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France, Poland and EU Defense

Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

I mentioned last week that Poland's shift toward EU defense had become more pronounced since the U.S. shift on European-based missile defense. But Nicolas Gros-Verheyde's (French-language) summary of the French-Polish joint declaration on security cooperation really underscores that point. Time will tell how all of this will play out in terms of concrete developments. But as Gros-Verheyde observes, the potential for a French-Polish engine driving further EU defense cooperation is clearly in place.

The declaration covers bilateral security cooperation in terms of training and industrial partnership, but places it in the context of European security. While it makes a point of emphasizing the complementary relationship between NATO and EU defense, the emphasis is clearly on the latter, with Poland committing its 2011 EU presidency to furthering the EU defense agenda developed by the 2008 French presidency.

It's worth noting that this is where French President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to reintegrate the NATO command really pays dividends, by cutting off the predictable accusations of French efforts to undermine NATO at the pass. What's more, many of the European priorities the declaration identifies (increasing strategic airlift, helicopter fleet and maritime projection) will improve Europe's ability to contribute to NATO missions. Others -- increased industrial cooperation to generate a true European defense market -- will clearly threaten the U.S. defense industry's commercial interests.

The truth is that both Poland and France remain committed to the transatlantic relationship, and to NATO as the expression of that bond. But both, for various reasons, also see the usefulness of a more robust EU security capacity. Since, like Europe in general, neither has the means to duplicate NATO contributions and EU defense, both have an interest in creating a more autonomous European pillar within NATO. Some might call that a Trojan horse, undermining NATO from within. But in the event that French-Polish security cooperation really matures, I think the idea will gain traction.

The key obstacle will be relations with Russia, viewed differently from Warsaw than from Paris. And here is where the declaration is a bit less clear. Without naming Russia, it identifies NATO as the primary instrument of European deterrence, making specific mention of its nuclear umbrella. Significantly, the nuclear command is the one NATO institution that France chose not to integrate. And it also identifies NATO as the instrument through which Russia be accomodated, when possible, into the European security discussion.

In other words, EU defense is still seen principally as a means of projecting European influence abroad -- in peacekeeping missions, for instance -- rather than as a means of defending Europe. So long as that's the case, it will remain in NATO's shadow.