Europe’s new defense strategy

Much hope has been pinned on an initiative – by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg in reaction to US-British strikes against Iraq – for a European defense structure independent of existing institutions. Italy has already expressed its displeasure at not being part of the initiative from its inception and will probably join a summit «the four» have scheduled for April 29. And Greece is also showing a keen interest – as recent statements by Prime Minister Costas Simitis and opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis have made clear. As regards Britain, many believe its participation in talks is imperative. Generally, there is serious debate in many European countries regarding the need for a solid and independent European defense policy. As has been seen, the first mission of the nascent European defense force has begun in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), replacing US and NATO peacekeeping troops. But many believe that this is not enough. Recent interviews with certain representatives of the four countries in Athens contain interesting insights into the likely agenda of the meeting later this month. First of all, the participants will seek to strengthen their cooperation with a wider-ranging and comprehensive exchange of information between their respective ministries and state services. Meanwhile, in the long term, they will attempt to homogenize their arms systems so that they will be able to operate collectively in the future, and to compete with US manufacturers, which dominate the markets. Furthermore, they will try to set the foundations for a more solid stance and compelling presence in matters of defense policy whenever necessary. However, the new European structure would not compete with NATO, the same commentators stress. NATO and the provisions of international treaties remain the linchpins in tackling crises, they note. And they do not aim to transform Europe into a military superpower – firstly because it would never catch up with the USA, no matter how many billions of euros it invests, and secondly due to the conviction that leadership in the future will not be determined by firepower but rather by the ability of an economically robust Europe to export its model for prosperity, democracy and pluralism to other regions of the world. Greece should mull the above considerations and judge, calmly and prudently, if this model suits it – in view of its awkward geostrategic position – so that it can adapt its aims and policies accordingly.