Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

European strategy: is now the moment?

Source: University of Warwick

Source: University of Warwick

by Myrto Hatzigeorgopoulos

Calls for the formulation of a European grand strategy are a common place amongst EU security and defence analysts and practitioners across the Brussels community. It is in this context that the Egmont Institute and Chatham House hosted a panel debate on: “European Strategy: Expensive and Expendable?”

The combination of three key elements that define the current environment in the Euro-Atlantic area (namely, the US rebalancing towards the Asia Pacific region, the economic and financial crisis and the shrinking defence budgets, and the instability in Europe’s neighborhood) renders the need for the EU to undergo a deep rethinking of its strategic posture all the more pressing. As stated by Prof. Stokes (University of Exeter) “this is a structural moment calling for a European grand strategy”. Whether the process may result in fostering a common vision for greater strategic thinking in Europe, or whether it leads to a European security overly determined by Member States, and in particular the UK and France, the possibilities need to be laid on the table.

Analysing the EU’s WMD strategy, Dr Kienzle came to the conclusion that the strategy was an effective and wide ranging strategic document. The document, , entails a proper EU threat assessment, a series of broad measures ranging from addressing the root causes of proliferation to the consideration of using force under Article 7 of the UN Charter, as well as a comprehensive action plan for the implementation of the strategy. He further underlined that the EU had also established the necessary institutions and resources to put this strategy into practice, which led the EU to perform “unexpectedly well” in the field of non-proliferation. More specifically, the pragmatic approach and the degree of institutional flexibility have enabled the EU to make a notable difference in the field over the past 10 years.

Posing the math: {peace without money + strategy without the Americans = ?}, Prof Biscop wondered with what resources the EU would attempt to fill the gap left by the US disengagement from Europe. The definition of a strategy is a necessary requirement. However, the question remains: does the EU want to become a strategic actor? In his opinion, there are a number of fallacies that one has to overcome when talking about strategy in Europe.

–          Firstly, one has to understand that on the global stage, no European state is much more than a dwarf. It is therefore overly ambitious and unrealistic to consider joint action through the EU or NATO as a secondary option.

–          Secondly, European capitals are unlikely to fall for the EU option for as long as it does not appear as a credible alternative.  For this to happen, the EU needs to overcome its fears and admit that it has some interests that it needs to be able to protect.

–          Thirdly, the idea that foreign policy means handing out money has to be banned. Conducting  foreign policy in terms of project lines, programmes, and budgets instead of policy objectives is paternalistic and inefficient.

–          Fourthly, the tendency of blaming one single actor or entity for the EU’s failure to act on the global stage is counterproductive. The High Representative and the EEAS cannot do much more than the Member States allow them to.

–          Fifthly, the reluctant kind of leadership that has emerged in the wake of the US pivoting to Asia has to be adjusted. Taking the leadership in assuming responsibilities in Europe and its neighborhood requires a clear understanding of where Europe’s responsibilities lie.

–          Ultimately, every debate on European strategy gets reduced to the traditional EU vs NATO narrative. Instead, it would be useful to talk more extensively about what to do and how. It is a fallacy to consider that NATO has a strategy while the EU does not. The reality is that the US do have a strategy and resources whereas Europeans states do not (or not sufficiently).

–          Finally, a narrative is needed. The Monnet method of European integration has reached a stalemate in foreign and security policy. This narrative needs to be complementary to national foreign policies, instead of threatening them.

The upcoming December Council has sparked activity across EU institutions on defence issues, but also across European capitals, as shown by the European Global Strategy initiative. There has lately been a proliferation of strategies such as the strategy on the Sahel, the strategy for the Horn of Africa, the strategy for Central America, the EY cyber security strategy, the strategy for the Gulf of Guinea (in preparation), and the maritime strategy (in preparation). It was recently made clear by the High Representative that there could be no constructive debate on capabilities if geopolitical contexts are ignored. When considering the statement at its very beginning of the European Security Strategy (2003), one can consider that a review is highly needed: “Europe has never been so prosperous, so safe nor so free”. Three arguments can explain the reason why there has not been a revision of the strategy yet:

–          Process: worries about launching what could reveal itself to be a and long and heavy process,

–          Uncertainty about the result: concerns that working on a new European strategy may lower the level of ambition. In his opinion, that fear needs to be addressed as a new strategy would need to be ambitious to be effective

–          Opportunity cost: for Member States and institutions. If the EEAS was to be in charge of the formulation of a new strategy, it would take time away from other important things. The opportunity cost would be even larger for Member States. This should not be perceived as an opportunity not to move forward on capabilities.

The conclusions were: a European Strategy would not be that expensive nor expandable. But the political cost of not being able to agree on an ambitious document will certainly be high. Crisis management operations need diplomatic, civil, economic and sometimes military components, but what is of paramount importance is a grand political strategy.

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