Reinventing a political balance on security
By Nicolas Gros-Verheyde | Friday 16 January 2009
On security, Barack Obama will be faced with an entirely different situation in Europe than that encountered by George W. Bush when he took office, even for his second term.
On the one hand, the new member states have been fully integrated into the Union. And while their Atlantic leanings remain intact, this attitude is no longer synonymous with opposition to Europe of defence. The Iraqi experience in particular has sounded the knell of blind loyalty.
On the other, the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is fully operational. Unquestionably, the four operations conducted recently – in Chad (land-based military operation), Somalia (naval aviation military operation), Kosovo (rule of law) and Georgia (monitoring) – spelled out a change in the nature of operating capabilities and intervention policies, being observed closely in Washington. The EU is now autonomous and can deploy troops to places where the United States or NATO cannot.
What is more, the United States – bogged down in Afghanistan and with a fragile victory in Iraq – is no longer the superpower of the past decade. The emergence, with Europe, of Russia or China could demand more compromises – or burden sharing – than in past years.
EUROPE OF DEFENCE (ESDP)
After taking a wait-and-see attitude, when not outrightly hostile, the United States is suddenly warming up to ESDP. In Bucharest last April, George Bush acknowledged the usefulness of Europe of defence. In practical terms, US police officers have served in the EULEX Kosovo mission and an American military expert is taking part in the army reform mission in Guinea-Bissau. Another is expected to join the mission in Congo. The further development of these relations could well be on the agenda.
A EUROPEAN SECURITY PACT
The proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a new security pact – greeted with condescendence across the Atlantic – was nevertheless welcomed by several European partners (France, Germany or Spain) as an advance worth considering, even though its content is still very vague for the moment, if only to help restore relations of confidence with Russia. Review of the proposal cannot be separated from the need for a revamping of two other security organisations in Europe – NATO (military) and the OSCE (diplomatic).
A NEW NATO?
The end of the Cold War took the Euro-Atlantic organisation by surprise. It has repositioned itself as a global security operator. The war in Georgia, in August 2008, may have marked the end of what had appeared to be endless expansionism. Some states (in Eastern Europe) are concerned that the organisation may take on operations all over the world and abandon their security. Is there a need for the return to the territorial defence that was the glory of NATO during the 1950s and 1960s? In terms of organisation, several states – particularly in Western Europe – are campaigning for better inclusion of the non-American partners and the creation of a genuine European pillar in the alliance. In an open letter to Obama, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) states that NATO needs a "new orientation". This dual debate is expected to culminate at the Kehl-Strasbourg summit, just as the reintegration of France in most of the organisation's commands is set to bring an end to an era of mutual suspicion. Obama's visit to Europe, his first as US president, will in itself be an event.
ENGAGEMENT IN AFGHANISTAN
The dual US strategy in Afghanistan – led under cover of NATO and directly through Operation Enduring Freedom – is increasingly subject to public criticism, even by high-ranking officers. British and German generals are the most virulent critics. German General Egon Ramms, commander of NATO's Allied Joint Force, stated in
Stern magazine that the strategy of deploying high numbers of reinforcements, approved by the candidate Obama, was the wrong approach. "The alliance should not try to control the whole country, just the zones with the biggest population." General Mark Carleton-Smith, commander of the British troops in the alliance, echoes that view. In an interview in
The Times in early October, he explained that NATO could not win this war and that the objective should now be to keep the rebels' activity down to a level that can be controlled by the Afghan army.
Will the agreement signed by the United States, Poland and the Czech Republic for the installation of a US anti-missile shield (radar and anti-missile ramp) be confirmed? During the US election campaign, the advisers to the Democratic candidate stated that the continuation of the programme would depend on its usefulness, cost and objective. If it is not dropped, the programme may undergo a change of orientation, as explained by Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, after a meeting last September with Obama: "the principle of a shield, provided it is not directed towards Russia".
Robert 'Bob' Gates, a Bush devotee
He has served as defence secretary under Republican George W. Bush since November 2006 (succeeding Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned). Surprisingly, he will stay in the job under the Democrat Obama. Born in 1943, Gates earned a bachelor's degree in European history and a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history (1974). He joined the CIA in 1966 and moved up the ranks to the director's seat (1991-93) in spite of a controversy over arms deliveries to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries. He was also deputy adviser in the National Security Council under President George H. W. Bush (senior) from 1989 to 1991. After leaving the CIA, he headed the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.