Common Security and Defence Policy: No common strategic culture, no major progress

I have recently published a paper on the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) for the Centre for European Policy Studies. The paper analyses some of the major provisions of the Lisbon Treaty that impact upon the CSDP. It argues that although some of these provisions sound positive on paper, they will not necessarily enhance the development of a common strategic culture. And without the consolidation of such a culture, the CSDP cannot deliver ambitious results.

The strategic culture of the EU is defined as: “the ideas and values of Brussels-based ESDP officials regarding the current and potential use of force as well as their practices on the deployment of police and military instruments in various ESDP missions”. The strategic culture of the EU consists of ideas, values and policy practices, which are manifested in the way missions are discussed and planned.

As it is argued in the paper, with the establishment of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in 1999, the EU aimed to tackle challenges in the field of security by deploying various police and military missions in troubled crisis areas. The consolidation of the CSDP raised hopes for the EU’s role in external affairs. However, the majority of CSDP missions are still on a small scale. Strategic disagreements among EU partners persist on issues of UN legality, NATO neutrality and the geographic deployment of missions. This lack of consensus is due to a lack of common ideas, values and practices regarding the use of police and military force in Europe. In short: there is no solid EU strategic culture, although there are some primary elements of consensus.

Various institutional innovations have been included in the Lisbon Treaty in order to address the cohesion and effectiveness problem of the EU. However, this policy paper adopts a more ‘constructivist’ approach, arguing that ‘ideas matter’. Unless the EU acquires its own solid strategic culture, it will not be able to act in an efficient way in the field of security and defence. The acquisition of such a strategic culture is no easy task. Member state strategic cultures have been strongly consolidated, since they have followed the identity formation of their own national identities. The EU needs to engage in a construction of its own strategic culture that will combine elements of the strategic cultures of its member states, but since the strategic cultures of EU states are somewhat contradictory (e.g., ‘Atlanticist’ versus ‘Europeanist’), the difficulty of such a task can be appreciated.

Nevertheless, due to the successful development of CSDP, it can be argued that the EU possesses its own nascent strategic culture, characterised by certain values and ideas. This strategic culture has the Petersberg Tasks at its epicentre and is characterised by a selective approach to humanitarian crises. The strategic culture of the EU is based on a selective protection of human rights and the promotion of law. The EU humanitarian agenda is still important, as most CSDP missions have a humanitarian background. However, these terms have not found their way into clearly defined EU strategies and remain loose and open to interpretation, as may fit the different (and conflicting) interests of the EU member states.

Although the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty may bring some positive amendments to the CFSP/CSDP, it is highly unlikely that these institutional developments alone will provide the stimulus for further robust external action. The strategic culture of the EU suffers from a lack of defined EU interests as well as from the insistence of EU member states on maintaining intergovernmentalism as the main form of decision-making. Different geographic approaches among EU states and the cultural differences between ‘new’-er and ‘old’-er EU nations constitute a hindrance to its development. Other issues also manifest its weakness; the Atlanticist strategic culture of the EU being one, and the nature of the EU-US relationship still needs to be properly defined. Furthermore, the importance of a UN Security Council mandate prior to the undertaking of CSDP missions remains important but is not accepted by all countries as the primary prerequisite for strategic action.

The strategic actorness of the CSDP is mostly limited to relatively small missions. Such cautiousness risks rendering the CSDP a repository of small symbolic humanitarian missions with little impact on the global geopolitical agenda. If the CSDP is to succeed it needs both the political will to proceed with the CSDP agenda and a concrete signal of engagement in its capabilities. The era of being content with mini-institutional developments at EU level is over. The EU needs firm commitment to common projects and a generous dose of self-criticism in order to move forward. The EU cannot simply hide behind the gaps in the Lisbon Treaty. It has to assume more responsibility if it wants to count as a global actor.

‘Common Security and Defence Policy and the Lisbon Treaty Fudge: No common strategic culture, no major progress’ by Vasilis Margaras

For a free copy of the report please check the following link: