26th November 2014 – by Daniel Fiott* - europeangeostrategy.org
It seems that ever since the infamous St. Malo summit between France and the United Kingdom (UK) in 1998 Europeans have been sorely disappointed with, or even deluded by, the European Union’s (EU) Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Far from the ambitions that followed the implosion of Yugoslavia, the CSDP has seemingly tapered-off into niche areas that are more concerned with training and police missions, or with security more broadly (rather than defence). In 2008 the EU deployed 3,700 military personnel to Chad; in 2012 it deployed 37 civilian experts to Juba International Airport in South Sudan. Surely something is sorely amiss. Civilian missions have their place but they point to the fact that Europeans – with the exception of France perhaps – have perhaps never seriously believed that the CSDP could serve as the basis for the EU’s hard power.
CSDP has seemingly tapered-off into niche areas
‘NATO is dead, long live NATO!’. With the economic exuberance of the 1990s and early 2000s, and the absence of any territorial threat, the Alliance was left to deal with Afghanistan. Yet, the core task of NATO has always been territorial defence. Putin has ensured this fact remains true today and, paradoxically, he has perhaps simultaneously brought about the swift felling of any hopes that the CSDP may one day provide for a l’Europe de defense. Important questions are being asked of Europeans both within NATO and the CSDP, yet Europeans appear to be drifting towards an l’Europe sans défense. Regardless of whether Europeans want to devote their energies to CSDP or NATO, any serious pledge to either or both entities will require far more political commitment than is present now.
There is no real point in reeling off decreasing defence expenditure levels here as they are well-known. It is, however, rather more important to understand how the member states view the CSDP. France, for example, was originally the bulwark of autonomous European defence but its insistence on a pragmatic approach to CSDP and its reluctance to ultimately work militarily through the CSDP in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic is indicative of a growing ambivalence towards the Policy. France cannot be blamed for its impatience with the CSDP, as most of the other EU member states have been dragging their feet for some time. And if France is growing weary of CSDP, should we really be surprised that the Policy has stalled? This is not to even speak of the British position.
Perhaps we have got it all wrong though. Perhaps CSDP was never really designed to bring about a l’Europe de defense. Could it not equally be all about institutional politics and national interests? Indeed, much energy has been expended on ensuring the EU puts in place a ‘comprehensive approach’ to its foreign policy (the myth here is, of course, that all foreign policy should be comprehensive). Yet this ‘approach’ has tended to result in self-serving political in-fighting over institutional design and territory, and ensuring that the tools the EU does use (whether soft or hard) largely complement member state interests. The British and Germans may want a softer CSDP but for very different reasons – for the UK a civilian approach asserts NATO’s primacy, for Germany such an approach avoids difficult questions about the use of military force.
Europeans appear to be heading towards an l’Europe sans défense
Ambition has always been central to the CSDP. Let national and institutional politics get in the way and you are left with relatively small missions that barely make a dent in serious defence issues (e.g. EUTM Mali). If the CSDP cannot be wielded to deal with key politico-military issues in the EU’s immediate geographical spheres of interest, then talk of the EU ‘pivoting’ to Asia or playing a global role appear rightfully ludicrous. Perhaps these views are, however, overly negative. Maybe there is still some life left in the CSDP. Yet ascertaining how the member states now view the CSDP is challenging, and it is to the member states that one must look if one is to answer a critical question: is the CSDP still relevant?
In this spirit, over the coming weeks and months European Geostrategy will be publishing a special focus series entitled ‘National Perspectives and the CSDP’. European Geostrategy will be approaching key thinkers and policy-makers from across Europe for their opinions and analysis on where their country stands in relation to the future of the CSDP. The collection of articles are designed to inform the forthcoming June 2015 EU Council meeting on defence.
Maybe there is still some life left in the CSDP…
The series will be composed of stand-alone articles and collective articles that bring together the opinions of a host of experts from across Europe. Each article will be broadly structured so as to answer a number of central questions. Why, if at all, is the CSDP still important to the member states? How does CSDP help member states meet their national interests? What more could the member states do to further strength civil/military capability development within the CSDP? What mechanisms (e.g. permanent structured cooperation) could work to enable closer cooperation through CSDP? What do the member states think should become of the CSDP? Should it be a military alliance on a par with NATO or should it focus exclusively on civilian missions? What do the member states see as the main drivers and obstacles behind a more effective CSDP?
Such questions will form the backbone of each contribution and the intention is, once all the articles have been published, to write a concluding piece drawing together all the national perspectives. The articles published under the series are listed below. Do remember to keep checking www.europeangeostrategy.org for updates. On behalf of the Senior Editors, I sincerely hope you find the series of interest.
* Mr. Daniel Fiott is a Senior Editor of European Geostrategy. He is also a Researcher at the Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He writes here in a personal capacity.