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The European Security Strategy 2003-2008: building on common interests

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In December 2007 the European Council decided to review the implementation of the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS), particularly in the light of lessons learned from missions conducted in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), and possibly propose ‘elements to complement it.’[1] As a contribution to that review, the EUISS set itself the task of examining in depth European interests and strategic options. Because one of the main conditions for the successful implementation of the EU strategy is its ability to ensure that Member States act coherently and cohesively together, this exercise was conducted from a variety of regional and thematic standpoints.

This report summarises and expands on the findings of the seminars the EUISS organised throughout 2008 in Rome, Natolin and Helsinki, in a collaborative exercise involving other European research and policy centres which also benefited from the involvement of the French EU Presidency. The findings of the discussion on European security culture held in Vilnius, and of the high-level meeting on EU-NATO relations organised in Paris under the auspices of the French EU Presidency, in cooperation with the EUISS, have also informed our thinking on the strategic interests and policy options of the Union. This publication, which retains the individual seminar reports in their only slightly amended original versions, is intended to enrich the debate on specific policy options that is now needed to flesh out the guidelines put forward by the December 2008 European Council.

The first conclusion that emerged from this exercise was, unsurprisingly, the dramatic change that has occurred in the international context since 2003. From now on the EU will be operating in an increasingly ‘multipolar,’ less Western-dominated world. As a result, consistent engagement with world and regional powers plays a greater part in shaping a multilateral world order, and Turkey’s special role in the Union’s security and foreign policy must be fully acknowledged. The second finding was the confirmed validity of the 2003 Solana Document and the centrality of the concept of ‘effective multilateralism’ as the linking thread of EU external action. The European Council took a similar view in deciding not to revise or modify but rather to report on the implementation of the 2003 document. The third main conclusion was the need to correctly identify and collectively act in consideration of European interests – the common interests of EU countries –, framing strategic thinking in European terms. Finally, the need for bolder EU ambition and clearly defined priorities was expressed, together with the need to work closely with the new US administration whose promise of a sea change in America’s approach to international affairs bodes well for the EU’s vision of a ‘better world.’

The seriousness of the economic crisis that is engulfing the world was sensed although its magnitude could not have been fully gauged at the time our conclusions were drafted. But the vital interest in sound world governance, achieved through regional and worldwide frameworks, and the multilateral approach to which the EU has reaffirmed, and the US recently renewed, its commitment as foundational principles of international action are even more crucial at times of crisis and turmoil. The radical change in American strategy and its consequences for the EU and the world, which could not have been fully anticipated in the course of 2008, are discussed in a separate recently published EUISS Report, The EU and the world in 2009: European perspectives on the new American foreign policy agenda.

The main points outlined below, which reflect a broad consensus among European experts and practitioners, often take the form of recommendations with regard to the implementation of CFSP/ESDP, perhaps the primary but by no means the sole instrument for the EU to help shape a post-crisis ‘better world.’

The EU’s international identity. Political cohesion, solidarity and continuity, the same elements that guarantee the EU’s relevance in the eyes of its citizens, are the essential building blocks for the external projection of the European Union. The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty’s main dispositions on CFSP is important to enable the Union to devise a strategic approach to international challenges and above all to apply it coherently and consistently.*

The uniqueness of EU soft power. The EU’s soft power, its power of attraction, is an important component of EU international action which has a bearing on security as well. It makes the Union a desirable actor, in some cases even in the event of military intervention. The EU needs to improve policy coordination and consistency, including between its internal and external policies. Bridging the gap between sectoral policies and agencies should also be a priority for the Union in shaping the multilateral system at large, as challenges are growing more complex and interconnected.

Strategic partnerships consistent with human rights. In a world of great powers, the EU must consistently pursue its interests and promote its universal values in its conduct of foreign policy. The EU needs to become better at establishing strategic partnerships with other global players and regional powers while at the same time the pursuit of effective multilateral solutions and the promotion of good governance, human rights and democracy must not be neglected. This will be a difficult but essential balancing act, one that has emerged as crucially important, notably in the strategic partnership with Russia.

EU security is human security. The European security culture, the natural consequence of the Union’s integration process, is based on delegitimising power politics and placing the use of force firmly under the principles and values on which the EU is founded, notably those that concern human rights and strict compliance with international law.  Protecting civilians, in other words, exercising the ‘responsibility to protect’, is the ultimate goal of ESDP. In that sense, the concept of human security where the emphasis lies on the citizen as opposed to the state, is the most compatible with EU values and interests. The protection of human rights must thus be a fundamental component of all ESDP missions.

ESDP is an element of EU foreign policy. The success of ESDP missions depends not only on their military component but above all on being part of a foreign policy initiative able to resolve the political problems that made the mission necessary in the first place. ESDP is still constrained by major political obstacles arising from the difficulty of the Union to define a coherent foreign policy and to bring all the components of its external action – diplomatic, military, civilian, development – ,  – to bear on a given crisis. The effectiveness of missions like the Georgia monitoring mission in its initial stages and the military mission to Congo in support of a broader diplomatic initiative, and that of others like those operating in Chad or Kosovo, where EU Member States have been so far unable to define a common position,  cannot be compared.

Building a stronger ESDP. Almost 10 year after the launching of ESDP, and the deployment of more than 20 missions, it is recognised that there is a need to bolster its capacities and structures so as to adequately reflect the role ESDP plays in international security. A strong plea for the establishment of Operations Headquarters in Brussels was made by several participants and this proposal was not explicitly challenged during the seminar. More common funding and pooling, and more consolidated European defence industries, are needed. Small groups of countries should work more closely together on specific projects and share more capabilities, and a higher proportion of defence budgets should be spent on equipment. The concept of ‘permanent structured cooperation’ contained in the Lisbon Treaty (if ratified by all Member States) may help closer cooperation between national defence ministries. The difficulty is that the criteria for joining such a defence group need to be binding in order to be meaningful, but not so stringent as to exclude Member States willing to contribute to ESDP –  as the Chad mission shows, small countries can play a major role in giving legitimacy and effectiveness to ESDP. The criteria should be output-based, focusing on the future. The European Defence Agency should play a crucial role, both in coordinating existing procurement plans, and encouraging more multinational procurement and sharing of key assets such as logistics.

The coherence deficit. The implementation of EU strategy suffers from an institutional weakness regarding the conduct of foreign policy that has not yet been overcome due to the difficulties in ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. Different branches of the EU institutions sometimes manage different civilian operations in the same country, mixed with an ESDP military operation, which also requires working with the EU presidency and the Member States. Plus, aside from internal coherence between the Council and the Commission, among others, the EU needs to work effectively with other organisations and countries. For example, in Afghanistan it must work with NATO and the US. One major problem is that EU structures are not designed to have a single chain-of-command. As a start, the EU should carry out many more crisis management exercises to develop its internal coordination. Given the range of security challenges the EU is attempting to tackle, the Union’s institutions must also include the private sector and NGOs.

A common position towards NATO. The context of EU-NATO cooperation has changed in the last year. The US accepts ESDP; France intends to re-join NATO’s military command; and Cypriot re-unification talks have re-started, which should facilitate Turkish cooperation with ESDP. However, there are still some problems in the relationship, such as a lack of military capabilities, the lack of an EU-US forum for strategic dialogue and knowing how to deal with a resurgent Russia. In general EU-NATO cooperation is too ad hoc and requires a more systemic approach to work out shared strategic interests and contingency planning. The EU and NATO must also review their approach to the fight against terrorism since the ‘war on terror’ has failed. And the EU should develop a common position on the future evolution of NATO, and the impact of potential NATO enlargement on the EU’s security and defence policy.

The neighbourhood is closer to the heart of European Strategic interests. There is a clear need to have a policy of equilibrium between the East and the South, in order to build a common foreign and security policy able to integrate the specific sensibilities and interests of the Member States. At the same time the Union should accept that in the East as in the South a link needs to be established in the long term between development, democracy and security. More efforts should be made in conflict prevention and resolution in the neighbourhood, as a sine qua non condition for progress on both fronts of stability and democratisation. In face of the weakening of multilateral initiatives like the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, and the acquis communautaire, the advanced status agreements negotiated with Morocco and Ukraine could give a  common purpose to the project of political convergence, if they are consistent with EU principles’with regard to human rights and international law. This means that Europe must be able to live up to its principles, including the free movement of people.  Borders should not be perceived as just being about challenges and security threats, but as also presenting opportunities to create complex, transnational zones of administrative and cultural activity and exchange.

Conflict prevention must prevail over conflict-management. Conflicts in the EU neighbourhood are live, not ‘frozen’, The impact of these conflicts is extremely detrimental to the states concerned as well as in a wider regional context, deeply affecting the livelihood of their citizens. They fuel separatism and undermine sustainable development and democratic consolidation, and they also foster remilitarisation across borders. The Union needs to develop a policy designed to prevent conflict, the need for which was apparent throughout the year 2008, particularly in the case of Georgia. This should have so-called ‘frozen conflicts’ as a particular focus. In the last five years, the EU has not been able to deliver a real policy of prevention of conflicts like the one in Georgia or to foster a real solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Dealing with global challenges and avoiding securitisation. The focus of attention and debate in 2008 shifted from the types of challenges highlighted in 2003 –  terrorism, proliferation, failing states and organised crime – to global challenges that transcend the purely security dimension such as climate change and energy, seen as major long-term concerns, and the new kinds of challenges posed by the unfolding financial crisis. Because the latter are of a political and social nature, a greater need arises to avert the trend towards ‘securitisation,’ in particular regarding policy instruments designed to deal with those consequences. However, the more traditional security field was not neglected. There is a clear need to avert further proliferation and new strategic thinking on multilateral regimes and instruments is in strong demand. Concerns exist as to the introduction of a power-politics equation in Europe by Russia. The possibility of Europe being drawn into a world game of power politics for which it has no wish and is ill-prepared cannot be entirely discarded, even if there is a widespread conviction that the EU has no clear adversary, and thatthere is no new Cold War in the offing. Dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, where there is a real risk of NATO failure, was perceived as a security priority, as well as the conflicts in the Neighbourhood.

Working with the new American administration. Even in an increasingly multipolar world, there is no doubt that the US will remain powerful and a crucial partner for Europe. The EU must be clear on its priorities for cooperation with the new US administration, focusing on effective multilateralism, the broader Middle East and Russia. Hopes vis-à-vis a revived and closer direct EU-US relationship were expressed by most of the speakers at the seminars, some of whom were keen to see the EU and the US clarifying their strategic objectives on specific areas such as Afghanistan in particular. Moreover, the change of administration in the US has provided an opportunity for the EU to make a strong case for deeper American engagement in non-proliferation regimes, such as the ratification and implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Better governance for a better world. Many of the challenges that today loom large in the concerns of Europeans, like the economic and financial crisis, climate change or energy, or the need to prevent humanitarian crises, genocide and mass murder, need to be dealt with at world level. The same is true for poverty and pandemics. Globalisation is both an opportunity and a challenge. Shaping globalisation as proposed in the EU Declaration on Globalisation of December 2007, requires the contribution of other international players and this implies a clear need for the reform of international institutions in order to make them more representative and efficient. Global governance is of paramount importance for effective multilateralism, and because of that it must be an overriding strategic priority for the Union.

[1] Brussels European Council, 14 December 2007, Presidency Conclusions, Paragraph 90.