The European Union, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control

in Program

Over the last several years, the member states of the European Union have taken bold steps to create a common defense industrial base, a common foreign and security policy (CFSP), and an autonomous defense capability. EU member states now routinely coordinate on a broad range of issues, including nonproliferation and arms control. Although some observers continue to view these initiatives with skepticism, the current processes and initiatives reflect a strong political resolve to create an independent European voice in foreign and defense policy.

This study is intended to enhance understanding of the evolving European role in arms control and nonproliferation, and on issues related to missile proliferation and defense. The study has its origins in a transatlantic dialogue and conference entitled the “Implications of Ballistic Missile Defense,” which the Stimson Center organized in the cooperation with the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations in June 2000, with the support of the John  D.  and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New  York.  While European and US participants in the conference shared many common views, distinctive European perspectives were also apparent. Convinced of the need to better understand these perspectives and the ongoing efforts among European states to forge a more coherent approach to foreign and security affairs, the Stimson Center in spring 2001 embarked on this follow-on study of the EU’s role in nonproliferation and arms control.

The study has two broad purposes. First, it seeks to assess progress toward the creation  of a more unified European policy on arms control and nonproliferation. What, if anything, has changed as a consequence of the European initiatives of recent years and US plans to develop and deploy missile defenses? What are the principal political, legal, institutional, or other obstacles to a more unified position and what is the likelihood that these challenges can be overcome? In addition, the study considers the implications of a more coordinated European approach to arms control and nonproliferation for US policy and for international strategies to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

In his essay “The Evolution of European Foreign Policy,” David Brannegan examines the persistent tension between two competing visions for Europe-an intergovernmental perspective and an integrationist view. Since the creation of the European Community, the development of European foreign policy has been primarily intergovernmental in nature. The EU’s inability to respond quickly and effectively to situations such as the Gulf War and the regional conflicts that have plagued the Balkans throughout the 1990s forced the EU member states to undertake incremental reforms to the primarily intergovernmental processes of EU foreign policy coordination. Integrationist reforms initiated in the late 1990s, such as modifications to the nature of the CFSP as well as new CSFP bodies and instruments, have sought to make the EU a more effective  entity  in  international   politics. In the final analysis, Brannegan concludes, the intergovernmental impulse remains resilient and will likely slow the development of common policies on “core” security and foreign policy issues.

Cathleen Fisher’s essay “EU Cooperation in Nonproliferation and Arms Control” surveys and assesses recent efforts of the EU member states to better coordinate their respective approaches to the control of nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons.  The “crisis” of arms control and nonproliferation in the late 1990s has challenged the European Union to become more proactive in defining and defending its interests in these cooperative security mechanisms and regimes. Yet, although the EU possesses a variety of formal and informal instruments and mechanisms to facilitate coordination among the member states, EU prerogatives on issues with military or defense implications are nevertheless strictly bounded. Operating within these political and institutional constraints, recent European initiatives in nonproliferation and arms control have been directed toward strengthening multilateral regimes to halt or slow the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; harmonizing European approaches to conventional arms transfers; extending multilateral controls to small arms; and supporting comprehensive approaches toward ballistic missile proliferation. Although the member states of the European Union have successfully deepened cooperation on these issues, the EU’s recent record of achievements remains modest. Improved coordination on arms control and nonproliferation will depend on overcoming more fundamental divisions among EU governments and on the longer-term impact of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. If current trends are sustained, the EU could make a useful contribution to global arms control and nonproliferation efforts in several areas, including the development of effective solutions to address the weaknesses of current multilateral regimes, enhanced assistance to threat reduction programs, and refinement of a comprehensive approach to ballistic missile proliferation.

The Henry L. Stimson Center is grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its support of this study. It also wishes to express its thanks to Lisa Meyers, Shannon Bruffy, Chris Gagne, and Leslie-Anne Levy for their assistance in producing this report.


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