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Talking Defense – Part 2 – Reflection on a needed European Security Strategy

Carnegie Europe

Carnegie Europe

Where do European interests lay? What are Europeans’ priorities? How can Europeans influence and shape their environments? In a recent speech, HR Ashton declared that the CSDP faces several challenges; one being that “there is no agreed long-term vision on the future of CSDP.” These questions are fundamental in order to discuss the future of the CSDP. The defense meeting at the European Council of mid-December will tackle some of the most pressing defense issues facing the Union as well as the role of the CSDP (as analyzed in Talking Defense – Part 1). With the US pivot – shift to Asia -, and the crises at Europe’s doors – see Libya, Syria, Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Mali, Central African Republic, among others –, the shifting global balance of power – with the rise of new powers such as China, India and Brazil –, a strategic debate has to take place among EU leaders. Soft power is certainly not enough in order to advance European interests and influence in a multilateral system.

Until today, the strategic baseline of the EU remains the 2003 European Security Strategy adopted by the European Council at the 2003 December meeting and its update, the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy. The 2003 document was deeply influenced by Robert Cooper and politically promoted by the savvy-diplomat, and at the time High Representative, Javier Solana. The rather short but precise 2003 document followed by its update can be summarized as such:


This table illustrates the strategic approach by the Union since 2003. After a decade, the strategy ought to address the shortfalls of the EU and CSDP as well as the new regional and international environments. Considering the international balance of power, the severe defense cuts in Europe, the risk averse of Union and its Member States, the Union should focus on stabilizing its neighborhood at least in the coming decade. The US pivot to Asia has opened the door to the Union to take the lead in advancing Western interests, values and influences in the Middle East and Europe.

The strategic approach of the Union should focus on the near and semi-near neighborhoods. The EU near neighborhood is extremely volatile. South, since the Arab Spring the southern neighborhood has been facing perpetual turmoil in search of a clear direction. Wars have broken out in Libya and Syria. In the case of Syria, recent reports have demonstrated that it has become the new training- and battle- ground for jihadist and radical Islamist terrorists. Their number is even higher than it once was in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s. Despite the Western intervention in Libya in 2011, it remains a very unstable country. East, Ukraine has since the Orange revolution been in search of its identity and freedom from Russia. The main question in Ukraine has been: Does Ukraine belong to the East or West? The current manifestations in the street of Kiev, which was attended by US Senator McCain on December 15th, are directly illustrating the choice between two futures: a Western, sought by a large majority of Ukrainians; or a Russian, defended by Ukrainian leadership.

Press TV

Press TV

In the semi-near neighborhood South of the Union, Africa have been facing terrible violence. The Sahel region is almost a région de non-droit destabilizing weak regimes and fueling ethnic-warfare. In a matter of six months, France has already sent troops in two African countries: Mali and Central African Republic. In Mali, France did stop the progression of radical Islamic groups, while in Central African Republic, French troops, under a UN Security Council Resolution, is trying to advert another massacre (a recent article by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde of the excellent B2 underscores the unwillingness of Europeans to act in CAR).

All these regional instabilities share common problems for the Union: rise of mass-migration, Islamic terrorism, failed-states, trafficking and smuggling of humans, drugs, and arms. The threats growing around European borders are real and serious. All 28 Member States shall recognize them as such. As per Menon, “there is no shortage of foreign policy challenges that crucially affect European interests, if not European survival.” The illustration identifying the EU’s areas of privileged interests for the next two decades clearly demonstrates core European interests.

Source: Missiroli, A. Ed. 2013. “Enabling the future. European military capabilities 2013-25:  challenges and avenues.” EU-ISS. Report No.16. May 06.

Source: Missiroli, A. Ed. 2013. “Enabling the future. European military capabilities 2013-25:
challenges and avenues.” EU-ISS. Report No.16. May 06.

Ultimately the strategic priorities of the Union should be:

  1. stabilizing the near neighborhoods on land and sea
  2. emphasizing state-building in near and semi-near neighborhoods to combat terrorism, piracy, and ethnic violence
  3. limiting the spread of WMDs

The chart combining the three paradigms of security, environment and development illustrates dimensions wherein the Union could seriously contribute to regional crises. The CSDP and European national armies have the capacity, capabilities and training to address these types of challenges. The CSDP could serve as an instrument for missions located at the intersection of the three circles.

However several aspects, or practical reforms, will have to take place:

  1. increase of  defense pooling, or as warned by NATO Secretary General, “if European defense spending cuts continue, Europe’s ability to be a stabilizing force even in its neighbourhood will rapidly disappear.”
  2. regional strategic autonomies: addressing the short-falls of the EU in important defense components such as intelligence gathering, surveillance; air-to-air refueling; satellite communication; and transports of troops.
  3. merging the Big Three – Britain, France and Germany – interests. As expressed by Keohane, the Big three have serious divergence as “Germany is reluctant to use military force, the UK is reluctant to use the EU, and France is stuck in the middle.”

The CSDP was created following the failure and inability of the Union to stabilize its direct neighborhood, the Balkans, in the 1990s. More than a decade later, Europe’s neighborhoods remain unstable and the Union is still unable to stabilize it with its own capabilities and members. NATO or national armies have become the instrument of choice at the expense of the CSDP. A senior EU official declared that “we know all the problems, we know all the solutions, but we don’t know how to make the governments more interested in cooperating.” Maybe the main problem is not cooperation, but rather a commitment by EU Member States towards the CSDP. HR Ashton declared during a speech at the EDA back in March 2013 that “The strategic, military and economic cases for defense are, for me, quite clear. What we need to make sure we have got is political will from the very top.”





Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.