The EU as a security provider 

The growing weight of sovereigntist and populist political forces in Europe weakens the prospect of a strong and more secure Europe. In a world where major global threats such as global warming, massive migrations, arms race and increasing risks of military confrontations loom, one wonders how a weaker Europe will ensure its security. Such global issues can only be addressed multilaterally and yet they are either ignored by emerging political forces or pursued via improbable national, individualistic approaches.

After the period of détente which followed the Cold War, security and stability in Europe have dropped changed dramatically. By deploying nuclear capable missiles in the heart of Europe and altering international borders through the use of force, Russia has destabilised the Old Continent and broken the taboo of the territorial integrity of states in Europe. The deployment of US missile defence systems in two EU countries close to Russian territory and its withdrawal from the INF Treaty can also be perceived as destabilising.

Incidents and close calls between NATO and Russian military forces particularly in the skies are becoming frequent and potentially bear incalculable consequences. The mechanisms originally designed by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, (OSCE) to address these situations are revealing their inadequacy.

All this occurs as the long-lasting friendship between the US and Europe is losing ground. No issue is more divisive than the humiliating penalization by the US of Europe and European companies for abiding by the JCPOA nuclear deal on Iran enshrined in a legally binding UN Security Council Resolution. The European allies have endorsed, though reluctantly, the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty. The way in which such a decision was adopted stands in stark contrast with the intense consultation with allies and Congress that took place at the time of the Treaty’s adoption in the 1980s.

Doubts about the reliability of the US nuclear umbrella add to a growing uncertainty in Europe: the security assurances given by US officials visiting Europe are contradicted by President Trump’s frequent expressions of intolerance vis-à-vis Europe which is now caught between a weakening of its Alliance with the US and a more assertive Russia. Whereas Europe has traditionally relied on soft security as a tool of crisis management, it continues to rely on NATO for its own defence.

The institutional mechanisms for a European autonomous defence already exist. Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty provides for a mutual assistance in case of an armed aggression against the territory of an EU member state. However the Lisbon Treaty also provides that the Union “shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realized in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ….”. And indeed the “Berlin plus arrangements” of 2002, that allow Europe to draw on some of NATO’s military assets in its own crisis management operations, imply a dependence of the EU on NATO.

To this day the possibility for Europe to go it alone when it comes to its own security and defence is remote and is only partially due to the traditional divide between EU NATO and non-NATO members. This divide is now accentuated by the emerging scepticism vis-à-vis the European construction in capitals and within the European Parliament. It is striking that in Italy, one of the founding fathers of the EU, there is no mention of the EU Security and Defence dimension in the foreign and defence chapters of the ruling coalition’s platform.

The drafters of the Lisbon Treaty foresaw the scenario of a non-homogeneous Europe on security and defence matters by introducing in Art. 46 of the Lisbon Treaty the concept of Permanent Structural Cooperation (PESCO), allowing limited numbers of like-minded EU countries to make steps forward in the field of security and defence. In light of a changing security environment and under the impulse of High Representative Federica Mogherini’s new Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS), the EU has now adopted 34 PESCO operational projects in the areas of military capability development.

These are meaningful steps forward. However, to address the magnitude of the security and defence challenges ahead, Europe will have to extend the scope of its capabilities.

The US withdrawal from the INF Treaty will come with consequences. With the Treaty no longer in force, Russia may legitimately redeploy short and middle range nuclear missiles. This will bring Europe back to the intolerable pre-1987 situation. Just a few weeks ago President Putin hinted at a possible Russian attack against European cities hosting strategic military assets.

A few months still remain before the US withdrawal becomes irreversible. It would be legally feasible for the US to temporarily suspend its withdrawal decision. This would give more time to clarify the dispute over the range of Russian missiles, to consider at least a moratorium on deployments and to explore the possibilities of updating the treaty provisions to the new strategic environment. In 1993 North Korea suspended for 9 years its decision to pull out of the NPT before acting.

Military incidents and close calls especially in the sky can immediately spark a conflict. Guidelines on encounters between warplanes were recently endorsed by the US and China within the ASEAN framework. There is no reason why a similar arrangement should not be reached with Russia.

The idea of establishing a European coordination within NATO has always been opposed especially by the UK. Now that London is probably on its way out, it may be possible for the European allies to speak with a more harmonized and louder voice in NATO and explore the possibility of using concretely PESCO as a tool to achieve this goal.

Carlo Trezza – member of the Nato Defense College Foundation Scientific Committee. European Leadership Network coordinator for Italy. He was Italy’s Ambassador for Disarmament and Non-proliferation in Geneva, Chairman of the Missile Technology Control Regime and of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board for Disarmament Matters in New York.