Article Published in the Sea Power
In terms of European security, 1998 was perhaps the most significant year the Continent has seen since the Soviet Empire’s collapse nearly a decade ago. During 1998, NATO continued its eastward expansion; the West repeatedly threatened the warring ethnic factions in the Balkan province of Kosovo with military intervention; intense preparations were made for the debut of Europe’s common currency the euro on January 1, 1999; leftist governments continued to win European elections; and the European defense industry continued its tortured, half-hearted yet- inevitable journey toward rationalization.
With these activities, Europe in 1998 moved closer to achieving its ultimate goal: the ability through a combination of pan-continental political, industrial and military strength and a shared focus to cooperate and, if necessary, to compete with the United States as an equal partner. Europe’s attainment of this goal should be of significant interest to U.S. policy makers and defense planners, because coalition warfare will continue to displace unilateral military action (consider how internationally-unpopular America’s missile strikes against suspected terrorist facilities in Sudan and Afghanistan turned out to be).
With coalition warfare here to stay, trans-Atlantic military planning and weapons procurement strategies cannot be made in a vacuum. “If we are going to be fighting together, we need to be able to communicate together and we need to have equipment that is interoperable,” Dr. Jacques Gansler, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief recently told Jane’s Defense Weekly. As a result, Europe’s future identity will directly affect both U.S. national security and America’s power projection capabilities.
These and other efforts will shape Europe’s future navies which, in 1998, continued their overall downsizing while naval air forces remained strong. This article summarizes 1998’s major events, describes their impact on Europe’s naval forces, and explores the challenges intra-continental relations, collective security and individual European navies may face during 1999.
NATO: Rumors of Its Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated
Transatlantic relations remained relatively positive throughout 1998. There were, however, some serious differences of opinion on the issues of how quickly Europe’s defense industry should consolidate and what the “revolution in military affairs” was all about, just to name a few. Furthermore, the United States and Europe each focused on internal security issues rather than NATO’s overall health. But despite some neglect, the alliance had a busy year most notably its own expansion and its role in the Balkans.
Without the Soviet threat, NATO’s current identity and future direction has become unclear. Yet trans-Atlantic politics continues to encourage the spirit of “collective security,” and, as a result, coalition warfare has evolved from a fad to a trend. With this as its post-Cold War foundation, the NATO alliance has endured and is expanding, rather than declined.
The debate about whether to bring new countries into NATO culminated with the 1997 invitation to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to begin the accession process. The issue of enlargement became controversial, however, as acceptance of new members meant commitment to Article V of the NATO charter for the newcomers whereby an attack on one is considered an attack on all. This further exacerbated issues of parity in capabilities and interoperability among NATO forces.
But following the 1998 approval of this “first wave” of NATO newcomers by the United States which had been considered the alliance member most skeptical of expansion these three nations will be formally welcomed into the fold at a spring 1999 summit in Washington, D.C. In addition, NATO has made it clear that it will consider making other additions to the alliance in the future, despite France’s continued assertions of independence on security matters and decision not to integrate fully into the NATO architecture until its demands are met for a stronger role in leading the alliance.
NATO was by far the most significant player in maintaining European security in 1998. While some held out hopes that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the Western European Union (WEU) would rise to relieve NATO of its military responsibilities, they were disappointed when NATO continued to hold all the cards. The alliance was called upon throughout the year to assist in Europe’s security, particularly in the Balkans where ethnic tensions once again caused clashes to erupt in the former Yugoslavia.
Western Europe and the United States have long been concerned about this region due to the perceived potential of spillover: fighting in one area creeping into regions that are within NATO’s purview, and exacerbating tensions between NATO members like Greece and Turkey which as always finds themselves aligned against each other in this region. For these and other reasons, NATO during the 1990s has tried to keep the lid on Balkan conflicts through mildly-successful peacekeeping operations which culminated in the Richard Holbrooke-brokered 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Since then, the U.S. military has led a number of multinational peace-enforcement operations in the region.
But implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords has not ended the fighting in Kosovo. The southern Serbian province of Kosovo, 90% ethnic Albanian and mostly Muslim, sought to reassert its self-rule against Serbia, resulting in serious ethnic clashes beginning in the spring of 1998. NATO repeatedly threatened air strikes in order to coerce Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic into more civilized behavior. By October 1998 Milosevic had agreed to an undisclosed level of troop withdrawal and a detailed verification and compliance regime with Ambassador Holbrooke again adroitly using the threat of a massive military assault to achieve his diplomatic objectives. The primary goal: to end the conflict and to allow refugees to return unharmed to their homes. As a result, NATO appeared stronger than ever by the end of the year.
However, the problems in the area are far from over. Refugees resulting from the conflict posed a serious challenge to Europe. An estimated 250,000 refugees were technically freed to return to their homes, but the overwhelming majority are afraid to do so. Europe, led by NATO, must find a solution to the refugee issue while maintaining peace in the conflict-ridden area. NATO passed another key test stemming from the crisis in Kosovo: air power projection was well- supported and well-coordinated among NATO members during each of the build-ups necessary to counter Serbian aggression.
On the other hand, NATO’s success may be mitigated by economic tensions: European defense companies are in direct competition with U.S. industry, and as many defense budgets around the world are declining, lower defense spending has made competition even stiffer. At a time when coalition warfare seems to be at its peak, attention is distracted and the defense industry’s incentives to cooperate or be interoperable are arguably at an all-time low. While the transatlantic alliance remains relatively healthy, a serious challenge to peace in the region could turn the fissures into serious rifts.
A crisis in European security is not the only way that these fissures could grow. Elections resulted in European governments
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