The Importance of Being Protectionist: A Long View of The European Defense Fund
In 2017, E.U. officials rejoiced. They claimed to have accomplished more in 10 months than in 10 years in the field of defense, having launched three new initiatives to strengthen defense industrial cooperation, first and foremost the European Defense Fund. But U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison seemed somewhat disconnected from the celebratory mood in Brussels. Stressing that “we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for EU,” she expressed concerns over the implications of the new E.U. initiative for transatlantic cooperation. Since then, the United States has been involved in a lobbying effort to slow down the European Union’s new defense drive. The dispute reached a new level in May, when high-level U.S. officials sent a letter to E.U. High Representative Federica Mogherini warning that the initiatives would “represent a dramatic reversal of the last three decades of increased integration of the transatlantic defense sector.”
The tension between European defense cooperation and the transatlantic alliance is nothing new. Perhaps best embodied by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s 1998 remarks on the risks of “de-linking, discrimination, and duplication,” it could almost be called a structural feature of the U.S.-Europe defense partnership. Twenty years later, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg shared the same concerns, and insisted that “it is important for Europeans to state again and again that [the Defense Fund] is not competition for NATO or an alternative to NATO.” In private, however, European officials had expressed hope that this dispute was a thing of the past, and suggested that the second term of the George. W. Bush administration followed by the Obama presidency had created a more constructive dialogue about European defense responsibilities.