The EU, NATO and Hard Power

A couple news items today warrant following up on this previous post regarding the EU and its ability to project power. But this time, I’d like to focus on hard power.

Of course, when it comes to hard power, the major constraint on the EU’s ability to project force is the unwillingness of its member states to spend the necessary amounts on defense. But another has been the unwillingness of some member states, primarily Great Britain and until recently Poland, to duplicate structures and force commitments already dedicated to NATO. As a result, EU defense is dependent on ad hoc force generation arrangements that have hamstrung its ability to play a more ambitious role in international crisis intervention.

But what about NATO itself? One of the arguments for the need to succeed in Afghanistan is that only victory will salvage the alliance’s credibility after its first out-of-theater engagement. I’d suggest that the way in which NATO has acquitted itself — or more accurately has not acquitted itself — in Afghanistan will determine its subsequent credibility far more than the actual outcome. I’d also suggest that the verdict might already be in on that score.

NATO has long been a dysfunctional alliance on an institutional level. Compared to EU defense, however, it has had far fewer opportunities to demonstrate what that means on an operational level. If Afghanistan is any indication, the EU defense skeptics had one thing right: EU defense should definitely not duplicate NATO.

In obvious ways, the future of EU defense has always been tied up in the future of NATO. And historically, advocates of one or the other have considered the relation to be an either/or affair. Afghanistan — combined with the over-stretched U.S. military posture in Iraq — initially drove a shift to conceiving of the two as win-win complements of each other. I think it has now returned them to their former zero-sum relation. Should NATO’s relevance diminish in the post-Afghanistan period, the prospects for EU defense would in all likelihood brighten, at the very moment when the Lisbon Treaty EU would be taking shape. Stay tuned.

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