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How to Outfox a Euro-skeptic: The Challenges of European Defence Cooperation

By Paolo Enrico Favino

Usually, the current debate around the EU is characterized by a great struggle between Europeanists and Euro-skeptics, where the former say that a supranational Union between European countries represents the better solution towards an ill-defined ‘enlightened future’, and the latter talk back that the nation-state still is the real and only possible subject of the international relations. Every one remains confined to his own theories, while Europe continues to be an issue of minorities.

But the idea of a ‘European Union’ cannot be an intellectual property of just a section of the academic and political audiences, as a flag in the hands of some.

So, here we start deliberately with a realist position, to find out if the EU could be considered a concrete factor of international stability and security also from a ‘Euro-skeptic’ point of view, and to conclude that in the contemporary balance of power the safety of European countries depend mainly on the cooperation among them: to survive and protect their national interests, Member states need to invest in the EU framework, looking towards a sustainable security perspective, as well as a more stable economic growth (supporting commercial policies with a concrete foreign policy).

Now, here is the question: how to promote the Schuman’s suggestion right into the ‘Euro-skeptics and realist side’ of the political battle-field using their own arguments? Going over the academic subdivisions, and looking at the EU not as someone’s dream, but as a real necessity for all?

As realists do, we begin presuming that political stability is a paradox because uncertainly is the inner nature of international relations, and to reach a stable condition every political system must continuously change, following adjustments in the balance of power. Hence, an unchanging system is unstable, and consequently unsafe. This results, for every single player, in a ‘need for governance’ of these continuous transformations, in order to protect their own interests.

As a matter of facts, ‘Global Governance’ is one of the main targets of the European Commission, which reads positively the link between stability and security, firstly because of the progress in economic integration. The idea of a concrete EU involvement in international politics originated together with the same EEC, but this perspective could be concretely explored only after the end of the Cold War and the German reunification. Nonetheless, the failure of the Constitutional treaty left a lack of legitimacy on foreign policy matters and, as a consequence, EU’s worldwide role needs a ‘dual legitimacy: not only external (from the other international players), but also internal (from the same EU countries).

Again: could the European nations alone survive?

Firstly, single EU countries does not have the resources to compete with international actors like the US or China.

Secondly, current threats have global dimensions, softening the distinctions between internal and external security, as well as between defence and security strategies. Therefore, potential destabilizations occurred in other regions of the World will result in a matter of internal security for every Member state.

At the same time, defending European countries cannot still be considered, as in the past, an obligation on the part of the United States towards a Europe unable to protect itself.

Or, at least, a task they will perform for free.

Therefore, the increase of the ‘internal legitimacy’ dimension should be likely expected to follow an upward trend, as hinted also by a comparative analysis between Defence White Papers issued by Germany, France and the UK between 2003 and 2008, on one hand, and the European Security Strategy – ESS [2003], with the Report on its implementation [2008], on the other hand, in relations to the thread identified by each country and their comparative correspondence with those highlighted by the ESS.

UK, France and Germany represent the main contributors to the European military capabilities, and if the pivotal element is national sovereignty any credible common security policy should match the political objectives expressed in the national strategies of the most influent EU Members in order to obtain a ‘national legitimacy’. And while the alliance with the USA in the NATO framework remains as a key feature, especially in the papers approved by London and Berlin, all these documents find a common frame of reference in the EU.

According to the ESS, the contemporary threats to the international security are: 1- Terrorism; 2- Proliferation of WMD; 3- Regional Crisis & Failed States; 4- Energy Security; 5- Climatic Changes; 6- Organized Crime.

Firstly, the ‘British Defence White Paper’ [2003] describes terrorism and WMD proliferation as the main threats to the UK national security. Fragility of the Countries together with demographic and environmental pressures is considered as the principal causes of these problems. The paper underlines the global nature of these threats, looking for the security of the whole of Europe together with the safety of the UK.

Secondly, the French ‘Livre Blanc sur la Défense et la Sécurité Nationale’ [2008] highlights seven global risks: a) terrorism; b) ballistic and cruise missiles; c) information warfare attacks; d) foreign intelligence activities; e) organized criminality; f) threats to public health; g) threats for French people abroad. The response system consists in intelligence, early warning, nuclear deterrence, protection and military intervention.

Finally, the ‘Vorwort zum Weißbuch 2006 zur Sicherheitspolitik Deutschlands und zur Zukunft der Bundeswehr’ [2006] highlights new asymmetric and unconventional threats as terrorism and WMD proliferation. At the same time, due to the new global nature of the challenges, the Bundeswehr has been reconfigured as an ‘expedition army’ (force projection capability is one of the main issues in all documents).

The integration process appears as a matter of national security in these national papers, which offer a sort of ‘national endorsement’ to the EU strategic agenda expressed in the ESS.

But an ‘internal’ legitimacy is not enough: the EU needs an international recognition.

For this reason, it is very important to highlight the already existing different co-operations between the EU and many other global players.

Firstly, over a series of EU resolutions, acts and projects promoted within the UN bodies, an effective legitimation of the EU’s international role by the United Nations emerges in initiatives like the EU-UN Special Committee. Moreover, this relationship has been concretized within a series of CSDP operations: in many theatres, the EU acts under a UN mandate and/or in cooperation with its officials.

Secondly, the relations with the NATO: defence cooperation started in 1992, from the “Petersberg tasks” and the introduction of the “combined joint tasks forces” [1994] to the “Berlin PLUS” Agreements [1996] and the EU-NATO Capability Group [2003], which represents a frame of reference for the European Defence Agency. Moreover, the EU-NATO partnership has lead to various PSDC operations.

Finally, there has been a multi-level global recognition of the EU also by other players as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the African Union and the ASEAN. Moreover, the European global role has been recognized also by individual countries outside the EU: many CSDP missions have been realized following national requests.

Nonetheless, the EU suffers from political and structural limitations.

Politically, national sovereignty remains the primary obstacle to an EU’s international role: the European Governments are reluctant to concede the control on their own national defence to a supranational administration.

Additionally, singular national perspectives generate dissimilar policies: the European defence core countries are the UK and France, but during the integration process Paris and London held repeatedly different positions. France saw the EU as a sort of ‘multiplier’ of the French power itself, while the UK looked more at the Atlantic Alliance than to a European self-governing security space. This situation is well exemplified by the negotiations during the Washington NATO Summit [1999] on the idea of a European military capability autonomous from NATO: the same term ‘autonomous’ has been the result of a tough negotiation between the UK and France (the British proposal was ‘complementary to NATO’, while the French proposal was ‘independent from NATO’).

Finally, the Lisbon Treaty seems to give targets more than solutions: principles are clear, but it is not exactly explained ‘who is supposed to do what’, and in what terms, although the institutional framework of the CFSP has been enhanced.

Structural gaps are mainly a consequence of this political status quo, and a brief overview of the EU capability background compared with that of the US could be useful to understand the dimension of the European difficulties.

First of all, on 2005 the difference between the EU and USA expenses on defence was around 213 billion of euro, with a US budget equal to 406 billion of euro, and a European budget that reached only 193 billions of euro. This disparity results from different public policies: the US Per Capita Expenditure was approximately 1.370 Euro, while the European Per Capita Expenditure was around 425 Euro. In other words: 4.06% of the US GDP against 1.81% of the EU aggregate GDP.

Moreover, while the US spends 32% of their defence budget in Research & Development, the Europeans spend on average 18.4%. As a consequence, the US military spending is worth ten times more than the European investments.

Additionally, market fragmentation causes additional problems. In particular, the European industrial complex is unable to give the CSDP the necessary means: while the US defence system can count on an overall market, the EU common defence potential is confined to small national sub-markets, and in none of them there is a company able to cover the whole defence industrial sectors.

Among the concrete consequences on the military ground, EU’s problems on chain of command, interoperability and technological level are indeed determined by inadequate ‘3CI’ (Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence) skills. But since our security depends on a common framework, an undermined CSPD corresponds to a loss of safety for every Member state.

Although this situation has led in many cases to a lack of responsibility – leaving to the US the defence of our security – the EU has developed its ‘strategic vision’, expressed in the cited ESS, planning a series of goals here summarized:

A – Facing the identified threats

During the Cold War, the main risk was an armed invasion by the Soviet Union, but today the front line will be often abroad. And so, the EU approach is to avoid that the identified threats become element of conflict.

B – Building security in the neighborhood

The integration processes has strengthen the European security, but – at the same time – it has brought the EU’s borders very close to many instability areas. Therefore, the EU commitment should be to promote accountable democracies with which to cooperate, from Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean area.

C – Promoting an “effective multilateralism” in all the World

In a World of global threats, global markets and global Medias, our security and prosperity depends even more on a multilateral system. Among the partnerships, the EU-US relations are considered as a crucial element, while the United Nations are considered the apex of the international system (all the CSDP efforts have been intended and realized into the UN framework).

The questions about how a ‘Civil power’ could coherently promote this ‘effective multilateralism’ found a first answer in the developing by the EU of a global commitment into the CFSP framework, in order to achieve the same ESS objectives: a range of EU operations has been deployed in the last ten years while the CSDP commitment has been even more considerable, although the highlighted difficulties persist.

In the end, Europeans have common needs, and should look for common strategies, towards international stability and, at the same time, their own safety. This is not a wishful thinking, but a tough political duty for all the EU governments, towards their fellow citizens and in the interests of their own countries. Therefore, answering to the opening question, European defence cooperation is a primary matter of national security, while the EU embodies a factor of international stability as far as the defence and security issues are inserted in a more inclusive integration process.

In other words, if State survival is the target, Europeanism is Realism.

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