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European Defense Integration Now

MADRID – During the European Union’s recent Bratislava summit, the first to take place without a British presence, several proposals to improve European security were made. Though some may argue otherwise, discussions on improved European security are both wise and necessary: after a period of paralysis and self-doubt for the European project, the EU must face its security problems and propose unifying initiatives.

Europe’s citizens increasingly regard security as a high-priority issue and want the EU to show greater leadership. The EU’s friends and allies expect improvement in European security as well.

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Offering EU citizens security within the Union’s borders requires more stability abroad. Recent events have shown this clearly: the refugee crisis bedeviling the EU, for example, would be much easier to manage if the situation in Syria was different.

Because security at home and abroad are so interrelated, the EU should not compartmentalize its policies – an idea that is well developed in the proposed new “Global Strategy” for the Union, presented recently by High Representative Federica Mogherini.

Traditionally, nation-states have defended themselves against foreign threats through military means, while running their internal affairs according to a set of norms designed to protect their citizens’ rights. Today, military preparedness is still necessary to defend against external threats, but it is no longer sufficient. A “civilian” angle is needed as well.

All assets needed to achieve security must adapt to the reality of today’s threats and conflicts. This means that the EU’s military capacities cannot be structured in isolation, but must work side by side with its civil capabilities (police agencies, intelligence units, the courts, and even non-governmental organizations).

The capacity for a fused civil-military response to crisis must become integral to EU policy and that of its member states. The EU has already undertaken deployments that combine military and civilian capabilities. But it has always been clear that much more is needed to improve the efficacy of such actions. Indeed, the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon includes many measures along these lines, but most have not yet been implemented.

One reason for this is the distraction caused by the EU’s economic problems since 2008. But now the gravity of the refugee problem requires that humanitarian and security issues be framed within a pan-European outlook.

The division between the domestic and external capacities of EU member states simply is no longer sustainable. Fortunately, many of the capacities available to member states in their internal policies are also useful for their defense deployments.

For example, it is increasingly clear that enhancing intelligence cooperation is essential. If the EU wants to extend the reach of its security policies, it will need more resources; but, above all, existing capacities need to be used better and more cooperatively.

But such cooperation requires a strategic headquarters for all EU security-related operations, rather than maintaining the current model whereby operational centers are established on an ad hoc basis. Moreover, in order for the EU to achieve strategic autonomy, it needs a competitive European defense industry, with investment in research and development of defense technologies rising substantially as part of a common effort.

The European Defense Agency’s Capabilities Development Plan was designed precisely with these requirements in mind. Advancing this plan will enable optimized use of existing member-state resources – thereby securing advantageous economic synergies – as well as precise identification of the additional resources required to achieve our goals.

The legal basis for a mechanism for permanent, structured cooperation on security already exists, enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon. Treaty provisions enable willing EU states to reinforce their military cooperation and deploy quickly for shared missions abroad. Activating this mechanism has been part of recent discussions within the European Council and seems to be the most viable way to deepen defense integration. And an EU with security and defense as one of its pillars would boost Europe’s global weight.

Some still think that deeper defense integration may weaken other institutions, such as NATO, to which EU members belong. But the truth is that Europe’s ability to provide an effective collective response in a crisis would be welcomed by NATO (which would have more resources at its disposal) and the United Nations. Integrating EU defense, moreover, would facilitate NATO operations, so that groups of EU countries engaged in permanent structured cooperation could, for example, participate in the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s governing authority, as a single entity.

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The EU is defined not only by how it protects its own citizens, but also by what actions it takes outside its borders. Beyond ensuring that these actions are guided by international law, the EU should foster a global debate on the deficiencies of certain international norms in the face of today’s new conflicts.

Even in this era of pervasive Euroskepticism, Europe’s citizens want a more decisive EU approach to foreign and security policy, which is necessary, beneficial, and part of our duty. The EU, after all, will be defined by its actions, and peace and security are among the public goods that it must provide, both within and beyond its borders.