Political community and the north atlantic area.

Question: to what extend can the EU be viewed as a security actor?

In the theory and practice of international relations the end of the Cold War caused a new concept of security and security actors to be used. Prior to this states were the dominant actors in international security and traditional realist concepts such as the absolute sovereignty of the state dominated. However, Sperling (1995) notes how the end of the Cold War brought about the idea that states can no longer effectively act as unitary actors, but are inevitably linking their security to other states. International security means that 'the security of one state is closely linked to that of other states, (Haftendorn, 1991, p. 9) and it is those collective relationships that define how effective a security actor the unitary states are. In the case of the EU, the member states have integrated their sovereign security goals into one security body (CFSP) and we now have the EU as the main vehicle for the security interests of all the member states.

In assessing the effectiveness of the EU as a security actor it is also important to understand that the concept of 'international security' has also widened with 'security' including such issues as climate change, environmentalism, human security and human rights. Acting effectively as the single body representing all the member states means that the EU's relationships with other security bodies are important. As Kissack notes 'The EU is working hard to improve its cooperation with the UN in peacekeeping, conflict prevention and post-crisis reconstruction, and promotes the protection of human rights through various elements of all of these policies, (2003, p.6). Bretherton and Vogel (1999) identify the EU as a strong global actor in policy areas such as trade and the environment, and this essay argues that this importance is equally powerful in the security area, where a 'common' position of all the states who are members is expressed through the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the institutions set up in the Union to support a CFSP.

The CFSP has moved steady from its purely 'intergovernmentalist' format at its establishment as a 'pillar' in the EU/EC to increasingly more supra-national approaches, such as in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, where the EU established a High Representative position that strengthened its 'common' identity in the global security environment. By 1999, this was further re-enforced with establishment of the Helsinki European Council, which set headline goals for defence. Defence ministers began meeting within the EU framework, and a military Committee and military staff were set up (Salmon and Shepherd, 2003).

In 2003-2004 the EU took over civil police and military operations in Bosnia and Macedonia, and conducted its first operation outside of Europe. Thus demonstrating how the EU was moving simply from being a 'voice' in global security matters to being an actual physical and strategic actor pursuing a pro-active policy on security. That policy was explained fully in December 2003, when the first common strategy was agreed - A Secure Europe in a Better World and the EU declared itself as a strong security actor in global security issues.

The CFSP was a result of a realisation that the EU, as a security actor had failed in the wars in former Yugoslavia. The pictures of genocide, bombings and open conflict on the European mainland were seen as a sign of the failure of the EU as a means to end all wars, and many identified it as failing in even its primary role and reason for establishment of a stronger institutional security role for the EU. The World War's 1 and 2 had devastated Europe and the EEC/EC/EU had been designed to end these constant outbreaks of war in Europe. Bosnia demonstrated that as a security actor the EU had failed (Brandao, 2010; Salmon and Shepherd, 2003; Bretherton and Vogler, 2007).

In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty established the means to build on the EU's role as a security actor and establish the means for the second pillar of the three pillars of the European Union to act in a common way on the member states security and defence.

The Member states committed themselves to a Common Foreign Security Policy for the European Union. The European Security and Defence Policy aims to strengthen the EU's external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities in Conflict prevention and crisis management. However, NATO is still seen as the primary actor for the territorial defence of Europe and peace-making.

Since 1999 the European Union is responsible for implementation missions, such as peace-keeping, and it is the CFSP which is seen as the primary representative of the collective representative voice of the member states of the EU. However, a major step forward in developing the EU as a security actor came with the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, which ended the CFSP as a separate intergovernmental 'pillar' of the EU and established a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, combining the post of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy.

To emphasis its role as a security actor in August 2008 the EU conducted peacekeeping duties in the conflict between Georgia and Russia, provided humanitarian aid and organised an international donor conference for Georgia as well as other states. It has taken a common position on the Iran nuclear issue, Iraq and the Balkans and developed a more effective intervention capability through Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

As a single security actor the EU represents a collective position to safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, independence and integrity of the Union in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter, aims to strengthen the security of the Union in all aspects, preserve peace and strengthen international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and the objectives of the Paris Charter, including those on external borders. It is a means for all the member states to have a collective voice and physical means to promote international cooperation, develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and ensure a respect for human rights and basic freedoms (Hill and Smith, 2005; Crowe, 2003).

However, the EU remains a predominantly 'civilian' and political power with an increasing movement to progress towards being an actor with the shared military capabilities of all of its member states. The EU itself is constantly increasing its external relations budget and the EU is inevitably becoming a global actor, which wants to share in the responsibility for 'global security and in building a better world'. But, although its identity as a security actor as increased and European cooperation in foreign policy has gone beyond the framework of sovereign state diplomacy, it still lacks a fully integrated single policy, and the EU's role as both a security and defence actor is still in a process of development.

There still remain tensions between national autonomy and common policy; between those in the EU who still favour an inter-governmental approach and those seeking a supranational approach that identifies all the member states as a single security actor in the global security environment. Many still believe that EU security is still a reactive policy as a result of external demands and crises, rather than a real effort on the part of all member states to act as one on all security and defence issues.

As said earlier, the first real step forward for the foundation of a supra national approach to security and defence in the EU came with the Maastricht Treaty, which moved from the EU being chiefly concentrated on economic cooperation to also establish a stronger political alliance, including the implementation of a common foreign and security policy in order to proceed to a common defence, and promote cooperation on police and law.

This Treaty marked a turning point in the process of 'Europeanization' of security and defence.

Europeanization or European integration is a process to ensure the stability in the region by ensuring that all the member states act as one collective voice. Not only for the development of economic cooperation, but also for a higher level of regional security brought about by combining all the member states political and military capabilities into one single security actor that can be seen a major strategic power.

With all the member states collective powers further enhanced by the core French, German and British existing positions as major security actors, the EU is becoming a major security actor representing Europe's nations. It can now act as a major institution in global security and its role should be assessed along side three other vital actors in global security. They are the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, the western European Union, WEU and the The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. The first two are often seen as the collective defence while OSCE is considered as the collective security (Orbie, 2008; Kirchner and Sperling, 2007).

However, the identity of the EU as a security actor is linked to a number of issues that affect the role of the EU in security. For example: the level of influence that the US exerts upon Europe and its institutions. NATO and the WEU were created as Cold War institutions linked closely with the US. The creation of a CFSD regime is seen as a way to grow more independent of American influence on security in Europe and on the EU's policies towards global security issues. The influence of America upon European security and upon individual states of the European Union, such as the UK, has direct influence upon the identity of the EU as a security actor today and in the future. The UK has been criticised as the 'poodle' of the US following American policies and using its 'special relationship' with them as a means to maintain a role as a 'major power' of influence upon the European role in global security. This creates a tension between the UK and its other member states and the creation of the EU as a single security actor representing the views of all its member states is in some ways attempting to lessen the extent to which the US can dominate European security politics (Brandao, 2010, Orbie, 2008; Kirchner and Sperling, 2007).

A second issue is that Europe was a region devastated by regular outbreaks of major wars that culminated in World War 1 and 2 and was seen as the result of a 'European' tendency towards sovereign state competition that constantly saw the main powers, Britain, France and Germany, falling into conflicts over power politics, territorial issues, military supremacy and 'national' power. The development of a unified identity as a single security actor is vital as it is the means to end the competition between European states and provide a forum for them to develop a stronger collective security identity. As Deutsch (1957, p.3) noted, the Community would be "a real assurance that the members of that community will not fight each other physically, but will settle their disputes in some other way".

Basically, the European Union as a security actor is especially important to at least three dimensions. Firstly, by being the core security centre, the EU ensures there is only one centre of power in the Europe rather several competing nation-states all constantly seeking a dominant role in the Western Europe. Secondly, the attractiveness to the Eastern European countries of a security actor acting in a stronger and more effective manner provides a more disciplined approach to not only European Security, but to global security in general. It also promises that the EU's 'neighbourhood' can also slowly become part of the collective EU security regime and ensure an even greater level of influence for the EU as a 'security actor'. Finally, as the identity and cohesion of the EU grows as a security actor, the member states enhance their ability to effectively play a part in resolving conflicts that arise and require their influence to resolve (Salmon and Shepherd, 2003).

To allow the EU to act as an effective security actor the institutional elements it has created to carry out this role are vital aspects. In the case of the EU the Treaty of Lisbon concentrated on developing roles and institutions that could represent the unanimity of all member states in security issues. The CFSP requires the EU to declare the collective agreement of all Member States as the single security policy of Europe and the High Representative, in partnership with the President of the European Council is the personal symbol of the collective voice of the EU. The High Representative also coordinates the work of European Union Special Representatives, and is the head of the European Defence Agency and the Western European Union. To support the work of the new role of the EU as a security actor there is within the European Council the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) and the Political and Security Committee (PSC). These help the EU monitor the security policies and assist in their implementation (Brandao, 2010).

Nevertheless, for the EU to be recognised as a strong and independent security actor it needed the physical capabilities and resources to represent itself not as an institution made up of member states own separate armed forces but as an actor with a 'European' army and forces that could be collectively known as the EU's services. The European Council clearly expressed this need when it declared that after the problems of the Kosovo war in 1999, "the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and the readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises without prejudice to actions by NATO."(Council declaration of 8 December 2008 on the enhancement of the capabilities of the European Security and Defence Policy). Following the Helsinki Headline process, the EU Battlegroups initiative was established and the EU could now deploy when required a special force of up to 60,000 troops deployable within 60 days for peacekeeping missions. With the PSC they could react quickly and effectively to crisis management operations.

The EU Security Strategy has three "strategic objectives" which Andersson (2003, p.4) lists as 'the first objective for the European Union is to extend the "Zone of Security" around Europe to the East, to the South and beyond. The second objective is to strengthen the international order by developing and supporting an effective multilateral system with well-functioning international institutions. The third objective for the European Union is to be prepared to counter new dynamic threats before a crisis occurs'. In order to develop the capabilities as a powerful security actor and fulfill its objectives the EU has become 'a significant and increasingly autonomous security actor' which is 'successful in creating and consolidating an extensive security community' (Brandao, 2010, p.8-9). The depth of capability of the EU as a security actor is explained by Brandao, 2010, p.11-12) by the extent to which the Union can act as a cohesive force and list its potential areas of operations and action as:

  • geographic enlargement and diversification of the type of operations/missions (military, civilian and mixed), and the enlargement of civilian missions to new areas;
  • coordination of the civilian and military means at the service of the ESDP, with the EU being a laboratory in this area nowadays;
  • diversification of the type of forces (Battlegroup, 2004);
  • de facto expansion of the ESDP's agenda - cooperation on armament within the EDA;
  • reform of the security sector in contexts of reconstruction and stabilisation according to the principles of good governance and human rights;
  • human rights (protection of women and children in conflict situations);
  • space;
  • energy security (infra-structure security);
  • Counter-terrorism.
  • Haine (2004, p.8) notes that the EU has though the ' ESDP... changed its dimension. From a tool of crisis-management in the Balkans, it has become a necessary device to enhance Europe's role in the world'.

    However, although the EU has enhanced its role as a security actor, the Union is still restricted by a number of factors that still provide restrictions to its ability to be fully effective as the security actor for all the member states interests. These can be listed as:

  • Legal weakness and complexity of the EU decision-making process;
  • Deficit of democratic and judicial control at EU level;
  • Slow development of cooperation between EU agencies;
  • Delays in the transposition of EU instruments at national level;
  • Insufficient role of the European Parliament in certain policy areas, a limited jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and a limited competence of Commission to bring infringement, and the requirement for unanimity for decision-making (European Parliament 2009);
  • Frictions and strains among Member States;
  • Proclamation-implementation gap (Apap and Carrera 2004; Brandao, 2010; Keohane, 2005)

Some of these difficulties have been shown to be a problem in the Iraq War where the EU has been accused of failing to develop a 'common policy' and the CFSP of being inefficient. Brian Crowe notes however that 'any attempt to forge a common EU position in Iraq would be more damaging than helpful to a still fragile CFSP which was real progress in other areas, notably the Balkans and even the Middle East,' (2003, p.535)

Thus, it would be wrong to say the EU or its CFSP failed over the Iraq war. The Iraq war has been a problem that does not lend a specific role to the EU and the war can be seen (by Crowe, 2003) as simply too tough a test for an EU still in its first stages of building its effectiveness as a security actor. Despite its problems the EU must still be seen as a security actor with the potential for it to act as the main representative of security and defence interests of all its member states. As (Kirchner and Sperling, 2007, p.20) declare: 'While the role of individual EU member states remains critical and many states exercise considerable freedom of action outside the EU on security matters ... the EU nonetheless remains the aspiration and focus of efforts to meet jointly the tasks of security governance that cannot be net alone or only met poorly by any individual states. Moreover, the EU serves as an autonomous security actor as well as a clearing station for member state efforts to cope with the array of security challenges'.

The basis of European Security Strategy is the Policy 'A Secure Europe in a Better World' and the European Council Document (EN) gives clear reasons why the EU should be seen as a powerful security actor as the Union's security policy is now more active in pursuing strategic objects as it has the 'full spectrum of instruments for crisis management and conflict prevention' at their disposal', including political, diplomatic, military and civilian, trade and development capabilities. With a vast budget now available to the EU security strategy it has the capability to conduct several operations simultaneously using both military and civilian capabilities. It is more capable as it has flexible mobile forces, using 'pooled and shared assets' that can carry out complex military interventions supported by the diplomatic might of all member states, and the pooled intelligence services of all members agencies. It is more coherent as the ESDP and the CFSP brings greater levels of cooperation between the EU Members.

However, the EU still faces many challenges to expanding further its security actor role and in Herz's (2009, p.2) analysis of the EU's own political reference units set up to assess the progress of the Union's security and defence policies, those challenges are listed as:

  • Knowledge exploitation - improving intelligence, information and analysis at all levels, and developing appropriate forms of network-enabled capability;
  • Interoperability - preferably through greater commonality of equipment and systems, and shared or pooled capability;
  • The manpower balance - finding ways to enable greater investment by cutting manpower numbers and costs, whilst providing for "boots on the ground";
  • Rapid acquisition - in particular quicker exploitation of new technology
  • Industrial policy - averting a steady contraction and decline of the European defence industry by increasing investment;
  • consolidating the European technological and industrial base;
  • harnessing Europe's full potential;
  • targeting what we want to preserve or develop;
  • Flexibility for the unforeseen - recognising the limitations to how far we can penetrate the fog of the future.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges to the development of the security actor role of the EU it is clear they can be assessed as an important and powerful actor in the global strategic arena with universal recognition as a 'player' in the international arena and recognition that it is developing the ability to act as a single representative of all its member states interests. The modern world includes a variety of security challenges to the member states including climate change, the threat of terrorism, conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, international crime and environmental threats. Its ability to be recognised by others as a security actor is enhanced by its new military capabilities and institutions that bring coherence and power to its policies. The European Union is a powerful international security organisation with the potential to become the leading power in the global security environment


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