8th May 2014 – by Jo Coelmont - europeangeostrategy.org
The European Union’s (EU) mantra, ‘the comprehensive approach’ is known worldwide. However, a mantra that is being repeated at all times and in all circumstances probably refers to an aspiration rather than a reality. The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is the perfect example to illustrate just that.
Successful CSDP operations, regardless…
All military CSDP operations conducted so far have reached their military objectives. Compared with other international organisations involved in crisis management this is unique, and a reason to be proud. However, with the exception of the operations in Bosnia and in Mali, no military CSDP operation has really been conducted comprehensively. As a net consequence lasting results have seldom or never been achieved. Political pressure had a tendency to fade away soon after the launch of any operation. The civilian capabilities deployed were at best under-dimensioned if not completely absent. The most crucial element to obtain durable results, economic investment, never materialised. Often emergency and/or development aid was provided, but that is not a substitute. As to the Security Sector Reform operations launched by the EU under the ‘civil’ or ‘civil-military’ label, the results are disappointing too. Generally a homeopathic dose was administered when the real stuff was needed.
The operations in Libya are the example of a non-comprehensive way of acting. While European nations where taking the lead in the military operations, the European External Action Service (EEAS) was planning for humanitarian aid in complete isolation from the military intervention. It was, in fact, acting as an non-governmental organisation. Eventually the EU lost the beauty contest to set up such an operation in Libya to the United Nations, which was also acting on its own. Meanwhile the durable results of the military operations in Libya are well known: they are called Mali and the Central African Republic.
Events, dear boy, events
Fortunately not each and every crisis requires military assets to be part of the solution, on the contrary. The real question is how to explain the absence of any comprehensive approach whenever CSDP actions or operations are on the agenda. In the absence of an effective Security Strategy, in every contingency the starting position of the EU and the Member States is a blank sheet. The first step is for Member States to investigate whether the issue at hand is affecting their values or (individual) interests, and if so, whether it concerns a priority issue, and whether the region is considered as such. If the answer looks like a yes, discussions may start on how, when and with what means to react. If military action is judged appropriate by some Member States – the few that most of the time have the honour to act in the name of so many – than enter the process of ‘force generation conferences’. In the meantime, emergency aid may be provided. As to economic action: are the economy and trade ever really taken into account in crisis situations? More generally, is the overall desired strategic outcome and a comprehensive roadmap to reach it ever being thought about? Please, not now, we are in the midst of confronting events, dear boy.
Ukraine, a surprise
Taking improvised initiatives on the international scene, without a strategy, may turn out to be audacious, as recent events once more made clear.
Last year Ukraine was approached, mainly by the Commission, with a proposals to establish a trade agreement, as if Ukraine was simply about another extension of the internal market. For the EU this is well-known business. And yet, that same Union was completely surprised with the ultimate outcome. It was revealed to be a matter of geopolitics and strategy. And all of a sudden, the Union had, and still has, difficulties to respond.
A strategy or no strategy
Some actors have a strategy. You may not appreciate Russia’s moves, but Moscow acted in a rather comprehensive way, politically, economically and military. This is not to say that Putin has masterminded all events, but he was well prepared, having a strategy and even a doctrine (which one might call ‘Putin infiltration’), as well as the means to act accordingly. This makes that Russia, for the time being, can punch above its weight. Compared to each of the individual EU member states, Russia is rather big. Compared to the Union as such, Russia is an economically and even military middle-sized country, with some potential but facing enormous weaknesses. But at the political level, it is a chess player. And that makes all the difference.
In the Ukrainian crisis, the US is acting in a remarkably steadfast manner, in line with its strategy. In the past, whenever a security crisis emerged, the President of the US traditionally called on ‘the US and Allies’ to take action, suggesting the US take the lead and the Allies follow. In the meantime that has changed. At the start of the Obama administration it was always was referring to the ‘US and European countries’, suggesting some kind of burden-sharing. Later that changed to ‘the US and Europe’, carefully avoiding the pitfall of mentioning ‘the EU and its Member States’. Today, with the crisis in Ukraine, it is all about ‘the US and the EU’. The message is clear. The US will remain involved. However, in Washington Russia is measured by its potential to cause disruption, in particular in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran. No doubt Washington will react to Moscow’s expansionist ambitions, but it will not allow itself to get distracted from its main geostrategic concerns in Asia. Globally speaking, the US is looking towards Europe as its principal partner. But you only have a real partner if, when faced with a crisis, the outcome matters equally to the partner if not even more so. For NATO, article 5 matters profoundly, for each and every partner. But for the crisis in Ukraine, NATO will not do the trick.
Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa, no doubt matters a great deal for Europe, so… After 3 wakeup calls, time to get up
The crisis in Yugoslavia triggered the ESDP and some concrete actions. Iraq triggered the CSDP and even a European Security Strategy (ESS), a prelude to a real Strategy, calling for preventive action and a comprehensive approach. So far neither the CSDP nor the ESS have generated significant results. In the end, Herman Van Rompuy took the political risk to put the issue of defence on the agenda of the European Council. This resulted in some pretty good conclusions. What about the centre-piece of acting comprehensively and what about a security strategy? Last December our Heads of State and Government where so shy they used very opaque language:
The European Council invites the High Representative, in close cooperation with the Commission, to assess the impact of changes in the global environment, and to report to the Council in the course of 2015 on the challenges and opportunities arising for the Union, following consultations with the Member States.
I hope that now with the Ukrainian crisis everyone reads this sentence as an urgent call for the long awaited genuine European Security Strategy, the prerequisite to act comprehensively.
* Brig. Gen. (ret.) Jo Coelmont is an Associate Editor of European Geostrategy. He is also a Senior Associate Fellow for the ‘Europe in the World Programme’ at Egmont – Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels. Formerly, he was the Belgian Military Representative to the Military Committee of the European Union. He writes here in a personal capacity.