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Why EU strategy is relevant today

01 March 2007

The European Union has considerably extended its sphere of activity and its strategic responsibilities since ESDP was launched in 1999. European mobilisation is no longer restricted to tackling crises in the Balkans. The Union is being increasingly called upon to intervene as a stabilising force in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. But why has there been such an expansion at the international level when, on the home front, the European institutional and political dynamic has been blocked for the past two years? And what are the prospects for the future?

The answer to this lies essentially in the deep changes that are taking place, affecting the international strategic context. Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan - all these examples demonstrate that military action alone will not resolve complex political crises. Such action does, of course, remain essential for many reasons: in acting as a deterrent against possible threats, defending our interests, keeping warring factions apart, and enhancing the credibility of pressure exerted by the international community, etc. If, however, military action does not take place within an overall political approach for each crisis, then it leads to impasse. The world we live in today is no longer one in which the balance of military might determines the outcome of conflicts as, almost everywhere, the societies themselves are also directly involved. The new strategic paradox could therefore be explained as follows: military capabilities alone are increasingly inadequate for resolving crises, but military means are highly sought after by the reconciliation processes - for peacekeeping, enforcing ceasefires, stabilising borders - as are civilian means - for reconstruction, security sector reform, institution-building and the implementation of just and sustainable diplomatic solutions.

The European Union's added value in this new strategic equation is therefore obvious because: on one hand, it is an overall organisation that has all the economic, diplomatic, civil and military means to undertake external action and, on the other, because the ESDP is only a tool to the service of a common foreign policy and vision, and not an end in itself. Europeans do indeed have a specific vision of the world and a specific security strategy. For a long while, emphasising the Union's modest military attributes - whether in defence spending or capabilities - was tantamount to denouncing its weakness. Today, the opposite is true - it is the lack of non-military instruments that becomes the major handicap in resolving a crisis. It is precisely because of its strategic relevance today that the Union is being increasingly solicited by other international players, such as the United Nations or NATO.

This current dynamic can only be strengthened, however, if certain conditions are met:

  • Priority must be given to foreign policy, as, before all other considerations, this is what determines whether the Union decides to intervene or to refrain from intervention. Also, when all is said and done, it is the Union's foreign policy that gives a meaning to European operations. In Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the presence of European police officers and soldiers is not simply the technical illustration of the goodwill of Europeans. It must act as a lever so that the Union has stronger political influence in the diplomatic solution of crises - not only because the gravity of problems makes it a necessity but also because that is what citizens want. Why should thousands of men be deployed in high-risk situations and millions of euros spent if the Union's political weight in the emergence of a new international security system is not reinforced?
  • "Lessons learned" must be applied. When it comes to consistency between the various civilian and military instruments, capacity-building, force availability or command structures, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. ESDP needs are well known - as are the solutions. These are: a strengthened role for the High Representative with a view to the future Foreign Minister, a major effort when it comes to personnel and also weaponry, and the transformation of certain virtual tools into permanent Union capabilities, whether it is a question of planning capacity or the European Defence College.
  • States must be given their rightful place. On one hand, the very existence of ESDP and CFSP depends on the States being there. As an international player, the Union is not built on absenteeism, renunciation or the military impotence of its component nations. It is only if the States seek to be respected and effective in the world that the Union can be so. But the States are themselves highly dependent on the framework of the Union: for the legitimacy that it gives them, the financial means available to it and the sharing of responsibilities that it allows. Striking a balance between the flexibility of commitments and the collective nature of the European framework is, in my view, the major challenge facing CFSP in an enlarged Union: it means being able to fit the voluntarism of certain States into a common foreign policy while, at the same time, building a CFSP that takes the different national contributions into account.