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3 décembre 2013 2 03 /12 /décembre /2013 12:50
The European Council on Security and Defence: asking tough questions


2nd December 2013  – by Jolyon Howorth - europeangeostrategy.org


The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is currently in limbo. With the European Union’s (EU) southern and eastern neighbourhoods in a state of relative turmoil, with the United States’ (US) tilt to Asia, with draconian defence cuts being applied in every Member State, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) still searching for a role, CSDP is floundering.  The European Council on Security and Defence in December will address its status and future


Prognoses for the success of the December Council range from pessimistic to dire. Most commentators predict minimal progress on essentially technical issues. This is a recipe for failure. The summit is too necessary to risk being a non-event. It should not be about fine-tuning. If CSDP is to develop into a policy area with a future, it is time to ask some probing, fundamental questions.


In its brief fifteen-year history, CSDP has achieved a great deal. But most progress has been incremental, reactive, ad-hoc, piecemeal, experimental and inchoate. It is time to stop muddling through and to establish, at the very least, what exactly CSDP is attempting to achieve. The December Council needs to rethink three key issues: strategic vision; autonomy; intervention.


Strategic Vision


EU officials tend to shun ‘grand strategy’. Yet to posit the need for a more strategic approach is to insist that there needs to be clear agreement on basic objectives, and on the means of achieving them. To this extent, the 2003 European Security Strategy was not a strategy since it ignored the relationship between means and ends. The 2008 ‘Review’ was not a review since it contented itself with a minor updating of the 2003 text. The world is undergoing a process of power transition. What does the EU hope to accomplish in such a world?


There is a lively debate in the US about potential transition scenarios, beginning with diametrically contradictory views about the appropriate role for the US post-Afghanistan. More substantially, John Ikenberry foresees the liberal international order co-opting into its institutions and values all of the emerging powers. Robert Hutchings and Frederick Kempe insist, on the contrary, that ‘the West’ will have to make major concessions to ‘the Rest’ and forge a ‘global grand bargain’ ushering in a new global order acceptable to all the major actors. Charles Kupchan imagines a world in which no one power will enjoy dominance, still less hegemony. These are totally different scenarios. There seems to be no echo of this debate in the EU. It is time to start one.




We should recall why the word ‘autonomous’ in the December 1998 Saint-Malo Declaration was so important. It was predicated on the belief that EU Member States would take security and defence more seriously through an EU agency rather than through NATO – where the habit of free-riding is deeply engrained. The EU should be able to decide for itself what to do and with which instruments. Those were important foundational principles. It was crucial in the early years to allow CSDP to grow in its own way, without being micro-managed from Washington. But has the EU actually delivered on the promise of autonomy? In 2013, it remains hugely dependent on NATO and on the US for more or less everything other than the very simplest of missions. Given the scale of ambition revealed to date, what has ‘autonomy’ produced?


It is widely agreed since the Libya fiasco that CSDP must enter into much deeper and intensive cooperation with NATO. Both NATO and CSDP are currently in a state of existential self-interrogation.  What does it mean under those circumstances to insist that CSDP should remain autonomous? As one who initially argued in favour of autonomy in order for CSDP to breathe life into itself, I now believe the EU should cooperate intensively with NATO, in order to turn their joint efforts into an effective and appropriate regional capacity for the stabilisation of the greater European area.




We need a heart-searching re-appraisal of intervention as an activity and as a principle. The recent debate on Syria’s chemical weapons is instructive. How can we be sure that, through our intervention, we will make matters better rather than worse – or no different? That is the only question of significance. There is much talk about CSDP being a ‘security provider’. But does the EU really know how to achieve that with any degree of durability? There have been no fewer than five CSDP missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In what sense have they ‘provided’ lasting ‘security’?


If the EU is to become a security and defence actor – even at the regional level – it needs to tackle these issues head on. There is little purpose in simply re-arranging the deckchairs. The Council should, as a minimum, set in motion a process through which tough questions can be addressed.



* Prof. Jolyon Howorth is an Associate Editor of European Geostrategy. He is also Visiting Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Yale University and Jean Monnet Professor ad personam of European Politics and Emeritus Professor of European Studies at the University of Bath. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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