Over recent months there have been several – often well-argued and highly-considered – calls for a new European Security Strategy to be drafted. The argument is put that the European Security Strategy of 2003, now almost a decade old, is outdated and requires redrafting so as to better reflect the new security environment of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
This may come as a surprise to those who regularly read European Geostrategy, but I do not entirely agree with this view, no matter how well-intended it might be. This is why:
- In many respects, both the European Security Strategy and the Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy of 2008 remain as relevant – and in some respects, more relevant – than they did when they were written. The threats identified in both have not changed; if anything, they have grown worse. The Russian invasion of Georgia and the uprisings in the Middle East have increased the number of disorderly and failed states in the neighbourhood around the European Union; Islamist extremism is still alive and kicking; piracy has expanded; and nuclear proliferation continues to be a major concern, particularly in Iran’s case.
- Many of the strategic recommendations in the 2003 and 2008 documents have still not been adopted or implemented. As such, they are still entirely relevant. The European Union – even after the Treaty of Lisbon and the formation of the External Action Service – has still to become ‘more active, more coherent and more capable.’ Equally, it has still to forge a strategic culture that accepts the need for British-French style ‘offensive defence’, rather than the unworldly terrestrial defence concept that haunts many other Member States and does not intersect well with the threats Europeans now face.
- I fear that with the seeming indifference to the European Union from the coalition government in London; the rise of a socialist government in Paris committed to substantial reductions in military spending; and the stubborn persistence of naïve ‘civilian power’ thinking in Berlin; as well as inward-focused governments in Italy and Spain, any drive to create a potent new security strategy for the European Union will be significantly watered down. If the 2003 edition was quite vague in places (it had to be to accommodate the various demands and perspectives), any updated version is likely to end up as a total washout – particularly when the current High Representative seems so intent on transforming the European Union into an international social worker instead of a great power with global political and military reach.
- A new security strategy would lead to another round of alarming ‘securitisation’ – potentially of issues that should not even be securitised. To begin with, unlike during the Cold War – or the Second World War before it – which were won by the United Kingdom and United States without national security strategies, many Western countries seem subsequently to have become obsessed with ‘formalising’ their security policy (even though the threats are less acute). The first national security strategy was not written until 1987 in the United States, when the threat of existential war had largely passed. Since then, most national security strategies (especially in Europe) have become reactive and/or have failed completely to prioritise accurately the threats their respective national communities have faced (they have remained so broad that almost every issue has become one kind of threat or another). Further, the drafting of such strategies has allowed all sorts of special interest groups to incarnate their own beliefs and agendas into national security, often to the detriment of the national interest, carefully conceived.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, security should not be elevated to an exemplary level. While it was perhaps inevitable that security would be placed on a special pedestal in the health-and-safety obsessed democracies of the West, security is and will always remain a second-tier issue. As any good strategist knows, it is impossible to achieve perfect security; to try would be a dangerously self-defeating exercise, which would lead to all sorts of over-reactions and cul-de-sacs (like ‘nation-building’ in Afghanistan). What every good strategist also knows is that what comes first is not security but power – power in all its forms, whether cultural, ideological, political, economic, industrial, financial, geographic or military. Without power, security is impossible: power = security.
And this brings us to the crux of the problem: Europeans do not like to think about power. For most Europeans, power is associated with struggle, conflict and war – and thus, with being human. Instead, many Europeans prefer to think themselves above power and strategy, even above being human (insofar as Europeans think of themselves as actually being ‘human’, they have an idealised, even utopian, vision of what being human actually means). This leads them to engage in fantasies over the character of international relations, whereby they develop an ongoing smorgasbord of well-meaning but nevertheless fluffy new concepts like ‘normative power’, ‘effective multilateralism’, ‘inter-polarity’ and – to use the title of the latest paper from the European Union Institute for Security Studies – ‘Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World’ (which is Orwellian doublespeak if ever there was any!).
How can this be changed? Frankly, I am not sure if it can be. But logically, Europeans must realise that the world will continue – should China, India, Turkey, Russia and co. continue to surge (or re-emerge) – to become progressively and determinedly more multipolar, much like early twentieth century Europe after the collapse of British primacy. Then, as increasingly, now, several great powers fiercely protected their interests and competed aggressively to influence not only one another, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the smaller countries in between them. What will matter in this world is the ability to exercise power – power understood not so much as the ability to make other people do things that they might not otherwise want to do (although that is important), but rather as the ability to prevent people from thinking things that they might otherwise be encouraged to think through strategies of disaggregation. It means that Europeans must come to understand – as they did in the past – that the world is not heading towards a liberal conclusion based on the individual or ‘citizens’, but that it will remain a decidedly political place, centred on national ideological groups (no matter how absurd they might often appear to be).
In short, the European Union – and particularly its civil society, both at the European and Member State levels – must engage in a detailed re-examination not so much of how to achieve security, but rather how to undertake political geostrategy, i.e. how we as Europeans might better exercise power over subject areas that are of particular importance to us and our allies. Of course, this includes thinking much harder about how we can resist and combat foreign powers’ own political geostrategic advances, which will become ever more resourceful if those powers continue to grow in relative mass and velocity, even more so if they adopt missionary foreign policies that are incompatible with our own (which they surely will). Consequentially, rather than a new European security strategy, replacing or complementing the European Union Institute for Security Studies with a ‘European Union Institute for Strategic Studies’, which is well-led, considerably larger, better connected with civil society, and stationed and integrated in Brussels, might be a better idea. And the formation of a ‘European Strategic Council’ – integrated with the leading European strategic think tanks and policy institutions, strategists in universities, and, critically, the foreign and defence parliamentary committees, both in Brussels and the capitals of the Member States – might be another.