Spotlight on Geopolitics

Since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union is the only global actor which has enshrined in its constitution the obligation of member countries to abide by United Nations norms and resolutions, affirming in no uncertain terms the Union’s commitment to multilateralism.

After the US intervention in Iraq, the EU adopted the European Security Strategy (ESS) in 2003, which has among its objectives the promotion of security in the Union’s “neighbourhood” to the east and to the south. The same document identifies five key threats to security, one of which is state failure, as is currently the case in Libya.

Even if its External Action Service has been slow to take centre stage this spring, the EU has a military architecture of its own, which includes COPS (Political and Security Committee – a veritable “operations centre” of the Union in case of conflict); a military committee made up of chiefs of staff of individual member countries (CMUE); as well as the Union’s own military command, headed by a four-star general. The latter coordinates a 100,000-strong FRR (Rapid Action Force / Force de Réaction Rapide) and includes 400 fighter jets and 100 warships. Moreover, Article 44 of the Lisbon Treaty allows the Commission and COPS the option of mandating a group of member countries to carry out military missions on behalf of the whole Union. This is what informally happened after the adoption of UN resolution 1973 concerning Libya, at least in the first week of the intervention, when France and Britain were in the lead.

Whilst the European humanitarian intervention in Libya would have been sufficient to guarantee the safety of civilians in Benghazi, NATO’s leadership is sure to only complicate matters. The US, as its leader, is already militarily involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2003, it intervened in Baghdad unilaterally, without a UN mandate. The current US national security doctrine still maintains the Bush Jr. – era commitment to unilateral action, which is a worry in most capitals around the world. The presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia and of the US Navy in Bahrain does not make the US a selfless participant in the military action against Libya.

To be sure, NATO was designed as a military alliance against a much more powerful enemy, the Soviet Union, and not for fighting in a Mediterranean country of only 6 million inhabitants. Any military strategist would easily agree that you don’t need a cannon to hunt mosquitoes. By insisting on taking command of the operations, Washington and some of its European allies are stunting the evolution of the European Defence and Security policy. Moreover, the whole Western bloc now stands open to accusations of undertaking military operations not for assisting Libya, but to further its strategic objectives and interests in the region.

The European political leaders who gave in to the US’ relentless campaign to hand over the command of operations in Libya to NATO have thus hurt European interests, as well as those of countries in the Mediterranean region. This will become apparent in the weeks to come, as NATO was not designed for conflicts in this region and for small-calibre enemies like Gaddafi. In actual fact, it seems the American insistence to put NATO in charge was not motivated primarily by concern for the Libyan people, but by a willingness to prevent Europeans from operating an autonomous foreign and security policy in their own neighbourhood. If anything, this episode highlights NATO’s obsolescence, as it struggles to find an adequate role for itself in the 21st century.

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  1. The question is the costs-effect relations and here you can hardly get less efficient than US military bureaucracy in Brussels. Their new HQ costs 1 billion. Insane and wasteful. How does the value for money of the EU structure compare. The future is a slim NATO management and command structure and a strong EU defense policy architecture. Red tape has to be cut.

  2. Dear Florian,
    I like your writings about how the EU currently functions in the field of security and defense.
    But I find your concluding paragraphs about NATO inaccurate.

    First of all NATO shouldn’t only go to war with superpowers. Even if the enemy is like a mosquito it still requires good forces to win the war with the least possible damages.

    Secondly, the USA intervened even without the NATO umbrella. So did the French and the British. Through NATO these interventions can only become more efficient.

    Third, the Europeans could simply not agree in NATO taking control of the operations. Since they agreed we cannot possibly think that the American agenda is the only driving force behind the events. The European leaders also wanted NATO to take control, for whatever reason that may be.

    So is it the willingness of the Americans to “prevent” autonomous European action? Or is the Europeans who prefer NATO and the American assistance as the EU security and defense mechanisms are still ancillary compared to their potential capacities?

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