A Case for Security Aid & Subsidies
A Case for Security Aid & Subsidies
Recent uncertainty around America’s continued commitment to European security has renewed European efforts to establish defense institutions independent of NATO. NATO’s current political and material position in European affairs masks a strained transatlantic relationship, with significant ramifications for security cooperation. Increased European defense independence stands to benefit American strategic interests in the long-run. The United States should continue to enthusiastically support NATO’s role as a political institution but also encourage Europe to develop independent defense policies to secure itself against Russian aggression and other potential security concerns.
By encouraging European security integration, America will relieve transatlantic tensions over its role in defending Europe while still accomplishing NATO’s stated intent to deter Russian aggression. Moving forward, the United States can employ NATO as a forum to develop interoperability standards between European multinational forces and America’s forces. In so doing, NATO will be able to rely on allies who are better equipped to support transatlantic security missions in the future, with less reliance on American force structure in Europe to provide security and reaffirm the alliance’s salience.
Several proposals for European defense integration provide a framework to understand what the process will look like in the coming years. In truth, these proposals vary in their scale and, as a result, the amount of effort and time needed for implementation (see Figure 1). This variation in effort and time is largely derived from an issue of sovereignty. The most ambitious proposals seek to establish a supranational force structure that can manage acquisitions and operations independently of independent member states and, therefore, face greater challenges to implementation. More incremental proposals seek to establish common practices between member states on acquisitions and operations, retaining national sovereignty but laying the foundation for greater interoperability.
The simplest of these proposals recommends that EU member states develop common practices to increase their interoperability and pave the way for a permanent force structure. A mechanism to achieve this centralization—called the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO)—was triggered in a September 2016 meeting of the Council and has since received extensive support from the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. In a December 2017 meeting of the Council, member states voted to adopt PESCO as an official EU policy, and in March 2018 they voted to adopt 17 projects to facilitate integrations. These projects include the development of common European platforms for amphibious operations and indirect fires. Additionally, it lays the foundations for a centralized European medical and cyber command. However, the Council has affirmed that all common acquisitions will remain under the complete control of member states.
Other proposals for integration include the development of a permanent force structure and to develop common standard operating procedures to increase interoperability in a multinational context. The European Union has already developed a number of multinational units nested within the European External Action Service (EEAS) section of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), called EU Battle Groups. These forces, initially developed in 2004 and operationalized in 2007, are ad hoc in nature and have yet to see a combat mission. Member states contribute temporary rotations of troops to maintain these units. These troops wear their own country’s uniform and do not remain embedded long enough to develop meaningful standard operating procedures. Further, the actions of battle groups are governed by a long bureaucratic approval process that prevents them from serving as a ready-response force. In fact, their missions have been primarily humanitarian. The development of a permanent force structure, which would combine multinational units for longer periods of time and permit them to develop effective procedures, would develop a combined European force that is better prepared to take action against security threats in the near abroad and Mediterranean.
Additionally, High Representative Mogherini has taken steps (with the support of France and Germany) to increase EU spending on joint security procurement through an EU Defense Fund. While PESCO pressures individual member states to develop common acquisition practices to increase interoperability, it reaffirms that member states will retain domestic control over their procurements. At the same time, Mogherini has pushed for EU-level spending increases on defense to acquire military technologies to supply multinational units, potentially decreasing the effort required by member states to supply equipment and other materiel while contributing soldiers to joint units. The Defense Fund serves as a step toward EU common defense. To add context: NATO and the United States have consistently pressured European allies to increase their annual defense expenditure to two percent of GDP. However, only five NATO members actually meet this guideline—one of which is the United States. The development of an EU Defense Fund accomplishes this same objective but without the involvement of the United States. The specific form of these subsidies remains unclear. The primary question is whether all member states contribute equally to a European fund, or whether a few key states provide the majority of the financial support. Historically, integration schemes that pressure members to deepen their integration have faced the greatest success when key states serve as the ‘paymaster’ by contributing more resources than other members. However, Mogherini has stated that the success of this vision is only possible if member states “invest together, decide together, and act together” moving forward.
Finally, we must briefly address the chief and ultimate expression of European defense integration: a supranational force structure, more commonly called an EU Army. While the effort and time required for such an innovation remain extensive and unclear, the above policy proposals serve as stepping stones along a roadmap toward a common military. At this point, however, the primary European consensus appears focused on PESCO, and High Representative Mogherini remains aloof on the issue of developing an EU Army. In the time frames addressed in this paper, it appears that an EU Army remains a vision but not a policy reality.
This paper addresses two important forms of interoperability: interoperability between (1) the independent militaries of the European Union and (2) those European militaries and the United States. Both of these forms of interoperability are force multipliers that increase the ability of key allies to cooperate on military affairs. Currently, the United States has worked to establish and maintain interoperability between itself and independent European militaries through NATO. However, NATO efforts to improve interoperability among EU states—like through increased defense expenditures that would enable more frequent joint exercises and improve burden sharing—have thus far proven unsuccessful. This paper argues that a shift to accommodate independent European defense integration will allow the United States to improve both forms of interoperability described above.
European nations do not possess a singular, consistent attitude toward American and NATO influence. While some countries embrace American involvement in security affairs, others vilify its presence as modern imperialism. This inborn political skepticism of American interests—evident, for example, in the use of national caveats during the Afghanistan War—is exacerbated by the rise of political movements who challenge the role of conventional institutions like NATO. This second group has created pockets of resentment and uncertainty within Europe, and fomented political disagreement within the United States, over the future of NATO. The United States has two options: to attempt to limit and control the scope of European defense integration, or to provide Europe diplomatic freedom to create its own integrated security instrument independent of American and NATO influence.
The first option, at the surface, appears beneficial insofar as it allows the United States to retain key influence within Europe’s security apparatus. By demanding a seat at the table for itself through NATO, the United States would have some control over the agreements Europe reaches on defense. Such an approach might even give the United States a diplomatic means to delay integration, if it so desired.
However, it remains unclear whether the United States could prevent or seriously reshape the integration of European security instruments, even if it so desired. Political tension and transatlantic uncertainty have given advocates of EU defense independence the fuel to justify their efforts. At this point, obstruction will only foster greater resentment between Europe and the United States, which policymakers can continue to play upon when building support for security independence.
A significant amount of this transatlantic tension derives its energy from the conduct of American policymakers during the Global War on Terror. For example, many European policymakers continue to play on resentment toward the American invasion of Iraq, which they describe as ‘illegitimate and illegal.’ Specifically, Germany and France presented the strongest opposition within Europe. However, the majority of European militaries remained uninvolved in the Iraq War. It was the Afghanistan War—during which NATO was nominally leading the reconstruction effort—where European policymakers made their opposition known.
The Afghanistan war presents a historical opportunity to evaluate the political impact of American influence over European security. When NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty on September 12th, 2001, it remained unclear whether the alliance would be called upon to perform extensive military duties. For the first two years, the United States and her key allies conducted the majority of operations through the UN-mandated International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF). The NATO alliance did not take control of ISAF until August 11th, 2003, and even then its presence was limited to Kabul. Between 2003 and 2006, the United States conducted the majority of operations outside Kabul, with piecemeal assistance from allies. ISAF took control of the remainder of Afghanistan from the United States in 2006, but this was far from a foregone conclusion before then.
NATO allies were willing to support the invocation of Article 5 based on a compact: that their acquiescence to the reconstruction would not result in significant material commitments. Put another way, the United States took clear leadership of the war in its early phase and made it clear that few duties would be expected of NATO allies. But when the political costs of the war began to increase and the timeframe of its termination began to grow long, the United States reversed its policy. In 2006, America used the Article 5 declaration to call its NATO allies into the war. This period, lasting from 2006 to 2014, is known as the multilateral phase.
The war’s multilateral phase was characterized by two policies: (1) increased American calls for NATO allies to increase their defense expenditures and (2) the 2010 surge. Both of these policies made demands of European allies that further challenged public support for the war. For coalition governments, such as the Netherlands, these demands proved politically disastrous. Many NATO allies developed restrictive national caveat policies— rules that limited how their troops could be utilized by ISAF. America, attempting to mitigate these political costs, employed a robust aid regime to incentivize continued allied involvement in the war.
The next section will explore these aid regimes in greater depth. However, the provisions of national caveats, which plagued the Afghanistan war effort from 2006 to 2014, indicated a deeper discontent. European allies had consented to invoke Article 5 in 2001, to some extent, because the United States had suggested that the invocation would not lead to significant calls to action by European militaries, at least beyond what they were willing to give. Changes to the military situation in Afghanistan, however, changed this assumption. America needed allied contributions if it wanted to avoid political exhaustion and defeat. Had European militaries accomplished greater levels of internal integration prior to the war, however, it is clear that America would have faced fewer obstacles to integrating their multinational forces into combat operations. Further, these forces would have enjoyed greater degrees of interoperability, with the United States and among themselves.
I developed a model to determine the impact of troop contributions on aid regimes and found that the data were closely correlated for past research. The purpose of this model, with several limitations, was to evaluate whether there was a relationship between American foreign aid and the number of troops an ally contributed to the Afghanistan war. In short, the answer is yes, at least as a country’s economic well-being decreases. This model does not account for national caveats, and so its persuasiveness is limited by qualitative factors.
With some exceptions, European allies with lower GDP-per-capita received American aid during the war. These countries generally varied less from the United States in the yearly variation in troops, when compared to higher GDP-per-Capita states. To illustrate this variability, I developed a measure called the “Index of Compliance,” the value of which equals the sum of the logged differences from mean variation in troops, by country for all years (see figure 1). The Index is representative of total annual variation in the number of troops sent to the war. A lower total value suggests variation close to the mean, and greater compliance with U.S. troop contributions. When regressed with GDP per Capita, R-squared = 0.2169. The Index of Compliance therefore captures the degree to which our allies followed American policy during a period of surging troop levels.
The above model, experimental in nature, is intended illustrate the degree to which economic conditions interacted with the effectiveness of bilateral aid regimes on European allies. The point, however, remains the same: in the face of general skepticism from key European states like Germany, the United States utilized aid regimes to facilitate allied involvement in the war but failed to overcome resentment within Europe over the conduct of its wars. This resentment is still felt today. Yet, the purpose of these bilateral aid flows—to incentivize military cooperation in an instance of collective defense—may be accomplished more effectively if it came from Europe itself.
NATO fulfills three missions in its current form: to develop a framework for collective defense that deters Russian aggression, to assist in the management of political and military crisis, and to provide a forum for continued transatlantic cooperation. These missions are codified in NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept. In its support of the first mission, however, the United States has faced difficulties in maintaining consensus between itself and its European allies. In so doing, NATO has faced challenges in providing a deterrent security structure in Europe. These challenges have been exacerbated by U.S. defense austerity from 2013 to 2017, which weakened American forces in Europe.
Europe remains a committed partner in opposing Russian aggression. Most recently, this commitment was evidenced in their expulsion of Russian diplomats in solidarity with the United Kingdom, following a Russian assassination attempt on a former British operative. Political pressures to oppose such aggression mitigate the risk incurred by the United States by surrendering some influence and control over European defense. Put another way: evidence suggests that an independent European security apparatus would continue to support efforts to oppose Russian aggression in cooperation with the United States. And it could likely do so more effectively than NATO, due to the uncertainty of the transatlantic relationship.
The relationship between the United States and Europe has not witnessed today’s level of tension since perhaps the eve of the Second World War. At least in the short-term, the American government has presented a foreign policy that is “uncertain, populist and conflictual” with a “national interests to the exclusion of those of its long-standing allies.” It is difficult to estimate the degree to which this uncertainty impacts NATO’s relationship with key EU policymakers. But one thing is clear: it does not have a positive effect.
Recognizing the political challenges posed by uncertainty in the transatlantic relationship, NATO should encourage the development of common European security instruments to assist in its deterrent framework. By supporting such a shift, the United States incurs some risk by providing European defense policymakers greater latitude for independent action. However, European security independence does not mean that the United States and Europe will not continue to cooperate, especially on issue areas, like Russia, where they agree. Further, independence will not detract from NATO’s capacity to forge consensus and respond to crisis, as long as interoperability is maintained and further developed.
This paper has addressed two important forms of interoperability: (1) between the independent militaries of the European Union and (2) between those European militaries and the United States. European security independence will serve as a catalyst to develop greater interoperability between EU member states. In the long term, it may result in a permanent European force. By redoubling its diplomatic efforts in NATO, instead of its military efforts, the United States can use the institution to develop and maintain standards of interoperability between itself and EU military forces. Instead of pressuring allies to increase their defense expenditures—an uphill battle when they do not believe that they will see benefits from such increases— NATO will shift focus to improve its joint doctrine in tandem with Europe, and to schedule frequent joint exercises with European militaries to ensure that American and European militaries retain their ability to cooperate in operational environments.
In summary, NATO and Europe can coexist and continue to serve the foreign policy interests of the United States, even if Europe develops a high level of security independence. In order to accomplish this balance, however, the United States must continue to employ NATO as a forum to develop and maintain interoperability between American and European security instruments, while permitting Europe the freedom to develop standard procedures to improve its ready-response capacity against potential Russian aggression.