Friday, April 25, 2014
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Insecure Europe

MADRID – For the last five years, Europe has been shaken by financial and economic convulsions that have wreaked havoc on many of its citizens’ livelihoods. The good news is that progress is finally being made in redeveloping the European Union’s economic and monetary architecture, which should help to bring about a return to growth. But EU leaders’ focus on internal problems has caused them largely to neglect external policies, particularly in the area of security. As 2014 begins, economic insecurity is giving way to worries about the EU’s strategic position.

There were expectations that the European Council’s December meeting would signal a return to a more outward-looking approach, especially on security matters. Unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed. Indeed, the disparate assortment of initiatives that were agreed at the meeting, though interesting, lack the needed breadth and scope, and will have to be integrated within a weak and outdated strategic framework.

The flawed nature of the current European Security Strategy – drafted in 2003, with a token revision in 2008 – reflects the circumstances surrounding its conception. The ESS was developed in the aftermath of the Iraq war, amid heated debate over a proposed European constitution, in a hasty and reactive process hijacked by those who sought to position Europe as a counterweight – or even a rival power – to the United States.

Making matters worse, the geopolitical environment has changed fundamentally in the decade since the ESS was ratified, owing to economic rebalancing toward Asia, the upheavals in the Arab world, the revival of Russian assertiveness, and the rise of isolationist tendencies in the US. As a result, the ESS does not capture the reality of today’s world – a fact that is obvious from its opening declaration that “Europe has never been so prosperous.”

To be sure, the ESS’s three basic tenets – development assistance, soft power, and effective multilateralism – remain important. But Europe’s leaders must reconceive these concepts in light of today’s challenges.

In terms of development, Europe must move away from the idea that aid should be used to bolster trade linkages and acknowledge the importance of foreign investment. In fact, net private capital flows to developing countries now outweigh official development assistance by nearly ten to one worldwide.

As the world’s second-largest source of foreign direct investment, the EU wields considerable influence, with European investors bringing credibility to projects and regions, thereby serving to attract further investment. For example, Morocco’s Ouarzazate Solar Power Plant and its Drinking Water Efficiency Program were launched with €37 million ($50.6 million) from the EU’s Neighborhood Investment Facility; these projects subsequently gained additional funding totaling more than €600 million.

The ESS’s emphasis on soft power is also in urgent need of reassessment. The upsurge of protest across the Arab world raised expectations among Europeans that these countries would, to some extent, emulate Western institutions, values, and norms. But, while that did not occur, European principles certainly have not lost their allure, as recent protests in Ukraine, triggered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to shun closer ties with Europe, have shown.

Nonetheless, the ESS’s soft-power vision should not be allowed to obscure the security challenges that Europe faces. With the rise of non-traditional threats, Europeans are increasingly overlooking classical security risks like inter-state warfare, believing that they are no longer relevant – a notion that is reflected in the ESS. But, as China’s increasingly assertive stance in the South and East China Seas starkly demonstrates, this idea is not only wrong; it can be very dangerous.

This brings us to the ESS’s third tenet: advancing “the development of a stronger international society, well-functioning international institutions, and a rule-based international order.” In this case, the problem comes down to a lack of commitment, with the EU choosing the convenience of informal and ad hoc groupings over the challenge of reforming key institutions like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which are essential for effective multilateralism.

Indeed, the EU is among the leading actors in the current “G” fad, which has culminated most recently in the G-20. And, despite being an embodiment of international law, the EU indulges in soft-law approaches, whether at the recent COP-19 climate-change meeting in Warsaw, or by supporting the “Geneva agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program, which, it is now clear, is nothing more than two aspirational declarations linked by a press release.

In developing its new security strategy, Europe must consider America’s role as an essential component of the geopolitical environment, viewing the US not as a foil, but as a nuanced partner. Beyond NATO, which remains important even at a low ebb, the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership offers a potent opportunity to shape a rule-based international order.

The shine may have come off the EU, but the gripping scenes from Kyiv’s Maidan Square are a powerful reminder of the enduring appeal of Europe’s core values. What the EU needs now is an updated external strategy that capitalizes on this allure to bolster its influence, security, and prosperity, thereby halting its slide toward irrelevance.

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  1. Portrait of Ana Palacio

    CommentedAna Palacio

    Many thanks for your comments. Zsolt, I agree with your assessment that we are seeing a general lack of strategic initiative, particularly in the West. In the next couple of months, the United States will release a new National Security Strategy which at least offers the opportunity to reinsert vision and boldness into the strategic conversation. As for Europe, yes, it could serve as a broader model, but here what is needed, both in generating internal support and sending a message externally, is to craft a compelling narrative about why we have the EU. In the midst of a sluggish economic rebound and without prosperity to fall back on, Brussels has had a hard time making that case.

    Hari, of course American Exceptionalism has always been an element of US-EU relations. The surveillance revelations were certainly damaging, but they should not overshadow the broader point which is that Europe and the United States need each other. The United States needs Europe to be more of an active partner taking greater responsibility over its neighborhood. Europe still needs the United States in terms of security. And we need each other to maintain our voice with regard to global norms and values. This relationship is clearest in terms of trade and investment where the transatlantic economy still comprises a critical mass that can set global standards. To turn our back on a longstanding partnership which offers Europe the opportunity to project our voice and beliefs on account of the Snowden revelation would be myopic

  2. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    In truth it is not only Europe but the whole global world is insecure.
    Our society has become totally defensive and paranoid, today even the US avoids making "bold" steps, avoid committing themselves into anything clear, determined, everybody tries the "soft" approach which is basically "kicking the can" down the road instead of tackling the problems.
    Everybody tries to retreat into their own shells.
    This hesitation is good on one hand as at least we do not repeat the same mistakes we made before, trying to be the "heroes" breaking through the walls, triumphing against all odds without thinking, examining the situation first.
    On the other hand the crisis is getting deeper and it will not simply go away unless we find the root cause and solve it.
    And in this respect Europe has the best chance, since at least on paper they have a "union", a loose connection which was down upside down, trying to build a ceiling before the foundations but at least it is an attempt for connection.
    And this is crucial since in our modern, globally interconnected and interdependent human system only mutual connections, mutually complementing cooperation can solve any problems, offer us a chance for a better future.
    Europe has to grab the half-executed opportunity, the adventure they started to create a truly United European Union, providing a positive example for the other regions of the world to follow.
    Only positive, working examples, showing the right adaptation to the global, integral world can offer the necessary positive motivation for others to follow.

  3. Commentedhari naidu

    In spite of your background and experience, I've a feeling your views and analysis are myopic.

    NSA has been spying on G-20 leaders, EU Missions (NY & DC), listening to Merkel's handy...and you are asking EU to take POTUS/NSA as a *partner*! What's your definition of realpolitik? Do you really understand what *American Exceptionalism* means?

    I agree with you when EU introduced ESS - as a component of its *soft power* - there was a lot of policy contradictions in Berlymont.
    UK, for example, doesn't support ESS if it means developing an independent strategic outlook which may or may not reflect a sovereign states own strategic value and interest.
    Berlin doesn't want an independent ESS which doesn't reflect its own value-system....and so on.

    So, I'd suggest that ESS will historically evolve and reflect not only (WTO) globalization but political demand on restructuring Bretton Woods Institutions.