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
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.