“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.
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,  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.
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).
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. 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.
It is obvious that Cimbalo’s strategy recommendations follow the time-honored
strategic principle divide et impera (divide and rule). 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
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
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
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. 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.
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.
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
Asmus, Roland D.: Rebuilding the Atlantic Alliance. Foreign Affairs, September/October
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.
Peers, Steve: EU Constitutional Annotation No 2, Part III, Title V. EU External
Rühle, Michael: NATO at the Crossroads. The Potomac Papers, The Potomac
Foundation, Mclean, Virginia 2004.
 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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.