Source : Ideas On Europe - Geostrategy
18 Aug. 2009

Time for a European Union grand strategy

13:26, 18 August 2009

By Sven Biscop


One may not be aware of it, but in its 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS) the E.U. has a grand strategy – but only a partial one. Grand strategy is about the long-term overall foreign policy objectives to be achieved and the basic categories of instruments to be applied to that end. It serves as a reference framework for day-to-day policy-making and guides the definition of the means – i.e. the civilian and military capabilities – to be developed. By  nature, grand strategy has a broad scope, integrating all external policies, so in E.U. terms not just ESDP or even CFSP, but all relevant Community policies as well.

The ESS does part of this: starting from an analysis of the global environment, it outlines a holistic approach, putting to use in an integrated way the full range of instruments for external action, through partnerships and multilateral institutions, for a permanent policy of prevention and stabilisation. This is an important strategic choice, but it mostly tells us how to do things – the ESS is much vaguer on what to do, on our objectives. Of course, to be put into action a grand strategy must be translated into sub-strategies and policies, but the ESS has proved too broad, and Member States too hesitant to act upon it, to generate clear priorities.

A fully-fledged revision of the ESS is in order, to arrive at an effective grand strategy. The reasons are manifold.

When the December 2007 European Council mandated High Representative Javier Solana ‘to examine the implementation of the Strategy with a view to proposing elements on how to improve the implementation and, as appropriate, elements to complement it’, great expectations were raised. But the outcome was disappointing. The December 2008 European Council duly adopted a Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy – Providing Security in a Changing World, deciding to leave the ESS itself untouched. This might have been acceptable, if the Report had offered concrete recommendations to improve implementation – but it did not, although recognising that ‘despite all that has been achieved, implementation of the ESS remains work in progress’. Even though partly an issue of expectations management, in the eyes of many this outcome has once again confirmed the image of a hesitant and reactive E.U., uncertain of its role on the world stage, internally divided and riddled by institutional blockages. The Report therefore cannot now be the end of the process – it must be the start of a true strategic review. Even if a full review was felt to be unnecessary in 2008, or if the timing – before ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon – was not ideal, now that it has been undertaken, it must now be brought to a good end.

The eventual entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon is another argument in favour of a review, so as to incorporate its innovations in the field of foreign and security policy. It should also be clear where the institutional ownership of a grand strategy lies and who is responsible for its implementation, an issue on which the ESS remains silent.

The negative perception of the strength of E.U. strategic thinking comes at an especially bad moment because it coincides with NATO’s decision, at its sixtieth anniversary summit in Strasbourg-Kehl on 4th April 2009, to develop a new Strategic Concept. In practice, NATO has lost its centrality: no longer the forum where Europeans and Americans discuss global challenges, the political centre of gravity has shifted to what are the Alliance’s two ‘pillars’, and to direct discussions between them – the E.U. and the U.S.

The Obama administration will certainly come to the NATO debate with a clear sense of what it wants, informed by a new National Security Strategy. If the E.U. as well arrives at the table with a revised grand strategy, Europeans have a unique chance to influence the debate: if each pillar within the Alliance first defines its own priorities, where they meet a truly shared NATO strategy can emerge. That NATO’s Strategic Concept is a function of E.U. and U.S. strategy ought to be self-evident, as the former concerns only the military dimension of the comprehensive scope of both of the latter – just like the U.S. would never contemplate having NATO’s military strategy determine its grand strategy, neither should the E.U. If however European allies join the debate continuing to pretend that the E.U. does not exist, the result can only be a one-sided Strategic Concept, which not reflecting a true consensus cannot be expected to generate forceful action either.

Recent events have shown that in some cases NATO, for political reasons, is not suitable as a framework for action either: deployment under the NATO flag was not an option in Lebanon in 2006 – although the E.U. eventually decided to reinforce UNIFIL rather than launch an ESDP operation; in the Georgian crisis of summer 2008, NATO was part of the problem rather than the solution, leaving the E.U. as the only available mediator, in the absence of strong U.S. leadership; and even in the anti-piracy operations off Somalia starting end 2008 it has proved much more difficult for NATO than for the E.U. to interact with the countries of the region. This is not to say that NATO will never be the best option in a specific situation, but it proves that more leadership will – rightly – be expected from the E.U., notably by the U.S., especially with regard to its neighbourhood and beyond. And leadership requires strategy.

Current E.U. strategic thinking does not seem up to that level of proactive engagement, which is all the more evident by contrasting it with the much more purposive action of other global powers, notably the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). That is not to say that they are always successful in achieving their objectives – but at least they appear to have a clear idea of what their objectives are. Most of them do not regard the E.U. as a strategic actor, and are adept at playing off one Member State against the other, as the E.U. is only too good at ‘divide and rule’: by dividing itself, others rule. Even in the economic field the E.U. undermines itself. Every analysis points in the same direction: large, strategic players will dominate the future. If they want to safeguard their interests, Europeans have no choice but to act as a large, strategic player themselves, i.e. to act collectively and with a clear sense of purpose.

The E.U. has arrived at a stage where its own further development without strategy appears difficult. European integration has always been an open-ended process, into which policy fields were incorporated in a mostly ad hoc fashion, but that approach has reached it limits. Enlargement has reached the point where major strategic choices have to be made, for the accession of Turkey or Ukraine would substantially change the strategic picture. The difficulties surrounding first the Constitutional Treaty and then the Treaty of Lisbon, and the resulting institutional standstill, demonstrate the need for a new project, for a new narrative. A grand strategy is an essential part of that.

• Credit to the University of North Carolina for picture.