European Security and Defense Policy - Where's the Beef?

Posted in Europe | 17-Oct-05 | Author: Axel Kukuk

Axel Kukuk: "A lot of questions remain unanswered"
Axel Kukuk: "A lot of questions remain unanswered"
“Economically the Union may be speaking with one voice, but the same can hardly be said for political external relations” (Christiansen, 2001, p. 508). This quotation from Thomas Christiansen underlines not only the former but also the current situation in the European Union. Although economies are tied together in a single market and a single currency, foreign policy seems to be an area in which member states hold to their particular interests and traditions. The most recent overwhelming expressions of disunity arose due to the Iraq War.

The European Security Strategy (ESS) is a new attempt to speak with one voice. Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, was engaged to work out a European Security Strategy in May 2003. A draft strategy was presented when heads of government met in Greece in June 2003. After a very short period of reworking, the ESS was finally decided in the European Council in December 2003. A lot of Americans blame the European Union for having no ability in strategic thinking; Europe has no understanding of global connections and the development of global threats. However, this strategy could prove the opposite.

In this essay, I examine the ESS regarding its content. What is the European understanding of security? Are there any underlying common interests and values? Could the European Union become a global player? How is the strategy linked to the US National Security Strategy and to NATO? Also, is the ESS a real strategy? Before I start with the critical evaluation, which is structured along these questions, I will summarize the content of the ESS. The critical evaluation ends with a short comment of the actual sense of the European Security Strategy.

Content of the European Security Strategy

The introduction of the European Security Strategy describes the European Union as a global player. More than 450 million people live in the European Union, they are citizens from 25 states and they produce a quarter of the world’s Gross National Product (GNP) (ESS, 2003, p. 1). Under these conditions, the European Union has to be able to share responsibility for global security. After the introduction, the ESS is divided into three chapters: 1) The security environment – global challenges and key threats, 2) strategic objectives and 3) policy implications for Europe.

The Security Environment – Global challenges and key threats

In this chapter, the ESS describes the problems of the contemporary world. It illustrates that globalization is not only seen as a starting point for prosperity and freedom, but also frustration and injustice. Connected with the development of globalization, non-state groups have become important actors in international affairs. The developing world suffers from poverty and disease and shows that economic failure is often linked to political problems as well as violent conflicts. It also demonstrates that security is a precondition of development. Competition for natural resources – notably water - will become a more important factor for security matters, and Europe depends on energy imports and is thus easily vulnerable. Following the description of global challenges key threats are described.

Terrorism undermines the openness and tolerance of European society and is often linked to violent religious extremism. It is a growing strategic threat to Europe, which has not only been a target of violent attacks, but also a logistical base. Potentially, the greatest threat to European security is the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). With the help of WMD, even small groups are able to cause damage previously only possible for states and armies. Also, regional conflicts - even if they are far away - have an impact on European interests and security. Regional conflicts are sometimes the origin for extremism and terrorism and they also provide opportunities for organized crime. Closely connected with regional instability is the phenomenon of state failure, which often causes regional instability. Europe is a prime target for organized crime. ESS refers to drugs, weapons and women trafficking, to illegal migration and to maritime piracy. It emphasizes the link between organized crime, state failure and terrorism.

The logo of the France-led EU military operation "Artemis" in Congo.
The logo of the France-led EU military operation "Artemis" in Congo.
Strategic Objectives

The second chapter depicts three strategic objectives: Address the threats, build security in the region and create an international order based on effective multilateralism. This chapter is based on the view that Europe “live[s] in a world that holds brighter prospects but also greater threats than we have known” and on the conviction that the “future will depend partly on our actions” (ESS, 2003, p. 6).

Besides the description of threats and occurred measures, the European Security Strategy outlines new ones. For example, the European Union wants to adhere to multilateral treaty regimes, to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency and help rebuild failed states by restoring good government and enabling these governments to fight organized crime (ESS, 2003, p. 6.) The ESS also emphasizes changes through the end of the Cold War. Old threats changed into new, more dynamic ones and “the first line of defense will often be abroad” (ESS, 2003, p. 7). To cope with these hazards, the European Union must be able to act before risks occur. None of the ‘new’ threats can be solved by only using military strength. They require a mixture of instruments, such as the use and networking of intelligence, police, justice, economics, diplomacy and other means.

Building security in the region is the second strategic objective. It is in the interest of the European Union that enlargement does not create new dividing lines in Europe. Aims of the European Union are to support a ring of well governed countries on its borders, and a strategic priority is the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The resolution of this conflict is seen as a precondition for dealing with other problems in the Middle East. Furthermore, it is in the interest of the European Union to support the Mediterranean partners, which are now threatened by economic stagnation, social unrest and unresolved conflicts.

Strengthening the international order based on an effective multilateralism is the third strategic objective. “In a world of global threats, global markets and global media, our security and prosperity increasingly depend on an effective multilateral system” (ESS, 2003, p. 9). To reach this goal, the European Union wants to develop a stronger international society with well working international institutions. The international order should be based upon further developed rules. It is a priority of the European Union to strengthen the United Nations. The UN Charter should be the fundamental framework for international relations, and the Security Council is seen as responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security. Other international and regional organizations and treaties, such as the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Court, the African Union and the Council of Europe are also good instruments to contribute to security and stability in the world. An incontrovertible, core element of the international system is the transatlantic relationship, with NATO as its expression. The European Security Strategy emphasizes the significance of well-governed states for a secure world. Other states, like the so-called "rogue states" must be reintegrated into the international community. If separate states are not willing to do so, they have to “… understand that there is a price to be paid, including in their relationship with the European Union” (ESS, 2003, p. 10).

Policy Implications for Europe

This chapter is based on the conviction that the European Union has made progress towards a coherent foreign policy and effective crisis management. Nevertheless, the European Union has to further “develop a strategic culture that fosters early, rapid and when necessary, robust intervention” (ESS, 2003, p. 11). Spending 160 billion euros annually on defense, the EU, if necessary, has to be able to carry out several operations. The transformation of European militaries into flexible and mobile forces is the right way; however, more resources and a more effective use of them are necessary. Furthermore, strengthening the diplomacy capability and the capability to deal with post crises situations are very important. The European Security Strategy stresses the need for a more coherent action by the member states.

A lot of problems that the European Union confronts require cooperation with partners. Therefore, the transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable and other partnerships with key actors, such as Russia, China, Japan, Canada and India should be further developed.

Understanding security

For a long time, understanding security was established in science as well as in policy. Statements like “security itself is a relative freedom from war, coupled with a relatively high expectation that defeat will not be consequence of any war that should occur” (Bellany, 1981, citied in Buzan, 1991, p.18) stand for this narrowed understanding of security. Now, it is no longer denied that the traditional conceptions of security were insufficient. The call from scientists and occasional politicians for a broader understanding of security had almost been heard, (Krause & Williams 1996). Barry Buzan identifies in his book “People, States and Fear,” considered to be core literature for security studies, five major sectors of security: Military, political, economic, societal and environmental. All five sectors are covered in the ESS. For example, military security deals with the probability of an attack: “Large-scale aggression against any member state is now improbable” (ESS 2003, p. 3). Political security means the organizational stability of states that are embattled in the considerations on failed states as in the conviction that the best way to safeguard security is through a world of well-governed democratic states (ESS, 2003, p. 10). Social security is about acceptable conditions for social development. Poverty and disease affect these conditions in the case of the developing world. A significant role for the European Union is economic security. As a consequence of globalization, the number of important non-state actors in economic affairs has increased. Europe is vulnerable in sectors like cyber war and in particular, energy. Environmental security is mentioned with regard to competition for natural resources. Key threats such as terrorism, proliferation of WMD, regional conflicts, state failure and organized crime have also been pointed out.

Although all of the key sectors of security are covered and the key threats seem to have been rightly addressed in the European Security Agenda, the threat assessment is not satisfactory. Most threats are only mentioned and not even described and a lot of important matters are untouched. To what extent do information technology and the Internet concern European security? Is environmental security really covered by the competition for natural resources? Do depletion of the ozone layer, various forms of pollution, desertification and deforestation really have no impact on European security matters? Can we underestimate the threat through common known pandemics, and how will the European Union deal with new ones? Can political security be threatened by migration? What is Europe's position on the reemergence of ethnic and religious nationalism, and can this affect European security? The flaw in the threat assessment is not surprising. A precondition for a proper threat assessment is defined by jointly accepted common interests and common values.

European soldiers in the EU military operation "Concordia".
European soldiers in the EU military operation "Concordia".
Common values and common interests

One of the biggest problems facing the EU is the search for common interests, as we have seen in the development of a European constitution. Common interests are inseparably connected to common values. A precondition for a probable threat assessment is an accepted agreement of what the EU wants to protect from threat. If no one knows what is worthy of being protected, then one cannot produce a credible threat assessment. The lack of a commitment to common interests does not only affect the threat assessment. Acting almost depends on interests and values and so a EU without common interests and common values in security policy will not be able to act if it is necessary. EU member states have to recognize that there is a link between the security of a member state and the security of the EU as a whole. No country is able to protect itself from the global threats we are faced with, but also the EU is not able to protect itself or even only one member if there is a lack of solidarity among its members. These considerations lead us to another unanswered question: What does the EU understand by security?

A European Union that wants to create a European Security Strategy must be able to define the term ‘security’. A possible definition was given in the mid-1960s by Arnold Wolfers: “Security, in any objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked” (Wolfers, 1962, p. 150). However, this definition leads us back to the lack of accepted common values.

On the way to common interests, which have to be more than the sum of the single interests of the member states, the EU is confronted with a lot of problems. Furthermore, it will take a lot of time to convince the people that there are no alternatives to sharing capacities in order to cope with the problems of the new century.

The EU as a global player

In the introduction of the European Security Strategy, the EU is described as a global player: “As a union of 25 states with over 250 million people producing a quarter of the world’s GNP and with a wide range of instruments at its disposal, the European Union is inevitably a global player” (ESS, 2003, p. 1).

A lot of fields that are of concern to Europe’s interests and security are mentioned in the European Security Strategy, but an important thing is missing: The geographic area in which the EU wants or is ready to act. Where is the area of interests in which the EU will concentrate its measures to contribute to a better and safer world? Is the area of responsibility really global – including North and South America?

At the moment, Europe does not share the responsibility for global security. Therefore, the European Security Strategy mentions that, “Europe should be ready to share responsibility for global security and in building a better world” (ESS, 2003, p. 1). Before the EU is able to share responsibilities on a global scale, the military forces of the member states must become more flexible and mobile. In addition, the civilian capabilities must be able to cope with post-conflict development. Only a vigorous and skilled EU can make an impact on a global scale.

The European Security Strategy - the United States and NATO

The European Security Strategy is a document that should be compared to the National Security Strategy of the United States. The European Union is only mentioned a few times in the US National Security Strategy, namely as commercial partner. “Europe is also seat of two of the strongest and most able institutions in the world: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) … and the European Union (EU), our partner in opening world trade” (National Security Strategy, 2002, p. 25). The National Security Strategy as well as the European Security Strategy recognizes that no nation is able to build a better and safer world alone. However, there is an important difference: Whereas the EU regards the Charter of the United Nations to be the fundamental framework of international relations, with the Security Council having primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security, the United Nations does not play such an important role in US National Security Strategy. The US views itself as leader in the great mission to fight for freedom as “the non-negotiable demand of human dignity” (National Security Strategy, 2002, introduction).

In the European Security Strategy, the transatlantic relationship is considered to be irreplaceable and a core element of the international system. Essential is the insight “that acting together, the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world” (ESS, 2003, p. 13). The European Security Strategy was an attempt to get closer again to the US. The ESS should create a common fundament for a profound discussion about world order policy and global security in the future. Hopefully, both documents and the still receivable profound discussion will change the world into a safer place. Common strategies for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, post-conflict development in Iraq and the abatement of proliferation of WMD would be a good beginning.

Problems between NATO and the EU are not discussed in the ESS. Only the “Berlin Plus” arrangement is mentioned, which allows the EU to use NATO capabilities for EU-led missions. Also, neither the problem that occurs when non-NATO members contribute to European missions nor the problem that a stronger integration within the European Security Defense Policy could weaken NATO is mentioned. A further developed ESS should not miss the opportunity to draw lines between the areas of responsibilities for the EU and NATO. The EU has different capabilities and is more capable in pre-war and post-conflict situations. The EU could relieve NATO in Europe but to this date it does not have the capacity to replace NATO. Some politicians in Europe argue that there are alternative approaches to Madeleine Albright’s three Ds (no decoupling, no discrimination, no duplication) that might be true. However, it is important that the EU defines and clarifies its relationship to NATO.

The European Security Strategy – a real strategy?

The origin of the word strategy is derived from the ancient Greek term ‘generalship’ (Baylis et al., 2002, p.3). Since that time, many definitions have been provided for the word. For example, J.C. Wylie states that “strategy is a plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment” or the one from Robert Osgood where he states that “strategy must now be understood as nothing less than the overall plan for utilizing the capacity for armed coercion – in conjunction with economic, diplomatic, and psychological instruments of power - to support foreign policy most effectively by covert and tacit means” (citied in Baylis, Wirtz, James, 2002, p. 4). Most definitions of strategy have a common ground where they emphasize acting. The European Security Strategy is in this literal sense no real strategy. Specific statements as to how the EU will act in any threatening situation are missing. To create a strategy, the European Union must point out in which cases it will act with civilian or military abilities. Which abilities does the European Union have or which abilities are needed to create security on the continent? What are the priorities of a European Security Defense Policy? A lot of unanswered question remain on the way to a real European Security Strategy. With the following illustration I want to show the way a European Security Strategy should be.

This logical system should be followed.
This logical system should be followed.
Sense of the European Security Strategy

The actual sense of the European Security Strategy is to cover the different opinions within the European Union that arose as a result of the Iraq War. The European Security Strategy is a weak but the only possible consensus on which all member states could agree. It is a starting point for a new convergence in security matters. Therefore, it is understandable that we cannot find an area of responsibility or many details. However, this strategy shows that the European Union is willing to deal closely with its responsibility in a global world. It is essential that the European Union does not understand itself only as a civil main center of global power, but also as a military capability. If the European Union wants to be accepted as a global player, the European Security Strategy has to lead to a further development.

This essay argues that the European Security Strategy is not a real strategy and that a lot of work remains to be done to attain a real strategy. I have shown the most important steps in my illustration. Without a common threat assessment based on common interests and values, there will never be a common strategy. Regarding the fact that the European Union seems to have more serious problems than a common foreign policy, I think it will take a lot of time to agree on an agenda for the creation of a common foreign policy. Nevertheless, this strategy is a well-taken first step. Hopefully, it will lead to further development. Then, as even a former British Conservative prime minister in the year 1979 recognized, the way to a common foreign policy is worth a go.

We argue about fish, potatoes and milk on the periphery. What is Europe really for? As the countries of Europe are nothing more than second-rate powers by themselves, if they can get together, they could become a power in the world - an economic power, a power in foreign policy, a power in defense - equal to other superpowers. We are in the position of the Greek city-states: They fought one another and they fell victim to Alexander the Great and then to the Romans. If it doesn't haggle about the size of lorries, a united Europe could still -through having a single foreign policy, a single defense policy and a single economic policy - be equal to the great superpowers (Macmillan, 1979, citied on


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