Egmont Institute logo

A strategy for CSDP. Europe’s ambitions as a global security provider

Post thumbnail print


The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty constitutes an important juncture for the EU, which merits a strategic reflection about the objectives and priorities of CSDP. When and where should the EU contribute, or even take the lead, in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and crisis management, with its full range of diplomatic, civilian and military instruments? That ought to be determined by a more complete European Security Strategy (ESS) – the grand strategy – that outlines the EU’s fundamental objective and its vital interests, by the foreign policy priorities flowing from that grand strategy, and by the EU’s specific interests and objectives vis-à-vis an issue or region. On this point, EU strategic thinking is the least explicit. While there are many strategic documents elaborating on various dimensions of the ESS – e.g. on the Neighbourhood, on Africa, on WMD, on terrorism – there is no specific strategy for CSDP. Hence there is a missing link between the vague yet ambitious goal expressed in the ESS – “to share in the responsibility for global security” – and the practice of CSDP operations and capability development. Because the overall goal of the ESS has not been translated into clear objectives and priorities, CSDP to some extent operates in a strategic void. The guidance that does exist, offers only some elements of strategy: it concerns form rather than substance. The Petersberg Tasks give an indication of the types of operations that the EU can undertake, and the Headline Goal of the scale of the capabilities that Member States are willing to commit – but that does not tell us when and where the EU needs to intervene. Furthermore, as we shall see, even about the types of operations and the scale of the effort, some ambiguities are consciously kept alive by certain actors. Until now CSDP has thus been a bottom-up undertaking, the capabilities being developed and the operations undertaken gradually generating indications of what might evolve into a strategy, rather than being guided by a strategy. A more explicit security and defence strategy is now required to give more direction to CSDP. Otherwise Member States cannot ensure that scarce resources and limited capabilities are consistently focussed on commonly identified priorities. In any case there are, sadly, too many conflicts and crises for the EU to deal effectively with all of them, especially in a leading role. Therefore, as the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the ESS states, “We need to prioritise our commitments, in line with resources”. This holds especially true at a time when as a consequence of the economic and financial crisis defence budgets across Europe are under severe pressure and every Euro spent on defence must – rightly – be justified to taxpayers. The reverse is also true, however: if it wants to remain credible, the EU must commit the necessary resources, in line with its priorities and ambitions. Three dimensions must thus be considered in any CSDP-strategy: priorities and objectives, the types of operations that can potentially be undertaken to meet those, and the capabilities to be committed to that end. In this Egmont Paper, we will argue that the building-blocks are already available – it remains for the EU to construct the edifice. We are grateful to the many colleagues, practitioners as well as academics, who inspired us, and wish in particular to thank the following colleagues for their insights and comments on the first draft: Bastian Giegerich (Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut der Bundeswehr), Alexandra Jonas (Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut der Bundeswehr), Alexander Mattelaer (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Thomas Renard (Egmont), James Rogers (University of Cambridge), Luis Simón (Royal Holloway University), and Nicolai von Ondarza (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik). A fine team of architects indeed.
(Photo credit: European Council, © European Union 2004-2014)