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Transatlantic divergences on threat evaluation – or the question of the Alliance’s « added-value »

Abstract GEAB N°4


This question of the Alliance’s « added-value » is at the core of all the discussions which will lead to the “great debate” (or “great washing”) of the Riga summit. A military alliance is worth anything if it can protect from the military threats anticipated by each of its members. In case the threat assessment by some of its members or by some groups among its members begins to diverge, the destiny of the military alliance is endangered. Once the assessment fully diverged, the alliance is dead even if it continues to exist formally in order to prevent obvious signs of rupture (which diplomats hate) to appear.

And it is a fact that both sides of the Atlantic no longer have converging threat evaluation. The Iran crisis provides the most obvious example of this situation: the Europeans, London included, reject any military intervention, while Washington strives to put back the option at the centre of the debate. But other examples are provided by the fact that for the Europeans, terrorism should not become an “obsession” to the point of threatening civil liberties; or by the fact that Europeans feel more concerned by natural risks (global heating, pollution, epidemics…) and global social imbalances (poverty, hunger…) as sources of catastrophes, conflicts, terrorism and uncontrolable migrations, while the US remain focussed on classical or new (terrorism, rogue states…) military threats.

These « expert quarrels » hide two different visions of the world and convey different ways of preventing threats. From an EU perspective, these means are mostly to be built, see invented, and require the active participation of the other continents, from the other global players such as China, Russia, India, Brazil…. These means include military aspects of course too (and the Europeans are reorganising their armaments industry [1] in order to rationalize this aspect of their future security policy) , but only partly since the Europeans consider that threats are largely non-military and require judicial, commercial, political, scientific, humanitarian approaches… From a US perspective, military means are first and foremost envisaged to the detriment of other approaches (Katrina is a sad result of this policy), namely because the US own an immense war machine in need to justify its existence and related costs. In this case, the defence system programmes the threat. Even if some new EU- and NATO members continue to see Russia as a direct and concrete threat to EU security, the large majority of Europeans see Moscow as an unpredictable partner, to watch over and manage firmly, but by no means as a mortal danger. Europe has returned to its “usual” historic situation from before the October Revolution.

Concerning the Arab and Muslim world, the Europeans do not share US fantasies that they will invade Europe and the world. Some extremists certainly do. But for most Europeans, the challenge is to prevent their madness to grow on to these countries’ populations, and that requires to do exactly the opposite of what the US is currently doing in Iraq. A double divergence therefore: on the content and on the means… reflecting the current debates conducted within NATO.

In November 2006, the Europeans will most probably give way to Washington’s desire to enlarge NATO to non European countries and integrate members from the rest of the world into some sort of an « Alliance of Democracies », but this geographic expansion will result in a dilution of the operational military aspect of the Alliance, in an acceleration of the common European defence and in the diversification of the Alliance’s armaments suppliers.


[1] Recent « big manœuvres » in European armament show that the Europeans have seriously undertaken to build a real European armaments industry. Centred around a Franco-German nucleus, with a strong participation of the Italians and the Spanish in particular, some “European champions” are emerging today: EADS, Thalès,… Simultaneously, the departure of Airbus’ BAE towards the US market, together with the launching of Franco-British aircraft carriers, illustrate the « revolution » going on in the United Kingdom between « Atlanticists » and « Europeists » in this field. Indeed there is a US exodus of « Atlanticist » private operators and a European anchorage of future-bearing national choices.

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