European Affairs

We Must Keep Transatlantic Defense Cooperation Afloat     Print Email
William S. Cohen

U.S. Secretary of Defense

On a recent trip to Stockholm, Bjoern Von Sydow, the Swedish Minister of Defense, took me on a tour of the Vasa Museum. It occurred to me that the Vasa is a great metaphor for how we approach discussing the European Union's efforts to create a common European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and NATO's bid to improve its capabilities under the Alliance's Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI).

The Vasa was a ship built during the 17th century that was monumental in size and ambition. Unfortunately, it capsized and sank as it left the harbor on its maiden voyage. It lay at the bottom of the sea for 300 years before some brilliant scientists and explorers decided to raise the ship and refurbish it.


Despite the huge portion of the national treasury that was spent on that ship, there was a great deal of misdirected investment. Too much attention was paid to the façade, as opposed to the function. The ship was too cumbersome and top heavy. It had 64 bronze cannon aboard. It was untested. It was built according to an experimental design, which was dangerous because the gun ports were too close to the water line.

In contrast, the Vasa's recovery and restoration were a tribute to vision and perseverance. It was a huge task to raise it, and it took a cooperative international effort. The operation harnessed the most advanced tools and technology of the 20th century. As a result, we now see a fully restored Vasa that is a remarkable and inspirational sight.

The Vasa holds lessons for the Alliance today. As the ESDP and the DCI are developed, real attention must be paid to function and capabilities as opposed to façade.

Neither NATO nor the EU should become too cumbersome to meet their missions. The design of the institutions should reflect the future demands that will be placed upon them. It must be recognized that it will take many years of great international cooperative efforts and advanced technologies to succeed.

There are reports in the American press that Europe's venture to improve its defense capability is somehow going to be destructive to the Alliance. I have listened to certain parliamentarians in Europe suggest that a strong EU necessarily means a weak NATO. As far as the United States is concerned, however, we support a stronger Europe on defense matters.

We support it in concept because we believe that a strong European pillar will mean a stronger NATO provided - and here is the caveat - that the European and NATO capabilities now being discussed are mutually consistent. The last thing we want to see is separate or weak capabilities developed, and bigger bureaucracies, much like those useless cannon that weighed down the Vasa.

The capabilities that we develop must be consonant with each other, and they must end up strengthening NATO rather than diminishing it. The United States wants to see the EU develop a capability consistent with the so-called headline goals that have been agreed (deploying, and sustaining for up to a year, a force of 50,000 to 60,000 by 2003) and are now, hopefully, on the way to being met.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has defined it best. He has talked about improvements in capabilities under the DCI and ESDP, and the indivisibility of the transatlantic connection and our security. Yes, the EU will make its own decisions when NATO decides not to take action, but the United States does not want to see a division between an EU solution and a NATO solution. The ESDP should, generally speaking, be under the umbrella of NATO, separable, but not separate.

Then, of course, there is inclusiveness. Much has been done to ensure that the six non-EU European NATO members are players, not spectators. They need to be brought into this process, rather than being excluded from decision-making and then being called upon to join in later. That is why it is important that the common pool of European assets and structures is not too separate or autonomous.

An issue very much on the agenda in the United States is National Missile Defense. For the past year, we have talked about NMD, and the threat it is meant to counter, with our NATO allies and with countries participating in the Partnership for Peace. Frank Miller, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction, has briefed NATO meetings about the present nature of the threat, which is increasing.

The spread of technology has not abated. Missile technology and weapons of mass destruction continue to abound. We are absolutely satisfied that a number of countries, formerly known as "rogue states" - and I shall continue to refer to them as rogue states until they demonstrate by their actions that they are otherwise - present a threat to our security.

There is no American president who can put himself or herself in the position of saying, "There is a threat to our security, but we have no defense against it." So we have tried, first, to identify and explain the threat to all of our allies, and secondly to describe the kind of architecture for a defensive system that we have in mind. The proposed system will not in any way pose a threat to the Russians, but will provide limited protection against a limited type of attack.

The cooperation of several of our NATO allies is needed because in order to have an effective defense against a limited attack, forward-based radars are required to track missile launches. We have given detailed explanations to our allies, and to the Russians, of exactly what the system would look like, what its capabilities would be, and why it poses no threat to Russia's strategic systems.

Nevertheless, President Putin has indicated that he would like to offer the Europeans a theater missile defense system. There are several problems with this, as a theater missile defense system would not protect all of Europe. We have indicated that we are fully prepared to work with the Russians on Theater Missile Defense (TMD). We already have a number of major systems under research and development.

President Putin has also indicated that Moscow has a technology in mind that would provide protection against "rogue states"

or troublesome areas. This represents a change in the position of Russian officials, in that they now agree that there is an emerging threat from such places, some of which they have identified. It appears that they have in mind a boost phase intercept system.

The United States has expressed its willingness to work with Russia to see if such technology is feasible - not as a substitute for what we are doing, but perhaps as a complement to it, and maybe a major part of it in the future. We are working cooperatively with the Russians to be sure that what they have in mind is more than simply an idea, but really a program, and we will have to continue to work with them on that.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2000.