Implementing a Distinctive Approach to Security




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3.6 Security within the EU


A level that is not dealt with separately in the Strategy is that of security within the EU, although in the final version several references to the link between internal and external security have been added. Of course, the Member States no longer pose any threat to each other. By strengthening the existing web of political, economic, social and military interdependence between current and, further to enlargement, future Member States, the EU is continuing to build an area of freedom, security and justice. But the EU’s territory and population remain vulnerable to global threats. To enhance the confidence of Europe’s population, the EU and its Member States, as the Strategy stipulates, have equipped themselves with new instruments, such as the European arrest warrant, a common definition of terrorism and Eurojust. The effectiveness of these developments will be further enhanced by enabling full harmonisation of policies in areas commonly agreed upon, in particular terrorism, border control, human trafficking, drugs trafficking, corruption, euro counterfeiting, arms trafficking, money laundering and organised crime.


Since the organization of collective defence remains the prerogative of NATO, the Strategy does not mention it. The adoption of the ‘solidarity clause’ would signal the move of the EU Member States towards a political community, committing themselves to mutual help and assistance in the case of natural or man-made disasters or terrorist strikes. For the foreseeable future, the EU and its Member States no longer face any direct military threat to their territorial integrity. The mutual defence commitment to which the Member States are bound, through NATO and WEU, and including the possibility of symbolically including it in the Constitution in some form or other, serves as a long-term insurance against possible future threats. EU policy with respect to its neighbourhood and at the global level must prevent such threats from materialising in the first place.

4. Comprehensive Security as an EU Concept


The Strategy clearly builds on the ‘European way’ in international relations that can be observed in actual EU policies, especially the EU’s encompassing, long-term conflict prevention efforts and partnership arrangements. What the Strategy does is bringing these policies together within a conceptual framework that establishes a link between the various EU external policies, including short-term conflict prevention and crisis management. These are the areas where the EU today too often lacks a common approach, as the Iraqi crisis so forcibly demonstrated. This conceptual framework emerging from existing policies can be referred to as comprehensive security, which is hereafter analyzed from a normative perspective.


A comprehensive security strategy starts with the recognition that there are various dimensions of security in the current international environment and therefore that the underlying causes of potential threats to the security of the EU are very diverse in terms of both nature and origin. Kirchner and Sperling dub this ‘the new security agenda’. It is concerned with the ability to protect the social and economic fabric of society, to act as gatekeeper between desirable and undesirable interactions and to foster a stable international economic and political environment. This agenda goes beyond the politico-military dimension, which nonetheless remains a vital element, so for Kirchner and Sperling ‘a broader, holistic definition of the relationship between the “new” and “traditional” conceptualisations of security’ is required.79 Because of the multidimensional nature of security, achieving the overall objective of safeguarding the values and interests of the EU is equally dependent on the specific politico-military and on the broader, global governance dimensions of external action: on the one hand the continued absence of a direct military threat to the EU itself must be ensured and spill-over effects of conflicts between or within third States to the EU avoided; and on the other hand the stability of the EU’s neighbourhood and of the international system as such must be maintained.


In order to achieve these twin objectives, a comprehensive security strategy looks beyond the traditional confines of security policy, i.e. beyond the use of politico-military instruments: it aims to integrate a range of external policies, which together offer a broad set of instruments that have a worldwide scope and that address the different dimensions of security. This range of policies covers all three pillars of the EU; it includes inter alia external trade, development cooperation, international environmental policy, international police, justice and intelligence cooperation, immigration policy, foreign policy (multilateral diplomacy and the promotion of the values of the EU) and politico-military measures. The overall objective of this range of policies, which functions as an integrating mechanism, is the promotion of the core global public goods. ‘Traditional’ security policy can thus be seen as one aspect of a much broader, integrated framework in which it is on the same level as the other EU external policies, thereby avoiding a ‘compartmentalisation’ of external action. Within the overall objective of promoting global public goods, these policies all operate according to their own rationale and dynamic. In doing so, they contribute to a permanent or structural policy of prevention and stabilisation, and thus to the security of the EU. At the same time, ‘securitisation’ or ‘militarization’ of external policies other than security policy is avoided, i.e. specific politico-military concerns and means do not determine overall policy in other fields of external action, which would otherwise be detrimental to the legitimacy of EU policies. This should provide an answer the concerns expressed by NGOs and others regarding e.g. the independence of humanitarian aid.80


A comprehensive security strategy gives priority to active prevention of conflict and instability as opposed to a reactive and curative approach, which would be much more costly in both human and economic terms.81 Global public goods are the angle from which prevention can be tackled in the most encompassing and fundamental way. Accordingly, rather than being threat-based, a comprehensive security strategy is a positive approach that aims at achieving positive objectives, GPG, through global governance, in the interests not only of the EU but also of human beings everywhere. In that sense, working towards GPG can also be said to be a responsibility of the EU.82 ‘What for?’ rather than ‘against whom?’ is the question that determines policy. A comprehensive security strategy will thus be able to avoid the classic ‘security dilemma’ of over-emphasising threats, leading to unnecessary military build-ups and in return provoking distrust and military measures on the part of others.83 In the terms used by Buzan, comprehensive security amounts to an ‘international security strategy’, i.e. a strategy addressing the root causes of threats by trying to change ‘the systemic conditions that influence the way in which States make each other feel more (or less) secure’, as opposed to a ‘national security strategy’, aimed at reducing one’s own vulnerability by taking defensive measures.84


At the level of regions, States and individuals, insufficient access to GPG provokes tensions and armed conflict and, in case of a major deficiency, can destabilise the international system as such. Comprehensive security therefore by necessity demands global action: prevention must aim to safeguard and improve access to GPG worldwide. This global scope does not contradict the specific EU role vis-à-vis its neighbourhood envisaged in the Strategy. This is not a question of a hierarchy of priorities: an effective system of governance at the regional level is a component of the overall objective of global governance; because of globalisation, stability of the world order as such is equally important as stability in our neighbourhood. Rather the modus operandi differs: whereas at the global level the EU chooses to act through the multilateral architecture, in its neighbourhood it seeks to assume leadership itself. The often-used division of EU interests and, accordingly, scope of action in a hierarchy of concentric circles therefore is not really valid anymore.85 The first circle can still be clearly distinguished, both geographically, i.e. the territory of the EU and its Member States, and functionally, i.e. the core or vital interests bearing on their own immediate survival. But the ensuing circles overflow into each other: geographically, because the link between the distance of an event and its potential impact on the EU, though often still present, no longer is automatic; and functionally, because in the long-term ‘immaterial’ issues, such as lack of respect for human rights and the absence of the rule of law, can lead to instabilities and crises that are equally threatening to the EU as more immediate economic or politico-military events.


A comprehensive security strategy operates through dialogue, cooperation, partnership and institutionalised, rule-based multilateralism – itself an important global public good. Third States and organisations are regarded as partners for cooperation rather than as mere subjects of EU policies; the aim is to influence rather than to coerce, to use the carrot rather than the stick. But partnership and cooperation cannot be unconditional: benefits granted are linked to progress made in predefined fields. A critical dialogue is maintained with partners that do not respect their commitments; if they persist, they will pay the price in their relations with the EU. Coercion is regarded as a last resort. It is not out of the question, but will only be used if all other options have been exhausted and, of course, within the bounds of international law.


The comprehensive security concept is not contradictory with defining the EU as a ‘civilian power’, contrary to what inter alia Smith86 claims: the question is when, under what circumstances, and not if force can be used. This is in line with Maull’s definition of civilian power as including military power ‘as a residual instrument’.87 Without the willingness to apply pressure, sanctions and, if need be, force, EU external action will not acquire the credibility it needs to be effective. This leads Stavridis to the assertion that ‘thanks to the militarising of the Union, the latter might at long last be able to act as a real civilian power in the world’.88 In that regard, the concept ‘civilian superpower’ is gaining currency. Keukeleire too concludes that what he terms ‘structural foreign policy’ can be effective only ‘if it goes hand in hand with an effective traditional foreign policy which can be supported by military instruments’.89 The deciding factor is that since it has acquired a military capacity, the EU still presents itself, not as a ‘traditional’ power, but as ‘a power which is unique because it will be able to use military means as an integrated part of a much broader range of political, economic and diplomatic means’.90 As Gnesotto states, ‘the great debate of the 1980s over Europe as a civil power or a military power definitely seems to be a thing of the past […] what the Union intends to become is a sui generis power’.91 ‘Comprehensive security’ therefore is a term better suited to the EU than ‘civilian power’, as it emphasises the integration of all fields of external action, and avoids the paralysing debate on the validity of the claim to ‘civilian power-status’ when possessing a military dimension that is inherent in the literature on the latter.92


There will be cases where the use of force is inevitable, for ‘modern’ nation States and ‘pre-modern’ regions of incompletely functioning States operate according to other rules than ‘post-modern’ Europe, in the terms used by Cooper to describe the world order.93 For any such EU action to be successful, legitimacy is a necessary prerequisite; this legitimacy will be strengthened by implementing a permanent policy aimed at promoting GPG. Partnership can be built on the common aspiration to strengthen GPG, in the mutual interest of all concerned. That is precisely the nature of GPG. In that sense, comprehensive and cooperative security are inextricably linked: the objectives of a comprehensive security strategy can be realised only through cooperation, and cooperation and partnership cannot rely on the politico-military dimension alone, but require a broad base. Any use of force must always be put in the wider context of the prospect of – renewed – partnership and cooperation. In parts of the world where ‘the law of the jungle reigns’, as Cooper puts it, we must be prepared to act accordingly if necessary, but not without the aim of changing those laws and bringing the States or regions concerned within the area of partnership and cooperation.


The success of any security strategy depends on the will to take action. The EU must be prepared to invest the necessary financial means in effective partnership and cooperation and in developing its own policy instruments, and must also be prepared and able to implement those instruments, including, if need be, the coercive use of military means. What counts is not so much the size of the armed forces, but the willingness and ability to use them.94 The EU need not, therefore, strive for a military capacity equal to that of the US, but must carefully plan its capability needs according to the Strategy, abandoning the all too simple logic of ever more troops and equipment and daring to downsize overcapacities in certain areas.95 Through the Headline Goal process, national armed forces can be recast into rapidly deployable and sustainable capabilities. ‘Artemis’ serves as an example of the potential of a determined EU.


In other words, this need for a will to act is tantamount to the need for the EU to behave as a global power. Or, in the words of the Laeken Declaration adopted by the European Council in December 2001: ‘a power wanting to change the course of world affairs […]’. For the EU to become a power, it must have the will and the capacity to weigh on the course of international events and influence the other players on the international stage. The EU and its Member States must consciously and collectively muster the will to form one of the poles of a multi-polar world and pursue their own distinctive policy: comprehensive security.


A strategy along these lines is comprehensive or encompassing in a number of ways:

  • In terms of policy objectives, instruments and means: integration of policy fields by working towards GPG. Rather than working only on specific aspects in an ad hoc way, the comprehensive security approach offers a fundamental concept underlying, and thus integrating all fields of EU external action.96

  • In terms of the subjects of policy, which include individuals: on the one hand the security of EU citizens at home and abroad is included in the interests that have to be secured; on the other hand the access of individuals worldwide to GPG is the long-term objective of EU external action – hence a clear link with ‘human security’, but without ignoring the importance of States and international organisations.

  • In terms of its worldwide scope, which does not exclude that the EU has a specific responsibility with regard to its neighbourhood.

  • In terms of its inclusion of third States and organisations in policy-making, through multilateral cooperation and partnership, instead of considering them to be just subjects of EU policy.


Comprehensive security in effect translates the principles on which the EU itself is founded – liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law – into the principles underlying the EU external action.


The actual European Security Strategy is not equally explicit or precise on all aspects of the concept of comprehensive security as proposed above. But the general approach chosen by the Strategy is certainly conform with it: ‘effective multilateralism’ as a global objective and with regard to the EU’s neighbourhood in particular; which amounts to global governance in a whole range of policy fields, corresponding to the notion of GPG, putting to use all instruments available to the EU, in cooperation with States, regions and international organizations, with the emphasis on prevention of the ‘key threats’ that are identified, and with the option of having recourse to force if necessary.

5. From Concepts to Practice


In the European Security Strategy, the EU now has an overall policy framework for its external activities across the pillars. The Strategy should function as a tool for policy-makers, as a set of guidelines for day-to-day policymaking in all of these fields; this applies to setting objectives as well as choosing the instruments and building the necessary capabilities. The adoption of the Strategy is a major step for EU external action, a step which until the Iraq crisis was quite unimaginable. The challenge now is to put this breakthrough to value and to effectively implement the Strategy’s comprehensive approach, or as the December 2003 European Council worded it, ‘to draw all the consequences of those strategic orientations and to mainstream them into all relevant European policies’. On its policy practice, the EU has based its Strategy – now this has to be translated into practice again.


At the same time, the ambitious agenda set forth in the Strategy serves as an affirmation of the EU as a global actor. By the mere adoption of the Strategy, the EU emphasises its ambition to make a proper mark on the course of global events. Effectively implementing the Strategy therefore is now essential to the credibility of the EU. In that sense, the Strategy also is a measure of performance.

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