Michael Berendt's blog

Europe is blind to its longer-term interests in defence and foreign affairs, claim two speeches in London this week. Former NATO Secretary General George Robertson and Douglas Alexander, foreign affairs spokesman for the British Labour Party, both castigate the failure of European policy-makers to look ahead and prepare for impending dangers.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned a few weeks ago of dangerous strains within NATO and the inevitable shift in US policy. Lord Robertson took up this theme. Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs on Wednesday July 6, he spelled out just how the transatlantic relationship had been transformed. “European nations will have to make a decision on what kind of transatlantic relationship they want” he says. “The option of grumbling dependency is over”. Europe could no longer rely on the United States to step in whenever military capabilities were required. It must develop its own capabilities and stiffen its political resolve.

Robertson entitled his lecture “Transatlantic Relations: A Case for Optimism”. There is not much optimism in his analysis though. His basic thesis is that as the US pulls back, so Europe will have no option but to respond to the challenge. President Obama had done Europe a great favour in refusing the leadership of the Libyan operation, he said, forcing European nations “to confront their own destiny”, precipitating a rebalancing in NATO. “An era of shared responsibility and mutual contribution is about to dawn”.

As a former NATO boss it’s not surprising that Robertson should bemoan the failure of Europe to tailor its defence policies to the modern world. After all, the cold war is long passed, yet European defence capabilities have not adapted, despite annual defence expenditure of $300 billion by the European allies.

More telling was his observation that there seemed to be no planning for the future, which would demonstrate NATO’s commitment to see the campaigns through to a successful conclusion. He sees this failure in terms of military follow-up, but might equally have stressed the need for a more coherent EU response, joined up with NATO.

This is just what Douglas Alexander, foreign affairs spokesman for the British Labour Party, has done in a speech to the Centre for European Reform, also on July 6.

Alexander argues that Europe’s response to the Arab Spring, and particularly to the Libyan conflict, will have more long-term significance for Europe even than the euro crisis. Yet he argues that there is no long-term post-conflict planning work going on in London, with the implication that it is not happening in Brussels either. “The political and military aspects of post-conflict planning are just as important and are in fact pre-requisites to any effective humanitarian efforts” he says.

He warns particularly of the dangers of chaos, looting and militia violence which could ensue in Libya when Gaddafi falls. Europe must do all it can to help post-Gaddafi security forces establish themselves and for the Libyan Transitional National Council to maintain civilian control over all its security operations, he says. He stresses the importance of supporting Tunisia and Egypt, Libya’s immediate neighbours.

Alexander ends with a warning: “This is an extraordinary moment for the European Union – the chance to have a set of growing, more democratic countries on our southern border, rather than declining autocracies. If we let it slip by, we will regret it for many decades to come.”

Once again, it is an issue of political leadership. We are facing crises where NATO and the European Union should be working in tandem to agree on future strategies – and mobilising the necessary resources, but there seems little evidence of this happening. So much for Lisbon and a European foreign policy!

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