The evolution of a European security strategy

Keskiviikkona, 24. syyskuuta 2008     0 kommentti(a)
Raimo Väyrynen

The new European Security Strategy (“A Secure Europe in a Better World”) was launched in 2003 in somewhat different international circumstances. Though there were at that time frictions in EU’s relations with Russia, the mood of cooperation still prevailed. In fact, in some respects, political tensions in transatlantic relations, due to the war on Iraq, were as visible as in those with Russia.

The Union could in those conditions stress its unique international role as a leading economic power which has global interests and which must develop capabilities to respond to key threats and challenges in an increasingly complex world. The concerns of the security strategy related obviously to such traditional threats as the spread of weapons of mass destruction and regional conflicts, but also addressed the problems of state failure and organized crime.

A comparative advantage of the EU is the broad range of instruments at its disposal; e.g., security and defense policy, trade policy, development assistance, enlargement, and the promotion of human rights and democracy. The preponderance of political and economic instruments in the Union’s toolbox means that it is better equipped than the traditional great powers to deal with the new types of threats and challenges.

No doubt, much of this analysis of the ESS is still valid; the risks of WMDs and state failures are, in effect, even more acute than they were five years ago. Therefore, in the opinion of the European Council, a completely new security strategy for Europe is not needed, only “elements to complement” the old one, as the Council formulated the approach in December 2007.

However, in some critical respects, the world has changed in important ways, in particular with the reorientation of Russia’s policy in general and especially in North Caucasus. Power politics did not return to the international scene on August 8, 2008, as has been claimed, it has been practiced in last years by several countries, especially the United States in the Middle East. Yet, the Russian premeditated strike on Georgia to respond to its military operation in South Ossetia was a turning point, as had been U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and especially on Iraq a few years earlier.

The Russian attack on Georgia is reverberating within NATO and leading there to debates on the real meaning of the membership in the Alliance and the viability of Art. 5 in its charter. The impact of Georgia on the EU is obviously different; it is not an alliance that has explicit commitments to defend other member states. The crisis has opened up, though, the question whether the Union is able to act as a coherent actor and whether its toolbox is relevant in dealing with the serious challenges to the security of a European country (which in this case is not a member state).

Common and coherent external policies require common interests, effective institutions, and adequate capabilities. The EU is able to provide economic and humanitarian assistance and offer diplomatic good offices, but it is hardly able to pursue strong and consistent foreign policies and even less to use military means. The crisis between Russia and Georgia has shown that the 27 member states of the EU have diverging interests and they, therefore, express different preferences on policy. There are differences of interests and opinions even within individual countries (of which Germany is an example).

An obvious conclusion from the Georgian crisis is that the EU needs a new security strategy which takes the changing policy of Russia, among other things, into account. This is easier said than done, however. Different economic and strategic interests of the member states make a capable and coherent foreign and security policy very difficult to accomplish, in particular if it would aim to punish Russia materially for its policies.

That is why the new version of the European Security Strategy, now under preparation, will, in all likelihood, be content to record in a critical manner the changes in Russian policy and shore up the Union’s political commitment to prevent and resolve military crises. It is, however, difficult to see how the Union could become a more consequential player in interstate military conflicts, and perhaps it even should not.

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