One of the paradoxes of transatlantic relations is that successive US governments have consistently encouraged Europeans to do more in the area of defense and security, for good reasons. Yet, whenever Europeans unveiled initiatives aimed at doing that, they were met with hand-wringing and criticisms from America and from prominent Atlanticists: Won’t new EU structures duplicate those existing within NATO and jeopardize interoperability? And is a Europe that is genuinely autonomous in defense in the US interest?
Such concerns are not relieved by casual declarations from European leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel that the alliance is “brain dead,” and that Europe can no longer “fully rely” on the United States for its security. According to a new, practically minded report from Carnegie’s Erik Brattberg and Tomáš Valášek, it is time to turn the volume down:
“[T]he United States should broadly welcome the prospect of a stronger EU security and defense role. If well designed and executed, European defense projects can make valuable contributions toward strengthening the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by helping to bring about more European military capabilities and promoting investments in defense technology innovation.”
The criticisms of new initiatives such as PESCO and EDF are at their most compelling when they point to their potential as tools of European protectionism. Non-EU countries and suppliers might be prevented from participating in many of the new EU projects. In the greater scheme of things, it is a relatively minor point that the alliance ought to be in a position to address through trade and regulatory concessions. Neither is the problem of technical interoperability insurmountable — rather, both are questions of good will on both sides of the Atlantic.