Europe's Cutting Edge

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Europe's Cutting Edge


    The Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma: France, Britain, and the ESDP

    Jolyon Howorth (Yale University)

    To be published in special issue of Journal of Transatlantic Studies 2005/1

    “NATO Adrift”

    Edited by Sten Rynning

    - circulated on condition that they not be cited other than with the full reference to the

    relevant publication! -

Introduction: The Paradoxes of Franco-British Security Relations

    There is a paradox in the Franco-British security relationship. The two sides cannot

    1manage European security policy without one another; yet they have enormous difficulty, where Transatlantic policy is concerned, in working with one another.

    This tension is unhelpful both to the intra-European security project and to NATO. Its resolution would considerably enhance both. For fifty years (1947-1997), Britain and France effectively stalemated any prospect of serious European cooperation on security issues by their contradictory interpretations of the likely impact in Washington of the advent of serious European military muscle. I call this the Euro-

    Atlantic Security Dilemma. London feared that, if Europe demonstrated genuine

    ability to take care of itself militarily, the US would revert to isolationism. Paris expressed confidence that the US would take even more seriously allies who took

    2themselves seriously. Both approaches were based on speculation and on normative aspirations rather than on hard strategic analysis.

Prior to the Saint-Malo summit of December 1998, a robust European Security and

    Defence Policy (ESDP) simply could not exist. As long as France and Britain remained at loggerheads over the resolution of the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma, impasse reigned.

     1 European understood as representing the combined interests of European member states as distinct

    from but not in opposition or even contradistinction to the interests of the USA/NATO 2 On this, see my “Britain, France and the European Defence Initiative”, Survival, Volume 42, No.2,

    (2000), 33-55.


    At most, the EU might aspire, as it did, to generate a distinct security and defence “identity” (ESDI) from inside NATO. This was the solution adopted at the NATO Council in January 1994 when, for the first time, the US agreed that it would be advantageous for both sides if the Europeans could galvanise their military potential from within the Alliance. In June 1996, at the NATO ministerial in Berlin, agreement

    3was reached on what became known as the “Berlin Plus” arrangements. But Berlin

    Plus could only ever be, at most a necessary facilitating mechanism, at its most limited a stop-gap measure to allow time for the Europeans to move towards military autonomy. Only when the two countries agreed to focus on serious security

    4cooperation could ESDP come into its own. Yet the Saint-Malo agreement to

    cooperate was itself charged with ambivalence. The UK went to Saint-Malo convinced that, unless the EU became serious about military capacity, the Atlantic Alliance was doomed. London, it appeared, had finally embraced the long-standing French position on the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma. France attended the summit believing that the achievement of European capacity would at least temporarily

    have to be facilitated by NATO via the Berlin Plus mechanisms. The UK was engaged in an Atlanticist strategy facilitated by the tactical construction of a European instrument (ESDP). France was engaged in a Europeanist strategy facilitated by the tactical embrace of NATO assets. This fundamental tension continued for several years to infuse and confuse the story of ESDP.

    After Saint-Malo, the high points and low points of ESDP as a project and as a policy were dictated largely by the closeness or the distance, at any moment in time, between

    5Paris and London. Paris periodically flirts with the notion that the special relationship with Berlin can be meaningfully extended to the field of security and defence. But policy-makers across the EU are conscious of the severe limitations of that bilateral “motor” in this particular policy area. For several months in 2003, at the height of the European crisis over the Iraq War, France engaged in a process which

     3 The “Berlin Plus” arrangements refer to the mechanisms whereby the EU may borrow assets from NATO/theUS in order to carry out crisis management operations. They involver “assured access” to NATO operational planning, “presumption of availability” to the EU of NATO/US capabilities and common assets; and NATO European command options for EU-led operations. The resolution of this issue allowed the EU and NATO to make a landmark Declaration on ESDP (16 December 2002)

    providing a formal basis for strategic partnership between the two organizations in the area of crisis management and conflict prevention. 4 The P standing for Policy but also for purpose, project, programme 5 See my “France, Britain and the Euro-Atlantic Crisis”, Survival, Vol.45/4, November 2003, 173-192


    implied the exclusion of the UK from the ESDP mainstream. The attempt to inject

    new life into ESDP which characterised the 29 April 2003 summit between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg was stillborn not only because France herself did not really believe in the initiative, but also because all too few of her European partners did. A European security policy with teeth simply cannot be constructed without the UK. Only when Tony Blair sought to return to the European mainstream in the summer 2003, could ESDP get back on track. The two countries, which alone among the EU member states share a serious imperial past, an interventionist military culture and ongoing global ambitions, are condemned to act as partners.

    On transatlantic policy, the picture is equally paradoxical. Since the 1956 Suez crisis, Paris and London have pursued diametrically opposite approaches towards “America

    policy”. The UK has sought never again to find itself in open confrontation with the USA. France has sought never again to be dependent on the USA. Neither approach, on its own, can command the support of a clear majority of European nation-states. Britain‟s perceived unconditional Atlanticism perplexes many Europeans, mainly but not exclusively from the “older” member states. France‟s perceived “anti-

    6Americanism” infuriates others, who regard the United States, for a variety of reasons, as the supreme guarantor of European stability. It is widely accepted that the biggest challenge to the commonality of the EU‟s Common Foreign and Security

    Policy (CFSP) is the achievement of intra-European consensus on how to manage relations with the USA. On policy towards most other major regions and powers across the globe, the EU has little difficulty in finding a position which, while not necessarily representing absolute consensuality, is at least compatible and relatively uncontentious. This is not the case with respect to “America policy”. France prefers

    the status “allied but not aligned”. This clashes with Britain‟s determination to put

    NATO first. French discourse about the virtues of multi-polarity collides with British concerns for the promotion and preservation of uni-polarity. While the UK is not always the most unquestioningly Atlanticist of all EU states, and while France has rivals for the crown of leading the Europeanist charge, these two countries, because of their relative size and importance, their military seriousness and their uninhibited

     6 This author rejects such a label. See, on this, Philippe Roger, L’Ennemi Américain. Paris, Seuil, 2002;

    Jean-Francois Revel, L’Obsession anti-américaine, Paris, Plon, 2002


    championing of one approach or the other, have tended to define and to polarise

    the debate in Europe on America policy.

    1. Difficult but Do-able: The Management of Franco-British tensions in

    ESDP 1999-2001

    On most of the major policy issues connected with the establishment of ESDP in the early years, Paris and London embarked on discussions with different approaches and agendas. The problems of transatlantic relations and the role of NATO were almost

    7always central. Despite the changing circumstances, the original Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma still prevailed. Whether the issue was the timing of formal talks between the new collective institutions of ESDP (COPS, EUMC, EUMS) and their NATO equivalents, the involvement in ESDP policy discussions of non-EU NATO allies such as Turkey and Norway, the planning and conceptualization of future European military missions, the ambitions for eventual autonomous European military capacity, the double-hatting of ambassadors to the NATO and COPS or a range of other issues, London and Paris invariably adopted positions which were largely driven by their path dependent policy preferences with regard to the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma. Basically, the British view was that “consistency” with NATO objectives,

    planning and procedures was to be the acid test for any new developments. The French view was that the new policy and its implementation should prioritise the underlying objective of building up European military capacity and political clout.

    France saw no necessary reason for that objective to conflict with US or NATO policy, but believed such considerations should not be primary.

    These two quite different approaches were not necessarily contradictory, still less incompatible. NATO and ESDP were, in the opening years of the twenty-first century, finding both their new feet and their new strategic role. The very fact that ESDP had been called into existence sprung directly from a perceived dysfunction in NATO deriving from disputes over burden-sharing, the ambivalent role of US forces in the post-Cold War “defence” of Europe, the US desire to take the Alliance out of area and the tensions between the feared rise of instability in Central and Eastern Europe

     7 Michael Quinlan, European Defense Cooperation: Asset or Threat to NATO?, Washington DC,

    Woodrow Wilson Center, 2001


    (particularly the Balkans) and the military inadequacy of most of Europe‟s forces.

    The establishment of a new division of labour between the two entities was one primary raison d’etre of the whole process. There was, at that level, no necessary contradiction between Paris and London, both of which accepted the necessary elements of this new division of labour: progressive US withdrawal from the European theatre towards other strategic areas of the globe of more direct interest to the US; the build-up of European military capacity with a view to taking up the slack produced by American redeployment; in particular a progressive European replacement of the NATO/US role in the Balkans; the emergence of new institutional arrangements in Europe to permit decision-making on security and defence issues. Imperceptibly, NATO was transforming itself into a different organization, one which rendered the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma of increasingly marginal relevance. The key to Franco-British harmony was focus. So long as the priority in both countries remained that of developing ESDP, cooperation, while sometimes difficult, proved nevertheless entirely feasible. Both sides were equally committed, for their own reasons, to making ESDP a success. The issues referred to above which generated controversy because of the different approaches between Paris and London, were all ironed out in bilateral discussions and multilateral consultations because both

    sides remained focused. Pragmatic compromises were reached on all issues of significance. “Theological” discussions about finalité kept experts (and even the

    chattering classes) animated throughout, but both sides could afford to agree to differ on long-term developments or even strategic objectives since these did not get in the way of immediate pragmatic cooperation. Thus, ESDP progressed through its many stages, punctuated by the semestriel European Council progress reports, culminating

    8in the Nice Presidency Conclusions of December 2000.

    Several factors explain this outcome. The first was the personal commitment of both Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac to ESDP. Both were keen to “apply the lessons of

    Kosovo” and to ensure that, when the next European security crisis arose, the EU would be in better shape to manage it. Blair still saw European security capacity as a necessary condition for safeguarding US commitment to the Atlantic Alliance. Chirac saw it as the logical corollary of the EU‟s emergence as an international actor. Both

     8 See, on all this, the series of documentary collections: European: Core Documents (Chaillot Papers

    47, 51, 57, 67).


    men were reassured and encouraged in their approach by the broad, though conditional, support of the Clinton administration. The second facilitating factor was the close-knit epistemic community of senior officials in London and Paris who, from the early 1990s onwards, had gradually developed a common mindset around the

    9necessity and the legitimacy of ESDP. The third factor underpinning Anglo-French

    cooperation was a shared culture of professional military intervention and a compatible strategic approach to force projection. Fourth, France and Britain shared similar ambitions for the rationalization and restructuring of the European defense

    10industry. Finally, they could focus on ESDP because, although strategic differences were emerging between the EU and the outgoing Clinton administration (over missile defense, military doctrine, commitment to multilateralism and policy towards countries such as Iran and Korea), US global policy was felt to be sufficiently compatible with and even supportive of ESDP to pose no real challenge to the Saint Malo project. For Britain, in particular, ESDP did not call for any agonizing reappraisal of its transatlantic and European partnerships. It was, indeed, the condition for their harmonization. Had Blair and Chirac, in this period, raised their gaze from a European focus and elected to prioritise other policy areas: the Middle East, the Gulf, China, or US policy across a range of issues, the Franco-British harmony of 1998-2001 might not have been so seamless. And yet, even before the advent of the Bush administration, NATO, via the “out of area debate”, was silently burying the central

    issue of US commitment to Europe. NATO was ceasing to be an Alliance designed to deliver US commitment to European security and was becoming an alliance geared to delivering European commitment to American grand strategy. Under these circumstances, the original Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma scarcely applied.

    2. Responding to Bush (2001-2003): Franco-British tensions reinforced

The switch of policy in Washington from one in which allies remained significant

    partners to one in which ad-hoc coalitions became the name of the game

    dramatically shifted the parameters of Franco-British cooperation. It also shifted the

     9 See, on this, my “Discourse, Ideas and Epistemic Communities in European Security and Defence

    Policy”, West European Politics, 27/2 (March 2004). 10 Joint Declaration on European Defence issued at the Anglo-French summit, 25 November 1999 (Chaillot Paper 47, pp.77-79) and Burkard Schmitt, From Cooperation to Integration: Defence and

    Aerospace Industries in Europe, Paris, WEU-ISS, 2000, (Chaillot Paper 40)


    focus of European policy-makers who were forced by the Bush administration‟s

    actions to raise their gaze from the incestuous preoccupations of the European continent. Even prior to 9/11, the challenge for allied governments became clear: what position would they take towards a US administration which, in the words of Condoleeza Rice‟s premonitory article in January 2000, highlighted the promotion of

    11the national interest? In particular, the overtly hostile attitude towards ESDP adopted by several of the heavyweights in the new administration pulled the rug from under the Europeans‟ feet. Within weeks of Bush‟s assumption of office, Tony Blair was at Camp David assuring the new President that ESDP would remain in step with

    12NATO. However, the challenge to NATO which came in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and of the US attitude, in response to NATO‟s invocation of article 5, of “don‟t call us, we‟ll call you”, effectively made it impossible to maintain the seamless “ESDP-NATO harmony” line of the fading Clinton years. While Tony Blair re-

    focused UK policy on the global challenges facing the US ally and to that extent

    somewhat downgraded his previous close attention to ESDP Jacques Chirac,

    without ignoring the new global challenges facing the Bush administration, continued

    13resolutely to put ESDP centre-stage. This mismatch was aggravated by several other

    developments. Many of the key UK officials who had interacted so constructively with their French counterparts in the second half of the 1990s were rotated into other posts. UK defence policy shifted gear to one focused both on procurement projects designed to maintain Britain‟s interoperability with the US and on power projection to

    14distant theatres in prosecution of a preventive war on terrorism. At the level of

    European defence industries, the much hyped merger between the UK‟s British

    Aerospace and Germany‟s DASA had failed to materialize. Instead, BAe merged with

    Marconi to form a de facto Anglo-US company, BAE Systems, while the German

    company merged with France‟s Aérospatiale to create EADS. Shared Franco-British

    ambitions for the rationalization of the defence industry had not led to shared outcomes. Above all, true to his February 2001 assurances at Camp David, Tony

     11 Condoleeza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest”, Foreign Affairs, 79/1, January-February 2000 12 It is significant that Downing Street issued no communiqué about what was said at that first meeting between Blair and Bush the only meeting between the two men that was couched in silence. Press reports were unanimous in concluding that the object of the exercise had been to give reassurances about NATO. 13 I have analysed the details of these clashes in Survival (see f/n 5) 14 UK MOD, The Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter, July 2002


    Blair began to give pride of place in UK security and defence policy to developments in NATO.

    Thus, Britain took the lead in opposing or delaying a range of ESDP developments which France, for its own reasons, was keen to promote: the EU‟s June 2001 proposal to take over from NATO responsibility for peace-keeping in Bosnia; the declaration of ESDP “operationality” at Laeken in December 2001; proposals in mid-2002 that

    the EU should develop a military response to terrorism (a mission which London

    believed should be the exclusive preserve of NATO). Similarly, the UK took a strong lead in promoting the elements of NATO transformation which were to be enshrined in the Prague summit of November 2002: NATO‟s assumption of a global remit; the

    new focus on the “war on terrorism”; the development of the NATO Response Force; internal restructuring to make the alliance “leaner and fitter” for these global power projection functions; the adoption, in this cause, of a new bilateral relationship with Jose-Maria Aznar‟s Spain (thereby implicitly downgrading the Anglo-French “motor”

    behind ESDP); and finally wholesale enlargement of the Alliance. On all of these issues, France took a different line, insisting that NATO should have no automatic “right of first refusal” over issues directly at the heart of European security concerns

    and above all that the Alliance should not shunt the emerging ESDP into a marginalized sub-contractor role in regional and even global security, a role essentially limited to post-conflict reconstruction (“doing the dishes”). These

    developments, all of which were seriously disruptive of the Franco-British relationship, were compounded by the intra-European crisis over the Iraq War of 2003. But, significantly, the arguments between the British and the French had little to do with the old dilemma of knowing how to retain US commitment to Europe. They were now informed by new divisions over how to respond to US global strategy. This was the new version of the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma.

    3. From Nadir to Re-Birth: Franco-British security cooperation beyond


    There is little point in rehearsing in this paper the well-known battles among Europeans in general, and between France and the UK in particular, which punctuated the crisis over Iraq from summer 2002 to summer 2003 about which much has


    15already been written. But the Franco-British crisis of confidence which this episode brought out needs to be situated in the broader context of crossed wires between London and Paris over the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma. Already, in the weeks after 9/11, officials in Paris were perplexed and even irritated by the energy with which Tony Blair appeared to have converted himself overnight into a traveling world emissary on behalf of the Bush administration. Yet, despite Blair‟s post-9/11

    epiphany, the ESDP project remained relatively unscathed. The Franco-British “fraternity in arms” which had been discovered in Bosnia in the early 1990s, and

    which had helped engender the Saint-Malo process, was continuing to function in Kosovo where, by early 2002, France with a reinforced infantry brigade based in the northern sector at Mitrovica, and the UK with a reinforced armored brigade based in the central sector at Pristina were holding the most sensitive sectors in KFOR. The French forces were encountering serous resistance from Albanian irregulars owing to their perceived “pro-Serb” sympathies. It was the UK which proposed to France that the two countries seal their military synergies with a merger of their respective sectors in the summer of 2002, a proposal which France eagerly embraced. Then suddenly, in April 2002, UK defence secretary Geoff Hoon announced a unilateral British withdrawal of all but a handful of troops from Kosovo. The withdrawal was rationalised in terms of the success of the KFOR mission, but analysts immediately concluded that the real reason was the preparation and training of the UK troops for service in Iraq, a conflict which was still officially little more than a distant question mark. For France, this was more than a betrayal. It was experienced as a genuine breach of confidence, a clear UK demonstration of London‟s preference for fighting alongside the US and an abandonment of the multilateralism which had recently

    16characterized every aspect of the ESDP relationship.

    From the spring of 2002, matters went from bad to worse, culminating in the slanging-match between Blair and Chirac in October which led to the postponement

    17of the annual Franco-British summit scheduled for November. This was marked by a

     15 Philip H. Gordon & Jeremy Shapiro, Allies at Wa., America, Europe and the Crisis over Iraq,

    Washington, Brookings 2004 16 Interviews with officials in Paris and London, summer 2004. 17 The pretext for the row was the deal stitched up between Chirac and Chancelor Schroeder over the retention of spending levels in the Common Agricultural Policy until 2006, but defence clashes were also just beneath the surface. Officials in Paris and London confirm that the personal chemistry between Chirac and Blair remains very poor.


    rapid thaw in Franco-German relations (Chirac had offended Schroeder by favouring the CSU candidate Edmund Stoiber for Chancellor in the September 2002 elections), a major feature of which was the wholesale harmonisation of Franco-German positions during the Convention on the Future of Europe. The high point of this Franco-German rediscovery was the statement made by President Chirac, on 22

    thJanuary 203, during the celebration of the 40 anniversary of the Franco-German

    Treaty. On Iraq, the President declared, France‟s position was “identical” to that of

    18Germany. Thereafter, the two countries coordinated their efforts in NATO to

    “break silence” over military assistance to Turkey; in the UN, to engineer a majority

    against the US-UK “second resolution” authorizing war against Iraq; in the EU, deploring the statements of support for the War by both Atlanticist EU member states and Central and Eastern European accession states; and finally within ESDP by organizing the controversial quadripartite summit on 29 April 2003 at which the notion of a European Union of Security and Defence (EUSD) was launched, establishing an EU vanguard group which aspired to accelerate ESDP policy in the name of the entire Union. The UK was excluded from this process. A week earlier, during his interview with The Sun “newspaper”, Tony Blair was quoted as having

    19blamed France for the death of British soldiers in Iraq. This truly was the nadir of

    the Franco-British security relationship. It appeared to have gone way beyond differences of approach to the Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma, pitting an unrepentant and unconditionally pro-American Britain against a petulant and increasingly reckless pro-European France. The “other” side of the Euro-Atlantic equation appeared to have

    disappeared in each case. What each had apparently failed to notice was that the original Euro-Atlantic Security Dilemma had faded from the scene and had been replaced by a new one. Taking a stance on Iraq had nothing whatever to do with the issue of US engagement in or commitment to Europe. It had to do with a choice about European commitment to US grand strategy.

     18 Prior to that moment, Chirac had carefully distinguished France‟s position (France might join the military coalition against Iraq but will decide at the last moment) from that of Germany (no German participation under any circumstances). 19 Blair interview in The Sun, 18 April 2003: “Interviewed for the first time since the start of

    the war, Mr Blair talked about […] his anger at treacherous French President Jacques Chirac”. “Mr

    Blair admitted he had been furious with Mr Chirac of France for putting British troops at risk by

    sabotaging UN action against Iraq. „I was very upset how it played out at the United Nations,‟ he said.

    If the UN had given a strong and unified ultimatum to Saddam it is possible we could have avoided conflict.‟”

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