Can Europe solve the US-Russia missile row?
"Without the US, there is no security in Europe," says the head of Russian studies at the SWP German institute for international politics and security.
Nice -- If the United States and Russia cannot solve the row over their respective plans to site missiles in Europe and agree a new security treaty, Europe should do it for them.
That, at least, was the message French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave on Friday in his capacity as current holder of the European Union's rotating presidency.
"There should be no deployment in any enclave until we have discussed the new geo-political terms for pan-European security' Sarkozy said in a double-barrelled blast at Russia and the US.”Until then, please let's not talk about the deployment of missile shields, which don't bring security and which complicate things," Sarkozy said.
But analysts say that Europe will have no chance of defusing the missile row or creating a new security system unless Washington wants to - leaving the Europe as dependent as ever on US power.
Sarkozy was talking at a summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the French resort of Nice.
Much of the attention at the summit focused on US plans to site a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic and Medvedev's threat to site missiles in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in retaliation.
While US president-elect Barack Obama has already taken a softer stance on the missile shield than incumbent President George W Bush, saying that it should only be deployed if it would work, the missile row remains one of the most sensitive issues in European security.
Sarkozy and Medvedev ended their talks with a joint call for a follow up summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose 56 members include Russia, the US and EU states, in mid-2009 to debate a new security treaty for Europe which would bring a diplomatic end to the missile row.
"It would be in the interest of all to achieve this, in the continent and beyond," Sarkozy said.
It is the strongest endorsement by the EU's presidency to date of a call Medvedev first made in June for a new security treaty to outlaw the use of force in European politics.
But even before Friday's summit, analysts had decried Medvedev's call as a thinly-veiled attempt to weaken NATO.
Details of his plan revealed in October include "some newly formulated pseudo-norms that obviously seek to stop NATO's expansion," Michael Emerson, head of security studies at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), wrote ahead of Friday's talks.
That perception is critical, because observers also agree that, as far as Russia and the US are concerned, the most important security organization in Western Europe is not the EU, but NATO.
"For Russia, the main strategic actor was, is and will be NATO," Thomas Gomart, director of the Russia centre at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) told DPA.
That means that no deal on security in Europe will have any meaning unless NATO backs it -- a move which would require the approval of all alliance members, including the US, Poles and Czechs.
That, in turn, means that any US acceptance of the treaty, and any concession on missile defence, would have to be matched by a guarantee of the Central European states' security against all comers, including Russia, to win their support for the deal.
"Will it work if the US agrees not to put missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland if the Poles and Czechs then ask who will guarantee their security?" Hans-Henning Schroeder, head of Russia studies at the SWP German institute for international politics and security, told DPA. "We have to think how to guarantee (their) security."
And given that no European state has both the will and the military ability to confront Russia in the Central Europeans' defence, the US remains the only country that could both end the missile row and convince the Central Europeans to approve a new security structure.
Despite its rhetoric, Russia has recognized that, "without the US, there is no security in Europe," Schroeder said.
Sarkozy might be well advised to draw the same conclusion.