United States Attitudes toward European Defense

European Security and Defense Policy: Development and Prospects

United States Attitudes toward European Defense

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The Background to the Dilemma:

In December of 1991, the Soviet Union – Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” – ceased to exist. Communism was dead. The Cold War over. Long live freedom and democracy! The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was replaced by a weak and impoverished federation of fifteen republics. America stood alone. She had become – in some of the favorite words of the current Bush Administration- the world’s sole superpower. Not even Imperial Rome had enjoyed such eminence. America was Atlas, embracing the Globe. Her corporations dominated the international economy. Her artists, writers, filmmakers, scientists, and entrepreneurs set the standards that others must follow. On every continent, in every country, American products, fashions, and ideas proliferated, captivating the imaginations of the young and the upwardly-mobile. Millions dreamed of coming to the “home of freedom and democracy.” The United States seemed a favored land, a blessed land, a land that was secure like no other, safe inside a nuclear fortress of its own making. Yet the Cold War had represented a unique paradigm. America had allied herself with the nations of Europe against the perceived threat of the Soviet Union. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was a military alliance of the West against the Soviet Bloc. Dominated by the United States, it compelled the nations of Western Europe to adopt a status that was secondary to that of America. American military bases under American commanders dotted the European continent. NATO’s Supreme Commander was always an American. During the days of the Cold War, NATO’s role – and America’s – was clear. But with the demise of the “Great Satan,” the chief reason for overt American involvement in European military affairs was no longer applicable. Or was it? Would the United States continue to play a major role in European affairs?

Many times, a nation so identifies itself with a single policy that that policy becomes absorbed into the larger issues of national character, economy, and so forth. Ever since the last days of the Second World War, the United States of America had positioned itself as the one country that could maintain order in the civilized, non-democratic world. President Harry S. Truman’s Marshall Plan recognized that America required the support of other like-minded states, nations that similarly believed in the importance of capitalist free markets, and which were governed by American-like representative systems.

The economic revival of Western Europe was the most important, but not the only, purpose of the Marshall Plan. The Truman administration also viewed the plan as a crucial weapon in its battle to contain the expansionist impulses of the Soviet Union. It was on this basis that the plan was sold to a reluctant Congress and to the American people, neither of whom had displayed much enthusiasm until now for massive foreign aid programs. But American policymakers had long since concluded that Communism prospered in the midst of poverty, social dislocation, and political instability. Thus, they argued that the Marshall Plan could reduce the influence of local Communist Parties (particularly where they were strong, as in France and Italy) by raising Western Europe’s standard of living, thereby enhancing the popularity of centrist [European] politicians.

The result of this thinking was the development of an American economy, and political ethos that were essentially outward-looking, and which as well, were preeminently concerned with infrastructural and military needs.

A major result of these concerns was the enormous growth in power and influence of America’s energy companies and arms manufacturing corporations. Considered the cornerstone of the nation’s prosperity and strength, this “Military-Industrial Complex” rapidly came to wield vast amounts of political power and influence. In the name of national defense, and the war against communism, politicians increasingly molded government policies and programs to suit the needs of these industries. Huge amounts of public money were spent on arming and equipping America’s burgeoning military. Government programs encouraged the production of new and ever more deadly weapons, aircraft, tanks, and sundry other tools of both defensive and offensive warfare. International alliances and interventions were tailored to meet the needs of the country’s oil and gas, and arms executives. As early as January 17, 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Increasingly, diplomatic crises were seen as justifying the trend toward a greater militarization and corporatization of American society and culture. Clever industrialists, and their allies, used the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 to claim that the United States was woefully unprepared to deal with a real nuclear conflict. “A coalition of defense contractors, Democratic politicians, and the Pentagon — the so-called military-industrial complex… accused the [Kennedy] administration of wholesale neglect of national defense and called for a massive increase in spending on missile development. Such cries of alarm came despite the massive amounts that had only recently been spent on shoring up and expanding America’s defenses. Americans had already been frightened by a perceived Soviet edge in the fields of science and technology, “Sputnik” serving to alter national priorities. H-Bombs, supersonic aircraft, nuclear submarines, and the like, were touted as the keys to the Free World’s survival. It was not so much a matter of rapidly constructing and deploying these new weapons, but rather it was a technological race. The true success of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the real achievement of the first manned space launch, was what they represented in terms of possibilities. Sputnik may have been only a blip on the screen of human genius, but what it foretold – or appeared to foretell – was Soviet domination of an increasingly mechanized and “electronicized” future. The fact that Sputnik had happened at all was proof positive that the United States lagged far behind in the wherewithal to develop new technologies. The entire public mood would have to be reshaped. Working together, “for the good of the nation,”

An alliance of educators, defense contractors, and congressional Democrats passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958. It called for spending $5 billion on higher education in the sciences, foreign languages, and humanities to counter the perceived Soviet threat.

For the United States, the 1960s would prove to be a decade of considerable technological advancement. As put forward in the Preamble to the 1960 Republican Convention Platform,

The United States is living in an age of profoundest revolution. The lives of men and of nations are undergoing such transformations as history has rarely recorded. The birth of new nations, the impact of new machines, the threat of new weapons, the stirring of new ideas, the ascent into a new dimension of the universe — everywhere the accent falls on the new.

The “new” threat of a communist victory fueled by communist technology became the mantra of an age. There was little that could not be justified by returning to the perceived dangers of American inaction on these fronts. Whether the real difference between West and East, between the capabilities of the Soviet Bloc, and the United States and Western Europe, was more hype than hazard, mattered little. It served the interests of the military-industrial elite. The United States government dramatically increased investment in research programs at various institutions of higher learning. Reaching some two billion dollars (in 1982 dollars) by 1960, this represented a five-fold increase over similar spending prior to the Second World War. American corporations, most especially those involved directly or indirectly in the production of armaments and the technology needed to operate them, could now depend on massive infusions of government money to sustain their own operations and research. And through the “spill over effect” in which technology developed for one purpose – for example, the military – could be put to others uses, corporations found themselves in possession of a highly profitable “invention mill” for, “It was well understood from at least the early 1960s that successful new industrial product development efforts generated benefits accruing to entities other than the firms carrying out the development.” The government would finance companies’ continuing research and development in the case of both military and non-military projects.

Advanced technology, however, soon became an end unto itself – even for the United States Government. More than just a means for the state to provide weapons for defense (and offense), it became inextricably linked to matters of national pride; national pride too being bound up with national and international defense. Possessing the most advanced technology was tantamount to being the lead nation. According to this line of thought, the United States of America controlled NATO, and played a leading role in European affairs by virtue of her technological preeminence. This technological preeminence was something that had to be preserved at all costs, for without it, America would be forced to give way. In the “alliance of equals,” that was NATO during the Cold War; no nation could be permitted to hold a rank as “equal” as that of the United States. A classic example of this mindset is to be found in the following anecdote, from the pen of an eyewitness:

prime example of [this] behavior in my personal experience was U.S. reluctance to tell our NATO allies what we knew from satellite reconnaissance about Soviet deployments of missiles aimed at European targets — when they were bound to learn about them sooner or later. A wave of common sense inundated that policy when in 1966 Robert McNamara, as Secretary of Defense, handed to allied defense ministers, in the top-secret precincts of the Joint Chiefs’ War Room, the satellite photos we had been withholding until then…. I can still vividly recall the shocked expressions on the faces of the security men lining the walls as McNamara dove into his briefcase and tossed onto the table for international inspection the prize examples of our space-based photography. After that it became routine to share with our NATO allies what our declared adversaries already knew.

Thus, as the United States was building up its own technology and economy as it “defended the free world,” it was also building up quite a store of resentment. Being number one – and even worse, throwing it in everyone’s face that you are number one – is bound to have repercussions. Western Europe had submitted to American domination because it had had to. Once the Cold War was over, on the other hand, things would be different… very different.

After the Cold War: A New Europe vs. The Same Old United States

The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War left Western Europe suddenly free of a major burden. Nations and peoples could now evolve without the threat of instant annihilation. But the democratic states of Europe had been moving in new directions all along, ever since the end of the Second World War. A patchwork of fiercely competitive independent nation-states was gradually being superseded by an increasingly close-knit “European Union.” What had begun as economic cooperation was rapidly progressing toward cooperation in all fields. Simply put, the European dream was the elimination of boundaries, and the creation of a United Europe; a United Europe that could hold its own against other great powers such as the United States. This united Europe would be strong enough to manage its own affairs, wealthy enough to pursue its own research and development, clever enough to form its own alliances, and powerful enough to provide for its own defense – a scary thought for that large nation “across the pond.” Exercised over a period of more than two generations, America’s hegemony had come to seem a part of the national character – a role that the United States was destined to fill. American military might, American economic strength, American diplomatic prowess, and above all, American virtue had made this new world possible. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and communism, had fallen because America had caused them to fall. America was the brilliant exception:

America’s canonical commitments to liberty, equality, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire somehow exempt it from the historical forces that have led to the corruption of other societies…. The concept flows through the rhetoric of nearly every American President, from Washington’s Farewell Speech, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to Reagan’s image of a shining city on the hill, to nearly every post-September 11 speech of George W. Bush.

Yet Europe had its own ideas about the lessons of history. The extreme devastation and dislocation of the Second World War had produced a situation that was unique in Modern Times. Europe’s three great powers from before the War – the United Kingdom, France, and Germany – had emerged from the War very different nations. The world empires of Britain and France were moribund. Britain would lose India by 1947, and the remainder of the colonies, both British and French, would fall away during the twenty-odd years that would mark the height of the Cold War. In 1945, Germany was a ruined land, the photographs and films of a bombed out Berlin – with hardly a building left standing – testaments to an evil polity, and to an arrogant nation humbled by the catastrophic consequences of the myths of its own invincibility. Europe had acceded to the continued, large-scale American presence on its own soil, only as a result of the anomalous conditions prevailing at the end of the Second World War. Stalin’s armies were vast, and his behavior at Yalta, coupled with his real-life grab at half of Europe proved the immanence of the Communist Threat. Europe could not defend itself, so America would take upon itself the burden of defending “the free world.” What the United States failed to recognize, however, was that the Post-World War situation was not a permanent condition. The states of Western Europe had been leading economic and military powers prior to the start of the war, and given their highly-educated populace, and considerable resources, they would one day be so again.

America’s view of the international system betrayed an ignorance and misunderstanding of the requirements for the maintenance of an effective international order. Because of our own relatively short historical experience as a nation-state and our even shorter active participation in world affairs, we did not have the perspective to assess the very unusual features of the post-1945 world. Lacking that perspective, we were encouraged to overstress its bipolarity. What was not appreciated was the degree to which bipolarity itself was the temporary reflection of a postwar aberration, that it deviated from the norm of international relations experience, and that it could not and would not last.

Europe’s first break from the American military camp was Charles de Gaulle’s France. By withdrawing from the military arm of NATO, de Gaulle was responding to France’s strong nationalist tradition. He was also proving that a modern European nation was fully capable of the kinds of technological and military achievements that, for a brief moment in time, had seemed to be exclusively American. The creation of a nuclear force de frappe by France under de Gaulle, could serve greater purposes than simply the protection of France and of France’s own national interests.

A force de frappe indirectly served European defense. Since France, unlike the United States, was a part of the continent, its national defense was indistinguishable from that of Western Europe; it was no island unto itself. In creating an independent national force, France kept Europe’s political future open. “By defending our own independence,” Prime Minister Georges Pompidou maintained before the National Assembly in 1966, “we are defending most of Europe to which we belong, and we are the real Europeans. www.questia.com/PM.qst?action=getPage&docId=9121083&keywords=%22withdrawal%20from%20Nato%22” Under French leadership, in possession of nuclear strike “forces, a new European security equilibrium would supposedly arise that would break the superpower control over Europe and would rest on the solid footing of preceding accord among the European states.”

Such thinking would pave the way for a more independent European policy after the Cold War.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought about other changes as well. Germany, which had been divided into two nations ever since the end of the Second World War, was now pushing for reunification. Furthermore, the new Russia released its hold on Eastern Europe, setting at liberty the numerous nations that had been imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain. Desperately poor and backward like Russia herself, these smaller states raised the specter of the “failed state,” and of a Europe haunted by the political, social, and economic consequences of failed Communists policies. The disaffection and dissatisfaction of the Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Hungarians, East Germans, and others, could spill over into the more economically secure, more highly developed lands of the West. If “Free Europe” were to survive and flourish, it must help its less fortunate brethren, or be sucked down by them. The only answer to the problem was greater European unity, greater unity not only among the extant members of the European Union, but a unity that would embrace all of Europe – or at least as much of it as could be drawn into the Western orbit. A united Europe could now provide for itself, not only economically, but also socially, and militarily.

The end of the cold war… dramatically altered the European security environment and generated new pressures for foreign and defense policy cooperation. To begin with, the collapse of communism transformed a stable bipolar order into a more uncertain security situation. Instead of military attack from the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, Western Europe was now confronted by less direct and more diffuse security threats stemming from political and economic instability in the former Soviet bloc…. Another challenge was posed by German reunification and the consequent need to firmly bind a united Germany to European political and security institutions…. The end of the cold war transformed not only the regional political and security environment but also that of the entire world. The so-called New World Order promised to be a much more complex and pluralistic system, with a greater role for new centers of economic and political power. As such, this order created new opportunities and challenges for the Community to fulfill its ambitions of becoming a unified external political actor.

Meeting at Maastricht, the nations of the European Union embarked on a campaign for greater coordination on all levels. Immediately, defense was recognized as one of the areas most desperately in need of reform. France and Germany proposed the creation of their own joint force, a sizeable military contingent that would be neither under the direct control of NATO, nor apparently, of the European Union. The suggestion set into motion the arguments over precisely who was responsible for the continent’s defense. It also greatly alarmed the United States, for to organize a European force that was outside the purview of NATO was to create an armed body that was beyond the direct control of the world’s “sole superpower.” However, given the recent momentous events, too much change all at once might not necessarily be to the benefit even of those European countries that most ardently desired these changes to occur.

The advocates of an independent European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) like France, and increasingly Germany, needed NATO’s strength for the interim period. However, they did not want to extend its primacy in European security. At least this was the perception of Atlanticist states like Britain. America needed a stronger European force in the future but not a weak NATO now. Germany and Britain had to pursue both objectives (NATO primacy and ESDI development) but for different reasons and with different attachments. Britain could not afford to have its affinity for NATO cause it to be left out of ESDI. Germany could not afford to have its support for France’s ESDI policy weaken NATO’s (America’s) guarantee.

Europe was beginning to flex its muscles, but only just. For the moment, disagreement among the European member states themselves would serve as a guarantee of a continued powerful American presence on both sides of the Atlantic. And, under the administration of the first George Bush, the idea of a strong European security force was not without its merits. As America was beginning to assert its post-Cold War, “world’s policeman” role, it needed to be sure that it wasn’t overextending itself in areas of the globe closer to home, and more traditionally dear to American interests. The first Bush Administration had been reluctant to even acknowledge that, in fact, the Cold War was coming to an end. For America, the dream was to have the best of both worlds: the elimination of its chief – and in its eyes – only rival, and the continued cultivation of those situations that had proven so beneficial to itself.

The end of the Cold War… reinforced Washington’s sympathy for European integration. The liberation of Eastern Europe had to be buttressed financially and commercially and with the Reagan administration having run up huge budget and trade deficits, Washington now left much of the initiative for economic dealings with Eastern Europe to the EC.

A strong EC was seen as even more useful in integrating a reunited Germany in Europe. The United States encouraged German unification, but with a united Germany bound to become the leading Western European power, its further integration in the EC, as well as in NATO of course, was seen as essential for continued stability. The EC was also valuable in a general burden-sharing perspective. The American desire for burden-sharing was underlined by developments such as the Gulf War

So, the transatlantic “partnership” could still be preserved, with the advantage and the initiative still on the side of the United States of America.

Nationalist sentiments among the European Union’s member nations ensured that NATO – and by extension America – would continue to play the leading role in European military affairs. In particular, it was the former world powers that provided the greatest amount of nationalist resistance to total integration. Great Britain had long held itself somewhat apart from the continent, gravitating instead toward its fellow English-speaking sister across the sea, and the United States was glad to cultivate the “special relationship.” Moreover, France, the old rival for empire of both the United Kingdom and Germany could not see itself completely subsumed into a new pan-Europe in which Germany and German interests must necessarily predominate. America’s leaders saw clearly that Maastricht could be used to serve both ends. Maastricht would satisfy the new American requirement that Europe assume some of the burdens of its own defense, thus freeing up America to act elsewhere, while at the same time, European fears of what total integration would bring guaranteed that the United States would always be needed as a counterweight in European affairs. America would play up these questions about Europe’s future by having recourse to President John F. Kennedy statement of almost thirty years before, that the United States was seeking in Europe a partner, “with whom we can deal on a basis of full equality”

So the American response to Maastricht was to fall back onto the virtues it held so dear. The concept of equality had always been central to America’s image of itself, and it had – and would continue to – offer a unique approach to foreign affairs. It gave to the United States the sense that it always holds the moral high ground, even if,

Such statements ring a little hollow. As we have seen, it is highly doubtful that the United States has ever wanted a Europe really equal to the U.S. As long as there is a definite, although well-contained, rivalry among the major powers of the EU, there can be no equality between the United States and Western Europe. Were a really united EU to emerge, this would be so strong a unit that there would be virtually no need for the EU to draw upon the military and political resources of the United States…. Under isolationism the United States feared Europe since it saw itself as weak. When, after the Second World War, it was itself strong, it promoted Europe’s integration. When America’s position began to weaken in the 1960s, its support for European integration faltered too. Nixon saw the U.S. As declining; he stopped America pushing the Europeans towards some sort of federal structure.

Unfortunately, American dreams of an easy ride as world leader took a jolting turn at Saint Malo in 1998. The plan for a Common European Security and Defense Policy, or CESDP, that emerged from the conference held at this French seaside resort widened the gulf between an integrating European Union, and a controlling United States of America. “Some Americans fear that the EU views ESDP as a tool to liberate Europe from American domination and become a global counterweight to U.S. preeminence.” Europe, for its part, was demanding a larger, and more “European,” role in its own defense. Through the 1990s, the United States had strongly resisted any attempts to revise NATO’s charter in recognition of the changed circumstances.

Thus, when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, the old protocols still held true, though they had been designed for a Cold War world, and to counter the threat of a Soviet invasion. Many European NATO countries were reluctant to support the United States directly in its planned invasion of Afghanistan – the American response to the September 11 attacks – much less to actually commit themselves militarily. Nevertheless, both Britain and France came out in support of the invasion. France even cited Article V of the NATO Constitution – the “all for one” clause.

The September 11 Attacks, and the European NATO Members’ response to those attacks might have seemed to reinforce the traditional alliance. After all, NATO had certainly offered no resistance to American plans, and France’s very specific resort to the NATO constitution appeared to confirm the continued existence of a NATO that was U.S. dominated and largely U.S. staffed. And so the matter might have rested were it not for the Bush administration’s surprising response to the situation:

The U.S. administration made two moves that weakened the resolve of the newly formed alliance and put NATO on the path to obsolescence. U.S. President George Bush announced before the U.S. Congress that every country in the world was either “with us or against us,” and called the tragedy an attack against the United States and a casus belli. Simultaneously, U.S. diplomats told European states that their military support would be unnecessary. These states were put in a diplomatic limbo of being “with” the United States, but also being unwanted military partners in the fight against terrorism.

It was the end of the Second World War all over again. The United States wanted Europe (and the world) on its side, but it would handle the fight against this new enemy, an enemy George W. Bush did his best to convince humanity was as grave a threat as that once posed by Adolf Hitler. Far from the somewhat ambivalent attitude of the two previous American presidents toward the relative American and European roles in NATO, this president was making it clear that the United States was striking out on its own. NATO was irrelevant, because all non-United States forces and organizations were irrelevant. The United States of America would determine the tack of public discourse and events, not only in the “Homeland,” but also in Europe, and in fact, in the rest of the world. This was the ultimate power grab, and the new Europe would have to wrestle with it. George W. Bush was redefining the very meaning of the term “ally.”

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Jonathan Chavez, “Pleading the Fifth: Adapting NATO’s Article V,” Harvard International Review 24.4 (2003). http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000643531

Jonathan Chavez, “Pleading the Fifth: Adapting NATO’s Article V,” Harvard International Review 24.4 (2003).

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