Political scientist G. Vitkus: EU Defense Policy is an additional insurance for Europeans (interview)

21 October 2013, Last updated at, 15:25 EEST
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Dr. Gediminas Vitkus, professor of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University and the General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania | author: Ieva Budzeikaitė

Rapid changes in the European security environment pose more and more questions as to whether Europe is prepared to respond to new security challenges. That is why after a long break European leaders will again discuss issues regarding the future of European defense. Solutions will be sought to help improve the efficiency and visibility of European defence, enhance defence capabilities, and strengthen the European Union defense industry.

As the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Lithuania also aims to contribute to strengthening the Common Security and Defense Policy of the Union. Dr. Gediminas Vitkus, professor of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University and the General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania, shared his insights regarding security and defense policy perspectives, the basis for the necessity to develop an independent European Union response to crisis capacities, and how this will influence relations with NATO and the United States.

Currently, most European countries are also members of NATO. What arguments can you give to support the attempts of the European Union to develop our own crisis response capacities?

One answer is very simple – in fact, not all EU countries are members of NATO.

On the other hand, not all work in the field of security can be done by NATO. Maybe they could do it, but the interests of Americans and Canadians should be taken into account as they may not always be the same or relevant to European interests.

The third thing to mention is that over the past few decades the concept of security has expanded. This reason is the most important. There is no longer such a clear confrontation between two military-political blocs, and instead many forms of threats have appeared that can only be controlled by minor or specific forces: NATO every time does not have to come and “use a gun against a fly”.

In terms of the traditional concept of national security, which is related to the protection  of a territory, and the defence of a country's borders and territorial integrity, it should be noted that the European Union is not engaged in this, and it remains a matter for each individual state, and, as you know, some of these countries are participants in a collective defence alliance. On the other hand, there is a lot of work and problems which are reflected in the European Security Strategy: poor states, and the resulting migration flows, nuclear weapon proliferation, and many others.

Another argument relates to the fact that the European Union itself has its own internal dynamics of development. Gradually the states are gaining consciousness that in certain areas they can work together by saving or accessing more than when they act alone.
If we forecast that the further European Security and Defence Policy development towards a unified direction would be sufficiently dynamic, what United States response can be expected, taking into account the fact that there will be a certain wedge between the European Union and NATO?

I do not think there would be any opposition. On the contrary, the Americans always want to include as many participants as possible in solving their problems and concerns that are developing all over the world, and always stress that Europeans should contribute more to solving the security problems.

The NATO Secretary General has repeatedly mentioned that NATO cannot be an organization that exists at the expense of the United States. Perhaps the idea of greater concern for European Union security and defense reaches us from across the Atlantic Ocean?

The European Common Security and Defence Policy is a very misleading concept. In fact, such a phenomenon – as it might be called – does not exist. The essence of European Common Security and Defence Policy is to ensure the European Union’s capability to engage in crisis management. Defense is not an issue in this case, as well as such actions that were carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not an aim for the European Union, therefore, both formally and on the basis of academic sources, it is stressed that the European Union is a normative power that aims to solve conflicts peacefully.

But there still remain moments when it is necessary to solve a crisis using military force. For example, when a civil war breaks out in a country. Such a situation requires some "gendarmerie" to maintain order. In such a case, the European Union is beneficial as it can offer such assistance. In this sense, the European Common Security and Defence Policy means the ability to manage crises.

On the other hand, that ability concerns not only military matters, and is a combination of civil and military measures. The spectrum of European Union political and economic measures developed to manage crises is wide enough. Meanwhile, NATO is oriented almost exclusively on military measures.

Attention should be paid to the fact that now a sort of evolution is happening. NATO, which was initiated as a defence alliance, is trying to reorient itself as a universal global security alliance. Meanwhile, the European Union has been evolving from the Economic Community towards a certain alliance that would ensure security. We can only compare the extent of advancement which each of the organizations managed to achieve or other capacities.

This leads us to two problem areas. One is that all the European Union bureaucratic processes are complicated, time-consuming and inefficient in decision-making, so they can be an obstacle to the intended crises management. Another problem – keeping in mind that some day we will have to start allocating 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for defense as promised to NATO, will it be a conceivable financial burden for countries to still maintain budgets for the European Union’s defence needs?

First of all, about the bureaucracy is a good question. Indeed, complicated political decisions such as the development or adoption of new legislation take up to one and a half years to be implemented, as they must be approved by many institutions. But, in my opinion, this is not bad. On the contrary, it is a great example of democracy reflecting the thorough reading and harmonisation of various interests, etc.

If we are talking about decisions in crisis situations where it is necessary to respond quickly and efficiently, the European Union also has such instruments. For example, the European Union Council comprise special committees which can quite quickly meet and take the necessary decisions.

Speaking about finances, we indeed often hear the argument that NATO is already paid a large amount. So why should we pay additionally to the European Union? In response I would compare additional security costs with insurance. Few like insurance when you need to pay the contributions, but upon getting into trouble it really is not bad to have insurance.

Assessing the evolving European Union defense policy – even if only at the embryonic stage of development – I would assume that it is an additional security measure together with NATO guarantees, and mention the following analogy: in the energy area, we are now completely dependent on Gazprom. In order to have some sort of alternative, we agree to pay and build a liquefied natural gas terminal. The same may be said about defense. We are all one hundred percent dependent on NATO. And if, let's say, something happens in the United States, that some forces come to power that decide it is enough to take care of Europe? The European Union defense policy would mean that we have at least some alternative to NATO, and the latter would assist.

Another example would be the Georgian-Russian war, where assistance was provided not that much by NATO, but rather the European Union and France that was holding the Presidency of the EU Council at that time.

Consequently, NATO in perspective perhaps will not be so flexible responding to potential conflicts and crises compared to the European Union, as the Alliance has set a precise activity direction, clear criteria, and on the basis thereof can give a response under the 5th article of the European Union Treaty. On the other hand, in recent times from a variety of interpretations of conflict situations we see that to say that one or other conflict is not covered by the above article is very easy. Does this mean that the European Union defense policy "embryo" is more promising because will have not only military but also civilian-political means to regulate conflicts?   

I would not support the idea of opposing NATO and the European Union because they can complement each other. Somebody joked that Americans have dinner and Europeans come to wash the dishes. In other words, Americans use the military resolution of the conflict, and Europeans come after to manage all the consequences. They restore and reintegrate the former conflict party to the international community.

Two examples of the democratization project come to mind. One is Turkey, and the other Iraq. Neither has been a success, although at one time they were opposed. The European Union informed Turkey that they will be gradually tamed and made European, and join ES ranks. And the Americans in Iraq informed that the country will be immediately made democratic as soon as the existing government is overthrown, destroyed, and the new promoted. As we can see, the future of neither one nor the other is clear; nevertheless, Europe, NATO and the Americans like to complement each other.
Consequently, there are two ways of conflict resolution: radical and more diplomatic. The European Union often applies the latter. Does it mean that Americans tend to immediately "come up with bombs"?

I do not think so. The United States of America mainly chooses diplomacy.
Is it so that the American diplomatic process is much shorter before opening military action?

For the United States of America, it is easier to make decisions and decide on further actions as this is a consolidated state. But the problem arises when you need to decide on how to restore the state and guarantee peace. Meanwhile, the European Union has more country recovery experience. After all, we can say that it is the European Union that in some sense recreated the entire Central and Eastern Europe.

It should be borne in mind that after World War II, the U.S.A contributed to the recovery of Western Europe: we should remember the Marshall Plan.

Yes, it is absolutely right.

One gets the impression that the European security and defense policy development up to the political-military level with combat groups or other forces, diplomatic corps intended to address crisis situations, and the like is an issue of interest for America as it will simply have to pay less. Meanwhile, NATO will join only when it is time to "drop bombs".

Definitely, NATO is like a "nuclear weapon" which exists, discouraging but better not to use it.

Does this mean that NATO will be a tool of deterrence, and the European Union will be a functional as well as negiotiations instrument ?

Namely the European Union will be dedicated to solving specific issues and will act as a diplomatic negotiation unit that helps to solve problems. NATO, in turn, will be invoked just in case the other solution is not found.

Is the desire to more actively develop the Eastern Partnership programs involving partners in the cooperation in the security and defence area an additional argument for greater European defense integration? After all, the Eastern Partnership is purely a European initiative; NATO does not contribute to it and very carefully weighs the potential Alliance membership of Ukraine and Georgia, which might become a direct irritant to Russia. On the other hand, we can say that European initiatives to cooperate with partners in the security and defense area do not trigger a fierce reaction from the Kremlin.

Yes, they still do not respond to thinking that the European Union defense cooperation precludes NATO, and Europe will gradually displace the Alliance. But it will not be like this, and in the long term Russia will accept the new initiatives with indifference.
Thank you for the interview.

Interviewed by Darius Varanavičius, Chief Editor of the magazine Karys (The Warrior)




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