A Three-Pillar European Defense Architecure

Matt Eckel cruelly sums up most of the arguments I make here on the blog in four words: Makes sense in theory. . . .

More particularly, he was responding to this post on U.S.-Russia cooperation on European missile defense, and the idea of a three-pillar security architecture for Europe. Here’s Matt:

All this to say that if there’s going to be a comprehensive collectivesecurity arrangement between the U.S., Europe and Russia, there has tobe a comprehensive convergence of security interests. That doesn’t seemto exist right now. A better idea, from my perspective, would be totrade European missile defense for real help in containing Iraniannuclear ambitions.

That makes sense, period. So the short version is that I agree.

Part of the fault lies in my having used a broad term like “partnership” imprecisely, a generalized tendency that Nikolas Gvosdev discussed — along with its sometimes dangerous consequences — here.

With regard to the U.S., Europe, NATO and Russia, what I was trying to get at was my sense that there’s a sea change going on right now that’s manifesting itself in various anecdotal ways, but that could very well gather criticial mass over the next few years. It involves NATO’s strategic purpose, Europe’s need to ultimately stand on its own when it comes to overseas interventions (if not yet collective security), and the ways in which the “comprehensive convergence of security interests” that Matt refers to no longer exists between the U.S. and Europe, much less between the Euro-Atlantic alliance and Russia.

Now, I’m not suggesting that NATO is going to, or ought to, disband overnight. But it is under enormous pressure, both from without (the potential fallout of failure in Afghanistan) and within (the push for a European pillar). This open letter in Le Monde (via Art Goldhammer) from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel is remarkable not only for being a preeemptive formulation of what Europe (read: the Franco-German friendship) wants from an up-to-now publicly silent Obama administration, but also for its emphasis on consolidating E.U. defense in relation to the transatlantic alliance, and the reference to Russia as a necessary partner.

If that seems like typically vague Eurospeak, keep in mind that one of the commands (via Secret Défense and the New Atlanticist) that France has apparently negotiated within NATO in return for full integration is the Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virgina, responsible for formulating the alliance’s doctrine, interoperability and longterm strategic vision (i.e., the very vision that Sarkozy and Merkel are calling to be redefined). The other is the Rapid Rection Force command in Lisbon.

Transformation is not going to happen overnight, but I think the goal for Sarkozy, in broad strokes, is NATO as an umbrella for joint Euro-atlantic collective security, sheltering a semi-autonomous EU defense wing for multilateral foreign interventions.

NATO’s Article Five security guarantee remains relevant, even in the absence of any credible threat of invasion or occupation, to prevent Russia from using the limited use of force — or the threat of it — to intimidate smaller and weaker European nations on its periphery. But barring a surprisingly encouraging outcome in Afghanistan, I’ve got a hunch that the NATO car is likely to stay in the garage for a while once it gets back from the Hindu Kush. Which means an awful lot of military capacity that is essentially being wasted.

The Franco-German response is to increase Europe’s capacity (and, I suspect, to ultimately free it up from NATO), but also to avoid demonizing Russia. So when I loosely said a three-pillar security architecture, I had less in mind a partnership or alliance for collective security, so much as a working understanding for cooperation where interests overlap, and a way to insitutionalize the dialogue when they don’t, in order to facilitate the kinds of swaps Matt mentions.

Ultimately, how that plays out is going to depend alot, but not exclusively, on the Obama administration’s posture towards Russia. Other elements include how serious Europe is about further political and security construction. And a lot also depends on Russia, which is sending very mixed signals at the moment (in the NYT, via today’s WPR Media Roundup).

But I have difficulty imagining how Russia can be excluded from a significant voice in European security without provoking outright confrontation that neither the U.S. nor Europe can afford. And I also have difficulty seeing how NATO will respond to Europe’s or America’s security and deployment needs in a post-Afghanistan landscape. Hence a three-pillar architecture for European security that is neither partnership nor alliance, but more an insitutional forum for mutual accomodation.

Whether that happens under the auspices of the NATO-Russia council or the OSCE, or some other body remains to be seen. But that’s the direction I see things headed.

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