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“Saving NATO from Europe?”: On Cimbalos’ No-Win Strategy

“Saving NATO from Europe?”: On Cimbalos’ No-Win Strategy

Presentation given by Dr. Reiner K. Huber, Professor (em) of Applied Systems Science, Universität der Bundeswehr München, for the Seminar “NATO and EU”, organized by the Potomac Foundation and Institute for Defense Analyses. Arlington,Virginia, February 14, 2005.

  • Introduction

Under the headline “Germany suggests far-reaching NATO review” today’s edition of Financial Times features a front page article by Daniel Dombey and Peter Spiegel on the surprise proposal of German chancellor Schröder, submitted last Saturday on his behalf by German defense minister Struck at the security conference in Munich. It shocked American and European defense ministers by calling for a for-reaching review of transatlantic relations, with particular focus on the transatlantic alliance. Arguing that NATO had ceased to be “the primary venue where transatlantic partners discuss and coordinate” the most important strategic issues of the day, Schröder made clear that he would use the summit in Brussels next week with President Bush to propose the establishment of a high level panel to review the transatlantic relationship, reporting to NATO and EU leaders by next year.

Without having had the opportunity to study Schröder’s proposal in detail, [1] it almost appears like a retort to the proposal made late last year by Jeffry L Cimbalo which I was invited by the Potomac Foundation to comment. This is not to say that both proposals are considered to carry the same political weight. However, most Europeans and, I presume, many Americans would regard Cimbalo’s views as not atypical for American neo-conservatives, and not to be dismissed easily since they were published in a prestigious journal that bears considerable weight in both foreign policy and academic communities.

  • Cimbalo’s Strategy Proposal

In “Saving NATO from Europe”, Cimbalo warns of the implications that the ratification of the EU constitution would have for the transatlantic alliance and U.S. influence in Europe (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004).[2] He suggests that the adoption of the constitution as it currently stands would ultimately result in the death of NATO and, given the recent experience with the EU, could lead to a EU foreign policy that will actively seek to balance or compete with U.S. power.

Therefore, having doubts that the governments of Washington’s “close” NATO allies – United Kingdom, Poland, and Denmark – would be willing to persuade the EU to accept changes in the constitution that they have agreed to, Cimbalo concludes that Washington should end its “uncritical support for European integration” and adopt a strategy to prevent the constitution going into effect in its current form. It should encourage popular referendums on the constitution in those NATO countries where none are currently scheduled and publicly emphasize the negative effect on NATO once a referendum is assured.[3] He argues that the referendum process, and the threat of non-ratification, may lead to substantive changes in the security provisions of the constitution. As critical to these U.S. efforts he considers disarming, in the public referendum debates, the likely EU argument that a rejection of the constitution has severe economic consequences. After all, “Washington can offer considerably enhanced assistance programs, especially to the new democracies on NATO’s eastern flank that are still modernizing their economies, that are more competitive with and have fewer strings attached than those offered by Europe.” Of those countries, two have so far committed to referendums (Czech Republic and Poland) and four may still be influenced to do so (Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, and Slovenia). Such programs could include moving more U.S. troops from Germany to the new NATO members. Cimbalo estimates the economic benefits to these countries resulting from such a move at up to $ 6 billion a year.

  • Implications of Cimbalo’s Strategy

It is obvious that Cimbalo’s strategy recommendations follow the time-honored strategic principle divide et impera (divide and rule).[4] I do agree with Cimbalo, however, that the scenario, that NATO will fade away and thus, cannot be dismissed altogether. But what he construed is a worst case scenario that apparently is the result of what must be regarded as a rather legalistic interpretation of the EU constitution’s provisions and various assumptions he made to support his arguments while rejecting statements to the contrary as lip service. Moreover, a worst case scenario is but one of several futures that political decision-makers have to reckon with. Among others, strategic decision support analysis is about assessing available strategy options as to their likelihood for arriving at a desirable future and avoiding the worst case. In that sense, short of looking at other scenarios, and other strategy options, Cimbalo should at least have analyzed the risks for Washington, NATO and the EU associated with implementing the strategy he recommends. In my judgment, the probability that this strategy would bring about his worst case scenario is significantly higher than the probability for avoiding it.

This assessment is shared by most European analysts and intellectuals I have recently talked to. They overwhelmingly support the well reasoned views expressed by Ronald Asmus in their retort to Cimbalo: “Opposing EU integration along the lines that Cimbalo suggests – because it (EU) is allegedly anti-American – risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy: Europe would unite against the United States but in part because Washington helped push it in that direction. The result could be to deny the United States needed political legitimacy, reconstruction partners, and useful military allies in the future.” (Asmus, Blinken, Gordon: Nothing to Fear. Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005)

Thus, Cimbalo’s is a strategically short-sighted and politically counterproductive recommendation. Considering the fact – apparently ignored by Cimbalo – that Europe’s leaders, including the most atlanticist, and countries are committed to EU integration, it would appear to be in Washington’s interest to follow the advice of Asmus to give up its current ambivalence about European integration and adopt a strategy of overtly supporting the EU to become strong and capable of working with the United States as a more effective partner in addressing the security challenges of the 21st century : Radical Islam and terrorism.

  • In this context, the acceptance of the EU constitution is essential.

As I have pointed out repeatedly, viable military contributions by Europeans will not become feasible unless Europeans improve the efficiency of their defense spending dramatically (Huber: The Transatlantic Gap: Obstacles and Opportunities for Closing it. In: Transforming NATO Forces: European Perspectives (C.R. Nelson and J.S. Purcell, Eds.), Washington 2003: Atlantic Council of the United States, pp. 59-78). This, however, demands a high degree of “structured cooperation” on defense matters among Europeans and, in the long term, the integration of their militaries and the creation of a common defense force which, in turn, necessitates adoption of a common security and defence policy by the EU as outlined in the respective provisions of the constitution. In other words, acceptance of the EU’s provisions on common security and defense is a necessary perquisite for Europe to become a useful military ally of the United States capable of sharing the burden of providing security and stability on a global scale.

Whether NATO will - and needs to - survive the political and eventually military integration of Europe seems to be primarily a matter of political expedience considering the development of EU membership and the organization of U.S.-EU relationships.[5] Until then, however, NATO’s military capabilities would undoubtedly benefit from the improved defense cooperation envisaged by the EU. The opposite could become true if Washington were to adopt Cimablo’s strategy of undermining the CSDP, the Common European Security and Defense Policy. If successful, this strategy would very likely delay Europe’s defense cooperation and military integration and, therefore, not permit the European NATO countries to significantly improve their military capabilities beyond current levels. On the contrary, NATO’s transatlantic capability gap would increase further if the members of so-called “mini-alliances” – formed to save defense cooperation among its members – were excluded from NATO as proposed by Cimbalo. The presumed benefits of “a smaller NATO, but one with much more cohesive security goals and interests” could be fleeting because the atrophied military capability of the remaining European pillar would exacerbate the perennial burden sharing problem in NATO, more cohesive security goals notwithstanding. Rather than saving NATO, the ultimate result may be NATO’s collapse.

When looking at the likely consequences for the transatlantic relations in the light of the possible outcomes of the constitution referendums, one comes to the conclusion that Cimbalo’s is a no-win strategy. In fact, success would be worse than failure. If the strategy would not work, the negative fallout for U.S.-EU relations would likely be temporary only, albeit weakening the U.S. position vis-à-vis a more self-assured EU that has successfully weathered another transatlantic storm. If the strategy would succeed, however, Washington will forever be blamed by Europeans for having delayed, if not destroyed the EU constitution project. The transatlantic relationship is likely to suffer long-lasting damage that neither Washington nor the EU can afford considering the security challenges facing them.

  • Consequences of Negative Referendum Outcomes for Europe

It should be pointed out, however, that a negative outcome of a referendum, or a parliamentary vote, in at least one country would not necessarily kill the constitution. The damage depends on the size of the respective country and its active commitment to the project of European integration.

There is agreement in the EU that the provisions of the Treaty of Nice – which the constitution is to replace – are too complicated and clumsy for handling daily operations of the enlarged EU of soon to be more than 25 countries. The implementation of important reform projects is next to impossible because the treaty demands an unanimous vote by all countries regardless of size and population. Currently, every EU country has numerous possibilities to veto any proposal. Therefore, political analysts and legal experts have for some time studied a number of rejection scenarios and developed contingency plans for action. According to Stefan Ulrich, these plans distinguish essentially between three categories of countries: small, large and instrumental (Im Falle des Unfalls. Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Thursday 13 Jan 2005, p.8).

In case a small country such as Denmark rejects the constitution, the referendum will be repeated as was the case when the Irish population rejected the Treaty of Nice. Should the second referendum fail, the respective country would be asked by the others to voluntarily leave the Union. A similar procedure allegedly would apply to Poland

If a large country such as Great Britain says no, the EU might negotiate exemptions as it did when Denmark rejected the Maastricht treaty in 1992 and accepted it in modified form one year later. If the second referendum would again be rejected, the respective country may still remain a member of the EU having to operate, however, under Nice rules. In other words, there would be a divided EU, one part progressing under the rules of the constitution, the other remaining behind under the rules of the Nice treaty.

The constitution would be lost, however, if a country instrumental for EU integration and the development of the constitution such as France would reject it. In that case, the cumbersome process of writing and negotiating a new draft would have to start afresh and under the rules of Nice, a scenario that no one in the EU does cherish.[6]

  • Conclusions

A U.S. strategy of undermining the ratification of the European constitution as recommended by Jeffrey L Cimbalo is not considered to be in the interest of the United States. Regardless of whether it would be successful or not, it involves the risk of seriously damaging transatlantic cooperation for some time to come and dividing Europe, a scenario somewhat reminiscent of Europe in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. However, the global threats and challenges of the 21st century can hardly be met by the United States alone. Therefore, it seems that Washington would be well advised to support the formation of a coherent and strong Europe. Therefore, rather than continuing with its current ambivalence about European integration, or even adopt a strategy of actively opposing it, the United States should use whatever leverage it has to convince Europeans that the ratification of the EU draft constitution is in the interest of both Europeans and Americans. This is especially true for the United Kingdom which is the key for securing a strong and reliable link between the United States and the EU, but where the outcome of the referendum scheduled for 2006 is most uncertain. Without the United Kingdom joining France and Germany at the center of the EU, however, the scenario underlying Cimbalo’s proposal, that the EU will build up as a political counterweight to the United States, may be more likely.

Reiner K. Huber

  • Selected Reading:

Asmus, Roland D.: Rebuilding the Atlantic Alliance. Foreign Affairs, September/October 2003.
Asmus, Roland D., Anthony J. Blinken, and Phillip H. Gordon: Nothing to Fear. Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005.
Buch, Heinrich,, Huber, Reiner. K. and Roland Kästner, R. (2002).: Jenseits der ESVP: Anmerkungen zu einer transatlantischen Strategie. In: Die Europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik (H.-G. Ehrhart, Ed.), Baden-Baden 2002: Nomos-Verlagsgesellschaft, pp. 283-294.
Cimbalo, Jeffrey L.(2004) : Saving NATO from Europe. Foreign Affairs, November/December.
Fisher, Cathleen S.: Reconciling Realities: Reshaping the German-American Relationship for the twenty-First Century. AIGS Policy Report 16, American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, The Johns Hopkins University, 2004.
Howorth, Jolyon: The European Draft Constitutional Treaty and the Future of the European Defence Initiative: A Question of Flexibility. European Foreign Affairs Review 9, 2004.
Huber, Reiner K.(2004): Notwendigkeit und Voraussetzungen für eine konvergente Weiterentwicklung der europäischen Streitkräfte. In: Gemeinsam Sicher? Vision und Realität europäischer Sicherheitspolitik (R.C.Meier-Walser. Hrsg.) Neuried 2004, ars una, pp 363-381.
Huber, Reiner K.(2003): The Transatlantic Gap: Obstacles and Opportunities for Closing it. In: Transforming NATO Forces: European Perspectives (C.R. Nelson and J.S. Purcell, Eds.), Washington 2003: Atlantic Council of the United States, pp. 59.
Peers, Steve: EU Constitutional Annotation No 2, Part III, Title V. EU External Policies.
Rühle, Michael: NATO at the Crossroads. The Potomac Papers, The Potomac Foundation, Mclean, Virginia 2004.

  • Footnotes:

[1] In fact, having spent all of last week at a NATO-RTO workshop in Orlando, the Financial Times article is the first information I have on Munich security conference.

[2] „The constitution’s national security provisions signify that, for the first time, the NATO alliance faces a threat from within Europe itself. The political integration of the EU presents the greatest challenge to continuing U.S. influence in Europe since World War II, and U.S. policy must begin to adapt accordingly.” (pp.111-112).

[3] As of now, nine ( of the 19) NATO countries in the EU (the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland,  Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom have committed to a popular vote on the constitution. Of the 10 others, the parliaments of  two (Hungary and Lithuania) have already voted last year in favour of the constitution. Germany almost certainly will have a parliamentary vote. That leaves seven countries that have scheduled parliamentary votes in 2005 but still may be motivated to hold referendums (Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia). In fact, Belgium is already considering a referendum depending on the outcome of the parliamentary vote. Except for Ireland,. all non-NATO EU countries will very likely not have a referendum (Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Malta, and Sweden).

[4] One is reminded of Defense Secretary  Rumsfeld’s division of Europe into old and new Europe except that, if Cimbalo’s strategy worked, “old Europe” would very likely include most of the new EU-Europe and “new Europe” the leftover non-EU countries - nation states characteristic for the old Europe of the 19th and the first part of 20th century that would rely on the United States for their security. Such a division, however, does not appear to be sustainable in the long term, short term benefits from Washington’s assistance programs notwithstanding. 

[5] In fact, once all European NATO countries have become members of a politically and militarily integrated  EU, NATO’s role as a collective defense organization might be replaced by a true bilateral partnership for “building a safer and better world” (Condoleezza Rice, Feb 2005). One might argue that even in the short and mid term the EU is becoming more important for the United States than NATO when viewed through the capability lens. Asmus points out that while NATO is America’s institution of choice for acting militarily, it is in the military area where Washington is least in the need of help. It is security-relevant non-military areas where the United Sates would profit most from transatlantic cooperation – from homeland security to democracy promotion to humanitarian assistance. 

[6] The European draft Constitutional Treaty of August 2004, signed by the 25 heads of  EU states/governments and foreign ministers on 29 October 2004, is the product of a complex iterative negotiation process via the Giscard Convention that convened in early 2002.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
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