The EU's CFSP and the Iraq Crisis: A Catalyst for Change?

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Chris Moore

European Security

Dr. Mustafa Türkeş

May 2006

The EU’s CFSP and the Iraq Crisis:

A Catalyst for Change?

        The year 2003 was a difficult one for the European Union’s attempts to forge a common foreign and security policy (CFSP).  America’s launch of a pre-emptive strike against Saddam Hussein’s regime split the EU into those For and Against the war.  This paper will attempt to examine the crisis over Iraq and its impact upon CFSP.  It will begin with a brief overview of the complex nature of CFSP in the post-Cold War period.  Second, it will sketch the context surrounding the Iraq Crisis.  Finally, the paper will examine the impact that the crisis has had upon CFSP, and speculate on whether or not the crisis will ultimately serve as a catalyst to reformulate CFSP in such a way as to prevent future splits in security policy.  

Common Foreign and Security Policy in the Post-Cold War Era

        It is perhaps slightly ironic that Charles De Gaulle, a hero of French nationalists, was historically one of the chief supporters of a common security policy in Europe.  He supported the unsuccessful Fouchet Plans of the 1960’s that would have taken great steps toward common defense.  The development of European Political Cooperation (EPC) in 1970 could also been seen as part of his legacy.  Given De Gaulle’s dislike of supranationalism, this seems a bit odd.  But when one begins to exam the nature of the EPC and its offspring CFSP, the connection with De Gaulle begins to make sense.  In matters as important as war and peace, De Gaulle saw no place for supranationalism.  His priority was always France.  At the same time, he recognized that Europe needed to cooperate and pool its resources in order to challenge the superpowers of America and Russia.  EPC was an attempt to bridge that gap – promoting cooperation but protecting sovereignty.  This is essentially the same dilemma that faces CFSP today.  EU member states see the benefit of working as one, but in matters of war, each nation wants the final say.

        The case of the Iraq Crisis presents a scenario in which the weaknesses of CFSP were put on display.  But before looking at the Iraq Crisis specifically, we will first look at the state of CFSP in the preceding decade, as the EU redefined its identity following the collapse of Communism.  In particular we can see several important factors that made a common foreign policy especially challenging in the post-Cold War era.

EU’s Limited Military

        With the end of the Cold War, and the USSR now gone, Europe had the chance to attain De Gaulle’s dream of becoming the “other” superpower in the world.  But militarily, at least, this did not happen.  As one scholar writes,

Rather than viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to flex global muscles, Europeans took it as an opportunity to cash in on a sizable peace dividend. Average European defense budgets gradually fell below 2 percent of GDP. Despite talk of establishing Europe as a global superpower, therefore, European military capabilities steadily fell behind those of the United States throughout the 1990s.

        While there was an officially expressed desire to “assert [EU] identity on the international scene” one could question whether the political will truly existed.  The Balkan conflict in the early 90’s and the Kosovo conflict in the late 90’s put the EU’s limited capabilities on display.

Under the best of circumstances, the European role was limited to filling out peacekeeping forces after the United States had, largely on its own, carried out the decisive phases of a military mission and stabilized the situation. As some Europeans put it, the real division of labor consisted of the United States “making the dinner” and the Europeans “doing the dishes.”

        By 2003, the EU was beginning to recognize that “soft power” was not wholly adequate – that in a world full of conflict, military capability was still needed.  With that in mind, the summit in Helsinki in 1999 put forward a “headline goal” to have 60,000 EU troops ready to deploy within 60 days for sustained activity of at least one year.  Nevertheless, such a goal has proven difficult to attain.  And even with the new emphasis on capabilities,  the EU remained, in Lord Robertson’s famous words, "a military pygmy.”  Even if the EU had a robust CFSP it still lacked the ability to flex military muscle without the help of the US.

France and Britain

        In order for the EU to have a Common Foreign and Security Policy, there needs to be commonality.  History has shown this to rarely be the case.  This “uncommon” foreign policy is most readily seen in the different perspectives of France and Britain.  

De Gaulle is credited with setting the tone for France’s foreign policy, as the countries of Europe began the first steps of their integration project.  De Gaulle was suspicious of US intentions, and to that end pulled out of the NATO integrated military structure in 1966, forcing NATO headquarters to relocate to Belgium.  De Gaulle also pioneered France’s nuclear program in order to establish itself as a nuclear power apart from any relationship with the US.  With the end of the Cold War, France began challenging the relevance of NATO to the degree of endorsing a separate EU defense headquarters to oversee EU military operations.   

 From De Gaulle to Chirac, France’s consistent pattern is to shrink from any dependency upon the US, and to promote a free and autonomous Europe.  On the other hand, France is certainly not always in favor of supranationalism.  Neither De Gaulle nor Chirac has shown any interest in sacrificing sovereignty on weighty issues like war.  However, their desire to counterbalance the US has forced them to the practical conclusion that Europe must stand together.

        In contrast to France stands Britain.  Their perspective on the EU’s CFSP is that it needs to work in conjunction with the US, and not in competition against the US.  The British approach took a slight turn away from this posture with the election of Tony Blair in 1997.  Blair, being much more pro-EU than previous administrations, began efforts to increase EU security cooperation, including a famous summit between Britain and France at Saint Malo in 1998 in which the two countries declared their commitment to a common EU security and defense scheme.

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        But the new posture of Blair did not undermine the fact that Britain still saw their “special relationship” with the US to be the right approach, not only for Britain, but for the EU.  To that end, Britain has consistently emphasized the importance of NATO in any discussion of EU CFSP and rejected France’s attempts to create totally independent EU military capabilities.  By 2003, any feelings of solidarity between the French and the British surrounding the Saint Malo summit were all but gone when Blair stated, “Some want a so-called multi-polar world where you have different centres of power…others believe, ...

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