Atelier 2, article 7

© William Pfaff :
(IHT, March 8, 1921)

America's Infatuation With Missile Defense Baffles Europe 

                               By William Pfaff 

                    CERNOBBIO, Italy - This year's workshop of the Council for the
                    United States and Italy, held annually at this resort on Lake Como,
                    provided further evidence of what has become a remarkably rapid
                    deterioration in European-American agreement on security.

                    Three weeks ago, at a meeting of security specialists in Paris that
                    included senior American and European officials, the usual trans-Atlantic
                    courtesies could not mask considerable acrimony created by the
                    European Union's decision to create an independent international military
                    force accountable to Brussels.

                    The composition of this week's meeting was different. While the U.S.
                    delegation included eminent former government officials and members of
                    the academic policy community, most participants were senior business
                    and financial executives committed to close trans-Atlantic relations and
                    Italian-American understanding and cooperation.

                    One issue divided the Italians from most of the Americans: the U.S.
                    project to build a national missile defense. The Europeans expressed, at
                    best, bafflement at Washington's determination to go ahead with this
                    program, whose technical feasibility and actual tactical utility have yet to
                    be demonstrated, and which risks destroying existing arms control
                    arrangements and launching a new race for countermeasures.

                    The casual and largely unquestioning acceptance by U.S. government
                    officials, and by a large part of the policy community, of the ''rogue
                    nation'' rationale for this project is, to outside observers, all but

                    The deterrent logic of the past 50 years is being abandoned with what
                    seems complete lack of concern for the negative consequences of the
                    missile defense program. Americans seem to foreign observers to be
                    sleepwalking toward the edge of a cliff.

                    Trans-Atlantic understanding has strikingly changed in little more than a
                    year. Washington last year was warning that European trade policy and
                    military procurement risked creating a ''fortress Europe'' and a strategic
                    ''decoupling'' from the United States. A year later, it is the Europeans
                    who are concerned that the United States is about to ''decouple'' itself
                    from its allies and, through missile defense, attempt to wall itself into an
                    isolated strategic fortress.

                    A little more than a year ago the United States and the NATO allies were
                    jointly at war to stop Serbian oppression in Kosovo. There was some
                    disagreement over bombing target choices, mainly by France, and
                    somewhat wider allied divergence over policy toward Russia. Otherwise,
                    the allies were united.

                    Kosovo's demonstration of Europe's military dependence on the United
                    States shocked both sides. Afterward, Washington told the Europeans
                    that they had to increase defense budgets and buy high-tech weapons so
                    as to integrate with American forces.

                    The U.S. Congress reacted badly to the evidence that Europe carried so
                    little of the military burden, and demanded that it bear a large share of the
                    costs of Kosovo reconstruction. There have been recent initiatives in the
                    U.S. Senate to mandate withdrawal of American forces from Kosovo,
                    citing continued dissatisfaction with Europe's contribution to the common

                    European officials were mortified by their military inadequacies. They
                    resented the sometimes overbearing way in which Americans ran the
                    war, conducting operations directly from the United States without

                    The eventual European reaction was nonetheless unexpected: the
                    decision, on the British government's initiative, to launch a program to
                    give the European Union a military capacity of some 60,000 men with air
                    and naval support, capable of independent action under European Union

                    France's traditional position as NATO dissenter had an unforeseen
                    influence on this choice by the other Europeans. In the Kosovo
                    operation, French air units conducted a much larger share of the bombing
                    missions, operating from both aircraft carrier and ground bases, than any
                    of them did.

                    This was possible because France's withdrawal from NATO military
                    integration, ordered by Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, made it
                    necessary to develop an entire range of forces able to operate entirely
                    independently. Otherwise, in Europe, only Britain can mount a serious
                    operation outside NATO, as it did in 1982, retaking the Falkland

                    Washington's reaction to Europe's military ambition has been guarded but
                    critical, arguing that it is a potential source of division in the alliance -
                    which it is, as NATO at present is conceived and organized.

                    The Europeans say their new force is meant only to do politically
                    innocuous peacekeeping or peacemaking tasks. Washington, however, is
                    justified in seeing that it has the potential for a great deal more than that.
                    Armies are agents of sovereignty.

                    Washington similarly argues that missile defense would never be allowed
                    to harm alliance relations or threaten the existing nuclear deterrents
                    possessed by Russia and China (and Britain and France). Yet everyone
                    sees that if American technology really produces a missile defense that
                    reliably defends against a small missile threat, it can eventually build a
                    defense against threats of any size, and would be under great political
                    pressure to do so.

                    This is why the missile defense program has enormously important
                    implications. It is capable of undoing the existing world nuclear balance,
                    relaunching arms races and destroying the Western alliance. The best of
                    friends thus fail to understand what America is doing.