In an article recently published in the International Spectator, I considered the implications of the United States’ pivot to Asia; growing unrest in the broader Middle East; and the European financial and political crisis’ impact on the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy. I argued that the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy are, respectively, grounded in ‘effective multilateralism’ and soft ‘crisis management’. Without prejudicing the value of international legitimacy, Brussels’ obsession with ‘multilateralism’ and its circumscription to ‘crisis management’ (a concept developed during the 1990s under the very cover of the United Nations) give the Common Security and Defence Policy a technical and legalistic flavour, making it almost ‘post-political’. The incessant quest for catch-all, please-all, self-evident slogans – such as ‘there is no security without development and no development without security’, ‘security needs to be tackled comprehensively’ or the ‘internal and external dimensions of security are inseparable’ – only reinforce this ‘post-political’ discourse.
Insofar as this sort of ‘post-political’ discourse ever made strategic sense (i.e., offer Europeans political cover as they free ride on the United States), it was only so long as the Americans played critical deterrent and preventive functions in the wider European neighbourhood. However, financial and political strain in Washington and the Asian pivot mean that the deterrent and preventive value of the United States’ military power in and around Europe is losing much of its credibility. The reductions in American military assets in Europe; Washington’s absent-minded attitude towards the Georgia crisis; and its distinctively cautious approach towards Libya, Syria or Iran speak for themselves.
As the Indo-Pacific zone demands more American attention, Washington does not want to get embroiled in the European neighbourhood. This creates a crisis of strategic leadership: this is the real driving factor behind the recent instability in the southern space. If they are to offer an alternative, Europeans will have to ditch their ‘post-political’ discourse and embrace the role hitherto played by the United States and the Atlantic Alliance. This will entail taking the Common Security and Defence Policy beyond ‘crisis management’ to encompass other functions commonly associated with the military instrument, that is to say, knowledge and anticipation as well as prevention and deterrence – not least through a permanent and forward European political presence in the wider neighbourhood.