EDY KORTHALS ALTES
EDY KORTHALS ALTES
The first and foremost contribution from European states to a peaceful world is without any doubt the integration process itself. Finally, after two disastrous World Wars, a courageous attempt was made to overcome the devastating effects of nationalism. It was the dream of the founders of Europe—Schuman, Spaak, de Gasperi, Adenauer, and others—to create the conditions for durable peace among European nations. In particular, Jean Monnet played an outstanding role in dethroning the idols of European nationalism and forging a system of states in which nationalism was transcended. Monnet, combining vision with practical steps, achieved what was until then considered to be impossible. He convinced leading statesmen that the moment had come to replace the rule of the jungle between states by the rule of law in a zone of peace. Uniting people instead of states!
The integration process—notwithstanding all its difficulties—has been a successful endeavour. Since 1945, the countries of the EU live in peace among each other. The longest period ever in European history! A war between member states is henceforth inconceivable. Truly an impressive result after centuries of bloodshed! Soon after its start, the European Economic Community exercised a magnetic effect on an ever-widening circle of European nations. Membership increased in a relative short period from six to nine, twelve, and fifteen and in 2004 to even twenty-five states. In 2005, negotiations started for a further extension to Turkey, Romania, and other countries. Even before accession the integration effort had a positive effect. The sole perspective of joining the European zone of peace and prosperity caused prospective candidates to resolve long-lasting conflicts (e.g. between Hungary and Romania). The success of the European integration model is of the greatest geo-political significance in our present world as it sets a prominent example for other nations still in the ban of nationalism. It presents a convincing encouragement for the formation of other regional structures.
The European Union, comprising 25 states with well over 450 million people is unquestionably a major global actor. It is the greatest trading partner and produces nearly a quarter of the world’s Gross National Product. The EU, with its huge economic and financial resources, carries therefore a considerable responsibility for a peaceful, just and sustainable world order. Living up to this responsibility requires however an effective Foreign Policy.
Unfortunately, it took a long time before any progress in this field was made. Finally, during the Maastricht Summit in 1993, a historic decision was taken. The adoption of the Treaty on the European Union established a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). A beginning was also made with the progressive framing of a Common Defence Policy (ESDP), which might lead to a common defence. During subsequent EU Councils, some headway was made in the further development of the structure of a CFSP, comprising basic elements of a European Security and Defence policy.
The EU disposes now over a Minister of Foreign Affairs (combining this function with Secretary-General of the Council), a Policy and Early Warning Unit (joint analysis of international issues and their impact), a Political and Security Committee, a Military Committee and a Military Staff. A goal was also set to be able to deploy a force of 60.000 military personnel within 60 days.
The further development of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (comprising a European Defence Policy) received a serious setback with the rejection of the Draft Treaty on the European Constitution by a large part of the population in France and the Netherlands. At this moment an effective Foreign and Security Policy seems a far-fetched dream; a serious state of affairs, as we saw during the Bosnia conflict and the Iraq crisis. There is some truth in the statement that the EU is a giant in economic terms but politically speaking still a dwarf—most inopportune at this crucial moment in world history!
Some of the main reasons for the poor performance of the EU are:
One of the major obstacles on the road towards a relevant common foreign and security policy is the lack of common vision on external issues. Not only on the nature of the challenges but also on the means to deal with them. In most member states traditional patterns of thinking still persist, in some cases even historic feuds! Widely divergent views exist also between Atlantic-oriented countries and those who prefer a more continental approach. A painful divide between ‘old’ and ‘new’ member states manifested itself during the Iraq crisis. The latter nations showed a marked tendency to look upon the USA as their principal guardian for security—not surprisingly in view of their memories of the attitude of Western European nations on the eve of the Second World War and a Soviet occupation which lasted more than 40 years. These states however should realize that the European Union stands or falls with the implementation of solidarity in all domains. Not just in the economic field where the juicy fruits can be picked but also in external relations! A truly European spirit—a sense of belonging together—is an essential condition for resisting external pressures to split the member states.
Lack of common vision, together with elaborate procedural rules, does not facilitate the decision-making process. This notorious lack of unity among member states undermines the credibility of the EU in international affairs. Improvement in this lamentable situation is however unlikely as long as some member states persist in the power of veto.
The EU disposes over considerable soft power but its military power is insufficient for meeting acute challenges. This is an unnecessary state of affairs, as all EU countries together spend about 60% of the colossal US military budget. The low effectiveness of this huge amount of money is chiefly due to a lack of cooperation between EU partners. National interests often prevail over common European ambitions. Obviously there is a need to transform our militaries into more flexible, mobile forces in order to enable them to address the new threats. Strong pressures to increase defence budgets should however be resisted. This would put an unnecessary burden on taxpayers whereas other ways exist for enhancing prospects for an adequate military force. Much could already be achieved through better coordination, common procurement of military hardware, a more effective use of resources and a further adaptation of military forces to current force requirements.
The discussion about the need for a European Security policy has been going on for decades. Those in favour point to the necessity to uphold Europe’s identity in a world confronted with major security threats. At present the USA is the only superpower but huge powers are emerging. China and India are rapidly catching up while other nations like Japan, Russia, and Brazil already carry considerable weight. A divided Europe will be at prey of the whims of dominant powers. Even the larger European states—who used to play a world role in past centuries—will have difficulty withstanding the pressures from the giants on the international scene! More than ever Europeans should heed the wisdom of the classic dictum: United we stand, divided we fall!
On the other hand there are those who claim that the EU neither needs an independent security policy nor a separate military force. They fear a weakening of NATO, which is still seen as Europe’s best guarantee for security. This viewpoint however is ignoring the dramatic changes since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The vanishing of the communist threat and the emergence of new dangers created an entirely new situation. Furthermore there is the profound change in the security strategy of the United States of America. All these factors compel the European states to strive for a greater cohesion in their foreign policy. If they do not succeed in this effort, they will be relegated to the vassal status. A status, carrying considerable risks as it implies being held responsible for policies beyond our influence s—policies, which could be highly detrimental to essential European interests in the Middle East, North Africa and in the Eastern part of Europe! The war in Iraq should have taught us a lesson about the political and military dangers of being swept into military adventures with disastrous consequences!
A Common Foreign and Security Policy is a prime condition for protecting Europe’s vital interests. A close partnership with the USA is certainly of paramount importance but this should not go at the expense of peaceful and constructive relations with our immediate neighbours around the Mediterranean and with states on our Eastern border. Neither the good neighbour policy of the EU nor the development of mutual beneficial relations with the Middle East should be thrust aside by a mistaken sense of loyalty.
Apart from the necessity to preserve its vital interests in highly sensitive areas is the EU also carrying a responsibility as a global actor. As such it is committed to promote peace, justice and security in our world. This implies a full support for an effective and just international order in which a strengthened United Nations would be in a position to carry out its duties. Finally, there is the claim of the EU to be a community of values such as respect for human dignity, freedom, solidarity, democracy, and human rights. Values, which are not supposed to lose their meaning beyond European borders but have to be translated into effective policies dealing with urgent world problems.
Of vital importance—both for the EU and the US—are cordial, constructive and well balanced Atlantic relations. Hence this special section on some of the problems affecting this relationship. The drifting apart of the Atlantic partners started soon after the vanishing of the threat of the Soviet Empire. Major trade disputes and differences in perception of real and presumed security threats came to the fore.
The US—deeply aware of its overwhelming military power—did not shun the use of unilateral employment of military forces whereas European nations showed an obvious preference for soft power and the making use of the United Nations. On the other hand, we saw a growing irritation about European indecisiveness and inability to act promptly in crisis situations, even in its own backyard! The terrible events on 9/11 galvanized the American nation and prepared the way for a much tougher approach towards security threats. The ‘war on terrorism’ was declared and the world divided—in rather simplistic terms—between ‘those for or against us’. The United Nations was considered to be ineffective for coping with security threats.
The Document on American Security Strategy declared explicitly that unilateral preventive military action would be taken whenever considered necessary in the national interest. This severe blow against the order of international law—in particular against the UN—raised considerable worldwide anxiety, even among faithful allies in the Atlantic Alliance. The harmful consequences of this strategy soon became manifest during the military intervention in Iraq. Not only for millions of Iraqis, subjected to immense suffering, but also for the USA and Europe. Since then the security situation in our world has significantly deteriorated. Certainly, the cruel dictator Saddam was removed but the number of terrorists increased rapidly. Radicalism is spreading in the Islamic world and virulent anti-Americanism risks to spill over in an anti-Western mood. A highly dangerous development for Europe, not separated by an ocean from the Arab and Islamic world, but closely interconnected with it around the Mediterranean. The dependency on oil from the Middle East and the presence of nearly twenty million Muslims in our midst are also factors to take into account. Hence, the importance of a further development of mutual advantageous relations. European reluctance to participate in military actions in this sensitive region should be seen against this background.
Another matter of great significance for transatlantic relations is related to the changing role of NATO. The Atlantic Alliance, originally founded to preserve the security of all European allies, has been undergoing a dramatic change since the demise of the Soviet empire. Surely, it would be too simplistic to state that Nato’s role has changed from: an umbrella for all, to a sword for one. Still, it cannot be denied that the American administration has shown a tendency to utilize NATO mainly as an instrument to serve US global interests. The decision to extend military operations to areas outside the territory of the member states opens therefore the possibility of basic conflicts of interests between the Atlantic partners. Not an imaginary danger but a real possibility since the US embarked on a security strategy that envisages unilateral preventive military actions—a strategy, carrying the risk of getting involved in out of area conflicts where European states would prefer to adopt a more cautious approach. The China policy could serve here as an example. While the USA is effectuating a containment policy—which runs the risk of a serious conflict—are European nations making a serious effort to establish a constructive relationship.
Certainly, there will be cases where joint action within a NATO context is in the common interest. Bosnia and Afghanistan constitute just two examples. Enhanced cooperation in the struggle against global terrorism is another. There are also valid arguments for mutual consultations whenever a security threat arises. However, the EU would be well advised to come up first with its own assessment of the situation before participating in NATO deliberations. This prudent modus operandi is required as the actual robust American security strategy risks to jeopardize vital European interests in the Middle East, on Europe’s Eastern border and in other parts of the world. Joint action can no longer be taken for granted! Frankly speaking, we have to recognize that we are in a critical phase in which American and European interests do not always run parallel! Notwithstanding this unhappy state of affairs, there are still European politicians who prefer to stick to the traditional practice among Atlantic partners of consulting each other first before defining a EU point of view!
Although the rebuilding of the Atlantic partnership will be a difficult undertaking, it should be tried in view of its fundamental importance in a highly dynamic and insecure world. Especially now it is of crucial importance to remember that we, as Atlantic partners, have more in common than with any other world power! The Alliance rests not only on many bonds, shared values, and genuine feelings of friendship, but also on the magnitude of mutual economic interests. During the Cold War, there was above all the common perception of the formidable threat to our mutual security. Regrettably, this is no longer the case as divergent views persist on both sides of the Atlantic about the major threats to our security and the manner to handle these. Any healing of the gap must therefore begin by an effort to reach consensus on a small number of major threats to humanity. These are not just limited to WMD and Terrorism but should also include hunger, poverty, spreading of diseases and the alarming rate of environmental destruction. All of these are threatening human security. When every year millions of people die from hunger and disease, is this not only a moral scandal for the affluent nations but also a major risk to their security? The borderline between external and internal security has disappeared! It is therefore a dangerous illusion to think that in an interdependent world the rich countries could peacefully coexist with millions, living in abject poverty. Those, still clinging to the old concept of security, ignore the simple truth that meeting the basic needs of people—providing human security—is an essential condition for living in peace. There will be no peace without justice and solidarity! The same could be said for the urgent need to stop the progressive rate of the destruction of our natural environment.
In the present critical world situation it is of vital importance for the Atlantic partners to develop a common strategy. Addressing the key problems not as rivals but as partners, deeply aware that we are seated in the same boat! Hence, the relevance of a joint American- European effort to take a fresh look at six of the major threats to our security and the way these common threats are actually dealt with. Whether this should be done through NATO is however open for discussion.
Against the background of what has been said before, it makes sense to consider whether a High Level Group—between the EU and the USA—would not offer a better perspective for an effective partnership. Such a joint consultation might focus on some pertinent questions such as:
This joint attempt could also prove to be highly beneficial for a substantial improvement of the battered transatlantic relations!
There is however one caveat—for both partners! If the EU does not succeed in creating a more effective common foreign policy and the present unilateral American Security Strategy is not adapted, a further estrangement between European countries and the USA will be inevitable!
As mentioned before, progress has been made in recent years to arrive at a Common Foreign and Security Policy. In December 2003, Javier Solana, the EU minister of Foreign Affairs launched an important document on European Security Strategy under the heading: ‘A secure Europe in a better world.’ This first effort to define a European Security Strategy constitutes a long overdue start to arrive at a well-coordinated, comprehensive external policy. It contains several elements of a new comprehensive security concept. Yet, it is not free from certain ambivalence. Already in its introduction, the Report strikes a keynote:
The end of the Cold War has left the United States in a dominant position as a military actor. However, no single country is able to tackle today’s complex problems on its own.
A realistic assessment and at the same time an unmistakable warning not to be tempted by unilateralism!
The title of the Report suggests already that it seeks to situate Europe’s security in a worldwide context. In line with this sensible approach it opens with a brief sketch of some global challenges, such as poverty, hunger, and the spreading of disease in the developing world. It also acknowledges that these problems give rise to pressing security concerns. The Solana paper even states categorically that: ‘internal and external aspects of security are indissolubly linked’ and ‘Europe should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security and in building a better world.’ Therefore, it comes as a surprise that the Report falls short in drawing the conclusions from this analysis by not including these same urgent world problems in the subsequent enumeration of ‘Key Threats.’ The list remains limited to WMD, terrorism, regional conflicts, failed states, and organised crime. An inventory, which more or less corresponds with the narrow agenda of the US administration. A disappointing development, which is clearly a step backwards from earlier EU statements, which were more inclusive.
This omission to include major global challenges among the ‘Key Threats’ is of critical importance as it obscures the urgency for a far greater effort to deal effectively with these pressing problems. The impression, that the Solana paper is too much focussed on the military aspects, is supported by the repeated assertion:‘Security is a precondition for development.’ Obviously, a half-truth as there can be no question of true security without a just and sustainable development!
If Europe really wants ‘to share in the responsibility for global security and in building a better world,’ it should be prepared to implement its commitment to a culture of non-violence, based on a new comprehensive concept of security. Only then, there will be—in our interdependent, highly vulnerable world—a chance to deal effectively with the major threats to human security! There is definitely some truth in the statement that:
The best protection for our security is a world of well-governed democratic states. Spreading good governance, supporting social and political reform, dealing with corruption and abuse of power, establishing the rule of law and protecting human rights are certainly important for strengthening the international order…
However, all of this will be to no avail if the prosperous countries in the North do not demonstrate a greater willingness to take appropriate actions themselves. Here, a revision of several EU policies, particularly in the field of trade and agriculture, makes eminent sense. This would also be more in line with the realistic assessment in the Report that:
In contrast to the massive visible threat in the Cold War, none of the new threats is purely military; nor can any be tackled by purely military means. Each requires a mixture of instruments. Proliferation may be contained through export controls and attacked through political, economic and other pressures while the underlying political causes are also tackled.
Dealing with terrorism may require a mixture of intelligence, police, judicial, military and other means…The EU is particularly well equipped to respond to such multi-faceted situations.
Notwithstanding this level-headed recognition of the complexity of issues and the limitations of military power, there is a little phrase, which opens the door for preventive military adventures. In the section on Strategic Objectives we read, after a reference to the traditional concept of self-defence: ‘With the new threats, the first line of defence will be often abroad. The new threats are dynamic.’ Is this an endorsement of the Bush Doctrine? If so, how does this relate to the implicit rejection of the unilateral approach in the section on An International Order based on Effective Multilateralism? The report notes also that:
we are committed to upholding and developing International Law. The fundamental framework for international relations is the United Nations Charter. The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Strengthening the UN, equipping it to fulfil its responsibilities and to act effectively, is a European priority.
In an interesting paragraph about the relations with the USA, we read:
The transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable. Acting together, the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world. Our aim should be an effective and balanced partnership with the USA.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that the EU, together with the USA could be a formidable force for good in the world. If we would join forces to meet the major global challenges, we could—in fact—contribute to a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world order. Yet, as indicated before, I have some doubts whether this could be achieved in the context of NATO. The predominant position of the USA and the actual American Security Strategy does not favour such a perspective. Hence is the earlier suggestion to create a bilateral High Level Group!
One of the priorities for the EU is the development of good relations with the neighbouring countries of the enlarged EU. This is clearly recognized in the Solana paper:
Our task is to promote a ring of well governed countries to the East of the European Union and on the borders of the Mediterranean with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations.
The Report draws from this sensible assessment the conclusion that the resolution of the Arab/Israeli conflict should be a strategic priority for Europe. The same could be said about our relations with our Eastern Neighbours. Here again actions should be avoided which may lead to distrust and estrangement.
The concluding section on policy implications is rather meagre as it appears to look at the world primarily from a military perspective and falls short to deal with other urgent global challenges:
We need to be able to act before countries around us deteriorate, when signs of proliferation are detected, and before humanitarian emergencies arise. Preventive engagement can avoid problems that are more serious in the future. A European Union, which takes greater responsibility and which is more active will be one which carries greater political weight.
Certainly, the EU needs to be more active, more capable, and more coherent. However, this should apply to the full spectrum of global challenges, not just to the military threats. After all what was said at an earlier stage about major global challenges and the limited use of military means one would rather expect to see a number of policy recommendations for a much wider agenda. Conflict prevention and threat prevention should be seen in this wider context!
There is certainly a need to transform our militaries into more flexible, mobile forces in order to enable them to address the new threats. However—as stated before—this should not be achieved by making more funds available for defence but by greater cooperation and rationalization. In this connection the fundamental question must be raised whether the huge military forces, with their ultra-modern expensive equipment, are not more designed for meeting requirements of a major war than for dealing with actual military challenges. But how realistic is this approach in view of the apocalyptic potential of modern weapons and the extreme vulnerability of modern society? Should the EU therefore not come out much stronger for a comprehensive concept of peace and security, offering a greater chance on survival?
Secondly—directly related to the previous point—is the urgent need to reconsider present priorities in spending in the light of the actual global challenges. Worldwide military expenditures have reached astronomical proportions while only a fraction of this amount is spent on major global challenges. The EU could effectively contribute to a better world if it would muster the vision and courage to revise present priorities in spending.
In final analysis, it could be said that the Solana report—notwithstanding its incontestable merits—suffers from a certain ambivalence. It definitely provides refreshing insights for a constructive EU policy but at the same time, it cannot be denied that it contains also some elements based on a concept of security, which belongs to the past.
Some of the weak points in the Report are:
The great merit of the Solana Report is that it provides a first sketch of a European Foreign and Security Policy, reflecting a sense for a new comprehensive security concept in a multi-polar world. From its concluding observations emerges a deep awareness of Europe’s potential and vocation:
An active and capable European Union would make an impact on a global scale. In doing so it would contribute to an effective multilateral system leading to a fairer, safer and more united world.
Hence the relevance of reflecting on the next steps on the road of the EU towards a better world!
The distinct ‘No’ of France and the Netherlands to the Draft Constitution has dealt a serious blow to a CFSP. There is therefore little reason for optimism about an effective role of the EU in the field of Peace and Security. Still there is hope that the crisis will be overcome as soon as Europeans wake up to the formidable challenges confronting our continent. Hence, this effort to sketch in a few lines is what this contribution eventually might involve.
To begin with: the EU should not aspire to become a dominant, self-centred, awe inspiring military power; a ‘fortress of Europe,’ mainly interested in maintaining its own prosperity and security was definitely not the intention of those who stood at the cradle of the integration process. It would also constitute a betrayal of Europe’s highest values. Surely, the EU should dispose over a correct mixture of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power, in order to serve peace and security in a global world.
However, when it has to decide to use military force this should always be according to international law and within the context of the United Nations. Ultimately the ‘humane approach’ will prove to be the only reasonable and realistic way.
A major contribution of the EU to peace and security has resulted from the extension of its zone of peace and prosperity. This will probably inspire other regions to close ranks thus eliminating causes for conflict. Beyond this notable achievement the EU could—if it musters the political will and lives up to its values—perform a constructive role if it succeeds in developing an effective CFSP comprising:
The present crisis in the EU makes it unlikely that the above goals will be realized at the short term. As long as there is no sense of ‘commonality’ among the 25 member states, a CFSP will yield only meagre results, reflecting the lowest common denominator. However, the dynamics to the international situation will not wait until Europeans have finally solved their differences. On the contrary, in the coming years European nations will be confronted with urgent challenges. Challenges, which directly involve essential interests. It is therefore of paramount importance that member states sharing a common vision get together and make full use of the provisions in the Nice Treaty of 2001 for enhanced cooperation on matters of foreign policy. If this opportunity is used, the present crisis could even be a blessing in disguise! Reaching agreement among 25 member states is—under present circumstances—extremely difficult. However, a smaller group of likeminded states could agree on an effective approach. This ‘coalition of the willing’ could carry the torch of Europe’s freedom! Eventually others will reinforce their ranks!
Edy Korthals Altes (1924-2021) was a Dutch diplomat with a degree in economics, who served as Deputy Permanent Representative at the EEC in Brussels, and as Ambassador in Warsaw, and finally in Madrid. He resigned in 1986 in connection with his public stance on the arms race. He was an outspoken proponent of global peace and security, inter-religious cooperation, and spiritual renewal as Vice Chairman of the Dutch chapter of the Pugwash Movement (1987-95), Chairman of the Section International Affairs of the Netherlands Council of Churches (1990-96), Co-president EECOD (European Ecumenical Commission on Development, 1991-93), Member EKD Advisory Commission for Development Affairs (1992-97, Germany) and President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (1994-99, Honorary President 1999-2004).