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European strategy -- first steps

01 July 2003

For the first time in its history the European Union has set about drawing up a common strategic concept. This is a major event. From necessity during the Cold War and then from a lack of consensus, the Union left strategic thinking to the United States and member states. That has changed for two reasons: divided, Europe is powerless, and an enlarged Europe cannot afford to shirk its responsibilities.
The lessons of the Iraq crisis have been taken to heart. Just as the conflicts in former Yugoslavia were followed by the St-Malo and Helsinki accords, so the Iraq crisis has produced a common awareness among Europe's leaders of the need for strategic thinking on international security issues. Throughout the latter episode, the Union's attitude was essentially reactive: if it had set out its own definition of `material breach' of Resolution 1441, specified the conditions under which force might be used and laid down a precise timetable for action, it would have been able to foresee events, strengthen its position in Washington and appear credible. Lacking a common strategy, it played no part as it was divided over these questions.
Alongside this admission of powerlessness there is a reality that must be recognised: a Europe of 450 million people cannot turn its back on the world around it. Unlike the young American republic, which could, sheltered by the surrounding oceans, adopt a policy of benevolent neutrality, Europe has no such geographical advantage. The natural crossroads of many civilisations, the enlarged Europe will extend to the borders of the Russian and Arab-Muslim worlds. This enlargement will bring closer its members but also their surrounding problems: the Mediterranean, Middle East, Caucasus and Russia, from now on the Union's immediate neighbours, will call for sustained attention and constant activity. The opening premise of the document drawn up by Javier Solana, A Secure Europe in a Better World, is recognition that  `. . . the European Union is, like it or not, a global actor; it should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security'.
Assuming its global responsibilities is the ambitious aim of a European strategic concept whose broad lines are sketched out in this document. The difficulties involved in its production were considerable: reaching an agreement sufficiently broad to include widely varying strategic traditions but precise enough to become a motor of international action; maintaining credibility in the eyes of the major international actors, above all the United States; and addressing the new threats without renouncing the Union's particular acquis and identity. In that respect the document is undoubtedly a success.
This outline common strategy is based on three pillars: extending the security zone around Europe by developing the instruments for stabilisation that were used in the Balkans to the benefit of Eastern neighbours such as Ukraine and Moldova, but also in the Mediterranean, which involves resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; establishing effective multilateralism on the basis of the UN, the fundamental framework of international relations, while reaffirming the need to become involved in a preventive way and act when the rules are infringed; finally, responding to the global threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and organised crime by recognising that the traditional form of defence is a thing of the past following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that the first line of defence now lies abroad.
Effective multilateralism and pre-emptive engagement are by nature elusive concepts, but several realities are recognised by the Union. First, Europe is at peace, not at war. Next, if the European analysis of the threats of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is similar to that of Washington, the ways Europe addresses them are different. In its view, the fight against these threats cannot be limited to military force alone: while not excluding it, the Union intends to take a broader approach, combining the political and the economic. Regarding terrorism, there will be no effective solution that is not global. While the Union recognises that bad governance is a major source of instability, it advocates the extension of good governance rather than regime change. The message for Washington is therefore nuanced: from a similar analysis of the threats associated with terrorism stems a more diversified strategy, one that better reflects the European identity. Based on the principles of international law, this approach also implies an obligation to punish offenders. Lastly, this duty implies greater responsibility for Europe, based on more active, consistent and capable involvement. It calls for diplomatic cohesion and synergy in the field of strategic and military intelligence, and it presupposes that an effort to improve European capabilities will continue.
Those with a fondness for simplistic comparisons will stress the new balance between Mars and Venus, the mix of Hobbes and Kant, the marriage of `soft' and `hard' power. Yet these comparisons will be misleading, because the Union is not a nation-state. That is what gives this strategic concept its special characteristic and its great merit. Its significance will be measured by its ability to deal with upheavals in the world.