EU Defense: Three out of Four Ain’t Bad

Two of the four biggest challenges facing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s European defense ambitions were opposition from London and Washington. I mentioned in a few recent posts the sea change in British attitudes. Now comes word, via Nicolas Gros-Verheyde at Bruxelles 2, that American personnel will be participating in an EU civil-military advisory mission in Guinea Bissau. That follows similar American participation in the EU’s mission in Kosovo, formalized last month, but yet to be deployed (also via Bruxelles 2). Again, it’s a limited participation in a limited mission. But symbolically, it’s a significant attitude adjustment, especially since, as a “soft power” mission in Africa, it represents the kind of mission America was hoping to lead on with AFRICOM, rather than play wing man on for the EU.

The third biggest challenge was lack of coordination in EU member states’ procurement programs. There, too, progress was made this week with the announcement by twelve EU member states to create an European Air Transport Fleet to address the critical shortage of strategic airlift. The fact that the project is centered on the production delay-plagued A400M leaves some room for concern. But nevertheless, the announcement is significant in that previous efforts to address the problem had passed through NATO.

Unfortunately, the fourth biggest challenge facing European defense was resistance among EU member states to increase their defense budgets out from under the cozy confines of the NATO Article 5 security blanket. And with the kind of recession being forecasted as a result of the financial crisis, that might just prove to be the bridge too far.

Nevertheless, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin declared on Monday after hosting an EU defense ministers summit that “. . . [W]e have already made substantial and considerable progress, probably as much as we have seen in 10 years.” EU defense has always moved forward in fits and starts, and the past year, since Sarkozy began dropping hints that France would fully reintegrate NATO’s command structure, have certainly been a significant one. Eventually, the recession will end and the money will reappear. There’s no guarantee that the newfound willingness to advance EU defense will still be around when that happens, but the prospects look more promising than at the same time last year.

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