20 October 2000 - 22 October 2000

The European Union's Common Foreign Security and Defence Policy: aspiration or reality?

Chair: Sir Michael Alexander GCMG

Over the weekend of 20-22 October we met at Ditchley to look in depth at the present stage in the construction by the EU of a common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy, the issues underlying that process and the nature of relations between CFSDP and NATO in the future.  We recognised at the outset that this was a subject where a plethora of acronyms  and convoluted institutional detail could obscure the strategic importance of the key issues under discussion.  These included the fundamental defence interests of the Europeans and their North American allies in NATO as well as the desire to realise the full potential of the EU as an actor with its own strategic assets and interests on the world stage.

We were conscious throughout of the disparity between the capabilities of individual European states and the military and economic strength of the hyperpower, USA.  The military technological gap was widening, primarily, we acknowledged, because of the spending gap on both equipment and research.  There was little likelihood of even the biggest of the medium sized European states being able to preserve the full range of military assets entailed in a balanced capability.  Role specialisation was the obvious answer, but this would involve a greater measure of interdependence, and pooling of resources than was currently acceptable to EU partners.  It would also require a greater alignment of foreign policies to ensure that where individual countries were called on to defend their national interests abroad they would be able, as a last resort, to rely on their partners to fight alongside them.

This led us to consider the implications of CFSDP for the future development of a common foreign policy.  It was necessary to take account of the fact that we were now confronted by a  much more fluid international situation than during the “Cold War”.  There was no guarantee that the EU would be able to adopt common positions on all important questions or that it would necessarily agree with the USA.  One participant drew attention to the current crises in the Middle East where just such problems could arise at any moment. 

We tried to define the terms “common”, “foreign”, “security” and “defence”.  Unlike other EU “common” policies for agriculture, fisheries, etc which were anchored in the community institutions, CFP was an exercise which required political will and popular support based on a public debate which had as yet hardly taken place.  The recent appointment of a High Representative might result in better overall coordination, as might the establishment of the Political and Security Committee in Brussels, which some thought he should chair.  But even here there was not as yet a unanimous view that the PSC should succeed the Political Committee.  Nor did we see a sufficient degree of coordination between the High Representative and the Commissioner for External Affairs whose responsibilities covered so many of the EU’s most effective levers of influence in the aid and trade fields. 

Amidst this relative scepticism and gloom, we reminded ourselves that enlargement was probably the EU’s most effective means of improving long term security and stability in Europe.  There would however be difficult questions to resolve over an increasingly divergent membership of NATO and the EU with the addition of new members of the EU.  Some argued strongly that we should not try to impose differentiation on new EU members by dissuading them from applying for NATO membership when they joined the EU.  It was particularly important not to give an implicit acknowledgement of a continuing Russian sphere of influence.  Others pointed to the practical and presentational difficulties in seeking to give substance to a NATO Article V guarantee to, for example, the Baltic states.  This would necessitate stationing troops in the Baltics which was bound, at the very least, to cause presentational difficulties for the Russians with possible effects on the EU’s wider relationship with that country.

In looking at recent developments in the creation of a Common Security and Defence Policy we drew a clear distinction between security and defence.  Common Defence based on Article V of the Washington treaty was a matter for NATO.  Nevertheless the decisions taken by a succession of European Councils at Cologne, Helsinki and most recently at Fiera were milestones on the road which it was hoped would enhance the EU’s capability to take action in the security field.  The Capabilities Commitments Conference (CCC) in November would be another important moment.  It should not be an occasion for a typical EU compromise.  Some participants cautioned against a political triumph rather than a capability triumph.  What might be numerically impressive commitments should not be accepted at face value.  The quality of the troops mattered as much as the quantity.  We were told that the words in the Helsinki Declaration which had resonated in US defence circles were “deploy” and “sustain”.  This presumed that the Europeans would provide mobility and all that goes with sustainability for these new forces.  We were warned against making a distinction between war-fighting and peacekeeping.  Troops employed on peacekeeping operations should be trained to the same level as those for war-fighting.  Only then would they have the discipline and capability to achieve their peacekeeping objectives.  Finance Ministers needed some education, it was claimed, to which others added that even some EU Foreign and Defence Ministers needed to be persuaded not to use the military as the first resort in responding to crises.

We examined the institutional arrangements for controlling such forces and coordination between the EU and NATO, and candidate members of the EU who were not NATO members.  The final architecture for CFSDP had yet to be determined but views were expressed on its outcome.  It should remain intergovernmental.  But if crisis management was the aim, this raised problems of coordination with trade and aid policies which were subject to the Commission and not directly to EU Governments.  A preference was expressed that the overall coordinator, operating on behalf of the Security and Policy Committee, should be Javier Solana, the EU’s High Representative – whose salary is paid by the Commission, noted one participant.  A strong preference was expressed that Deputy SACEUR should be the military commander and organiser of the force.  But this brought out an important disagreement which resurfaced in discussion of where operational and force planning should take place, and is dealt with later.  Parliamentary oversight was considered necessary.  No-one present wished to see the European Parliament take on this role although the idea of a second chamber one day doing so was acknowledged by a participant as a possibility.  National Parliaments were preferred.

One of the questions on our agenda was whether the development of CFSDP would have a significant effect on the process of rationalisation and consolidation now under way among the European Defence Industries.  On the one hand it was clear that the Europeans, in particular France and Britain, would wish to maintain a European defence industry and most were agreed on the importance of competition.  On the other, the efficiencies and cost savings from bigger production runs, together with the advantages of built in interoperability, argued for “buy American” policies.  Concern was expressed at the large difference in research expenditure between the USA and Europe.  On the whole we were unsure that, of itself, the Headline Goal would have much effect on the European defence industries although the optimists hoped that, over time, the Europeans might agree on a more coherent procurement programme.

We spent a good deal of time examining the links between CFSDP and NATO.  The poles of the discussion were the balance to be struck between efficiency (which, claimed its supporters, argued for maintaining NATO in a leading role in the military aspects of security), as opposed to autonomy of European action, which was a high priority for one country.  Those who were in favour of NATO’s leading role pointed to the fact that, notwithstanding the Capabilities Commitment Conference, we were essentially dealing with the same pool of forces whose standards, training and interoperability were assured by NATO. 

This led on to a detailed discussion of planning for EU military operations.   We were repeatedly assured that no country had a hidden agenda.  It was, however, important to be clear about the nature of the planning involved.  Force planning was one thing, operational planning another.  Where operational planning of a non-article V nature with NATO involvement was at issue, then there was no disagreement that planning should take place in NATO.  Where the operation would be EU led but with NATO assets, then there was almost unanimous agreement that planning should also take place in NATO.  Where, however, an EU operation was contemplated without any NATO assets then it seemed evident to one country that EU nations were capable of such planning and it should not be undertaken in NATO.  Those who disagreed voiced a number of concerns from the need to make use of, rather than attempt to duplicate, Deputy SACEUR’s planning and command capabilities, to the question of what would happen if, as in Kosovo, force escalation was required and the EU had already reached its limit of 60,000 rapidly deployable troops.  Others argued that the only way in which NATO assets would be made available to the EU would be for there to be complete transparency between the two.  We concluded our discussion with the hope that this key point could be resolved by the time of the EU Nice Summit.

Discussion of planning highlighted a potential problem for non-EU NATO members, above all Turkey, in agreeing to the use of NATO assets for EU operations without some direct say in the decisions about how such assets, which would probably include Turkish forces, would be used.  A number of ways of dealing with this problem including a Turkish place on the committee of contributors, were aired, with a heavy accent on transparency between all the groups (15, 23, etc.)  Once again a solution before Nice would be desirable.

At the end of the discussions we stood back from the detail and tried to put the bigger picture into perspective.  We thought we might be seeing the end of the beginning of the adjustment to post-Cold War conditions.  The use of force was no longer constrained by the possibility of triggering a Super Power exchange.  Although the US had supported its Allies in Bosnia and Kosovo, US public opinion was reluctant for the US always to play a leading role.  On the EU side there was recognition of this and a belief that in crisis management terms the EU had more instruments at its disposal than NATO – the US has a full spectrum of war fighting, the EU a full spectrum of peacekeeping – was how one participant expressed it.  EU representatives among us thought that it might be easier to get public consent to increase defence budgets if the label was the EU rather than NATO.  But all this needed a new NATO-EU relationship which preserved the essentials and which was honest and open about the force capabilities which would be required.  Institutions were important in this regard.

The impact of all this on the EU would be considerable.  It would have to get accustomed to including the military in its overall policies, and acquire the skills and mind-set to do so successfully.  But this should not be at the expense of what the EU had built up over the years.  It should conserve its supranational elements which had allowed 15 disparate states to achieve so much together and which was the basis of the EU’s unique strength and reputation in the world.  It was the multinational, essentially non-military approach of the EU which might make its responses different from the US in a given crisis.  For the foreseeable future the EU would be unable to concentrate authority and resources in the same way as the USA even though, commented an American participant, the USA had had a steep learning curve itself in finding the right institutions and procedures for effective crisis management.

At the heart of this lay the relationship between the EU and the USA.  The military and security elements did not constitute the whole relationship.  The economic elements, although at times hostage to particular issues, were also important and would become increasingly so in a globalising world.  The bedrock was, however, our common political values. 

Overall we left Ditchley conscious of the importance of the process that was in train, aware of the need to get the detail right and of the negotiating pressures leading up to Nice, but nevertheless guardedly optimistic that solutions between two such different organisations as the EU and NATO could be found if all concerned were able to weigh short-term gains against collective long-term strategic interests.

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman:  Sir Michael Alexander GCMG
Chairman, Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies.

Colonel Brian S MacDonald

President, The Atlantic Council of Canada.
The Hon Roy MacLaren PC
High Commissioner of Canada to the Court of St James’s.
Professor Alex Macleod
Department of Political Science, University of Québec in Montréal.

Mr Pertti Torstila

Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Admiral Edouard MacGrath

Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Defence.

Professor Dr Karl Kaiser CBE

Council on Foreign Relations, Berlin.
Professor Dr Margarita Mathiopoulos
Senior Adviser European and North American Markets, BAE SYSTEMS.
Ambassador Klaus Neubert
German Representative to the Political and Security Committee, Brussels.
HE Baron Hermann von Richthofen GCVO
Chairman, German-British Association and former Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the North Atlantic Council.
Dr Constanze Stelzenmuller
Editor and political correspondent, Die Zeit.

HE Mr Gábor Szentiványi GCVO

Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to the Court of St James’s.

Dr Edgar Buckley

Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Planning and Operations, NATO.

Lt Col Gil Baldwin MBE

Military Assistant to DSACEUR, Office of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, SHAPE.

Ms Alyson J K Bailes

Ambassador-designate to Finland.  Lately Political Director, Western European Union.
Mr Robert Cooper CMG MVO
Head, Defence and Overseas Secretariat, Cabinet Office.
Mr Quentin Davies MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Grantham and Stamford.
Mr William Ehrman CMG
Director, International Security, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Professor Lawrence Freedman CBE FBA
Professor of War Studies, King’s College, London University.
Dr Chris Gamble
Director, Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden KCB
Former Director, Royal Institute of International Affairs.
Mr Bruce George MP
Chairman, Select Committee on Defence, House of Commons.
Mr Nik Gowing
Main presenter/anchor international TV News Service, BBC World.
Dr Emyr Jones Parry CMG
Political Director, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Mr Michael Maclay
Director, Hakluyt & Company.
Dr Edwina Moreton OBE
Diplomatic Editor & Deputy Foreign Editor, The Economist.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG
Adviser, Hawkpoint Partners Limited.
The Baroness Park of Monmouth CMG OBE
Life Peer (Conservative).
Lord Roper
Visiting Professor, College of Europe, Bruges.
Lord Weidenfeld
Chairman, Wiedenfeld & Nicholson Limited and associated companies.
Lt Gen Sir Michael Willcocks KCB
UK Military Representative to NATO.

Mr Gordon N Bardos

Program Officer, Harriman Institute.
Ms Lisa Bronson
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Affairs, Department of Defense, Pentagon.
Ambassador James F Dobbins
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, State Department.
Ms Kristie Evenson
Research Associate, Eurasia Group.
The Hon Richard N Gardner
Professor of Law and International Organisation, Columbia University and Foreign Policy Adviser to Vice President Gore.
Dr Gary Horlick
Partner, O’Melveny and Myers.
Mr Christopher J Makins
President, The Atlantic Council of the United States.
Brigadier General William C Martin
Deputy Adjutant General, Division of Military and Naval Affairs, State of New York.
Ambassador Jenonne Walker
Vice President, World Monuments Fund. WEU
Dr Julian Lindley-French

Research Fellow, Western European Union Institute for Security Studies.