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COMMENTARY / Jairo Císcar
Since the end of the Second World War, collective security on the European continent and with it, peace, has been a priority. The founding fathers of the European Union themselves, aware of the tensions that resulted from the First and Second World Wars, devised and created security structures to prevent future conflicts and strengthen relations between former enemies. The first structure, although not purely military, obeys this logic: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), essential for the creation and maintenance of industry and armies, was created by the Treaty of Paris in 1951, introducing a concept as widely used today as “energy security”. This was arguably the first major step towards effective integration of European countries.
However, for the issue at hand, the path has been much more complicated. In the same period in which the ECSC was born, French Prime Minister René Pleven, with the encouragement of Robert Schuman and Jean Monet, wanted to promote the European Defence Community. This ambitious plan aimed to merge the armed forces of the six founding countries (including the Federal Republic of Germany) into a European Armed Forces that would keep the continent together and prevent the possibility of a new conflict between states. Ambitious as it was, the project failed in 1954, when the deeply nationalist Gaullist deputies of the French National Assembly refused to ratify the agreement. European integration at the military level thus suffered a setback from which it would not begin to recover until the present century, although it continues to face many of the reluctances it once did.
Why did the European Defence Community fail, and what makes the European Armed Forces still a difficult debate today? This is a question that needs to be analysed and understood, for while political and economic integration has advanced with a large consensus, the military problem, which should go hand in hand with the two previous issues, has always been the Achilles' tendon of the common European project.
There are basically two factors to take into account. The first is the existence of a larger defence community, NATO. Since 1948, NATO has been the principal military alliance of Western countries. Born to counter Soviet expansionism, the Alliance has evolved in size and objectives to its current configuration of 30 member states and a multitude of other states in the form of strategic alliances. Although NATO's primary purpose was diluted after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has evolved with the times, remaining alert and operational all around the globe. The existence of this common, powerful and ambitious project under U.S. leadership largely obscured efforts and intentions to create a common European defence project. Why create one, overlapping, structure if the objectives were practically the same and NATO guaranteed greater logistical, military superiority and a nuclear arsenal? For decades, this has been the major argument against further European integration in the field of defence - as protection was secured but delegated.
Another issue was the nationalism still prevalent among European states, especially in the aforementioned Gaullist France. Even today, with an ongoing and deep political, economic and, at a certain level, judicial integration, military affairs are still often seen as the last bastion of national sovereignty. In Schengen Europe, they remain for many the guarantee of those borders that fell long ago.
Other issues to take into account are the progressive detachment of the population from the armed forces (a Europe that has not seen war on its own territory in 70 years, except for the Balkans, has tended to settle into peace, nearly oblivious to wars) and its progressive ageing, with a future with fewer people of military age, and who, as we have mentioned, often have an ideological and motivational gap with previous generations with respect to the concept and utility of the military.
It was not until relatively recently, with the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, that the embryonic mechanisms of the current Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), supervised by the European Defence Agency, began to be implemented. In the 2010s, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, these mechanisms were established. The Military Staff of the European Union (EUMS) is one of them. It constitutes the EU's first permanent strategic headquarters. The final impetus came in 2015, with the European Union Global Strategy. This led to the creation of various far-reaching initiatives, most notably the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which since 2017 has been pursuing the structural integration of the Armed Forces of all EU countries except Denmark and Malta. It is not only limited to proper integration, but also leads capability development projects such as the EU Collaborative Warfare Capabilities (ECOWAR) or the Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA), as well as defence industry endeavors such as the MUSAS project, or the CYBER-C4ISR capabilities level.
Although it is too early to say for sure, Europe may be as close as it can get to René Pleven's distant dream. The EU's geopolitical situation is changing, and so is its own language and motivation. If we used to talk about Europe delegating its protection for years, now Emmanuel Macron advocates ‘strategic autonomy” for the EU. It should be recalled that just over a year ago he claimed that “NATO is brain-dead”. Some voices in the EU’s political arena claim and have realised that it can no longer delegate the European protection and defence of its interests, and they are starting to take steps towards doing so. Despite these advances, it is true that is not a shared interest, at least, as a whole. France and other Mediterranean member states are pushing towards it, but those in the East, as Poland or Latvia, are far more concerned about the rise of Russia, and are comfortable enough for U.S. troops to be established in their terrain.
Having said that, I truly believe that the advantages of the European Armed Forces project outweigh its negative aspects. First of all, a Europe united in defence policies would not imply the disappearance of NATO, or the breaking of agreements with third countries. In fact, these alliances could even be strengthened and fully adapted to the 21st century and to the war of the future. As an example, in 2018 the EU and NATO signed collaboration agreements on issues such as cybersecurity, defence industry and military mobility.
While NATO works, Europe is now facing a dissociation between U.S. interests and those of the other Allies, especially the European ones. In particular, countries such as France, Spain and Italy are shifting their defence policies from the Middle East, or the current peace process in Afghanistan (which, despite 20 years of war, sounds like a long way off), to sub-Saharan Africa (Operation “Barkhane” or EUTM Mali), a much closer region with a greater impact on the lives of the European citizens. This does not detract from the fact that NATO faces global terrorism in a new era that is set to surpass asymmetric warfare and other 4th generation wars: the era of hybrid warfare. Russia's military build-up on the EU's eastern flank and China's penetration into Africa do not invite a loosening of ties with the United States, but European countries need to prioritise their own threats over those of the U.S., although it is true that the needs of countries to the west of the EU are not the same as those to the east. This could be the main stumbling block for a joint European Army, as weighting the different strategic priorities could be really arduous.
It is true that this idea of differing policies is not shared in the EU as a whole. Countries such as Poland, those in the Balkans or the Baltic have different approaches and necessities when talking about a European Union common security strategy. The EU is a 27 country-wide body that often is extremely difficult to navigate within. Consensus is only reached after very long discussions (see the soap opera on the COVID relief package negotiations), and being defence as important as it is, and in need of fast, executive decision making, the intricate bureaucracy of the EU could not help with it. But if well managed, it could be an opportunity to develop new strategies for decision-making and reforming the European system as a whole, fostering a new, more effective Europe.
Another debate, probably outdated, is the one who claims that the EU is not capable of planning, organising and conducting operations outside the NATO umbrella. In this case, apart from the aforementioned guidelines and policies, one simply has to look at the facts: the EU today leads six active (and 18 completed) military missions with close to 5,000 troops deployed. The “Althea” (Bosnia & Herzegovina) and “Atalanta” (in the Indian Ocean) missions are particularly noteworthy. It is true that these examples are of low-intensity conflicts but, given the combat experience of EU nations under NATO or in other missions (French and Portuguese in Africa, etc.) combat-pace could be quickly achieved. The NATO certification system under which most European armed forces operate guarantees standardisation in tactics, logistics and procedures, so that standardisation at the European level would be extremely simple if existing models are taken into account.
Another issue is the question of whether the EU could politically and economically engage in a long, high-intensity operation without getting drowned by the public opinion, financial administration, and, obviously, with the planning and carrying out of a whole campaign. This is one of the other main problems with future European armed forces because, as mentioned earlier, Europeans are not prepared in any way to be confronted with the reality of a situation of war. What rules of engagement will be used? How to cope with casualties? And even more, how to create an effective chain of command and control among 27 countries? And what will happen if one does not agree with a particular intervention or action? How could it be argued that the EU, world’s leading beacon of human rights, democracy and peace, gets engaged in a war? Undoubtedly, these questions have rational and objective answers, but in an era of social media, populism, empty discourses, and fake news, it would be difficult to engage with the public (and voters) to support the idea.
Having said that, there is room for optimism. Another reason pointing towards Europe's armed forces is the collaboration that exists at the military industrial level. PESCO and the European Defence Fund encourage this, and projects such as the FCAS and EURODRONE lay the foundations for the future of European armed forces capabilities. It should not be forgotten that the European defence industry is the world leader behind that of the United States and is an increasingly tough competitor for the latter.
In addition, the use of military forces in European countries during the current coronavirus pandemic has served to reinforce the message of their utility and need for collaboration beyond the purely military. While the militarisation of emergencies must be avoided and the soldier must not be reduced to a mere “Swiss army knife” at disposition of the government trying to make up their own lack of planning or capacity to deal with the situation, it has brought the military closer to the streets, and to some extent may have helped to counteract the disaffection with the armed forces that exists in many European countries (due to the factors mentioned above).
Finally, I believe that European-level integration of the armed forces will not be merely beneficial, but necessary for Europe. If the EU wants to maintain its diplomacy, its economic power, it needs its own strategic project, an “area of control” over its interests and, above all, military independence. This does not preclude maintaining and promoting the alliances already created, but this is a unique and necessary opportunity to fully establish the common European project. The political and economic framework cannot be completed without the military one; and the military one cannot function without the former. All that remains is to look at the direction the EU is taking and hope that it will be realised. It is more than possible and doable, and the reality is that work is being done towards it.
ESSAY / Blake Bierman
The Common Foreign, Security, and Defense Policy (CFSDP) of the European Union today acts a chameleonic hybrid of objectives and policies that attempt to resolve a plethora of threats faced by the EU. In a post 9/11 security framework, any acting policy measure must simultaneously answer to a wide array of political demands from member states and bureaucratic constraints from Brussels. As a result, the urgent need for consolidation and coherency in a common, digestible narrative has evolved into a single EU Global Strategy that boldly attempts to address today’s most pressing security whilst proactively deterring those of tomorrow. In this analysis, I will first present a foundational perspective on the external context of the policy areas. Next, I will interpret the self-perception of the EU within such a context and its role(s) within. Thirdly, I will identify the key interests, goals, and values of the EU and assess their incorporation into policy. I will then weigh potential resources and strategies the EU may utilize in enacting and enforcing said policies. After examining the aforementioned variables, I will end my assessment by weighing the strengths and weaknesses of both the EU’s Strategic Vision and Reflection Paper while identifying preferences within the two narratives.
EU in an External Context: A SWOT Analysis
When it comes to examining the two perspectives presented, the documents must be viewed from their correlative timelines. The first document, “From Shared Vision to Common Action: Implementing the EU Global Strategy Year 1,” (I will refer to this as the Implementation paper) serves as a realist review of ongoing action within the EU’s three policy clusters in detailing the beginning stages of integrated approach and outlook towards the internal-external nexus along with an emphasized role of public diplomacy in the mix. On the other hand, the second document, “Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense,” (I will refer to this as the Reflection paper) acts more so as a planning guide to define the potential frameworks for policies going forward into 2025. Once these documents are viewed within their respective timelines, a balanced “SWOT” analysis can assess the similarities and divergences of the options they present. Overwhelmingly, the theme of cooperation acts as a fundamental staple in both documents. In my opinion, this acts a force for unification and solidarity amongst member states from not only the point of view of common interest in all three policy areas, but also as a reminder of the benefits in the impact and cost of action as prescribed in the UN and NATO cases. Both documents seem to expand the EU’s context in terms of scope as embracing the means and demands for security in a global lens. The documents reinforce that in a globalized world, threats and their responses require an approach that extends beyond EU borders, and therefore a strong, coherent policy voice is needed to bring together member states and allies alike to defeat them.
Examining the divergences, much is left to be desired as far as the risks and opportunities are presented. In my perspective, I believe this was constructed purposefully as an attempt to leave the both areas as open as possible to allow for member states to interpret them in the context of their own narratives. In short, member state cohesion at literally every policy inroad proves to be the proverbial double-edged sword as the single largest risk and opportunity tasked by the organization. I think that the incessant rehashing of the need to stress state sovereignty at every turn while glamorizing the benefits of a single market and economies of scale identifies a bipolar divide in both documents that seems yet to be bridged by national sentiments even in the most agreeable of policy areas like diplomacy. The discord remains all but dependent on the tide of political discourse at the national level for years to come as the pace maker to materialize sufficient commitments in everything from budgets to bombs in order to achieve true policy success.
Who is the EU? Self-Perception and Potential Scenarios
After understanding the external context of the EU policy areas, we now turn to the element of self-perception and the roles of the EU as an international actor. Examining the relationship between the two stands as a crucial understanding of policy formulation as central to the core identity to the EU and vice versa. In this case, both documents provide key insight as to the position of the EU in a medium-term perspective. From the Implementation Paper, we see a humbled approach that pushes the EU to evolve from a regional, reactionary actor to a proactive, world power. The paper hones in on the legal roots and past successes of an integrated approach outside EU borders as a calling to solidify the Union’s mark as a vital organ for peace and defense. The paper then broadens such an identity to incorporate the elements of NATO and the UN cooperation as a segmenting role for member states contributions, such as intelligence collection and military technology/cyber warfare. In the Reflection Paper, I think the tone and phrasing speak more to the self-perceptions of individual citizens. The emotive language for the promotion of a just cause attitude stands reinforced by the onslaught of harmonizing buzzwords throughout the paper and the three scenarios such as “joint, collaborative, solidarity, shared, common, etc.”. In my perspective, such attempts draw in the need to reinforce, protect, and preserve a common identity both at home and abroad. This formation speaks to the development of both military and civilian capabilities as a means of securing and maintaining a strong EU position in the global order while supplementing the protection of what is near and dear at home.
Policy Today: Interests, Goals, and Values
When developing a coherent line of key interests, goals, and values across three focal policy structures, the EU makes strategic use of public perception as a litmus test to guide policy narratives. In the Reflection Paper, indications clearly point to a heightened citizen concern over immigration and terrorism from 2014-2016 taking clear priority over economic issues as the continent recovers. Such a reshuffling may pave the way for once-apprehensive politicians to reexamine budgeting priorities. Such a mandate could very well be the calling national governments need to allocate more of their defense spending to the EU while also ramping up domestic civilian and military infrastructure to contribute to common policy goals. Extending this notion of interest-based contributions over to the goals themselves, I think that member states are slowly developing the political will to see that a single market for defense ultimately becomes more attractive to the individual tax payer when all play a part. As the Reflection Paper explains, this can be translated as free/common market values with the development of economies of scale, boosted production, and increased competition. In each of the three scenarios outlined, the values act as matched components to these goals and interests. Therefore, readers retain a guiding set of “principles” as the basis for the plan’s “actions” and “capabilities.” The alignment of interests, goals, and values remains a difficult but necessary target in all policy areas, as the final results have significant influence over the perception of publics that indirectly vote the policies into place. In my perspective, a lack of coherence between the three and the policies could be a potential pitfall for policy objectives as lost faith by the public may sink the voter appetite for future defense spending and action.
Making it Happen: Resources and Strategies
As the balance between the EU’s ways and means become a focal point for any CFSDP discussion, I wanted to enhance the focus between the resources and strategies to examine the distribution between EU and member state competencies. When it comes to resources in all three policy areas, individual member states’ own infrastructures become front and center. Even in the “collaborative” lens of a 21st century EU, foreign affairs, defense, and security mainly revolve as apparatuses of a state. Therefore, in order to achieve a common strategy, policy must make a concerted effort to maximize collective utilization of state assets while respecting state sovereignty. In the Reflection paper, an attempt to consolidate the two by bolstering the EU’s own defense budget acts as a middle ground. In this regard, I think the biggest opportunity for the EU to retain its own resources remains in technology. States are simply more eager to share their military tech than they are their own boots on the ground. Similarly, technology and its benefits are more easily transferrable between member states and the EU. Just as well, selling the idea of technology research to taxpayers that may one day see the fruits of such labor in civilian applications is an easier pill to swallow for politicians than having to justify the use of a state’s limited and precious human military capital for an EU assignment not all may agree with. A type of “technological independence” the third scenario implies would optimally direct funding in a manner that balances state military capacity where it acts best while joining the common strategy for EU technological superiority that all member states can equally benefit from.
Narratives and Norms: A Final Comparison
After reviewing the progress made in the Implementation Paper and balancing it with the goals set forth in the Reflection paper, it remains clear that serious decisions towards the future of EU CFSDP still need to be made. The EU Global Strategy treads lightly on the most important topics for voters like immigration and terrorism that remain works in progress under the program’s steps for “resilience” and the beginnings of an integrated approach. That being said, my perspective in this program lens remains that the role and funding of public diplomacy unfortunately remains undercut by the giant umbrella of security and defense. To delve into the assessment of counterterrorism policy as a solely defensive measure does a disservice to the massive, existing network of EU diplomatic missions serving abroad that effectively act as proactive anti-terrorism measures in themselves. At the same time, supplementing funding to public diplomacy programs would take some of the pressure off member states to release their military capabilities for joint use. In this facet, I empathize with the member state politician and voter in their apprehensiveness to serve as the use of force in even the most justifiable situations. A refocus on funding in the diplomacy side is a cost effective alternative and investment that member states can make to reduce the likelihood that their troops will need to serve abroad on behalf of the EU. The success of diplomacy can be seen in areas like immigration, where the Partnership Framework on Migration has attempted to work with countries of origin to stabilize governments and assist civilians.
Turning the page to the Reflection Paper, I think much is left to be desired in terms of the development of the three scenarios. Once again, the scenario parameters are purposefully vague to effectively sell the plan to a wide variety of narratives. At the same time, I found it reprehensible that despite the massive rhetoric to budgetary concerns, none of the three scenarios incorporated any type of estimate fiscal dimension to compare and contrast the visions. Obviously, the contributions of member states will vary widely but I think that a concerted campaign to incentivize a transparent contribution table in terms financing, military assets, diplomatic assets, or (ideally) a combination of the three would see a more realpolitik approach to what the EU does and does not possess in the capacity to achieve in these policy areas. Ultimately, I believe that Scenario C “Common Defense and Security” retains the most to offer member states while effectively balancing the contributions and competencies equally. I think that the scenario utilizes the commitments to NATO and reinforces the importance of technological independence. As such, the importance of a well-defined plan to develop and maintain cutting-edge technology in all three policy areas cannot be overstated and, in my opinion, will become not only the most common battlefield, but also the critical one as the world enters into a 21st century of cyber warfare.
European Union. (2016). From Shared Vision to Common Action: The EU’s Global Strategic Vision: Year 1.
European Union. (2016). Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defense.