The importance of US-European security cooperation was highlighted after the 9/11 attacks, as European security became crucial for American non-military security. The US sought help from Europe in countering terrorism and organized crime, even introducing new powers to the EU. However, the US initially had low interest in European cooperation in military security, preferring to lead in NATO or informal coalitions. The US also discouraged the development of an EU security and defense policy, fearing it would impede bilateral negotiations. Over time, the US realized the need for Europe and supported European capabilities in handling regional issues.

9/11 Became an Eye-Opener of the Importance of US-European Security Cooperation

The Heritage Foundation authors, now working to construct a new system of cooperative relationships based on American interests, would also do well to go back to recent history and consider the importance of 9/11 to US-European security cooperation.

9/11 is not only the occasion when the NATO encouraged the US to activate Article 5 of the NATO Washington treaty. 9/11 meant something even more fundamental, namely that European security became a necessary condition for American security. Many of the terrorists worked through Europe, developing their plans to attack the twin towers of New York and the American capital. The possibility for the terrorists to commute between Europe and the US was greater than from most other parts of the world.

In this situation, it was the American leadership that came to Europe to ask for help. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Europe to encourage stronger EU cooperation on counterterrorism and organized crime than ever before. This notably included introducing new powers to the European Union, competencies hitherto having been considered almost unthinkable by many Atlanticists, not least in the United Kingdom.

Paradoxically, it was the British government that most energetically acted inside the EU to develop this joint US-UK and US-EU interest, also within the framework of the G8 and later the G7. This remained the mandate of the last UK commissioner in the EU until the implementation of Brexit.

Military Security from a US-European Perspective

Still, the interest and value of European cooperation in the area of military security was, for a long time, deemed very low on the American side. Cooperation in this domain should generally take place primarily under American auspices, be it in NATO or informal coalitions. This was deemed natural since the US was fundamentally the only actor in the Western world with real military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, able to intervene worldwide. Even the United Kingdom, with a considerable military setup including nuclear weapons, was politically not able to mobilize the budgets necessary to achieve redundancy allowing large-scale international deployments. And France was more focused on its own considerable interests in the Middle East and Africa and did not coordinate nuclear policy involving their own nuclear weapons in NATO.

Against this background, the US was also able to limit ambitions in terms of developing an EU security and defense policy from the start of the Millennium. For a very long time, European leaders advocating a European army or a European military staff in Brussels were largely discouraged from pursuing these ambitions. And most military operations undertaken under the auspices of the EU were effectively implemented through NATO, with its deputy supreme commander (normally a Brit) in charge of operations.

The US Fear of a European Caucus on Security

But this, of course, did not convince Americans of the real added value of the EU as a security actor. What is more, many Americans abhorred the vision that the EU would develop into a European caucus on security and economy, which might make it more difficult for the US to impose its views on security in bilateral negotiations with key actors in Europe. That was the sense of some of the more or less explicit messages that EU representatives often received when expressing ambitions regarding the development of the European security and defense policy in the early years of the millennium.

These messages were often transmitted directly by Americans but also very often indirectly by British interlocutors, who were worried about the role of NATO in Europe.

The creation of the European Council as a flexible, frequent, and financially powerful decision-making body is, in this context, a remarkable development. If President Bush had realized that this was going to be the development when he visited the Swedish West Coast and Gothenburg for a meeting with EU leaders in the first half of 2001, he would have been incredulous.

As time goes by during one or several presidential administrations, the realization that the US needs Europe is, however, not seldom reinforced. The development of American policies from the first and second G W Bush administrations is often referred to as a case in point. The realization increased that Americans need to help underpin European capabilities to take care of such problems in Europe that are not deemed to be vital American interests but still remain American interests. One decade earlier, this was an evolution that could also be observed in the Clinton Administration’s posture on the Western Balkans.

Whether this also will be an understanding developing during the next US administration remains to be seen. The Ukraine factor may be crucial in this context. That a meeting of minds across the Atlantic may take longer time with a Trump presidency is more than likely.

The author is former ambassador, holds a PhD and is a fellow of The Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.
This text is previously published by Consilio International.