Jeffrey L Cimbalo. Foreign Affairs. Volume 83, Issue 6. November/December 2004.
A Threat from Within
When the 263-page Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe was unveiled in June 2003, Washington said little, maintaining its decades-old stance of official neutrality regarding the progress of European integration. The significance of the proposed constitution, however, was not lost on Europeans. “This is crossing the Rubicon,” Czech President Vaclav Klaus noted.
The proposed European federation is unprecedented: no democracy has ever merged with another to form such an entity. The constitution, which purports to integrate the 25 nations of the European Union, would create a new international actor with its own foreign minister and its own foreign policy. This development would have profound and troubling implications for the transatlantic alliance and for future U.S. influence in Europe. By structure and inclination, the new Europe would focus on aggrandizing EU power at the expense of NATO, the foundation of the transatlantic security relationship for more than half a century. In other words, it would seek to balance rather than complement U.S. power-an outcome for which the United States is wholly unprepared.
Washington’s “hands off” policy on European integration was traditionally based on two assumptions: that, in the face of the Soviet threat, an integrated Europe would be a boon to NATO and Western democracy (it was) and that, as free nations, prospective EU member states are entitled to organize themselves any way they choose (they are). But the text and context of the proposed constitution should prompt U.S. policymakers to reconsider. 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.
Not since the EU’s founding in 1957 has the velocity of European integration been as high as it is today. European institutions are steadily and unambiguously expanding their power over the three pillars of EU policy: the common market, foreign and security policy, and justice and home affairs. With the addition of ten new members in May 2004, expansion has put significant stress on existing political institutions and accelerated efforts to create new ones.
The envisioned federal union would restrict the sovereignty of its member states to a considerable degree. The constitution provides that “the Union shall have legal personality,” creating a new actor on the world stage, and that its actions “shall have primacy over the law of the Member States.” The constitution also expands from 34 to 70 the spheres in which the EU may legislate by “qualified majority” (55 percent of member states representing at least 65 percent of total EU population) rather than unanimity. A legislative rule of unanimity, and the de facto veto each country enjoys as a result, would obtain only in matters of taxation, social security, most foreign policy, and the creation of a common defense force.
Nowhere is the supremacy of the EU over its member states more relevant to U.S. interests than in the union’s national security powers. These provisions go beyond mere rhetoric and differ from prior attempts to implement a general EU foreign and defense policy in their formal, systemic, and exclusive nature.
The constitution calls for a major structural transformation of European security. Article 15(1) explicitly creates a federal national security structure superior to that of any member state, with EU competence “Cover[ing] all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to the Union’s security.” This would include the appointment by the European Commission of a single minister for foreign affairs and the “progressive framing of a common Union defence policy,” which would “lead to a common defence when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides.” The constitution explicitly requires loyalty to the common security policy at the expense of all others. Member states, according to Article 15(2), must “actively and unreservedly support the Union’s common foreign and security policy”; “refrain from action contrary to the Union’s interests or likely to impair its effectiveness”; and “uphold the Union’s position” in international organizations, including the UN Security Council. (The European Court of Justice, which “ensure[s] the respect for the law in the interpretation and application of the Constitution,” could subject a member that fails to support EU foreign policy to fines or other measures.)
At first, most aspects of EU foreign policy will be decided by unanimous consent of the member states. This effectively grants every member state a veto in foreign affairs, but this right is likely to be short-lived. For decisions without direct military implications, broadly worded carve-outs already allow foreign policy to be made by qualified majority “on the basis of a … decision of the European Council relating to the Union’s strategic interests and objectives” or any decision “implementing a Union action or position.” The reach of this exception can be extended by unanimous vote in the Council of Ministers. Furthermore, the European Court of Justice alone will decide if current or future exceptions from unanimity grant the union authority to form any particular policy. If experience holds true, most, if not all, court decisions in the future will uphold EU prerogatives and slowly erode the unanimity requirement.
Skeptics of the constitution, citing a long history of failed attempts to establish a common defense and foreign policy, argue that such provisions represent nothing but wishful thinking. They point to the many missteps since the 1992 Maastricht Treaty established greater defense cooperation, from the failure to stop mass murder in Bosnia to the inability to muster a 60,000-strong EU defense force, as member states had resolved to do by 2003. With significant capability gaps, little interoperability, and shrinking defense budgets, a common defense force, critics argue, is no more feasible than it was the last time the EU expressed a desire for greater defense policy coordination.
Such skeptics fail to recognize, however, that the bold, comprehensive vision set forth in the constitution is fundamentally different from prior ad hoc attempts at greater defense integration. For the first time, policy will be formulated and managed by a powerful federal national security apparatus likely to consolidate EU advances on issues such as conscription and procurement coordination. Also, the constitution imposes the immediate duty to provide troops for foreign EU activities and allows the formation of “mini-alliances” among small groups of countries-separate mutual defense regions created with union financial and administrative support even over the objections of other member states. Either step would undeniably represent a milestone in EU defense coordination, and both will probably occur. (The “mini-alliances,” moreover, would increase momentum toward a common defense policy, as “mini-alliance” members would pressure their EU peers gradually to accept the terms of increased cooperation.) That these provisions taken together leave no room for non-EU security arrangements over the long term has yet to be explained at all, let alone explained away.
Article 40 of the constitution starkly states that, “until such time” as the common defense policy materializes, “the participating Member States shall work in close cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” No provision is made for cooperation after that time. As a whole, the constitution makes clear that NATO is ultimately superfluous to EU security policy.
Various provisions of the constitution cannot be reconciled with the existing obligations of NATO membership. Under Article 8 of the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO member states “are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence” and “undertake not to enter into any international engagement in conflict with this Treaty.” Although the constitution states that the proposed common security and defense policy will “be compatible with” that of NATO, NATO’s involvement in European security affairs once the constitution takes effect will be limited to providing life support for certain European national armed forces until the EU, in whole or in part, decides that “cooperation” with NATO is no longer necessary. That does not fit any definition of compatibility.
Several conditions practically ensure that any common EU security policy will conflict with NATO policy. Most important, the member nations in the EU and NATO are not coterminous, making it certain that their security policies will not be either. Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden, all EU members that were neutral during the Cold War, do not belong to NATO, and France is not a member of NATO’s military organization. None of these countries has a history of cooperation, let alone of coordination, with Washington on pressing security matters such as counterterrorism, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The new international actor the EU will not be a member of NATO, either. Meanwhile, NATO members Norway, Turkey, and the United States are not part of the EU. When EU policy does turn out to be compatible with NATO, it will be a matter more of coincidence than of coordination.
Recent experience with the EU in foreign affairs strongly suggests that its new foreign policy will be, in significant measure, an extension of existing Franco-German attitudes and policies. Paris and Berlin will continue largely to determine EU security policy. A former French president was the key figure behind the constitution, and Germany continues to be the EU’s primary underwriter. Both governments, moreover, have mastered EU politics, as evidenced by their ability to escape sanction repeatedly for breaking limits on government budget deficits. Along with Belgium and Luxembourg, France and Germany have planned a separate “mini-alliance.” And the seeming isolation of the French and Germans in opposing U.S. action in Iraq belies the fact that most EU elites, including those from Spain and Italy, also opposed the war, whether or not their governments did. Their current unqualified support for the constitution implies a confidence that their sway will continue to hold in each aspect of EU security policy, perfunctory nods to its compatibility with NATO notwithstanding.
There is considerable evidence that EU foreign policy, led by Paris and Berlin, will actively seek to balance or compete with U.S. power. France led a frontal assault on Washington’s Iraq policy in 2003, viciously rebuking new EU members in NATO that supported the U.S. position: President Jacques Chirac said they “missed a good opportunity to shut up.” France and Germany are outspoken in their desire to lift EU restrictions on weapons sales to China over the strategic and humanitarian objections of the United States. Both also reject any future NATO role in Iraq and Afghanistan. These frequent expressions of hostility toward NATO and U.S. policy demonstrate that the Franco-German formulation of EU foreign policy has already come to mean “not NATO,” or, more precisely, “not American.”
Judging by both past behavior and current rhetoric, the EU does not have far to go to get from “not American” to deliberate strategic competition with the United States. France, at least, seems prepared for the journey. Even assuming that former President Franois Mitterrand’s comment-“We are at war with America. Yes, a permanent war, a vital war, a war without death”-was overblown, other European countries appear to see confluence with U.S. foreign policy as antithetical to maintaining a strong diplomatic relationship with France and Germany. Spain is a case in point. After the election of the Socialist Jos Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in the wake of the Madrid train bombings, Zapatero promised both to renew Spain’s “magnificent” traditional partnership with France and Germany in foreign affairs and to expedite Spain’s assent to the constitution. The corollary to this promise was a total distancing from U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Given that such tendencies already exist in European foreign policy, the passage of the constitution in its current form would have dire implications. Because of the document’s inherent incompatibility with the North Atlantic Treaty, even member states favorably inclined toward NATO would soon find it impossible to satisfy both the EU duty of loyalty in national security policy and the NATO duty of strategic coordination. For those incipient “mini-alliance” members that are also NATO signatories, NATO would play nothing more than a tertiary role, behind their new defense agreement and the EU common national security policy.
The constitution was marketed to the governments of member states as the product of an extremely delicate consensus, not to be altered in any way. German Chancellor Gerhard Schrder has said that he is “absolutely convinced that we should not touch it.” The European Council put considerable pressure on the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which amends prospective EU treaties, to reach agreement and finalize the constitution’s terms as soon as possible. On June 18, 2004, the leaders of all EU governments agreed on the modestly revised draft, leaving only the need for a formal signing ceremony and for each country to ratify the document for it to become effective.
Now that each government has agreed to the draft constitution and its common security provisions, the United States cannot count on the provisions collapsing of their own weight. U.S. policy must condemn the terms in their current form as absolutely unacceptable because they are impossible to square with effective NATO membership. Washington, along with its close NATO allies, must be prepared to persuade the EU to accept changes in the provisions.
The best strategy for doing so centers on three NATO and EU countries on the edge of Europe: the United Kingdom, Poland, and Denmark. All three expressed considerable doubts as to the substance of the constitution throughout the IGC revision process. And each one has strongly supported U.S. policies in the Middle East and the war on terrorism. By denying the constitution’s terms in a referendum, these nations’ populations would be able to give their governments leverage to renegotiate objectionable provisions-particularly if such a denial were framed as an objection to the common security provisions.
The United Kingdom has consistently maintained that any common European security policy should not seek to compete with U.S. power. It attacked the creation of a post of minister for foreign affairs and the “mini-alliance” provisions. (Ratifying the constitution would also mean adopting the euro, which the British have so far rejected.) However, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for the constitution appears to be strengthening. In June, after securing revisions preserving British vetoes on certain foreign affairs and justice matters, he gave his approval to the constitution, fueling speculation that the United Kingdom, like France and Germany, would become a primary engine of integration. Still, the British people have yet to be heard. Although it is unlikely that a popular referendum will take place before 2006, at the moment only 42 percent of Britons think Europe should have any constitution at all.
Since its transition to democracy, Poland has sought and kept a close strategic and diplomatic relationship with the United States and other NATO countries, culminating in its own NATO membership in 1999. Since then, it has become an indispensable NATO ally, providing invaluable assistance in the war against the Taliban and taking leadership roles within the coalition in Iraq.
Poland has opposed provisions in the constitution that would retract some of the benefits it received under the 2001 Nice Treaty when it agreed to join the EU-most notably, the weighted voting system in the Council of Ministers that gives Poland and Spain influence out of proportion to their population. But Poland’s position weakened dramatically with Zapatero’s immediate alignment with France and Germany on the constitution. Economic and political turmoil in Poland, as well as lobbying and threats from Germany, further increased pressure. Accordingly, by May 2004 Poland’s initial defiance had collapsed; as then Prime Minister Leszek Miller summed up, “We have to find a solution which will not lead to isolation.”
Poland had not planned to hold a referendum on the constitution, but just three days after the EU governments’ agreement, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz stated that it would be “normal” to join such a referendum to the presidential elections in the fall of 2005. Polish public opinion on the constitution is difficult to analyze. Although some 72 percent of Poles believe that the EU should adopt a constitution at some point, 61 percent consider themselves “badly informed” about the proposed provisions. When deciding whether to hold a referendum, Polish officials interested in reelection would do well to keep in mind that their government was heavily pressured to sign on to a document with terms much less favorable than those of the Nice Treaty.
Denmark is a special case. In popular referendums, it twice rejected the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, demanding a special declaration granting it the right to opt out of participation in the euro, non-NATO security initiatives, and other matters. The treaty, including exceptions, finally passed with 50.7 percent of the Danish vote. Opt-outs can be reversed only by a referendum separate from the promised referendum on the constitution. Denmark’s center-right prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has promised such a referendum, but even though the Danes would likely approve this reversal, it is far less certain that they would approve the constitution itself. Only 37 percent of Danes favor any constitution, the lowest number in Europe, and only half think that the EU needs a common foreign policy. (Their doubts are exacerbated by the still-uncertain status under the constitution of the Danish “realm” possessions of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which have their foreign policy managed by Denmark.) Moreover, the Danes appear unlikely to give up their clout within NATO lightly, and the EU may have to make exceptions to various aspects of the constitution to secure Danish support.
Because there is no mechanism in existing EU treaties to eject a member state, the constitution cannot pass without the unanimous assent of all its members. In the absence of unanimity, few options exist for those member states that wish to agree to a document identical to the constitution among fewer than all 25 members of the union. With such high stakes for both proponents and opponents of the constitution, the populations of Washington’s closest NATO allies will need to withstand broad pressure designed to speed popular ratification. U.S. policymakers can, and should, help them do so.
In light of the constitution’s national security provisions, the United States should move quickly to give its close NATO allies the leverage necessary to negotiate changes. In the unlikely and undesirable event that Washington and NATO must part ways, NATO certainly would not be the only source of influence for the United States in Europe: too many members share too many common interests and security threats not to cooperate in a variety of less formal ways. NATO cooperation should, however, be reaffirmed as among the most important.
As it stands, the constitution will not allow NATO members to express any desire to remain faithful to NATO in the long term. A constitutionally guaranteed ability to opt out from common national security provisions would give force to the now rather empty claims of NATO compatibility. If the opt-out is allowed, NATO could reformulate its membership conditions to exclude EU “mini-alliance” members. This would reflect the practical truth that nations cannot serve two exclusive politico-military alliances at once. The result would likely be a smaller NATO, but one with much more cohesive security goals and interests.
To start, the United States should end its uncritical support of European integration. U.S. policymakers should issue an official statement making clear that, if NATO is to survive, the constitution cannot go into effect in its current form. They should emphasize that they strongly prefer that NATO remain as it is but understand that it must evolve in ways commensurate with European and U.S. interests. Finally, Washington should warn that if the constitution’s security and defense provisions go unaltered, it may be forced to seek bilateral or multilateral strategic arrangements with specific countries in Europe to try to replicate NATO’s core of close supporters.
Washington should focus its efforts on encouraging popular referendums on the constitution in those NATO countries where none is scheduled and publicly emphasize the negative effect on NATO once a referendum is assured. In addition to the United Kingdom, Spain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Luxembourg, and, most recently, France have committed to a popular vote on the text of the constitution; Germany is the only NATO country in the union almost certainly not having one. The referendum process, and the threat of nonratification, may lead to substantive changes in the security provisions, similar to those the Danish secured with Maastricht. In any event, public ratification debates will expose the ultimate exclusivity of the constitution’s provisions in NATO member states as well as help clarify the member states’ message to the United States on its future security role in Europe.
Critical to these efforts is disarming the likely EU argument that nonagreement to the terms of the constitution portends economic doom. For the new democracies on NATO’s eastern flank that are still modernizing their economies, Washington can offer considerably enhanced assistance programs that are more than competitive with and have fewer strings attached than those offered by Europe. Militarily, going forward with the Bush administration’s recent decision to move even more U.S. troops from Germany to newer NATO members (which could promise direct benefits of up to $6 billion a year) could greatly mitigate any German-initiated cutoff of EU aid to Poland or others.
Washington must give diplomatic, financial, and moral support to its closest NATO allies to counterbalance the impending EU effort to pressure them into accepting an arrangement that is strategically unacceptable. To be successful, it must immediately formulate a policy that explicitly aims to ensure that European integration is commensurate with preexisting NATO obligations. The United States owes its friends in NATO, and in the EU, nothing less.