The old adage says that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Many might think that applies to the European Security Strategy (ESS) as it has now fulfilled a useful function for five years. It helped relax the tensions that had built up within the European Union over the Iraq war, and also began to build a new strategic culture in the Union by getting member states to reflect on their common foreign policy interests. Certainly, the High Representative’s recent analysis of the implementation of the ESS and decisions to enhance European Security and Defence Policy, which was presented to the European Council in December, pointed towards only gradual improvements in the existing text.
But the question of when to amend or re-write a strategic document is always a function of political expediency; so let’s give the original strategy due credit (and leave the politics aside) and ask instead what an ESS would look like if it were written today. How would it differ from the 2003 strategy, and would these differences be substantial if EU leaders were to start afresh? The answers suggest there are at least five good reasons to think that an overhaul of Europe’s security strategy is now due.
The first reason is the changed “threat scenario” we now face, and the altered international context in which Europe’s security strategy operates. The second is a desire to make the ESS more responsive and to improve the timing of EU interventions. Third, a new ESS would allow the EU to sort out its priorities so it could better deploy its limited resources. Fourth, it would give the EU an opportunity to reconsider the way it treats multilateralism, because that should be an instrument of policy and not a goal in itself. Fifth, Europe needs to strengthen its operational capacities in light of recent experience, and explore how to build up EU countries' joint capabilities.
MATTERS OF OPINION
CFSP still commands widespread support
Over three-quarters of Europeans (76%) remain in favour of a common defence and security policy according to a Eurobarometer survey. Support has slipped by 3% since
autumn 2007, but is still markedly higher than the 70% level recorded in autumn 2003 when the European Security Strategy was in the process of being adopted by the European Council. Although there is majority support for CFSP throughout the EU’s 27 member states, the picture is far from uniform. Support is strongest in Cyprus (94%), Belgium (89%), Germany (88%) and Luxembourg and Slovenia (both 87%). CFSP’s support amongst the EU’s neutral countries is rather lower, with 60% of those surveyed being in favour of a common approach in Ireland, 61% in Austria, 62% in Sweden and 65% in Finland. The common security and defence policy’s lowest support is in the UK, where just 56% of
respondents are in favour.
Such topics link into the third reason for re-examining the ESS: better prioritisation. So far, the EU has not been particularly coherent in its pattern of overseas engagements. It has launched 20 crisis management operations, most of them small-scale and with limited ambitions. Nine of these operations involved fewer than 100 people and five have been in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The setting of priorities is highly relevant today. The original ESS stated that “in an area of globalisation, distant threats may be as much a concern as those that are near at hand.” It then focussed on “building security in our neighbourhood” and described different “rings of friends” in the region. The rewritten ESS needs to be more specific about the scale of engagement in neighbouring countries which are willing and able contributors. It should also state clearly that the EU will only intervene when it can make a tangible impact. If a European force is merely going to wave the flag, it should spare itself the effort. EU engagements should also only be approved when the UN or local organisations are unable to intervene; priority should always be given to the use of regional groups which have a better knowledge of the situation on the ground and a stronger sense of “ownership” of the process.
The EU’s approach to multilateralism is the fourth reason to review the ESS. The Union displays an almost messianic attachment to effective multilateralism. No one is saying that multilateralism is a bad thing; it is rightly seen as the European way of doing things and is part of the EU’s identity. It should, however, be treated as a means to an end, not an end in its own right. The revised ESS should therefore spend more time considering the model of multilateralism that the EU wants to promote. It should also point out how international governance could be reformed to achieve the desired outcome. This would include making some of the key international institutions more inclusive and the system of global governance more comprehensive than today.
Possibly the most potent reason for updating the ESS comes under the fifth heading: the need to improve the EU’s operational capacity, both military and civilian. It is frequently said that the ESS is a readable document but not a real strategy. That is a serious deficiency, one that has been underscored by the lessons learned from European Security and Defence Policy operations and other EU activities in recent years. The recent Council decision to set targets for the number of civilian missions and military operations of varying scope in the coming years is a welcome development, although it is still has to be reflected in real progress on the ground.
The revised strategy also needs to be more open about the EU’s objectives in relation to NATO, especially since cooperation between the two organisations is improving despite the formal deadlock in their official contacts. At some point, too, events might require the EU to take coherent action, even if the ESS remains in partial limbo while the fate of the Lisbon treaty is being resolved. This would demonstrate why greater coherence within the EU security strategy is so important and also how elements of the Lisbon treaty could help to improve the situation.
There is one final area that the review of the ESS should tackle – arms control. It is the great “no-go area” of EU foreign policy and falls outside the main security categories of threats and capabilities. The Cold War framework for arms control has never been adapted to the current era, which emerged after the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 and Russia pulled out of the START II arms-reduction treaty. Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to install new Iskander-type missiles in Kaliningrad, along the Polish border. Should they have nuclear warheads, these weapons can reach targets about 500 kilometres away, so they might not be covered by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bans missiles with a 500-5,500 kilometres range. The START I treaty is due to expire in December 2009 and negotiations will need to commence on the new disarmament programme, with further cuts in the number of deployed warheads and simpler verification mechanisms. President Barack Obama has repeatedly stated his commitment to that outcome. However, the Russians will be demanding that the U.S. should withdraw its plans to install a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
It is clear that there are substantive new security issues to be addressed. The ESS review process should not be seen as casting doubts on the role and relevance of the original agreement. Strategies are dynamic political documents, not static academic ones. But a new version of the ESS will only make sense if it provides a strong political impulse to strengthen Europe’s security commitment. It is not a matter of putting things down on paper; it is about doing them.