Strengthening ESDP: The EU's approach to international security

Endast inbjudna · - · 18.09.2008 00:00 - 19.09.2008 00:00
  • Endast inbjudna

Endast inbjudna

On September 18-19, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs organized a high-level seminar for an international audience of researchers and policy-makers on the topic ”Strengthening ESDP: The EU’s approach to international security”. The seminar was arranged in cooperation with the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI). It was a part of a bigger project, launched by the EU Institute for Security Studies, to address European interests and strategic options given the complex challenges confronting EU foreign and security policy in a fast-changing global environment. The project has been undertaken with the review of the implementation of the European Security Strategy in mind.

The Summary of the seminar


In December 2007, the European Council decided to review the implementation of the European Security Strategy adopted in 2003. Further to the Council’s decision, the EUISS launched a project addressing European Interests and Strategic Options to foster debate within the EU. Following earlier seminars in Rome and Natolin, the seminar in Helsinki was the third seminar in this exercise and focused on the EU’s security and defence policy (ESDP). Participants in Helsinki discussed a number of questions, including: How should EU governments prioritize their security challenges?; How to improve ESDP tools, capabilities and financing?; How can the EU make more coherent use of different policy instruments?; and how can the EU work more effectively with other security organizations such as the UN, NATO and the OSCE? The conference was addressed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Finland and Sweden.

The European Security Strategy

Many speakers criticised the European Security Strategy, describing it as an in-adequate document that badly needed updating. Some participants said it was only “half a security strategy” since it focused mainly on trans-national issues rather than classical power politics. Others called it more of a description than a strategy, while some even described it as “smug”and “wishy washy”. It was apparent that the EU must distinguish more clearly between foreign, security and defence policy challenges. For example, should energy security be included in the European Security Strategy? If so, in what way?

But some speakers defended the existing European Security Strategy, arguing that it could only be “half a strategy” because it was a response to the Iraq war (even if the document didn’t mention Iraq). Moreover, many of the current economic and energy challenges are adirect result of the Iraq war. The values and broad approach contained in the European Security Strategy are still valid, even if the world has become more uncertain since 2003. Some argued that the general approach to international politics contained in the 2003 security strategy (“effective multilateralism”) has become more valid in the meantime.

More generally, some participants said that EU member-states need to be more realistic about which responses to security challenges can be shared and which cannot. The EU has no clear adversary, but most national white books on foreign and security policy mention the important role of the EU in helping to “absorb shocks”. The European Security Strategy says nothing about multi-polarity, bi-polarity, or even non-polarity, and how to work with rising powers such as China and India. On paper the EU is strong and attractive, with access to many resources. But the EU should not be satisfied with simply being a role model.

EU governments have not clearly defined their strategic or security interests. For example, everyone agrees in principle that energy security is in their interest, but in practice that would require EU governments to form a single energy policy, both internally and externally. Any EU discussion on interests must include re-thinking territorial security, crisis management, and the links between internal and external security, plus how to mix civil and military resources for effective policy responses. And the EU should have a continuous debate about strategy as priorities will change over time.

In the short term Europe should focus its energy on three things: Afghanistan, since it is not in Europe’s interest that NATO fails there; developing a Turkey policy since that country is crucial for both Afghanistan and the Caucasus; and the Eastern neighbourhood (including Central Asia). In the longer-term energy security and climate change are the main challenges. And the EU must be clear on its priorities for cooperation with a new administration the US, focusing on effective multilateralism, the broader Middle East and Russia.

Russia, Georgia and the return of power politics

The recent crisis in Georgia shows the weakness of the West, in particular the failure of EU policies for conflict prevention. In that sense the Caucasus is the new Balkans, and the EU needs a proper Eastern policy which includes Central Asia. The current EU neighbourhood policy is in-adequate as it does not offer enough to the neighbours. Russia has re-introduced power politics to European security, even if this is not a new Cold War. The Kremlin thinks in a completely different way to the EU, and approaches international politics with a powerbased (especially military) mindset. Russia’s actions in Georgia should not have come as a surprise; they fit in with a long pattern of threatening behaviour towards European governments (both EU and non-EU), such as cutting off gas supplies and carrying out cyberattacks.

In other words, the main lesson from the Georgia crisis is that the EU must learn how to play “hard” politics. The US and the EU have had little leverage over Russia because they lack coercive instruments, like military capabilities, and existing military resources are already over-deployed. Not all participants agreed with this approach, in part because “sticks” are not exclusively military and can be used in a variety of ways, and should be thought through carefully. The Iraq experience has shown that military force alone is not the answer, and there is little public support in Europe for such policies since citizens are more worried about inflation, unemployment, health care, poverty and climate change than, say, Russia. And the EU should not under-estimate itself. Compared with Russia, the EU is 15 times richer, has 3 ½ times the population and spends 7 times more on defence.

Even so, if the EU does not develop a coherent and effective policy towards Russia, there may be at least three problems: there could be genuine misunderstandings and crises; the EU will remain split between those who care about Russia and those who don’t; and Russia will exploit EU weakness. And a lack of EU policy will mean that NATO will become the only viable alternative with the US taking the lead, rather than Europeans.

The changing international system

A few participants suggested that recent crises, such as those in Georgia or global finance, mean that the EU needs to change the way it assesses the international system – in other words, the real challenge is systemic. These crises are a wake-up call for an EU that has been much too inward-looking. There are a number of systemic challenges. First, the rise of a more multi-polar world – Russia and China believe primarily in national power, placing interests above values, which is bound to undermine both the UN and the EU. Second, energy security is an absolutely key objective for all major global players. Third, there is a huge zone of instability stretching from West Africa through the Middle East into Central and East Asia.Fourth, climate change, which could cause major challenges for Europe (for example, if the North Pole melts). Fifth, there are a number of unforeseen drivers, such as technology developments or shortages in natural resources like minerals. The world is entering an era of strategic surprises and the key challenge facing the EU is the changing international system. This is not only because of shifts in power towards new poles, it is also because US power in particular has weakened, albeit it remains the world’s most powerful country. Plus in the future the US may have different priorities to Europe, and therefore may become less useful for Europe. Multi-lateral governance is crucial in a more multi-polar world, but Europe has not been so effective in multi-lateral institutions. For example, in the G8 Europe is present, but not as Europe.

Some participants warned of confusing a more multi-polar world with 19th century power politics. The world is much more inter-dependent today, and while Russia is “back”, it is also suffering economically for its actions. The international system will be a mix of big nationstates and regional groupings, plus the major powers don’t have an interest in fighting each other. Europeans should also learn to differentiate between the major powers, such as the differences between Russia and China. And the changing international system requires the EU to become much more assertive about its vision of international relations and how they should be conducted. Growing multi-polarity means the EU must push for more effective multilateralism (“better governance for a better world”); not least because the EU will have to work with others to tackle most major challenges such as energy and climate change.

Capabilities, strategy and ambition

It is a cliché to say that the EU lacks the military capabilities it needs to fulfil all its foreign policy ambitions. Defence ministries have a difficult job, as current operations require their armed forces to go anywhere in the world, work with other nationalities and carry out a wide range of military and non-military tasks. Plus, the EU does not decide on deployments, member-states do, and they do so in different ways for different reasons. The good news is that in recent years EU member-states have increased the number of soldiers they can deploy, plus equipment investments will soon start to pay off.

However, given the well-documented equipment gaps, European defence ministries need to re-think their procurement and deployment practices. Small groups of countries should work more closely together on specific projects and share more capabilities, and a higher proportion of defence budgets should be spent on equipment. The concept of “permanent structured cooperation” contained in the Lisbon treaty (if ratified by all member-states) may help closer cooperation between national defence ministries. The difficulty is that the criteria for joining such a defence group need to be binding to be meaningful, but not so stringent to exclude most member-states. The criteria should be output-based, focusing on the future. For instance, member-states could join permanent structured cooperation if they met a number of commitments, such as deploy-ability targets, minimum investment per soldier, and acquiring specific capabilities by certain date. The European Defence Agency should play a crucial role, both in coordinating existing procurement plans, and encouraging more multinational procurement and sharing of key assets such as logistics.

Some speakers pointed out that ESDP has had no impact on improving capabilities, nor has it contributed much to international security, mainly because of politics, and that this could not go on. There is not a lack of ideas on how to improve the EU’s military prowess, there is a lack of political will, especially from the major military countries in Europe. The EU need to think about “grand strategy” (“the calculated relationship between means and large ends”).

The EU should set up a permanent body to develop ideas for a common strategy, while defence ministers need their own council and should discuss a European white book on defence. To ensure unity of effect, effort and command the EU also needs a proper operational headquarters in Brussels. The EU should discuss its “grand strategy” with the US, both in an EU-US forum, and as an EU caucus in NATO. This should also encourage closer EU-NATO cooperation on capabilities.

For ESDP to succeed in the future, the vital role of the UK received some attention. While the French White Book on defence and national security describes ESDP as fundamental for French security, the 2008 UK National Security Strategy does not mention ESDP at all. One participant suggested that if the UK did not re-commit to ESDP, then other EU member-states may need to consider developing ESDP without the UK, albeit that would be extremely undesirable. To avoid this, and to re-affirm their political commitment to ESDP, the three largest countries – France, Germany and the UK – should convene a tri-lateral summit to draw up a tri-lateral security strategy, using that as a basis for developing a more substantial EU security strategy and a more meaningful EU defence policy.

Coherence of EU policies

Crisis management is a messy business, and difficult to implement. It is the opposite of strategy as it requires tactical responses. And crises, by their nature, imply failure; few notice the success of prevention policies. On paper the EU can offer a lot, but it is currently more like a “tri-athlete” than the “decathlete” it needs to be. And too much attention is paid to internal EU processes rather than joint policies. Different parts of the EU institutions sometimes manage different civilian operations in the same country, mixed with an ESDP military operation, which also requires working with the EU presidency and the memberstates.

Plus, aside from internal coherence between the Council and the Commission, amongst
others, the EU needs to work effectively with other organisations and countries. For example, in Afghanistan it must work with NATO and the US (amongst others). One major problem is that EU structures are not designed to have a single chain-of-command. As a start, the EU should carry out many more crisis management exercises to develop its internal coordination.

Given the range of security challenges the EU is attempting to tackle, the Union’s institutions must include the private sector and NGOs in their coherence discussion. For example, some NGOs have extensive knowledge of the Caucasus and could help the EU in those countries.

Rapid and effective emergency response is crucial for the security of the single market area, but the role of the military for EU emergency response is unclear. Even so, most crises will not require military responses, and the focus of EU policies should remain civilian, as it has been up to now. Some speakers argued that institutional coherence between the Council and the Commission had improved greatly in recent years, for instance in Georgia. But some processes are very slow – the Commission, for instance, cannot easily re-direct aid spending to a country where there is an ESDP operation (i.e. Chad). Plus the Commission, in particular ECHO (its humanitarian aid agency), must remain neutral in conflicts and avoid becoming politicised.

Participants listed a number of proposals for improving EU coherence and effectiveness. Conflict prevention is an area where the EU could do much more, by linking early-warning and early action. The EU must also be clear about which crises it wishes to respond to and which it cannot – for instance Georgia should take precedence over Zimbabwe or Burma. The EU also needs to work much more with regional groupings, such as the African Union. And EU governments need to think through the practical implications of the ‘solidarity clause’, and the links between internal and external security.

Cooperation with other international organizations

The focus of the discussion on cooperation with other organisations was on EU cooperation with NATO, the OSCE and the UN. The context of EU-NATO cooperation has changed in the last year. The US accepts ESDP; France intends to re-join NATO’s military command; the Georgia crisis has revived the case for the “West”; and Cypriot re-unification talks have restarted.

However, there are still some problems in the relationship, such as a lack of military capabilities, the lack of an EU-US forum for strategic dialogue and a resurgent Russia. In general EU-NATO cooperation is too ad hoc and requires a more systemic approach, to work out shared strategic interests and contingency planning. The EU and NATO must also work on finding a new anti-terrorism strategy since the “war on terror” has failed. And the EU should develop a common position on the future evolution of NATO, and the impact of potential NATO enlargement on the EU’s security and defence policy.

The EU-OSCE relationship is entirely focused on “other Europe” (non-EU Europe), in the Eastern neighbourhood. The EU’s enlargement policy is suspended for most of these countries, and neither the EU’s neighbourhood policy nor the “Eastern partnership” change the fact that the EU is not offering the prospect of membership to countries like Ukraine. In this “other Europe”, not all governments share EU values, nor listen to EU rhetoric about values, and they are still willing to use force to settle disputes. This is in part because many of these states are not settled and are still being made. The OSCE matters for the EU’s policies towards “other Europe”, as often it is the only place to discuss values and political commitments, for instance with Russia. Plus the OSCE is on the ground in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The EU could form a very effective bloc in the OSCE, since it includes 27 out of 56 members, pays 75% of the OSCE budget and EU governments regularly hold the chair.

But the EU has much less influence in the OSCE than the US or Russia. If the EU really believes in “effective multi-lateralism”, it should learn to use its power in the OSCE.

Strong cooperation with the United Nations is crucial for the success of ESDP missions. All ESDP missions, except Bosnia, have operated alongside UN operations, and the UN is the main organiser of international peacekeeping. Over 100,000 personnel currently serve on UN peacekeeping operations around the world, costing billion a year (half of which is paid by the EU), and these operations are each mandated by two EU members, France and the UK, as permanent members of the UN Security Council. But the UNSC has become a very uncomfortable place for the EU, as its positions on Burma, Zimbabwe and Georgia have been vetoed by other permanent members. The EU is poor at working with the UN both strategically and operationally, and it is getting worse at it – EU-UN cooperation on the ground in Chad has been worse than in Congo. Some in the UN have been critical of ESDP operations, as they have had little impact on the ground and seem to be politically motivated.

Thus, the EU should not assume that it will always have UN support on the ground in future. If cooperation between the EU and NATO, the OSCE or the UN is to work better on the ground in future, then each organisation has to understand the other’s specific nature and raison d’etre, because trust requires knowledge of each other. That means international organisations have to work out their shared interests, comparative advantages, resources and legal and political frameworks. Clear divisions of labour between organisations are not realistic operationally, as each organisation develops its response on an ad hoc basis.

Flexibility, therefore, is absolutely necessary for operations managed by different organisations in the same country, and chains-of-command must communicate with each other. And there cannot be subordination of one international organisation to another.


When assessing its security policies, the EU must re-consider two competing and interdependent trends: globalisation; and the return of power politics. The European Security Strategy should be a prescription, not just a description. Even in an increasingly multi-polar world there is no doubt the US will remain powerful and a crucial partner for Europe. Russia is not an existential threat, and it is too early to learn long-term strategic lessons from the Georgia crisis. Multilateralism will remain very complex, reforming multi-lateral institutions is very difficult and the EU must learn to use its power in those institutions. Even if power has not changed that much since the European Security Strategy was drafted in 2003, perceptions of power have changed. As a result, it is more urgent that EU governments develop a sense of their vital common interests. This in turn would help EU governments push for more effective global governance in multilateral institutions, and they would work more effectively with partners around the world to resolve conflicts and manage crises.