A Europeanized NATO

This DefenseNews write-up of British Defense Minister John Hutton’s speech at the CSIS last week is revealing for a number of reasons. At first glance, Hutton’s prescription for a expansive NATO mission might seem to be at odds with France’s vision for an expansive EU defense mission, and therefore a preview of the battles to come over the alliance’s strategic vision. But what’s interesting is how the British and French broader strategic visions converge on the importance of forward defense (Afghanistan), rapid reaction capacity, and the need for a stronger European voice in its own security:

The United States has done well at putting new theories about thechanging nature of warfare into practice, but NATO’s neededtransformation might be a challenge for the United States, Hutton said.

“Anew NATO depends on Europe having an equal say” in NATO’s future, hesaid. “The truth, I suspect, has been for much of NATO’s 60-yearexistence, that America has liked to lead, just as much as Europeanshave liked to be led.” . . .

“In my view, NATO does not need to choose between Article 5 [whichstates that an attack on any NATO member is an attack on all members],between counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and cyber warfare,”Hutton said. “Its priorities can and should be Article 5 andAfghanistan and cyber warfare.”

Contrast that to this quote from the letter French President Nicolas Sarkozy just sent to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, formalizing his announcement last week of France’s reintegration of the alliance’s military command:

“The Europeans must play a growing role and reinforce their militarycapacities,” said the letter, the full contents of which were not madepublic.

It’s pretty tricky to see where all this leads. But historically, one of the principle stumbling blocks to both EU defense and NATO cohesiveness has been the divergence between the French and British outlooks on which instrument should do what.

My hunch is that Sarkozy would ultimately like to see the Afghanistan-type missions confided to an autonomous European capacity in the future. That has historically meant EU defense. But I wonder if he won’t end up seeing the current political weakness of the United States within the alliance, along with an evolving British position, as an opportunity to find a shorter path to that goal through a semi-autnomous European NATO pillar. I also wonder if that addresses the legitimate political arguments France has made in favor of an EU defense capacity independent of any American association.

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