Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

The Common Security and Defense Policy – The Treaty of Lisbon and the EU’s Defense Dimension

by Raluca Csernatoni

“If you want peace prepare for war” [i]


The Lisbon Treaty – constructing a de facto “common” European security policy?



The European Union (EU) has often been labeled as a “soft”, “civilian” international power, lacking the military credentials needed to earn the title of a full-fledged superpower[ii], as the United States’ international stance is often referred to. Trivial interpretations of the transatlantic difference in terms of defense capabilities and military build-up are facile rhetorical weapons in the hands of critics with skeptical expectations regarding the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). On a positive note, the EU has shown remarkable speediness and commitment in terms of forging its security and defense potential, especially taking into account its sui generis institutional set-up and the limits of the mostly intergovernmental decision-making process as regards security and defense.

From this perspective, the Treaty of Lisbon’s proposals on the EU’s security and defense development have been heralded at the time as the policy and institutional building compasses in response to a European “common” security strategy, the European Security Strategy[iii] (2003), and a common way of thinking about defense. Visions of the EU’s future after the Treaty of Lisbon have ranged from the “ever closer union” – the supranational integration of security and defense policy, to the traditional intergovernmental cooperation and a limited EU bureaucracy in charge with security and defense matters. Military power has been always seen as an important symbol of national sovereignty and statehood. It is not surprising the fact that Eurocrats have advocated for further integration in the field of security and defense so as to reach the EU’s finalité politique of something resembling the quality of statehood or a full-fledged superpower.

The Treaty of Lisbon, in the field of defense particularly, has advanced clear policy outlines for surpassing the EU’s “capabilities-expectations gap” in the CSDP and defense development. In light of the late developments in the field of defense as proposed by the Treaty of Lisbon, there is great analytical purchase in concentrating on three interrelated dimensions:

  • The CSDP as a policy reinforcing the post-sovereignty hypothesis in defense cooperation and the relevance of the “security communities” concept in understanding the EU;
  • The discussion of cooperation developments as proposed by the Treaty of Lisbon relevant to the CSDP and the differentiation between convergence and congruence of interests in defense matters;
  • Steps taken to diminish the “capabilities-expectations gap” in CSDP with the involvement of for European Defense Agency (EDA), as the principal institutional instrument for the implementation of policy outputs regarding defense.

The CSDP– steps towards post-sovereignty in security-making?

At the request of the European Council in June 2007, the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) 2007 drew up a new Reform Treaty, The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009. While the Treaty was not meant to be a mutually defensive one in the tradition of NATO’s Article 5 prerequisites, the aim was to enable the EU as regards the challenges of the 21st century so as to reach its true potential in terms of security and defense. The ever increasing necessity for the EU to build an autonomous and competitive military capability has been an ambitious endeavor and a subject of tensioned discussion among EU Member States (MSs). Against this background, it is quite understandable that various defense-oriented issues gained increased prominence on the EU’s agenda, among which the unique balance of the EU’s civil-military equation and the build-up of an EU-level military muscle.

The CSDP, in light of the Lisbon developments, could be interpreted as a policy compass that outlines the possible creation of what Karl Deutsch has termed “security communities”[iv] in a regional context, the use of the term security community pointing at the community’s capacity to constitute an autonomous common military front against an external actor or a group of actors. Furthermore, Deutsch made a clear distinction between amalgamation and integration[v] when referring to security communities.  An amalgamated community has a supreme center of decision making. Deutsch revealed the fact that a number of sovereign states which relate to each other through a “pluralist security community”, as the case of the MSs of the EU, could become sufficiently integrated so as to resemble an “amalgamated security community” and eventually transfer sovereignty rights in matters of high politics, such as security and defense, to a supranational level.

Actually, such a policy would be unprecedented in the history of the EU because it would mark a genuine move towards full-fledged defense integration and the corresponding decline of state sovereignty[vi] in a matter of high politics and national strategic interest. The Treaty of Lisbon in the field of CSDP, through constantly referring to the necessity of pooling military capabilities together and the imperative of the three “Cs” (cooperation, coordination and convergence), had laid the basis of a potential post-sovereign security order between EU MSs. The wording[vii] in the Treaty of Lisbon is revealing on this respect: “the progressive framing of a common defense policy that might lead to a common defense”.

Consequently, even if leading International Relations (IR) thinkers such as Robert. O Keohane argued with respect to sovereignty over defense issues[viii] that no consensus and convergence will favor limitations to sovereignty, defense is not anymore such a strong of a redoubt of national sovereignty. On the contrary, a consensus is developing within the EU context, but one must look at the new EU policy developments and structures for decision-making and whether such policy developments are considered capable of bringing about a convergence in strategic thinking[ix] and a post-sovereign EU security and defense policy.

Discussing cooperation developments – towards convergence in CSDP?

A frequently asked question about the EU is whether it has a security and defense policy that is more than the sum of its parts. Is the EU more of a security actor in its own right rather than what is called in bargaining studies as a mere aggregation of the lowest common denominator[x] of EU MSs’ interests? From this perspective, the first step should address the discussion over the cooperation developments stressed by the Treaty of Lisbon in the field of defense. The aim is to ascertain whether the driving force behind the formulation of a distinct EU security and defense policy is more congruent, defined as the compatibility of the policy actors’ preferences as a basis for establishing a share policy regime, or more convergent and capable of producing a collective security and defense policy[xi].

Going forward, comparable to the implementation of CFSP during the early-mid 1990s, progress in the field of CSDP is likely to be determined by two key factors: the continued convergence of national interests particularly between the UK and France; and the political will of EU leaders to focus on security over other competing domestic priorities and the burdens of the current economic crisis. Moreover, the case for strengthening EU defense policy-wise and in terms of capabilities will be harder to advocate in the national debate over other more stringent economic priorities. However, two important developments in the Treaty of Lisbon were of particular significance for the future convergence of interests in CSDP.

On the one hand, the establishment of the “Solidarity Clause”[xii], whereby the EU mobilizes all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available in order to provide assistance to another EU country in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster. Such a formulation has had a blatant symbolic value and explicitly institutionalized the concept of collective assistance between EU member states, and arguably paved the way for a common mutual defense clause at some stage in the future. It is reflective of a mutual political solidarity among MSs and the realization of an ever-increasing degree of convergence of MSs’ interests.

On the other hand, with the opportunity for “Permanent Structured Cooperation”[xiii] emerging out of the Treaty of Lisbon, an institutional framework has been established by which a group of nations can move forward in defense integration. Two further observations regarding permanent and structured cooperation as such in the field of defense could be made: this increased the legitimacy and the political weight of the intervening MSs and at the same time strengthened the profile of the EU as a security defense actor; but it reflects, inter alia, a multi-speed Europe, a tendency towards the formation of an in-group or an elite club within the EU club. One could argue that the latter implication hinders the path towards convergence in terms of defense and paves the way for different cooperation paces.

Putting back “defense” in CSDP – surpassing the “capabilities-expectations gap”?

EU defense spending[xiv] is approximately less than half that of the United States and European spending on military Research and Development (R&D) and acquisition is more or less than one fifth of that of the United States. This evidence demonstrates that the European Union is currently suffering from what Christopher Hill has termed “capabilities-expectations gap”[xv] in terms of its lack of military resources and the security-making instruments at its disposal. Nevertheless, the point made here is that capacity-building does take place within the EU in relation to security and defense policy. The major gaps between policy incrementalism in this area and the demands put on a strategic actor such as the EU are being met. The recent developments after the December 2013 European Council[xvi] discussions concerning the future of the EU defense are such an example.

Does the “capabilities- expectations gap” still have explanatory value in the present context? First, the Treaty of Lisbon already identified the military shortcomings of the EU MSs and outlined the steps to transgress these shortfalls. Second, the Treaty of Lisbon acknowledged the necessity to create a vigorous EU defense industry, as a sine-qua-non condition for the creation of autonomous military capacity. Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon further institutionalized the central role played by the European Defense Agency (EDA)[xvii] for the development of defense capabilities.

In that respect, the EDA has put forward three long-term strategies to reinforce CSDP capabilities, i.e.the Strategy for the European Defense Technological and Industrial Base[xviii] (EDTIB) in 2007, the European Defense Research and Technology Strategy[xix] in 2008, and the European Armaments Cooperation Strategy[xx] in 2008. All three were based on the evidence that individually, not even the biggest EU countries are any longer able to bolster national armament industries that provide a broad range of cutting-edge weaponry at competitive prices. The EDA has been set up with the exact purpose of coordinating the defense spending of MSs.

As a top-down institutional approach and a framework for coordination at the EU level, EDA has had the role to address the issue of inefficient and inadequate defense spending, being indicative of EU’s intention to surpass the “capabilities-expectations gap” Christopher Hill (1993). EDA’s functions relate to improving EU’s defense performance, by promoting coherence and cooperation. The EDA’s comparative advantage is its ability to have an overarching approach to national agendas, and comprehensively interlink them so as to achieve a level of synergy and streamlining. Its special position should allow it to develop uniquely cogent analyses and proposals across the range of its activities and especially bring about further convergence of national interests in the realm of security and defense.

Final considerations 

The EU is currently building its own military power and it is acting as a model of a new kind of interstate relationship. It has had strong prospects for overcoming war, intimidation, and violence though forging a model of a post-sovereignty security order. The EU could remain true to its civilian values and further develop its credentials as a force for good, but it cannot bolster such a normative agenda without credible military back-up. In the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon, there are indeed opportunities which would produce more capability development for lower costs. Those benefits must be used to tackle the EU’s defense capabilities deficit. The revamping of the EU’s defense dimension at a supranational level is vital for the EU MSs as well. On their own they lack not only the necessary military power to stand alone, but also they lag behind in terms of their uncompetitive defense industries.

Hence, the gains for military collaboration under the umbrella of the CSDP by far surpass the costs of non-cooperation. An agenda to generate new capabilities through greater integration on a supranational basis could also be one way to go ahead. Like in the case of the Union’s initial creation as a platform for closer economic cooperation post-World War II, the facilitation of closer economic cooperation among MSs’ in the fields of security and defense could lead to spill-over effects and a de facto supranational, post-sovereign, “common”, European  security and defense policy. Of course, one must always remain critical of such convoluted institutional edifices and constantly question whose interests are best served by these structures.

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[i] The original Latin expression “if you want peace prepare for war” comes from “Epitoma Rei Militaris”, by Vegetius. The Latin expression is: “Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.”

[ii] John McCormick, The European Superpower (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 68

[iii] The European Security Strategy was for the first time drawn up in 2003 under the authority of the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and adopted by the Brussels European Council of 12 and 13 December 2003,

[iv] Karl Deutsch cited in Martin Griffiths, Fifty Key Thinkers in International Relations (Bucharest: Ziua ,2003), 288

[v] Ibid., 289

[vi] Mai’a K. Davis Cross, “An EU Homeland Security? Sovereignty vs. Supranational Order”, European Security 16, no. 1 (March 2007): 94

[vii] The Treaty of Lisbon, Article 42

[viii] Robert O. Keohane cited in Mai’a K. Davis Cross, “An EU Homeland Security? Sovereignty vs. Supranational Order”, European Security 16, no. 1 (March 2007): 95

[ix] Christoph O. Meyer, “Convergence Towards a European Strategic Culture? A Constructivist Framework for Explaining Changing Norms”, European Journal of International Relations 11, no.4 (2005): 537

[x] Ole Elgström and Michael Smith, (eds.), The European Union’s Roles in International Politics Concepts and analysis (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 11

[xi] Nicola Casarini and Costanza Musu, (eds.), European Foreign Policy in an Evolving International System The Road Towards Convergence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), xviii




[xv] Christopher Hill, “The Capabilities-Expectations Gap,  Conceptualizing Europe’s International Role”, Journal of Common Market Studies 31, no.3 (September 1993): 316







One comment on “The Common Security and Defense Policy – The Treaty of Lisbon and the EU’s Defense Dimension

  1. Pingback: The 10 Best Articles on International Security Issues this week |

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