Threats to European Security: external or internal?

July 07, 2012


(© NATO Website)

Simon J. Smith

Given recent announcements of new CSDP missions in South Sudan (EUAVSEC), Djibouti (EUCAP NESTOR), and Niger (EUCAP Niger), the first CSDP operations to be deployed since the launching of the ATALATNA mission in 2008, it fair to say that some questions need to be asked about the overall direction of CSDP and European Security and Defense cooperation writ large.

Jolyon Howorth has recently contributed to this debate with a piece called European defense policy needs recalibration.  In this piece, Howorth argues that for the past twenty years ‘the Europeans have only dallied with cooperation in security and defense’.  Furthermore, the Libyan crisis – what on paper should have been the ideal candidate for CSDP to finally prove its worth and just such a mission for what it was initially created – proved to be a bridge too far.  In the end, NATO (led by France and the United Kingdom) was the institutional platform used to carryout Operation Unified Protector.  However, all was not without problems for the European NATO Allies in this regard either.  Although this operation was generally deemed a success, there were problems both with burden sharing and with capabilities.  With the former, there were those willing and unable as well as those able but unwilling (Germany most notably).  With regard the latter, a severe depletion of ammunitions further raised the issue of the Europeans capacity to sustain such a, what must be said, rather limited military mission.  Given the fact that the US were responsible for most of the tactical strikes and intelligence gathering in the early days of the campaign, although they were ‘leading from behind’, the Europeans would have been hard pressed to carry out such a mission completely as a single caucus within NATO and certainly not within a CSDP framework.

There is an endless debate concerning what the European Union is and how far it wants to take any instrument that it often internally sees as not in-line with its post-modern ideals.  Many of the EU countries are not only lacking in real military strength but are also embarrassed that the Union should resort to such approaches in the first place.  This debate aside, there is a further ongoing narrative that sees many of the EU states as freeriding on US military power and with the added ‘age of austerity’ even less inclined to spend the normally proposed two percent of GDP on defense.  Often the argument is also divided between those who believe that the EU does not have any real threats to its security in terms of invading armies (in an age where interstate conflict is much reduced) and those who say that the European continent and the Union within is surrounded by zones of instability.  This reasoning posits that not only do European states have to be prepared to defend their borders but also the EU as a collective from such conflicts.  However, the EU should also have the capacity to suppress these conflicts autonomously for humanitarian reasons alone; much as it should have in Libya.

To be sure there will be times when military strength is not the answer to regional conflicts and given the sui generis nature of the European project it is understandable that some are suspicious of what too close a relationship with both NATO and the United States could entail.  The US attitude towards a European caucus within NATO or an autonomous European security and defense posture has been historically schizophrenic.  Furthermore, there is more than a grain of truth to the axiom that when you are a hammer, all problems begin to look like nails.  However, it is inevitable that precisely because Europe does not pose the existential threat that it once did to transatlantic security, the US will and has, in fact, already announced that it will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.  Maybe this is just the shake-up European policy maker’s need.

One suggestion that I have considered lately would be the relocation of SHAPE to Brussels.  Originally, NATO’s operational headquarters was supposed to be built much nearer the capitol but due to Belgian reservations it was built near Mons which is a good deal outside of the city.  It is hard enough to get EU staff to make the trip to NATO HQ but almost impossible to get them to travel to Mons.  SHAPE has served its Cold War purpose and now feels like a relic.  Furthermore,  the Soviet threat that led to Belgian reservations has now passed.  Therefore, one answer to the on-going struggle to develop an autonomous CSDP OHQ would be to house both the EU and NATO HQ’s within the same structure with appropriate security separations where needed.  Furthermore, this would be an excellent reason to combine elements of a civ-mil planning OHQ.  In this way the ‘comprehensive approach’ could finally become a concept that’s time has come.

So with all this is mind, I open up to you the reader to offer suggestions to the following questions:

  1.  What are the real threats to Europe and the Union for which a robust civ-mil oriented CSDP is needed?
  2. Are the Europeans capable of assuming leadership of an autonomous CSDP or a newly fused CSDP-NATO that allows the Americans to properly disengage while at the same time permits a reduction in freeriding of US military capabilities?
  3. Finally, can the various existential, institutional and ideational differences that plague the EU-NATO relationship be overcome to allow such processes to develop?

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