defense coordination and capabilities, including the creation of a defense headquarters in Brussels and the establishment of a joint rapid reaction capability formed around a Franco-German core.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt called the meeting in mid-March, purportedly to jumpstart Europe's flagging hopes to create a common foreign policy. A day before the meeting, Verhofstadt said that without a viable European defense tool, "a European Union foreign policy is not credible." But the design and timing of the meeting betray another motive: the desire by a bloc that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labeled "Old Europe" to move forward with defense coordination outside of the current structures of the European Union -- and in direct opposition to the United States. By meeting separately, and just on the heels of an Iraq war that all four opposed, the participants might have dealt a mortal blow to hopes for a common foreign policy in Europe.

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The establishment of a separate Franco-German command structure without a corresponding increase in military assets means that units currently allocated to NATO will be "chopped away" from the alliance and given over to the new French-German high command. But the question must be what the mission of the new headquarters must be? To be fair, that question can also be asked of NATO, now that the Warsaw Pact has dissolved. The answer for NATO, of course, is "out of area operations". After all, there is no war in Europe.

But to ask it in the original of the Franco-German high command will yield more puzzling answers. NATO can at least project itself out-of-area primarily using US strategic mobility assets, but the Franco-Germans would also be left with the same default mission without the assets -- apart from small scale interventions in Africa. There is a further difficulty. Apart from France, neither Germany, Belgium or Luxembourg has a blue-water navy. The United States, which is the core of NATO, has been building up a string of sea stations based on England, Portugal, Spain and Turkey leading east, towards the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It has the means to match a possible strategy. For France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, there are no means to match any rational strategy. That leaves irrational strategies. The Franco-Germans may be meaning to propose themselves as the core of a United Nations combat force, to complement Blue Helmet operations. In this scenario, the European Army would act as the hard edge of the peacekeeping, and the posse for serving warrants from the Belgian International Court.

It is a marriage of dysfunctional parts, every component ludicrous in itself; and for that reason it will be immensely popular with the Left.