The EU’s First-Ever Security Doctrine

For the European Union - a body recently divided over the pre-emptive use of military force in Iraq - adoption of a muscular foreign policy doctrine marks a new departure. The strategy represents a more self-confident Europe, determined to match the United States, if not yet in military force, then at least in global influence. The EU doctrine echoes some of Washington's concerns by stressing the danger of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It takes a newly hawkish tone by allowing for "robust intervention" to combat threats when diplomatic efforts fail, and by calling for the build-up of Europe's military capabilities and defence budgets. But it diverges from US strategy with a strong endorsement of multilateralism and the UN as well as an emphasis on diplomacy and aid. And the document does not endorse the American approach of forcing regime change on rogue states, calling instead for the promotion of "good governance". The new doctrine is not just empty words. With 60,000 peacekeeping troops and the expected appointment of a foreign minister, the EU is becoming a more unified and powerful global actor. - YaleGlobal

The EU's First-Ever Security Doctrine

In the wake of squabbles over Iraq, Europe unites under a common foreign policy
Shada Islam
Friday, July 4, 2003
United Nations Peacekeepers in Congo: Europeans will now add more muscle. (UN Photo)

BRUSSELS: Barely two months after they ended their bitter public quarrels over the Iraq war, European Union leaders have thrown their collective weight behind a more muscular EU foreign policy, including "last resort" military action to combat terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and failed states. Hammered out in six weeks by EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana, the EU's first-ever security doctrine underlines the bloc's belief in using diplomacy and the United Nations to fight off new threats. But breaking new ground for a Union often derided as a soft power, the strategy recognises that early, rapid and robust intervention may be needed to fend off the most dangerous threats to global security.

Combined with ongoing discussions on a new EU constitution and the expected nomination next year of the bloc's first full- fledged foreign minister, the doctrine marks the coming of age of a more assertive and self-confident Europe, determined to forge what EU leaders meeting in Greece last week insisted would be a relationship based on "equal footing" with Washington. Unveiled only days after the deployment of EU troops on a peace-making mission to Congo, the paper also heralds a new EU readiness to flex its military muscle.

After months of acrimony over Iraq, Solana's effort offers a welcome healing of internal EU wounds and a coming-together of the feuding leaders of Germany, France and Britain - at least on some questions. Struggling to blend 15 different national security concepts into a collective stance, the strategy combines France and Germany's UN-based approach with Britain's more interventionist positions. Ample references to the need for US-EU cooperation aimed at satisfying pro-American nations Britain, Spain, Italy and Denmark are balanced with the French view of a multipolar world.

EU policymakers reject any comparisons with America's national security doctrine, but burying transatlantic acrimony over Iraq is clearly a key objective. Solana's acknowledgement that Europe shares America's security concerns - especially over unconventional weapons and terrorism - and is prepared to be tougher in its response to perceived threats, should help ease at least some tensions. The EU's recent tougher-than- usual warnings on Iran's nuclear programme have already been welcomed by the Bush Administration.

"The lessons of the Iraq war have been taken to heart," underlines Jean-Yves Haine of the EU Institute for Strategic Studies in Paris. Lacking a collective security doctrine, EU leaders never held any real debate on the rights and wrongs of the Iraq conflict, he says. "Instead, the discussion focused exclusively on US policy." After the Iraq war ended, many expected EU's efforts to draw up a common foreign and security policy to end up on the scrap heap, adds Michael Emerson of the Brussels- based Centre for European Policy Studies. Instead, Solana's paper gives the EU's joint foreign policy exercise a "big boost," he says.

The main premise of the 15-page doctrine is simple enough: "As a union of (soon-to-be) 25 states, with over 450 million people, producing a quarter of the world's Gross National Product, the European Union is, like it or not, a global actor; it should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security." The end of the Cold War has left the US in a dominant military position, the paper admits. But it warns: "no single country is able to tackle today's complex problems entirely on its own."

Mirroring America's preoccupations, the doctrine hammers home the strategic threat posed by global terrorists and weapons of mass destruction - identified as the "single most important threat to peace and security among nations" - as well as failed states. Some of Europe's remedies also echo U.S. views. In a reflection of the Bush Administration's focus on pre-emptive strikes, the EU doctrine stresses that the bloc should be ready to back "robust intervention" when all diplomatic efforts to ward off new threats fail.

But despite the tougher words, expect no overnight change. Although the EU has warned Iran that it will suspend ongoing negotiations on a trade deal unless Tehran accepts tougher international nuclear controls, no government in the bloc is ready to envisage going to war over the issue. And while Europe's analysis of current threats may be similar to America's, the EU diverges from current US orthodoxy on several key points. Solana emphasises the prime importance of an effective multilateral system and calls on the EU to strengthen the UN. Also, "pre-emptive engagement" as conceived by the EU is more about early diplomatic action than military strikes. While acknowledging that those responsible for breaking rules must be punished, Solana insists that the EU will only authorise military force as a "last resort," - and then only in keeping with the UN charter. Crucially, the EU doctrine avoids all references to rogue nations and counters the US preference for regime change with the gentler goal of encouraging good governance.

There's also the question of matching political rhetoric with military might. Aware that the US only respects military power, Solana's doctrine struggles to bury American perceptions of the EU as military weakling. With 25 states spending a total of 160 billion euros a year on defence, the paper insists that the EU is no military dwarf and can sustain several military operations simultaneously. Striking a similar note, EU defence ministers meeting in Brussels in May declared the recently-created 60,000 strong European Rapid Reaction Force ready and prepared to take on a full range of humanitarian, peace-keeping and peace-making tasks.

The reality of EU readiness for military action is more modest, however. Defence expenditure remains low in most European states. Governments across the bloc have to move faster to transform their huge Cold War armies into smaller, faster and more efficient fighting machines, capable of tackling threats both inside and outside Europe. And despite their current small peace missions in the Balkans and Africa, European troops remain incapable of undertaking high-risk, high-intensity military operations. EU defence experts admit that governments must work harder to fill a list of capability shortfalls, and Solana has called on EU nations to pool their resources and stop duplication of assets such as tanks and helicopters.

Work on more ambitious projects has begun. European governments agreed last year to launch production of Airbus A 400 M transport aircraft, the bloc's largest joint military project. European armed forces, which have had to rely on renting large Antonov transports from Russia, will have the new Airbus transport systems as of 2007. In May this year, meanwhile, the European Space Agency launched the Galileo satellite navigation system, which will help guide cars and planes.

Last week, EU leaders met in Greece to discuss the creation of an inter-governmental agency tasked with developing defense capabilities and encouraging defense technologies research. More generally, Italy has won strong EU support for suggestions that defence spending should be excluded from EU calculations on excessive budget deficits.

The slow and steady European approach clearly contrasts with America's focus on spectacular hi-tech warfare. But Solana's doctrine underlines that not all new threats are military or require a military response. Often, a mix of instruments, including aid, export controls, diplomatic pressure and sanctions, is all that is needed to ward off multi-faceted challenges. In other words, sometimes soft power works.

Shada Islam is a Brussels-based journalist specializing in EU trade policy and Europe’s relations with Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

© 2003 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization