What NATO looks like in the age of European austerity
Amid budget cutbacks and a 'diminishing appetite' for war, Europe has turned increasingly to the 'soft power' assignments like training and institution-building.
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For some US-Europe analysts, however, the day has already arrived.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's amazing to think that the argument used to be over when the EU would supplant NATO" as Europe's preeminent common security and defense institution, says John Hulsman, an international relations expert and consultant in Berlin. "Now the de facto division is one where the US is the military power and we look to Europe to help with the soft power, and there is no more argument about it."
Europeans 'tired' of war
A "diminishing appetite" in Europe for the kinds of jobs implicit in a mission like NATO's in Afghanistan is one explanation for the growing US-Europe "division of labor" in international interventions, says Charles Kupchan, a transatlantic expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington. But another, he adds, is that Europe found itself at the end of the cold war with forces that were "primarily structured for a land conflict in Europe, with little capacity to project power beyond NATO's borders."
Recognizing that, some NATO officials and experts alike say it will be a restructuring of those European forces and better coordination among them that will keep Europe from retreating completely as a defense and security partner.
"If one were to say that Europe is going only in the direction of soft power, I would not agree," says Gen. Stéphane Abrial, NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation. Pointing to a recent French-British defense accord on pooling certain resources and coordinating more military activities, he says, "That's not about soft power, it's an agreement to make the best use of resources to be able to use hard power more effectively ... for the benefit of the EU and the benefit of NATO."
General Abrial, who prior to his NATO assignment was France's Air Force chief of staff, says Europe's take on the exercise of hard power is rooted in its millenniums of warfare.
"If you look at Europe in history, for centuries Europe was very good at hard power, maybe too good. That period is over, fortunately," he adds, but it means that "most Europeans are tired" of war.
EU's new role in NATO
Europe has developed a "strong institution for the exercise of soft power," Abrial says, "and that is the European Union." And that is no small thing, he adds, at a time when the "concepts" of power are expanding.
Why It Matters: The United States now accounts for 75 percent of NATO members' defense spending, up from just under half a decade ago. Europe increasingly supports humanitarian and development aid instead. Some experts say the trend risks leaving Europe a 'paper tiger' and the US looking elsewhere for partners.