The EU as an International Security Actor

In the history of Europe, “golden ages” have been few and far between, but always momentous in their ripple effects: the peak of the Roman empire, the Renaissance come to mind, to which the integration process of the last fifty years can confidently be added. Most of the time, human cohabitation in our very crowded “tiny peninsula of Asia” was a fragile thing. On a world-wide scale, present transitional times should in any case be viewed as a unique opportunity to impress the European experiment on the system of international relations. Yet, the protracted string of negative referenda on institutional reform, the low turnout in recent elections for the European Parliament, and the patchy response to the financial crisis have all cast fresh doubts about the scope and sustainability of the federative project. Irish doubts however did not dissuade Iceland from lining up with Turkey and Balkan states in seeking its economic and political shelter within it.

With a world transformed and in flux, it’s been a very long time since Brussels has told the European citizenry what the achievements have been and the common intentions still are. No wonder the electorate does not respond readily, and recurrently rejects what it does not understand. Pampered for more than half a century by the protection of NATO and fattened by the generous solidarity of the European community, it is as if the Union was still reluctant to assert what it wants to do when it finally grows out of its protracted adolescence. The European Security Strategy published in 2003, recently revised, stated how it views world challenges (not much differently, then and now, from the US posture). But no sense of urgency in putting its act together has yet shaken public opinion and political parties that seem instead bent upon raising the respective drawbridges. Waiting for the result of yet another referendum, the EU integration process has come to another standstill, in the stop-and-go progression that has characterized it since its inception. While many world issues are knocking at Europe’s door, and may eventually tear it down.

The fact is that, fundamentally, after experiencing two suicidal conflicts, Western Europe has given up the use of force as a legitimate instrument of international relations (as the caveats in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, demonstrate). In spite of its “headline goals” and assorted “battle groups” on the ready, the EU will not therefore boast war-fighting capabilities that it does not seek, relying instead on the attractiveness of its “smart” civilian power, the EU’s trade-mark. Albeit slowly and controversially, its role as a crisis-prevention-and-management actor, through economic and social cooperation and integration, is emerging. The EU has conclusively moved from being an economic space to becoming a novel political, i.e. normative, stabilizing factor. The enlargement process in itself should constitute the most impressive demonstration of the EU’s rising common foreign and security policy, and provide its most convincing political credentials.

Under wraps, as Jean Monnet had intended, the European project has always been an eminently political endeavour, incrementally ratcheting up its critical mass. The Union will continue to consist in the hybrid, gradual, bottom-up juxtaposition and sedimentation of intergovernmental and supranational ingredients, in the slow-motion progression undertaken after the failure of the initial attempt at a political “big bang”. Deep down, European integration has always been spurred by security concerns. An intermittent story, with sudden leaps whenever international shocks struck: in 1956 with the Suez affair; in 1968 with the Prague events; in 1989 with the coming apart of the Soviet bloc. Things have not been as dramatic since then, but the groundswell is obvious for all to see. The road may continue to be long and winding, but the aim of an “ever closer union” will persist.

Confronting the crisis in Georgia, last year, then steering the G20 London financial summit, and now with respect to the negotiating prospects in the Middle East (while continuing to nurse the situation in the Western Balkans), the European Union has shown that there are situations in which its role has become indispensable, in the many cracks that military might is unable to cope with after the demise of the Cold War. As a matter of fact, the meekness of the EU’s reaction (usefully substituting for NATO) to the Georgian conflict last year must be attributed not to the limited effectiveness of the European security policy, as much as the uselessness of the Russian action. Difficult as it appears for the EU to emerge from the bipolar protectorate into a world that has suddenly so radically changed, the point is not that the EU still lacks a common foreign and security policy (CFSP, with the relevant defence policy -ESDP-, let alone a hypothetical common defence), but rather that it is not considered still a useful interlocutor by other would-be international protagonists, such as Russia, China, the Arab world, Iran. An added value that can only be obtained by demonstrating a more explicit continuity, consistency and perseverance.

At the continental level, in the geopolitical void resulting from the disintegration of both the Warsaw Pact and the USSR, NATO’s expansion and the EU enlargement ensured a stable transition from centralized, authoritarian regimes to Western democratic standards. The EU was of course slower because its socio-economic implications are more complex than the mainly securitarian ones prevailing in the Atlantic Alliance (which account for the Russian objections to NATO and its neglect of the EU, with respect to issues such as Ukraine and Georgia, or the new anti-missile shield). Furthermore, the EU will basically remain a reactive, “consumer-driven” international player: its genetic code relies on the responsiveness to its policies, not only in the Balkans and in the Mediterranean but especially all along the belt of instability that still divides a continent that the 1990 Paris pan-European Charter wished “whole and free”.

Sadly, instead, the Russian leadership declares that the EU’s “neighbourhood initiative” (recently upgraded to an “Eastern partnership”), toward countries with no imminent prospects of institutional integration, constitutes an interference in Moscow’s “privileged sphere of interests”. Meanwhile, it continues to disregard the negotiations for a new “strategic partnership” with the EU. Consequently, the “new European security architecture” promoted in the past couple of years by Presidents Putin and Medvedev has remained an abstraction, which the anachronistic conflict over South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) has obfuscated. The Kremlin’s overriding aim seems to be to recover its superpower status, which it apparently wants Washington to bestow. President Obama’s summit meetings in Moscow were just the initial steps of a much more complex “resetting” of bilateral relations, which Moscow considers a precondition for any other international agenda. Which, for the moment, leaves Europe out.

Even after the hoped-for entry into force of the Lisbon Reform Treaty (with its longer-term President of the Council, the High Representative holding a prominent position in the Commission, and a Parliament with a sharper overseeing role), Brussels’ intended greater role in the management of European and world affairs may therefore continue to be impaired by external constraints rather than its own structural deficiencies. In order to develop the full panoply of its foreign and security policy, Europe therefore needs to achieve not only a more coherent strategic relationship with the US (within and without NATO), but also the concurrence of Russia, in establishing a more structured and productive triangular relationship. A task that presupposes, first and foremost, the convergence of the EU expanded, more heterogeneous, membership, in order to persuade Russia to shed its traditional “wait-and-see (and in the meantime nuisance) approach” that continues to weigh down on international relations, world-wide. Moscow has yet to appreciate that, in its own strategic interest, it can find in Brussels the non intrusive, non aggressive, intrinsically cooperative partner it needs in order to diversify its options and bolster its international credibility and influence.

In the meantime, the European project will continue to feed on its own intrinsic kinetic force, building up energy as it moves along, relying on the acquiescence, if not always the committed contribution, of its extensive membership. The reinforced cooperation mechanism foreseen by the Lisbon Reform Treaty should provide it with the reactive capability, if not always the political initiative, that world circumstances nowadays require. The latter have demonstrated time and again that power cannot consist any more solely on military might, but instead on the ability to enlist the contribution of other like-minded partners in the restoration of a workable multilateral system.

In spite of the oft proclaimed intentions, the CFSP has so far stuttered. Its proclaimed ESDP ambitions have often made it appear as a mouse that roars. Still, its political relevance is indisputable: why else would the Russian Foreign Minister object to its “Eastern Partnership” initiative? Why would Turkey want to join? For the foreseeable future, CFSP will not produce a decisive great-power diplomacy, which the European Union genetically shuns. Waiting for Lisbon, what is patently lacking to the EU is not so much an adequate institutional structure or the operational capabilities: it’s the narrative, i.e. a more consistent policy of informing and enlisting public opinion, nationally and internationally. A way must also be found to interject systematically on the international scene the preventive, normative power that the Union is best at: Venus rather than Mars. Its effectiveness would hardly be clockwork machinery, designed as it is instead to solicit and encourage a convergence of behavior, from present and would-be members and associates alike.

A multiple-speed Europe, endowed with different intensities (not variable geometries) is precisely what present international circumstances suggest. It has already adopted diversified modules, such as the Euro and Schengen regimes. In the foreign policy realm, where can hardly be pre-determined or responses be pre-established, “ad hocery”, in the form of the coming together of the “willing and able” according to circumstances as they arise, will not suffice. An adaptable European structure, with a hard core surrounded by flexible configurations, such as the “permanent structured co-operations” formula foreseen in the Lisbon treaty, could prove more credible and effective than a juggernaut at twenty-seven.

The world may have become flat, but it will not take care of itself. It still needs prodding and guidance, by example rather than through impositions. A task that rests primarily with the countries apparently seeking to replace the authority of the Security Council with the looser oversight of some restricted G20-type group. Russia, China and other emerging countries must in any case recognize that inclusion implies responsibility-taking, with no exclusive spheres of influence (multipolarism is not synonymous with multilateralism), and with a common approach to trade, climate and energy global issues.

Europe, as the only genetically multilateralist international actor, is best suited to show the way. Not a mere space any more, nor an impressive power yet, the EU must be accepted as a more useful player, in the many cracks left behind by an obviously outdated great-power system. A single EU voice in international organizations that deal with global challenges would of course help.    For it to happen, the institutional consolidation established by the Lisbon mini-Treaty must come into effect. Even if appropriate institutional instruments, although indispensable, will of course not be enough to provide the self-confidence and political conviction needed to support a more articulate and consistent foreign policy. Both nationally and internationally, the political narrative of the EU must be stepped up. Now that Europe, for all intents and purposes, has been made, its inhabitants must be “Europeanised”, out of their self-satisfied, indifferent (rather than skeptical), essentially passive attitude on matters of foreign policy and security affecting their future, if only in order to protect their social and economic achievements.

Hits: 1073

written by Andreas, September 03, 2009

Dear Mr Lenzi, thank you for your vision of the CFSP/ESDP problem but are you really sure that “Europe, as the only genetically multilateralist international actor, is best suited to show the way”? Does the Europe know the way? At a single moment of European common foreign policy there are 27 ways leading in quite diffrent directions. I am sorry, but could you mention some really successful EU missions abroad, I mean not ongoing but accomplished peace missions?



Lecturer and author
written by Dr. William Mallinson, September 12, 2009

Guido Lenzi draws attention to the institutional morass that the EU has become.Europe will not functuion effectively unless the core countries, but in particular the Franco-German axis, forge ahead, leaving the ‘worm in the apple’ countries such as the UK and Poland, to quibble from the outside. As long as the French and Germans succumb to the Anglo-Saxon dictates of NATO as a worldwide policeman and arms club for the big manufacturers, there will be no single foreign and defence policy. The ESDP is a joke, since it only operates when NATO is not engaged. In other words, it is subservient to NATO.We already have an embryonic CFSP. If only Italy would for once show some gumption, and join the Franco-Germans in a serious attempt to forge a single voice for the EU in the CFSP, we might see a more stable world.In culo della balena, Signor Lenzi.Ai scritto un articolo importante. Voglio aiutarvi. Se mi scrivete, verro in Italia, e faremo qualchecosa insieme…. Sono serio….