European Restructuring: Shaping a Strategic Opportunity


2016-11-18 By Murielle Delaporte

The fact that crisis serve as a catalyst for needed and awaited reforms is a well-known proposition.

The triple effect of an increasing threat environment, of Brexit and now of what is widely perceived in Europe as the unpredictability of a new Trump Administration is having a clear impact on a new sense of urgency in favor of an increased European ” strategic autonomy”[1].

It is a bit too early to know if the new American administration will follow the paths of Reagan, Roosevelt or Wilson as far as his course of action towards Europe will go, but let us try to take a constructive approach based on the only concrete hints we have at this point, i.e. the few foreign policy speeches Donald Trump delivered during the campaign[2].

Two Parallel Plays In Need of Synchronization

Both America and Europe aspire to modernize post-War institutions in order to better deal with the current threats and challenges, while going back to the Founding fathers’ initial spirit.

Former SACT, General Palomeros, recently stated that this is something one owes to the upcoming generations, who need to be more involved in a debate that directly concerns them[3].

Both the old and the new continents want to optimize their expenditures to invest in better capabilities and a resilient defense industrial base via renewed R&D funding.

Both want to assess how to be more efficient and reactive if/when a crisis occurs.

Both want to avoid redundancies.

Both want to re-focus on far too long-neglected homeland security needs, including border security and cyber defense.

There is therefore clear room for leading NATO and EU modernization processes in a coordinated and non-antagonistic manner – with the help of XXIth century innovative processes and technologies -, so a true European pillar emerges at last.

If one fails in this process and decoupling and division prevail, our enemies will have won.

However, and no matter how rational this is, we all know that the devil is in the details.

So how does one restructure without “de-structuring” and reducing the mutualized pool to the lowest common denominator?

Restructuring Without “De-structuring”

One can identify many challenges in this very delicate process, but two jump out when one tries to start from scratch:

  1. How to avoid redundancies while preserving national sovereignty and, in the case of Europe, increase “strategic autonomy”?

Washington under President Trump could decide to condition its traditional support to the Alliance to a narrower definition of its national interest and to the level of reciprocity and contribution of each individual ally.

At the same time, the EU wants to increase its capabilities while avoiding redundancies with SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe).

If that is the case, the task is first to identify where most or all national interests intersect as the common minimum baseline and secondly see how to keep building complementary and interoperable forces.

Given the evolution of the threat which requires action as much outside one’s borders as within and given current technological breakthroughs in C2, strategic lift, platform and weapons’ range or accuracy, the question of burden-sharing is rather different than it may have been till now.

Indeed, should Allies focus resources based on priority missions based on geographic proximity, capabilities, whether the operation is territorial or overseas, or, the way it is more or less now, on an ad hoc basis?

  1. Which metrics should one use to optimize one’s defense and security investments?

If the 2% of the GDP goal set by NATO has the merit of measuring each nation’s commitment and is a simple indicator and political threshold, it does not reflect how these 2% are spent and how they actually contribute to readiness[4], since each nation has its peculiar acquisition policy and operational experience.

A business-oriented mind like Donald Trump will probably be interested in what is actually useful, efficient and cost effective.

Lessons learned might be the best way to assess NATO performance, as it is commonly done.

The same goes for the EU who seems to have decided to favor quickly-implemented solutions (via the PESCO[5] process in particular) and to start with the institutionalization of concrete success stories, such as the European Air Transport Command (EATC[6]).


A Kissinger-like “small steps” policy of modernization, if well synchronized, could actually be welcome on both sides of the Atlantic, while fitting the upcoming era of American “Realpolitik” in the world affairs.

[1] See the conclusions of the EU Council, November 14th, 2016, Implementations Plan on Security and Defence (link to pdf)

[2] See the following abstract from Donald Trump’s April speech, in which he highlights five major flaws in the past decades’ US defense and foreign policies:

« America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration. But to chart our path forward, we must first briefly take a look back. We have a lot to be proud of.

In the 1940s we saved the world. The greatest generation beat back the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. Then we saved the world again. This time, from totalitarianism and communism. The Cold War lasted for decades but, guess what, we won and we won big. Democrats and Republicans working together got Mr. Gorbachev to heed the words of President Reagan, our great president, when he said, tear down this wall.

History will not forget what he did. A very special man and president. Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.

They just kept coming and coming. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. (…)

Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy. Today I want to identify five main weaknesses in our foreign policy.

  • First, our resources are totally over extended. (…)
  • Secondly, our allies are not paying their fair share, and I’ve been talking about this recently a lot. Our allies must contribute toward their financial, political, and human costs, have to do it, of our tremendous security burden. (…)
  • Thirdly, our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us.(…)
  • Fourth, our rivals no longer respect us. In fact, they’re just as confused as our allies, but in an even bigger problem is they don’t take us seriously anymore.(…)
  • Finally, America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals. Since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, we’ve lacked a coherent foreign policy. One day, we’re bombing Libya and getting rid of a dictator to foster democracy for civilians. The next day, we’re watching the same civilians suffer while that country falls and absolutely falls apart. Lives lost, massive moneys lost. The world is a different place.

We’re a humanitarian nation, but the legacy of the Obama-Clinton interventions will be weakness, confusion and disarray, a mess. We’ve made the Middle East more unstable and chaotic than ever before. We left Christians subject to intense persecution and even genocide. (…) »

( cf: Transcript: Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech, April 27th 2016, as published in >>>

[3] See summary in French >>>

[4] See on this subject: Elisabeth Braw, Can NATO Pay Up ?,

[5] See on this subject:

[6] See >>