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From: "Anatol Lieven" <alieven@ceip.org>
Subject: Growing Up: The EU and European Security
Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001

Dear David,

Here's a just-published essay of mine, dealing in part with relations with Russia.
[Published in Prospect Magazine (London), issue 69, December 2001]

Growing Up: The EU and European Security
By Anatol Lieven

If the background were not so tragic, the elaborate dance being conducted over European participation in the US war in Afghanistan would be one of the funniest masquerades since Alice in Wonderland. The rules are as follows: the Europeans have to pretend that they want to send troops to Afghanistan; the Americans have to pretend that they want them there; everybody has to pretend that they would be of some use if they did go there; and finally, all the participants have to pretend that the dance is taking place to the music of NATO.

The Europeans have to show willingness to send troops to help America because they know that otherwise, at some point in the not distant future, US domestic pressure to withdraw US troops from the Balkans is likely to become overwhelming. In fact, the Europeans know very well that their own populations will never accept either serious casualties among their own troops or the kind of Afghan civilian casualties which are only too likely, and which the US public after September 11th regards with relative equanimity.

The Americans have to pretend that they want these troops both because they need to preserve the fiction of an American-led coalition against terrorism, and more importantly because they still regard NATO as an essential vehicle for US interests in Europe. If this organization in whose praise such boreads of official praise have been expended in recent years were revealed to be completely irrelevant to the greatest security crisis of the era, some wicked dissidents might really begin to wonder why it is still around.

But of course the Americans don't really want European troops in Afghanistan. In the first place, with very few exceptions they regard the European armies essentially not as real military forces but as providers of adventure holidays for subsidized backpackers. Much more importantly, however, the Americans want "allies" like the British, who do what they are told. They know that the major European countries would not behave in this way, and they do not have the slightest intention of allowing any other country, let alone multi-member alliance, any say in the conduct of the war.

As to NATO, it is in fact almost completely worthless as far as the Afghan War and the "war against terrorism" are concerned. This campaign and all future such campaigns will be "coalitions of the willing", completely dominated by the US, and with contributions made on a bilateral basis. Major efforts in joint policing are being made, but this is not NATO's business. As to intelligence sharing, this has always been the Alliance's weakest feature, mainly because rightly or wrongly the Americans don't really trust anyone else but the British with their intelligence.

Even before September 11th, viewed in some lights the Alliance was looking decidedly seedy. This was above all true of the response to the Albanian insurgency in Macedonia. One of the explicit justifications for breaking international law and launching the Kosovo campaign was the need to defend the security of the Western Balkans and in particular Macedonia. At that time, very strong and public commitments were made to defend Macedonia. Yet when the crisis there finally erupted, the Europeans hesitated shamefully before deploying a very limited and (supposedly) temporary force, while the US refused to participate on the ground at all. After this, it was already clear that grandiose ideas for NATO interventions in the former Soviet Union or the Middle East were addled which were never going to hatch.

Nonetheless, in a half dead or even completely zombie-like state, NATO will probably be around for many years to come (did anyone ever get round formally to abolishing SEATO or CENTO? I ask in the most sincere and happy ignorance). One reason is of course the enormous number of uniformed and civ ilian bureaucrats and assorted hangers-on whose jobs depend on NATO. But more fundamental interests are also present. The Europeans need the US in Europe so that they can go on spending a scandalously low proportion of their budgets on defence, and so that US firepower can act as the ultimate deterrent against potential troublemakers in the Balkans. The problem here is that in the first place, US firepower may simply not be credible or useful when it comes to deterring anarchical rebel forces like the various Albanian groups; and secondly, if the US is pinned down in wars in Afghanistan or elsewhere, a threat of US military action in the Balkans even against organized states like Serbia may well be utterly unconvincing.

The US desire to preserve NATO is rooted in one rather foolish, and now fading calculation, and one much more serious one which has not yet been fully recognized by either the US or Europe. The foolish reason was the one which in recent years led some Americans (including at first the Bush administration) to oppose the creation of an EU security identity on the grounds that this would somehow undermine US global hegemony. The US holders of this fantasy may have the excuse that it has been shared by many Frenchmen - but that doesn't make it any the less of a fantasy, as a glance at EU responses to recent crises should make clear.

The much more serious motive is that the US needs airfields and supply dumps in Europe as staging posts for the support of Israel and for the conduct of actual and future campaigns in the Muslim world. In future, advances in aircraft and aerial refueling technology may make such bases unnecessary - but this will not be the case for a good many years to come. Without NATO as a frame, the US would have to seek a number of unfavourable alternatives: basing agreements with individual European countries like Britain, which as a result would be much more vulnerable to domestic protest against US policies; reliance on Turkey or even Israel as a regional base, with as a the result still greater deference to these countries' dangerous agendas; or a vastly increased and horribly expensive (and for the troops concerned, unpopular) permanent deployment at Diego Garcia or elsewhere.

European discontent at being cast as "Airstrip One" does not really matter as long as it is confined to fringe radical groups, and as long as it is set in the context of an alliance in which the Europeans see an interest and in US strategies they broadly share. But these conditions are not necessarily stable. It is likely that at some point in future, thanks to developments in the Balkans or elsewhere, NATO will become visibly moribund; and it is possible that US-Israeli policies in the Middle East may diverge so radically from European ones that they turn into an obvious clash of vital interests (This possibility would be especially great in the context of a new oil shock or a terrorist campaign against Europe).

Even without such radical scenarios, it seems highly probable that one key effect of September 11th and its aftermath will be a considerable long-term reduction of US interest in security issues around the fringes of Europe, simply because the US will have far too much on its plate elsewhere. This means that however horribly unprepared and divided it may be, the EU will simply have no choice but to try at least to assume greater responsibility for aspects of continental security - and we had better pray that it succeeds.

This new responsibility brings with it three urgent priorities. The first is the creation of serious and useable European armed forces on the pattern of the British. This is less a question of weaponry than of will. There should be no question in future of "soldiers" being allowed to opt out from military deployments. Secondly, the EU needs to treat membership for the Central Europeans and the Balts - and hence the stabilization of these regions - as a vital European security interest and do everything possible to drive it forward according to the present timetable.

Equally importantly, the EU needs to improve, stabilize and as far as possible institutionalize security relationships with Europe's two main non-EU military powers, Turkey and Russia. For if the US does visibly pull back from the Balkans, then every nationalist radical in the region is going to be emboldened, and a great many of them will look to Russians or Turks for support. The ultimate European nightmare would be if these two countries lined up on opposite sides in wars in the Balkans or the Caucasus.

In the case of Turkey, it is unfortunately simply impossible to accede to that country's desire for early admission to the EU. Economic realities rule this out. However, we can and should discard immediately the absurd Greek-inspired provocation of inviting southern Cyprus to join the EU. With Russia, things are easier, given Russia's greater degree of exclusion and isolation, and greater desire for reconciliation with the EU as a counterweight to Turkey.

Since September 11th Putin has indeed been showing an almost embarrassing degree of desire for co-operation with the West. However, if this is not to lead to a dangerous Russian feeling of betrayal, as in the mid-1990s, Russia needs to be demonstratively brought into new and effective pan-European security institutions, not fobbed off with some reheated version of membership in NATO's meaningless "Permanent Joint Council". Including Russia will be even more important if in a last convulsive spasm NATO expands to include the Baltic States - which would still be seen by many Russians as a threat or at least a gratuitous insult.

When it comes to creating new security relationships with non-members or part-members of the existing West, the EU is in an easier position than NATO. The latter organization was created as a defensive military alliance against the Soviet Union. Not only does that give it an enduring anti-Russian bias, and ensure Russian suspicion of it, but it means that NATO is a clear-cut alliance. You're in, or you're out. The rather absurd Partnership for Peace, with its silly paratroop drops in Kazakhstan and "disaster relief efforts" by heavily-armed amphibious forces in Ukraine, has not been able to soften this harsh dividing line, least of all as far as Russia is concerned.

At first sight, the EU, with its rigid Schengen borders and high tariff walls, may seem even more of a closed fortress. But in fact, both in security terms but also to an increasing degree in economic and social ones, this is not so - and the position of Britain is indeed the best example of this. When it comes to economics, Europe can well be seen as a series of concentric circles. At the heart are the members of the Euro Zone; then those West European countries like Britain which are not Euro members, and a couple (Norway and Switzerland) which are not even in the EU.

Then there comes the next ring, of Central European and Baltic applicants. Hopefully, these will soon be EU members. It is however all too apparent that even so, they will for many years to come be second- or third-class members, their membership qualified by numerous humiliating restrictions like that on movement of labour. Then come a whole host of countries large and small which are without question part of Europe -and some of which are vital for European security - but which are not going to be EU members for the foreseeable future if ever.

But when it comes to possible security structures, a very different set of rings can be developed, which nonetheless can be effectively linked to the economic system. Thus Britain is not part of the Euro core, but has to be at the heart of any security identity if such an identity is to exist at all. On the other hand, some rich but small and/or unserious countries which are part of the Euro zone must be left outside while serious European security issues are concerned, and firmly turned away if they try to gatecrash. These already existing asymmetries should allow in principle the creation of a European Security Council including Russia, Turkey and America, and the development of security structures which will stand some chance of replacing NATO as that organization quickly or slowly rots away.

These ideas may be rejected as hopelessly over-optimistic. But if I am right, and US involvement in dealing with European security challenges is likely inexorably to diminish, then we have no choice but at least to try to fend for ourselves and build new bridges to our vital European neighbours. It may well be true that September 11th has ushered in a struggle of civilization against barbarism, but if so, in its present Afghan manifestation and probably future ones as well this is not a struggle in which the Europeans can play any useful military role. They - and the British too - can make a much more useful contribution to the defence of civilization by finally taking responsibility for our own geographical bit of it. Il faut defendre notre jardin.

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