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Between EU and US: Reassessing security and peace-building

Transatlantic affairs / COMMENTARY
Antonio Missiroli

Date: 29/10/2008
When EU foreign ministers meet informally in Marseille on 3 November to discuss transatlantic relations, they are due to prepare a joint ‘letter’ to the new US President - to be elected five days later - setting out both what they expect of him and what he can expect of them.
It may be a bit early to frame the transatlantic agenda for the post-Bush era, especially without knowing who will be in the White House from 20 January 2009. But the usual 77-day transition between an outgoing and incoming US administration will occur at a particularly difficult time, full of urgent decisions to make and strategic ones to prepare - on the financial front (the G-20 Summit on 15 November) and in the international peace and security arena (Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iraq).
Transatlantic relations will also shortly be conditioned by a peculiar intersection of institutional cycles. In the US, a weak and battered lame-duck presidency will give way to a new one which, after a period of warming up and gradual adjustment, will soon seek to stamp its agenda and project itself in the wider world. In the EU, a phase characterised by unprecedented activism on the international scene - driven largely by the current French Presidency - will give way to one in which the EU as a whole will be much less capable of acting. The Czech Presidency will inevitably be weaker and less experienced, and the European Commission and Parliament will be nearing the end of their term and mostly preoccupied with their own transition - rendered all the more complicated by the persistent uncertainty over the Lisbon Treaty.
There is therefore a strong case for stock-taking and planning ahead, although implementation is likely to be left to new teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
For the EU, however, more compelling than a joint ‘letter’ - which risks being more about diplomatic rhetoric and generic expectations than specific demands and commitments - could be the imminent Report on the European Security Strategy (ESS) that High Representative Javier Solana will deliver at the December EU Summit.
Rather than a formal and comprehensive “review” of the 2003 ESS, this will evaluate the way(s) in which the Union has acted in international crisis management operations since then. If the ESS was essentially a top-down exercise, meant first to identify the key threats to Europe’s security and then to formulate principles and guidelines for future action, the Solana Report is expected to take a bottom-up approach, assessing the implementation of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) since 2003 and drawing lessons and recommendations for future strategy.
This is why it may prove relevant to a concrete re-launch of EU-US relations - all the more so since, last spring in Paris, then American Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland explicitly declared for the first time that the further development of ESDP was in the interest of both the US and NATO.
At this stage, very little is known about the Report’s precise contents. Academic discussions and internal diplomatic consultations have highlighted growing concern about the changing security environment, especially the practical and psychological impact of 08/08/08 - the date when the world first learnt of the conflict in Georgia and the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics took place, epitomising the new assertiveness of Russia and China and the rise of a brave new world characterised by a messy interaction between globalisation, nationalism and geopolitics – and in which the same emerging powers can be partners, competitors or adversaries depending on the issue at stake.
This said, the Report is unlikely to include an in-depth analysis of this new and rapidly evolving environment: if threats start being identified no longer in terms of ‘types’ (as in the 2003 ESS) but rather of ‘country of origin’, lingering intra-EU divisions over Russia are bound to come to the fore. The Report will probably focus on what the Union can do better in the broader arena of peace-building - arguably the most comprehensive and consensual term to encompass all the relevant activities of the EU as a whole, and the one that resounds most favourably with European citizens.
Accordingly, the Report’s emphasis should be on three main issues: coherence, coordination, and capabilities.
Are we making the most of the various international crisis management tools at our disposal? Looking at those countries where the EU has deployed different missions and programmes (military, civilian, aid) simultaneously, the end result has often been less, not more, than the sum of its parts. Rather than coherence and synergy, there have been fragmentation and confusion.
This has also happened in other situations in which different missions with distinct mandates (EU, UN, NATO) have coexisted on the ground, but is less acceptable within a single organisation.
The EU’s presence and activities have increased significantly, but now need streamlining.
In this respect, the current rigid separation between civilian and military structures, procedures, funding rules and lines of accountability (including the new instruments created by the Commission) makes ever less sense given the operational challenges confronting us.
Separated at birth, mainly to accommodate the demands of Member States that emphasised one or the other dimension of peace-building, all these bodies and norms have evolved into vertical silos that make horizontal cooperation and coordination more difficult to achieve.
Furthermore, looking at current missions, the military one in Chad has a somewhat civilian flavour (building airports and hospitals) while the civilian one in Georgia is mostly conducted by men in uniform. The ongoing discussions over the scope and size of a possible EU joint civilian-military ‘headquarters’ also highlight the continuing tension between upstream ‘theological’ approaches and downstream practical imperatives - not unlike the never-ending debates over the EU’s first and second ‘pillars’.
By the same token, the ESDP rules and procedures for the financing of military operations or the participation of third countries in EU missions have often proved, if not counterproductive, at least hardly conducive to generating more resources or participants.
There has been little codification of ESDP in the EU Treaties proper, but this has been done in excruciating detail at sub-treaty level, creating rigidities that occasionally hamper more effective, coherent and coordinated action. Changing them would not require any treaty revision, although Lisbon would certainly provide additional impetus.
Finally, everyone seems to agree on what shortfalls must be addressed in the military capabilities arena - at least judging by the White Papers and assessments delivered recently by national Ministries of Defence - but we seem to be addressing them (or not) separately from one another.
This is all the more worrying given the likely impact of the international financial crisis on national defence budgets, including funding for overseas missions. An integrated EU approach is therefore urgently needed, and would gain a lot from a more courageous and open-minded discussion in the EU Budget Mid-term Review due next year.
As for our civilian capabilities (invaluable assets for peace-building worldwide), we still lack a reliable assessment and development plan encompassing EU institutions (Council and especially Commission) and individual Member States. This, too, does not require new treaty provisions.
A better focus on what we can and will offer (and how) could make a very useful contribution both to our own understanding of the EU’s role and to reconfiguring EU-US relations post-Bush. It would also be appreciated in Washington, presenting the President-elect and his transition team with a better-defined catalogue of options for the future - and one defined autonomously by the EU, not put together hurriedly in response to American demands or unexpected crises.

Antonio Missiroli is Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre.


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