Foreign Policy Blogs

Security Woes: Why Europe Must Develop Its Own Security Framework

Not since the 1950s has the need for a unified European security framework been greater. Deteriorating relations between the United States and European nations, evidenced most recently by disagreements during the G7 Summit, reflect a divergence in foreign-policy interests between traditional cross-Atlantic partners —and the end of an era in which Europe can blindly count on the U.S. for security. As the United States continues to engage in diplomatic maneuvers that alienate even its closest allies, Europe must redirect its security efforts toward a self-reliant strategy aimed at improving coordination in key areas of counterterrorism, cyber, and logistics, while consolidating global peace operations. Reliance on the U.S. is no longer a guaranteed option. In the face of adversity, this is an opportunity for Europe to stand up on its own and respond to future challenges, like elections meddling, border tensions and nearby conflicts – each with the potential to escalate.

Drifting Apart

The United States has been drifting away from Europe in various domains, including diplomatic, economic and military issues, many of which though have security implications. In 2009, the Obama administration implemented policies intended to shift foreign-policy focus—and American resources—to the Asia-Pacific, where China’s rising power requires increasingly more attention. But never before has the retreat from Europe been so blunt, with several policy makers and analysts discussing whether the alliance is inevitably compromised.

In June, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union (EU), Canada and Mexico over national security concerns—an “insulting” maneuver, in the words of Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and one that undermines the mutual trust on which security alliances such as NATO rest.

Nor can the U.S. be viewed as a credible partner in negotiations concerning other issues. In May, it unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA, disputing International Atomic Energy Agency reports that confirmed Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and effectively leaving Europe in a difficult position to uphold the deal. Such maneuvers impair American reliability in future negotiations and underscore the amount of caution with which Europe must enter multilateral agreements involving the U.S.

Established security institutions, too, are under fire. After denouncing NATO as “obsolete,” President Trump criticized members who had not reached 2 percent of GDP in defense spending, despite the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration calling only for members to “aim to move towards the two percent guideline within a decade.” Add this to the litany of issues with consequences on international security on which the U.S. and the EU disagree—including funding to UN peace operations, Palestine’s membership in UNESCO, and the U.S. embassy’s move from Israel to Jerusalem — and it becomes increasingly clear that the EU and U.S. are going their separate ways. The U.S. is moving towards a more isolationist direction, disregarding multilateral processes, in contrast with the common EU approach.

 

Europe’s Time to Stand Up on Its Own

After the failure of several European leaders’ attempts to find common ground with Washington, including President Emmanuel Macron’s and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visits to the White House in April, the EU can no longer count on its historic security partner expecting disagreements to be worked out respectfully. Nor can it count on the situation to sort itself out anytime soon, simply waiting for the next administration to change policies. If transatlantic relations do worsen, the EU must be able to stand up and provide for its own security.

Deteriorating relations with the U.S. provides a great opportunity for Europe to accelerate the Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO), launched in late 2017. PESCO is moving in the right direction with many of its projects that address key EU strategic areas. Still, improvement is long overdue in sectors including cyber, coordination between forces, logistical capabilities, and research and development. By focusing on targeted missions, it is possible to achieve more without increasing spending.

For example, two PESCO projects that focus on cyber issues – the “Cyber Threats and Incident Response Information Sharing Platform” and the “Rapid Response Force” – are both meant to put in place a system to cope with cyber incidents at the European level. “Military Mobility,” commonly known as “Military Schengen,” is the most well-received PESCO project, allowing units and equipment to travel throughout Europe more easily. The “Network of Logistic Hubs” facilitates the logistical coordination between forces from different countries, while the European Defense Industrial Development Programme set the groundwork for the “Europe Defense Fund,” which is aimed at supporting the necessary technological and industrial base.

At the same time, it is essential for the European External Action Service to establish a real foreign policy that goes hand-in-hand with security policy. Harmonizing foreign and security efforts among all EU members is the ultimate goal, but failure to do so cannot prevent Europe from taking necessary steps towards building a better security framework. If the United Nations and the African Union have managed to deploy thousands of soldiers in extremely complex peacekeeping operations throughout the past several decades, there are no valid reasons whereby Europe cannot do the same, other than political will.

 

Wake-Up Call

Developing a unified security framework would serve Europe’s long-term strategic interests. Moreover, it would send a strong and clear message across the Atlantic. Trust and mutually beneficial actions are fundamental for any multilateral alliance. Disregarding them in an attempt to pursue unilateral agendas risks damaging a meaningful relationship built on common history and values. The EU response will signal that the importance of allies and partners cannot be disregarded without facing some consequences. The improvement of the European security framework does not imply an ideologically confrontational stance towards the U.S. Europe will continue to uphold its principles and be open to collaboration with any reliable partner, but it will not allow the United States to take advantage of it. It istime for Europe to stand up on its own.

Cristian Tracci is an MIA candidate at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where he specializes in International Security Policy and Conflict Resolution. Cristian currently serves as a board member of SIPA’s Progressive Security Working Group. He was previously a graduate consultant for the Eurasia Group and the UN Mission in Kosovo.