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It is time for the EU to become a global military power – and for the US to stop thwarting Europe’s defense ambitions.
That comes from a new report from the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Biden administration.
The report, which POLITICO received prior to its release on Wednesday, calls on President Joe Biden to encourage the EU to develop military capabilities with hard power and calls on him to end decades of opposition to EU defense integration by former US leaders under the guise of preventing wasteful duplication with NATO – which remains orthodox thinking for most American military commanders and even for many EU governments.
The report, released just 10 days before Biden’s first overseas trip as president for the G7 and NATO summits, calls on Washington to urge European allies to spend more on their military to meet NATO’s spending target of 2 percent of GDP while preventing the EU from pursuing initiatives that save money and improve combat readiness. Instead, it is said that it is left to NATO to coordinate a “collection device” of national armed forces.
“Europe’s reliance on the United States for its security means that the US is de facto one Veto against the direction of European defense, ”reads the report written by Max Bergmann, James Lamond and Siena Cicarelli. “Since the 1990s, the United States has typically used its effective veto power to block the European Union’s defense ambitions.
“This has often led to an absurd situation where Washington loudly insists that Europe do more on defense, but then firmly objections when Europe’s political union – the European Union – tries to live up to its reputation,” they continued continued, adding: “This political approach was a major strategic mistake – one that has weakened NATO militarily, strained the transatlantic alliance and contributed to the relative decline in Europe’s global clout.”
The report’s conclusions are sure to meet with stiff opposition from some political leaders, NATO diplomats and uniformed military commanders who believe that EU countries are fundamentally incapable of defending themselves and that Brussels does wrestles with the development of a common foreign policy, never as an act of a closed military power.
Opponents of EU military integration have long warned that any duplication of NATO capabilities, particularly in the area of “command and control”, would deprive the Alliance of urgently needed resources and only benefit its opponents, including Russia.
Nonetheless, EU heads of state and government, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have long been in favor of the idea of creating an EU army – at least as a desirable goal to improve military coordination and cooperation in Brussels .
Critics and supporters of EU military integration agree that the national armed forces in Europe are not up to date – especially in Germany, the richest and politically most powerful member of the EU.
The authors of the new report are quite unanimous on this point. “Today much of Europe’s military equipment is in a shocking state of disrepair,” they wrote. “European armed forces are not ready to fight with their equipment and the equipment they have is not good enough.”
But the writers also insist that the US should accept its share of the guilt. “This is a European failure,” they wrote. “But Washington played a critical, if underestimated, role in causing this failure.” And they pointed out that the relentless push for higher NATO spending – something Donald Trump did louder and more aggressively than his predecessors – was seen as critical to the erroneous outcome.
“For more than two decades, both Republican and Democratic governments have vigorously urged European capitals to strengthen their national armed forces in support of NATO,” they wrote. “But that focus on the level of national defense spending, embodied by NATO members’ 2014 commitment to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, just didn’t work. European defense remains anemic today despite noticeable increases in spending. “
The report is likely to attract attention in part because the Center for American Progress has become known as a training facility for Biden government officials, with dozens of think tank alumni now in positions in the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and other government agencies.
Former think tank president and executive director Neera Tanden recently stepped into the White House as Biden’s senior advisor, a role that could make her even more powerful than the budget director she was originally nominated for but retired when it did it became clear that she could not win Senate approval.
It remains to be seen whether the report will induce Biden, an avowed supporter of NATO, to rethink.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has insisted that the Allies have made good progress towards the 2 percent target and this has strengthened NATO in the process.
Asked at a press conference on Tuesday after complaints, including from France, that increased NATO spending is draining resources from EU defense programs, Stoltenberg said NATO is the right place for joint spending on military initiatives.
“NATO is the cornerstone of security and defense for all NATO allies, and shared spending is a force multiplier, an efficient way of spending, and also sends a very clear message to our own people and to all potential adversaries,” he said. “And then, of course, shared money is an opportunity to invest in the connection between Europe and North America.”
Retired General Philip Breedlove, former NATO Commander in Chief for Europe, said he remained confident that any duplication of EU and NATO capabilities would be a grave mistake.
“If these nations, who are also in NATO, want to spend money on their defense, I see that as a good thing, because everything that benefits the EU will also benefit NATO,” Breedlove said on Tuesday in an interview. “But there’s one big caveat, and we’ve been saying it for a long time, everyone from the Secretary General to everyone else: we shouldn’t invest in duplicate skills.”
Breedlove said NATO’s operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Horn of Africa have long proven that the alliance can function effectively without the EU replicating existing functions. And he said NATO had too many urgent needs – including additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, sensors to detect and counter ballistic missiles, and especially to improve force readiness – to be the focus of new issues.
“There are far too many readiness, skill and capacity requirements that should be met first,” said Breedlove. “What we don’t have to do is invest money in redundant duplication functions.”
While the report calls on the US to drop its mantra on duplication, it also calls on the EU to avoid duplication, arguing that Brussels should find its own best path towards becoming a military power, including the possibility of its own Setting up armed forces, which is what the report says, could take decades.
“It will be up to the EU to find a structure that suits it best,” says the report. “But the US should make clear its support for the EU to focus on developing and acquiring new skills that will enable Europe to act without the involvement of the US military. Europe should not simply duplicate capabilities that already exist within NATO, but rather build its own core capabilities that complement the US and enable Europe to function as an equal partner in the alliance. “
Bergmann, the report’s lead author, said in an interview that US politicians and commanders should be open to new avenues.
“We have to get out of the mindset that the EU will be a complication for us,” said Bergmann. “There is a kind of knee-jerk negativity about the EU’s potential engagement rather than potentially looking at it positively.” He said the current approach encourages unnecessary layoffs between EU countries.
“The waste and duplication of work lies in the current system where everyone has to have their own full-spectrum military. This is probably not the best use of the military for the EU or NATO, ”he said. “Too often the resistance to EU defense is very theoretical and not based on the practical aspects of a realistic EU engagement in defense.
“It would be one thing if you could argue that NATO is fully functioning in its current structure and that European defense is in place, but it is not,” added Bergmann. “Just urging and shouting at member states to spend more on defense … that’s just not a recipe for a strong Europe or a successful transatlantic alliance.”