Does Europe need a Security and Defence Strategy?

I read a Speech by Professor Jolyon Howorth called ‘Strategy and the importance of defence cooperation among EU Member States’. The speech was given on 13th of July at a seminar on Permanent Structured Cooperation which was organised by the Belgian Presidency. Overall, the speaker argues in favour of more integration in the field of security and defence. As always, the writings of Jolyon are thoughtful and stimulating. Howorth mentions some sound ideas that would boost integration in the field of security and defence: the establishment of a European Security Council, a formal Council of Defence Ministers, a European White Book on Security and Defence, an integrated Intelligence Agency, a permanent OHQ, an upgraded EDA (p.3). The author is also right in underlining the importance of the upgrade of capabilities and the pooling of resources. These measures are more than necessary in times of funding cuts.

Howorth mentions that the obstacles of cooperation in security and defence are due to national inhibitions. He claims that no one expected such guerrilla warfare on the tiniest details of External Action Service responsibility. Indeed, the resistance and cautiousness of the EU Member States to any form of EU empowerment in foreign affairs is characteristic of the climate of inward looking ‘re-nationalisation’ that one sees in Brussels. The failure of the Europeans to provide a cohesive approach to the current financial crisis is also a proof that narrowly defined state interests prevail.

The author also claims that a new narrative is necessary and that Europe needs a new strategy. However, we did not lack narratives in the past. On the contrary, we had too many of them. All these narratives have failed to build a common identity and to forge a common strategic culture. Some of them were truly wonderful texts with great ideas. The European Security Strategy had a notion of a Grand Strategy. But what happened to it really? The new comprehensive EU strategy called EU 2020 also failed to cause any major debate. None of the EU texts managed so far to inspire citizens or stir any major debate that would contribute to the creation of a European demos.

I am also sceptical when it comes to the advantages of the EU in foreign affairs that are mentioned in the Speech, one of them being the idea of the EU’s strength of effective multilateralism. Indeed, there has been an increase in frequency of multi-lateral contacts. There are too many roundtables, too many discussions, too many meetings and frequent exchanges of views. However, this frenetic activity does not necessary guarantee results. Many of the multilateral fora are simple talk shops with no appetite for action.

Howorth also claims that the EU engages in an intensifying circle of complex interdependence. But is this intensifying circle of interdependence characterised by ‘deepening’ or simply by a loose enlargement of themes and actors? A simple glimpse of the external relations of the EU shows that little has been achieved. Relationships with Russia remain inconclusive with none of the two players (EU/Russia) knowing what they really want to make out of the bilateral relationship. The EU’s Neighbourhood Policy is undermined by national priorities and institutional weaknesses. No major plan exists on how to deal with the rise of China. The EU-US relationship is not characterised by effective synergy. In short, the EU is good in talking about interdependence but I am hardly convinced it knows how to deal with it.

It is positive that the EU has understood the importance of combining civilian and military instruments in foreign policy. As the author claims, international crisis management is an added value which the EU is well-placed to deliver. However, the inertia that follows the actorness of the EU in the field of crisis management isn’t.

The same accounts for the EU’s ‘radical IR approach’ that the author mentions. The EU simply says too many good words but in most cases is unwilling to act. And I still remain sceptical on Howorth’s sentence ‘where human rights become as important as states rights’. A look at the sanctions of the EU on human rights abuse shows that they only happen in a small number of cases, against small countries where no major financial interests are endangered.

Howorth also describes a ‘new acquis’ in International affairs which has to take the form of a Global Bargain. According to Howorth, ‘[t]he global grand bargain will involve a necessary series of trade-offs, some bilateral, some multilateral, between the rising and the declining powers’. In addition, ‘[w]hat the new grand narrative should aim for is a world of cultural and political diversity in which, nevertheless, stability, security, prosperity, development, environmental sustainability, and self-determination are considered in holistic terms as key elements of global inter-dependence’ (p. 6). But isn’t this process already been taking place for a long time? Isn’t cultural and political diversity already being part of the EU’s dealings? Aren’t these ideas already part of the European Security Strategy?

Howorth is on the pro-European side and has always seen the EU in an optimistic way. However, optimism may well be part of the problem. The idea that ‘the EU can do it’ that many of the EU academics subscribe to (including myself) may have led to a general climate of self-satisfaction, arrogance and laziness. The idea that the EU is able to move on by a series of mini developments (an idea mentioned in many academic texts) also helps to perpetuate inertia. The message that should be transmitted by the academic circles is that the EU should run to catch up the lost time. ‘Run before you get completely marginalised’ rather than rest on your laurels and improve.

No one disagrees with the fact that there has to be a new type of EU motivation in both EU internal and external affairs. But what kind of motivation can this be? Boredom has replaced enthusiasm. Rigid EU bureaucracy has killed any form of innovation and creativity. Lacklustre political elites provide no vision and have no roadmap of values. A soul searching exercise is important: a reflection of where we stand and where we want to go is always useful provided the fact that it is based on true motives to improve. This may take the form of an EU Security and Defence Strategy. However, in order to fight the climate of inertia the EU must work with the aim of producing tangible results. Dynamic actions must accompany an integrated strategic thinking if the EU wants to be successful.

‘Strategy and the Importance of Defence Cooperation among EU Member States’ by Prof. Jolyon Howorth.

For a full copy of the speech please visit the Egmont Institute webpage: