Sarkozy’s NATO Strategy

Those sneaky French. Just when you think you can trust them, they turn around and stab you in the back and do exactly what they’ve been saying they’d do. Okay, cheap shot, because Judy Dempsey’s piece on Sarkozy’s NATO-EU defense grand bargain doesn’t exhibit any of the paranoia usually on display in American analysis of France’s EU defense ambitions.

Two things, though. This isn’t quite true:

But most of Europe has no stomach for tough missions like Afghanistan. It has not supported France in playing a bigger role in Africa. The Europeans do not want to spend more on defense, especially given the global financial crisis. Above all, there is no strategic thinking about what defense and security role the EU shouldhave.

To unpack that in reverse order, the EUFOR Chad mission is an example of European support for a bigger EU role in Africa coming from unusual quarters — Poland and Ireland.

As for the stereotype of Europeans shying away from tough missions, that’s an enduring legacy of the paralysis Europe displayed in the face of the Balkans wars. But that paralysis had a number of historical aspects to it, particularly the taboo against warfare on European soil. What Americans perceive as European reluctance to engage in “tough missions” is more a reflection of Europe’s political emphasis on multilateral interventions and its doctrinal emphasis on “winning the peace,” which is roughly what the American military is arriving at with its full spectrum, COIN-centric approach. That kind of doctrinal approach raises the bar for military intervention, since it recognizes how imperfect an instrument it is for achieving strategic, i.e., political, objectives.

Second, with regard to Sarkozy and NATO, the real story isn’t whether EU defense’s strategic mission will continue to expand, but whether NATO’s post-Afghanistan strategic mission will continue to retract. If so — and I believe not only is that likely, but that Sarkozy is counting on it — NATO will probably become an umbrella arrangement designed to facilitate interoperability of increasingly decoupled American and EU assets. That won’t be a result of any French skullduggery, but simply of the decreasing relevance of NATO to the actual geopolitical landscape of Europe and the world.