EUSTRAT course VI: Europe in a cont(g)ested force-field
Last week on the 21st of May 2021 the 6th EUSTRAT course took place organized by the European Strategic Research Center, University of Public Service in Budapest.
The topic focused on the EU’s developing defense policy presented by Aron James Miszlivetz. The presenter first discussed how the signature of the Treaty of Brussels in 1948 created the Western European Union (WEU), which was a cornerstone towards a common defense policy. In the 1990s it was deemed as the primary institution for European defense cooperation until its closure in 2011. Parallel to this, NATO was created in 1949 with the backing of the United States to deter the Soviet Union. While the WEU was intended for a closer defense integration between western European countries, NATO was a more international actor focusing on external threats. Nevertheless, collective defense remained a commonality with the two institutions.
While the US-Soviet contestation was seen as permanent, the sudden dissolution of the Soviet Union came as a shock and surprise to the international community. In 1991 a new security environment was in place with the US dominated unipolar world order. One year later, the Treaty of Maastricht created the three-pillar system in which the 3rd pillar was the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. This incorporated the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) which later dealt with missions and operations. During the WEU Council meeting in 1992, the Petersberg tasks became the priorities for Europe. This included humanitarian tasks, conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, crisis management, disarmament, military assistance, and post-conflict stabilization tasks. Connected to this, a Rapid Reaction Force was also created during the 1999 European Council Helsinki Summit which transformed into EU Battle Groups. This meant that the EU created its own capability to deploy troops within 5-10 days after high-level political approval. These forces should be capable of sustaining for at least 30 days with a possibility of extension to a total of 120 days.
Later during the lecture, focus was given on how previous initiatives affected the EU’s current state. Throughout the early ’90s the EU’s Neighborhood was facing many conflicts in the post-soviet space, Africa and the Middle East. Conflicts in the former Yugoslav republics, including Kosovo and tensions in the whole of the Western Balkans was increasing. Running up to the millennium 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq presented increasing global instability. Terrorist attacks, global economic crises and the issue of climate change have shown the fragility of global interconnectedness and interdependence. However, the European Union was facing at crossroads in the late ’90s on what its global role should be. First, a political turn arrived in 1998 with the signature of the Saint-Malo Declaration between Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair. The French-British agreement was the first concrete step to integrate the WEU into the EU. The UK agreed to this since it didn’t see this as curbing NATO’s capabilities.
The joint declaration mentioned creating „capacity for autonomous action” for the EU, backed up by military means, as well as the capability to respond to international crises and to set up decision-making structures and capabilities for action. This can also be seen as resolving past failures of inaction, especially when looking to the conflicts in the Western Balkans.
Second, one year before the “Big-bang enlargement” the Berlin Plus agreement was signed between the EU and NATO. This defines their relationship to this day. It gave the EU the rights to use NATO’s communication systems, joint command and its equipment if needed. Already that year EUFOR Concordia was the first military operation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of North Macedonia which the EU took over from NATO. The first time in history, military personnel with the EU logo were stationed abroad in a conflict area. Parallel to that, the same year EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Hercegovina was initiated as another military operation to enforce the Dayton agreement. This is the longest EU mission in place to this day. Taking a global outlook, the CSDP operations have grown to 17 in 2020 (6 military mission and 11 civilian ones) which show a credible EU presence in conflict zones.
While the first part of the lecture provided a historical outlook, the second part focused on recent EU initiatives, such as strategy-making and policy implementation with practical projects. First, the European Security Strategy in 2009, then the 2016 EU Global Strategy defined the Union’s global role and the threat landscape it needs to face. From classical security issues, such as fragile states and regional conflicts to more modern ones like hybrid and cyber threats and critical infrastructure protection. As the EU approached the new decade of 2010, new and old conflicts have risen from the Russo-Georgian to the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Several other conflicts remain unresolved in Northern Africa which exacerbates the migration crisis, human trafficking, and terrorism in the Euro-Mediterranean area and beyond.
Finally, in December 2017 Council ministers agreed on the establishment of enhanced cooperation (laid down in the Treaties) in the field of defense. Thus, the Permanent Structured Cooperation was created in 2018. The intergovernmental setting now involves 47 different defense projects with sufficient funding and research & development by the European Defense Agency and the European Defense Fund. This could lead to the EU’s goal, which is to reach strategic autonomy, meaning to defend itself and protect its Neighborhood without US reliance. It also intends to create interoperability, harmonizing defense infrastructures which may lead to a true European Defense Union.
The end of the lecture involved the many paths the EU can take from a closer Union to intergovernmentalism and (inter)regionalism or even a new type of hybrid cooperation. While there are no ready-made recipes, the Strategic Compass of the EU is helping it to prioritize and measure what areas in defense it needs to boost cooperation between Member States. Since the EU is a learning project, current experience will help shape its action since its members (states, institutions and citizens) also see the added value of closer cooperation in this field.