Strategic Culture: European Deficits

Posted in Europe | 16-Aug-04 | Author: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea K Riemer

The European parliament in Brussels.
The European parliament in Brussels.
When Javier Solana mentioned the ‘need to develop a European Strategic culture which supports an early, rapid and, if necessary, strong intervention’ (December 2003), some surprise could be felt among experts. The request was remarkable, since it named one of Europe’s key strategic deficits. Since Solana’s press statement, the notion became a catch-phrase, but still lacks substance and contents. One even had the impression that Europe has a grave deficit in strategic culture.

Currently, a hotchpotch of different national strategic or less-strategic cultures exists – without any coherent European overarching strategic culture. This overarching, which consists of common norms, values, ideas and identities is one of the key pre-requisites for a working Common Foreign and Security Policy. Hence, it should be one of the key targets of the new Commission to support the long-term project of developing a Common European Strategic culture. The road to strategy and strategic culture is a long and winding one – Europe still has a lot of work to do to get out of the ‘construction state’ into a ‘solid building phase’.

What is Strategic Culture all about?

The concept of strategic culture is not a new approach. In the past it has been applied in different ways and in numerous countries, such as Germany and Japan, different regions (e.g. Scandinavia, Pacific Ocean) and security institutions (e.g. NATO). The key target was to examine the key aspects of their security policies. It was used to explain and understand continuity and change in national security policies. Additionally, academics tried to create a framework, which could provide answers as to why certain policy options (and not others) are pursued by states. Strategic culture is never static, for it changes in response to a variety of drivers, including technological change and constantly evolving historical awareness. As strategic culture influences behavior, it can also impose constraints on decision-makers that are difficult to overcome. Therefore, strategic culture is an ‘enabling and restricting’ corset.

The development of strategic culture can be traced back to the 1970s. During this period scholars examined Soviet deterrence policy and concluded that U.S. analysts failed to predict Soviet reactions. As a result of this prediction failure, a number of scholars concluded that each country had its own way to interpret, analyze and react to international events. This brought the question of a state/national culture back to the agenda and created a new wave of literature which focused on the development of a new tool of analysis, notably that of strategic culture.

Strategic culture scholars can be categorized into three different generations. One of the first generations of academics who talked about the importance of strategic culture was Jack Snyder. His view of strategic culture refers to a sum of ideas, conditioned emotional responses, and patterns of habitual behavior that members of a national strategic community share with regard to nuclear strategy. It is an ideational milieu which limits behavior choices. This milieu consists of shared assumptions and decision rules that impose a degree of order on individual and group conceptions of their relationship to their social, organizational or political environment. Military influence and Grand strategy doctrine were of highest importance to understand strategic culture. Strategic culture was perceived as an integrated ‘system of symbols (e.g. argumentation, structures, languages, analogies, metaphors) which acts to establish pervasive and long lasting strategic preferences by formulating concepts of the role and efficacy of military force in interstate political affairs, and by clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the strategic preferences seem uniquely realistic and efficacious. Together those issues comprise the central paradigm of strategic culture.

Another approach targets at the perception of the national historical experience, from aspirations for responsible behavior in national terms. One of the main ideas behind the notion of strategic culture was to explain actions and ideas which seemed to be at odds with what would be ‘rational’ for a state to do. It must be taken into account that it is the history and experiences of each state that point to the rational/irrational political choices that each particular state will follow.

During the 1980s and 1990s the study of strategic culture went away of its initial ‘nuclear’ field of study. In concurrence with the broadening of the security perceptions (‘comprehensive security’) new security related issues were taken into the culture analysis. Strategic culture was seen as a distinctive body of beliefs, attitudes and practices regarding the use of force, which are held by a collective and arise gradually over time, through a unique protracted historical process. Strategic culture is persistent over time, but not permanent or static. It is shaped and influenced by formative periods and can change, either fundamentally or piecemeal, at critical cross-roads in that collective’s experiences. This strand can be labeled as a ‘strand which goes away from the pure rational thoughts’. This was in the then International Relations traditions.

Strategic culture is perhaps most explicit in military or national security strategies which are government declarations designed to identify threat and explain likely responses. The National Security Strategy of the Bush administration, published in September 2002, is a case in point. If Pearl Harbor helped to define the strategic outlook of the 'Greatest Generation', 9/11 has probably had an equal or even greater psychological impact today. Before the attacks on Washington and New York, numerous government reports and private think-tanks had underscored the growing threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile technology. But, as Condoleeza Rice observed after 9/11, "Events are in much sharper relief."

Strategic Components and Parameters

Different scholars use different components in order to define strategic culture. Firstly there are ‘foundational elements’. These foundational elements comprise basic beliefs regarding the use of force that give a strategic culture its core characteristics. Beliefs are semi-permanent and can contribute to the construction of a national identity which leads to a kind of ‘national paradigm’ in strategic matters. Foundational elements are highly resistant to change. Extending out of these foundational elements are the manifestations of strategic culture, the long-standing policies and practices that actively relate and apply the substance of the strategic culture’s core to the external environment, essentially by providing channels of meaning and application. These aspects of strategic culture are called regulatory practices. These regulatory practices are less resilient to change. Midway between the foundational elements and regulatory practices are the ‘security policy standpoints’. These attitudes are the contemporary, broadly accepted interpretations as to how best core values should be promoted through policy channels, in a way that they set the preferred lines for policy choices.

Every generation of scholars questions different issues and examines alternative options. The third generation of scholars was wary of avoiding the determinism and nation stereotyping of the first generation. This is partly to the conceptualization of culture in a variable way. The range of optimal strategies can vary dramatically depending on which end the preference spectrum one examines. It is important to take into account that for this generation of scholars culture either presents decision-makers with a limited range of options or it acts as a lens that changes the appearance and efficiency of different options. This explanation gives room for other additional factors of influence of state behavior.

Parameters which have a high impact on the strategic culture are e. g. cooperation, multilateralism, multinationality, equal partnership, creation of zones of peace and stability, hegemony, unilateral approaches, history as driver, self-perception and self-assessment, experiences, lessons learned, shock-like events (e.g. 9/11), norms of security providers, global situation, expectations of alliance partners, fears to be expelled from a security alliance, fears to experience set-backs in a security alliance, common consciousness of security and risks, change threat theater, cooperation options in alliances, world cop attitude, power projections, experience in wars, balance of power, containment etc.

The Constructivist View of Strategic Culture: An Intellectual Basis for a Structured European Strategic culture?

Dr. Andrea Riemer is Senior Researcher at the Austrian Defense Academy.
Dr. Andrea Riemer is Senior Researcher at the Austrian Defense Academy.
In the late 1980s/early 1990s an opening up in theories and concepts took place. It opened a middle ground in which the constructivists stepped in. This movement is also not a homogeneous one, but is divided in a number of mainstreams (Alexander Wendt, Nicolas Onuf, Katzenstein, Adler) and non-mainstream ones (John Ruggie, Friedrich Kratochwil). Both streams offer new concepts and new explanations for social phenomena such as strategic culture. The most important asset of constructivism is that it has a rather unlimited potential for integrating other theories with it: all kind of structures, units, or mechanisms can be tolerated as long as they are seen as ‘socially constructed’. Finally, constructivism has a strong meta-theoretical potential – far more than any other approach.

The key question in constructivism is about what structure is made of. They emphasize the role of social relationships and the distribution of material capabilities. Social structures have three elements:

1. Shared knowledge (i.e. shared understanding, expectations, or knowledge; these constitute the actors in a situation and the nature of their relationships, whether cooperative of conflictual),

2. material resources (they acquire meaning for human action through the structure of their shared knowledge in which they are embedded), and

3. practices (social structures do not exist in actors’ heads or in material capabilities, but in practices and only in processes).

Social structures are real and objective, not ‘just talk’. This objectivity depends on the shared knowledge and on individual experience and related perceptions. For reason, constructivists are concerned with the impact of norms on international politics. International Order is the framework for the ‘world of the actor’; it is designed by constitutive norms, and, at the same time, enables the actor to act and restricts in actions.

Norms are inter-subjective beliefs about the social and natural world that define actors, their situations, and the possibilities of actions. They are rooted in and reproduced through social practice. Social structure constitutes actors and is constituted by their actions. For instance, where actors are great powers, the social structure is an international system that gives meaning to great powers and recognizes this identity in particular practices, such as use of force against smaller states; through such practices, states – great and small – in turn shape the international system.

Ideas are not merely rules or road maps for action, but operate all the way down to actually shape actors and actions in world politics. When ideas are norms, they not only constrain actors, but also constitute actors and enable actions. International law not only defines legitimate state practice, it also legitimates states and allows them to behave in ways that have meaning for other international actors. Here the relationship between identity and interests is particularly important. In telling you whom you are, identities strongly imply a particular set of interests or preferences with respect to choices of action in particular domains, and with respect to a particular actor. Constructivists try to explain the world according to rules of social science, but they do not want to change it. They tend to concentrate – in a more meta-theoretical way – on the social structure of state action at the level of the international system. States do what they think most appropriate. They are guided by norms that define the identities of the main actors in world politics (i.e. e. modern, bureaucratic, sovereign states) and define the formal rules and accepted practices of the international game. The key focus is on how norms shape world politics in general, but much of their work ends up dealing with the normative bases of interstate conflict and state use of violence.

Constructivists are not interested in the beliefs actors hold so much as the beliefs actors share. Beliefs must be expressed, if not codified and recorded, to be shares. Evidence of international norms can be found in international law, in particular, customs, treaties, and decisions of international legal bodies. Constructivism provides a rather powerful explanation for two issues of world politics. The first one is the balance of power and the second one is the security dilemma. Additionally, it explains the absence of war between liberal democracies and the isomorphic pattern of global military development.

Pursuing national interests requires a state to abide to certain rules and norms. The restriction is laid down in the fact that a state cannot act without taking the framework of rules and norms into account. It is not unconditional power politics but communication and bargaining which is of highest importance. There are no ‘eternal rules and norms’, but they depend on a certain time-space consideration. There is no full freedom in interpretation, but the actor has to target at a minimum consensus for the sake of bringing the interest through.

Constructivists do not intend to rebuild single social constructions of national interests, identities, imaginations about war, security etc. They consider themselves as providers of a certain analytical perspective, a mind set. Theory and politics have to be separated to reach a gain in knowledge. The area of strategic culture is an excellent training ground to do so.

Constructivists offer four analytical dimensions to create an understanding of strategic culture:

o Culture is an experienced world and offers a repertoire for actions (the existing experienced strategies, identities and typologies mold strategies; for reason, different reactions to a situation can be explained).

o Culture is a system of knowledge to interpret reality (how do decision makers arrive at conclusions about reality).

o Culture is a value system to construct identities and interests (identities shape strategies; identities take a long time to change; for reason, new, additional identities are created and exist parallel to the existing ones; reality is interpreted by applying both identities; the key is resistance to change).

o Culture is the social basis of a security community and the relations with its environment (the approach refers to relations between groups of states and their environment, ideas and customs, which determine the perception and interpretation of threats and challenges).

Premises for a European Strategic culture

The emergence of strategic culture is a product of various impacting parameters. A single strategic culture emerges from its multiple inputs, when each of these inputs could arguably produce alternative, even contradictory strategic cultures .

Two important categories that influence it can be identified:

1. Domestic context (EU internal politics, state rivalries)

2. External context (international relations, multilateral institutions and settings of foreign policy, times of crisis (e.g. Iraq War, Kosovo bombing).

EU is an entity that had no direct involvement in wars, although it has been very much itself a product of the Second World War. Its civilian power status which has been promoted by various EU actors makes the creation of a unified EU strategic culture a difficult job but not an impossible one. Multilateralism is a key European characteristic and there are numerous interactions between the EU and the others that point to the necessity of a framework. Neighbor states, big powers such as Russia and the USA, regional blocs, security organizations such as NATO and the CSCE have all a vital input in the policies of the Union. In addition, the ‘non-state’ status of the EU makes other important powerful experienced players such as the USA or NATO more eager to influence its security policy outcomes.

Strategic culture may not be a unified factor but on the contrary it may be characterized by fragmentation. In the case of the EU, it may consist of a number of sub-cultures that overlap and, finally, create a dominant culture. The opposite might be also a possibility: the EU forms a culture from ‘above’, which is diffused in a ‘top-bottom’ manner. Additionally, there are many national differences and opinions on the use of force. For instance, countries such as France and the UK support the idea that force must be used to defend interests. Countries such as Austria, Finland and Sweden argue that force must be restrained as much as possible. UK and Denmark believe that strategy must be based on transatlantic partnership whereas countries such as France and Belgium promote European autonomy. Therefore, the key question is to figure out, where the center of gravity is located and whether the center of gravity can be found within European institutions.

The state is still an important factor. European diversity of a particular society’s geographical, political, cultural and strategic experience will lead to multiple strategic cultures and its member states may share a common but to a great extent fragmented strategic culture.

European Strategic culture: Between Wishful Thinking and Reality

Javier Solana: The first EU-Secretary for Foreign Affairs ?
Javier Solana: The first EU-Secretary for Foreign Affairs ?
One of the key facets in the ‘culture debate is, whether or not there is an EU strategic culture. This is not only limited to academia, but is a very pragmatic issues as the EU prepares its own security shield under the auspices of European institutions and it is now vital to apply the strategic culture concept in order to analyze its policies and aims in depth.

The process of change started already much earlier. Already after the decay of the Soviet Union a vivid discussion was launched. Particularly during the 1990s, a shoving and shaping process took place. Since the transitional phase is still under way, it is not surprising that there is no ‘well-defined and operationalized European Strategic culture’, but there are certain indications and ideas. This ‘certain’ is the basis for numerous misunderstandings and different perceptions (as explained and explainable through the constructivist lense).

It is obvious that there is a difference between the EU-concept and the EU-culture. There are some signs that a strategic culture is already developing through a socialization process which is considerably accelerated by the institutional arrangements put in place in the EU since the decisions of the Helsinki European Council in December 1999. In 1999 in Helsinki, EU leaders reached an agreement on setting a European military goal (which was reviewed in 2003 to the European Headline Goal). 1999 was a crucial year for Europe but it did not set the beginning of European security. Already the war in former Yugoslavia set the stage for ‘cultural developments’.

There are certain fields of political-military activity, such as policing actions on the external borders of the EU (Schengen), and the limited application of military force in the context of post-conflict reconstruction, peace-building and development aid (as now in Bosnia-Hercegowina), where perhaps a unique, ‘gendarmerie’ style EU strategic culture has been developed. This is a normal result since the EU is a unique institution, and, therefore its strategic culture is unique either.

EU is expected to have a very special strategic culture because of its nature of foreign policy (constructivist expectations and experiences). State formation implied that the army had an important role to play in forming the identity of each state. However, the EU had no military branch and the emphasis on foreign policy was put on soft issues of external relations.

Facts and Issues shoving an shaping the European Strategic culture

Currently, a EU strategic culture is still based on the idea of the projection of the EU as a primary civilian power. It is explained by the emphasis on multilateralism (which is a strongly constructivist interpretation).

Once action takes place outside the NATO scheme, Europeans focus on diplomatic measures and the call for a UN Security Council mandate. European use of force is still based on the doctrine of just war: military coercion will take place only when mandated by international law (jus ad bellum), and the use of force will be severely constrained (jus in bello). This position has been fostered by the role of the European elites.

As in the past, policymakers in the individual nation-states are reluctant to give up initiative and power (mainly due to historical experiences). Currently, elites seek compromises in decision-making in the shape of elaborate but also cumbersome bureaucracies and rules that are suited to the process and culture of negotiation but not designed to optimize European executive authority. The outcome is an intergovernmental construction with common European patterns that are capable of exercising structural (probably functional) but not coercive power. It lead to the perception of a weak and non-coordinated EU. This is an internal and external perception and it is underpinned by experience (which not only could be seen through the Iraq war but also in the wake of the war in Yugoslavia).

Traumata are also important in creating culture. Negative experience with the two big wars during the 20th century led Europeans on a road of hesitation, or one may also say, carefulness. War is the ultima ratio. Reluctance characterized the European attitude in the Yugoslavia case (overlaid by historical ties and aspirations). Kosovo pushed the member states to move forward. Disillusions with the current status quo has led to reform, but still it is work in progress. Solidarity with the US after 9/11 was a short-living mood (probably due the World War I and II experiences which shaped European minds). Opposition in the case of Iraq was completely coherent with the existing European attitude of exploiting all means and see war as ultima ratio. Determinedness is not part of a European Strategic culture. The combination of lack of determinedness, bureaucratic obstacles and the nation-state focus stands in opposition to a European Strategic culture.

Lack of manpower and equipment hampered the cultural emergence process, too. Moreover, the EU cannot react as quick as NATO can do. Neither the Lead Nation Concept nor the Framework Nation Concept and the Integration Concept are as efficient and robust as NATO principles. EU quickly perceives itself in a disadvantageous position (despite the fact that double-hating is the rule). Nevertheless, those three concept are an expression of the European understanding of multinationality and of a multilateral approach, which is very closely linked with the European self-perception in military issues. They may become a basis for a European Strategic culture, but need to be underpinned by substance.

Additionally, Europe lacks vision, long-term ideas and concepts. There is hardly an intellectual debate on the issue of ‘what is Europe all about’. The clear intention to play a strategic role in the global theater is lacking. Military equipment, budgets and structural flexibility, inefficient decision-making procedures are additionally hampering issues. The capstone is marked by ‘political lonely cowboy activities’. All in all no basis for a coherent European Strategic culture. Europe is in a ‘strategic culture construction site’ with bits and pieces.

Outlook and Options

Roles, norms, values, history, experience, expectations, fears, ideas, beliefs influence behavior and support the creation of culture. Strategic culture is an alternative way of explaining strategic behavior. Each state and security institution has a strategic culture – conscious or unintended. Therefore, the EU has one, too. It may be the case that the EU strategic culture is a ‘weak’ strategic culture, a culture that is in the process of formation, an embryonic one. It is still in a ‘construction site state’.

The evolution of any strategic culture is gradual in nature and goes along with national/international variables (what is called fine tuning most of the times but also fundamental change in times of crisis). So it is in the case of the European Strategic culture.

The creation of CFSP institutions as well as inter-ministerial meetings and debates related to security and defense issues may form the basis for the European Strategic culture. Change happens when new issues and problems arise that need to be dealt with. Problems might lead to a discussion about the usefulness of existing policies and consequently to a change of these policies. With the creation of the CFSP, EU member states form a basis for a common culture by addressing common security and defense problems.

Now time to undertake a further step has come. If Europe wants to play a significant role on the global stage, a solid European Strategic culture is indispensable. It requires a common self-perception, shared values and norms (as partially displayed in the European Constitution), a mutual understand of historical experiences and agreed expectations about Europe’s future place in the global theater. It will be a hard time’s work and not an easy going job – but it is a necessity and not a choice. Europe needs a Common Strategic Culture as vital part in operationalizing its CFSP. Elites and decision-makers equally have to contribute to this long-term process – both courageous and persistent.