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Contemporary European (in)securities

While debate about European security is conceptualised by its dense institutional architecture, the question remains whether this architecture actually secures Europe. At the time of writing, the key institutions have all been put under pressure and questions are being asked about whether they are fit for purpose. In the US, President Trump has directly questioned the collective security guarantee offered by NATO to its member states, bringing into question the transatlantic security relationship (see Chapter 4). The EU’s ability to manage crises has been brought into question by the sovereign debt crisis, the refugee crisis, democratic backsliding by member states, resurgent nationalism and Brexit. Despite commitments to deeper internal security cooperation, European security has been rocked by repeated terrorism attacks (see Chapter 7). Meanwhile, a more aggressive Russia is creating insecurity in its neighbouring states by its interventions in both Ukraine and Georgia. This, in turn, seems to threaten the pan-European cooperation embodied by the OSCE (see Chapter 5). If the eastern neighbourhood feels threatening, Europe’s southern neighbourhood is in open military conflict, destabilising many of Europe’s neighbours (see Chapter 10).

In short, the threats to European security are multi-faceted and complex. Nor can they be simply be solved by military responses. As a result, whereas during the Cold War, security was something largely confined to ministries of defence, now multiple ministries are involved, making cooperation ever more complex. These threats also raise difficult questions for liberal democracies about the correct balance between civil liberties and security (see Chapter 7). Europe’s security institutions are struggling to innovate in response to such wide-ranging and often hybrid threats. Security spending has not been a priority in recent decades and militaries have struggled to adapt and modernise (see Chapter 11). Frequently, they seem too immersed in their own institutional challenges. While concepts like women, peace and security (Chapter 9) and human security (Chapter 8) have been attractive to the institutions as they seek new narratives to explain their rationale, often they have not been able to meet these challenging objectives. At the same time, advances in military technology and the changing nature of warfare have demanded modernisation of both national armed forces and the European-level institutions that foster security cooperation.

In short, the current period seems to mark an end to the optimism embodied in the 1990s that European security was a question of the past. Rather as this book aims to do, we need to reconceptualise what security now means to European institutions, states and Europeans themselves. The challenges facing contemporary Europe are ones that force citizens, states and institutions to question what they understand security to mean, what the legitimate means to respond might be and why particular challenges are leading to feelings of insecurity, when previously they had not (Kinnvall et al., 2018).

Structure of the book

In order to address the key overarching themes in European security, this textbook looks at three research areas. The first, on framing European security, provides the historical and theoretical foundations to the book. Following on from this introductory chapter, the second chapter by Laura Chappell and Jocelyn Mawdsley introduces the reader to contemporary European security through a temporal review of key security innovations and events from the post-war settlement, through the Cold War and into the post Cold War period. Chapter 3, by André Barrinha and Sarah da Mota, provides an overview of the main theoretical approaches from the traditional realist and liberalist theories, to the constructivist turn in international relations and then to critical security studies. Hence, the chapter lays the foundation for a continual conceptual and theoretical conversation throughout the remaining part of the book.

The second area, on institutions of European security reviews the three primary security institutions in Europe: NATO, the OSCE and the EU. Chapter 4, byJames Sperling, underscores the changing role of NATO from the Cold War to the present day and includes discussions on NATO’s purpose, strategy and operations. Chapter 5, by David J. Galbreath, looks at the OSCE, which is particularly interesting for students of security given its focus on ‘common and comprehensive security’. It highlights the changing functions of the OSCE and provides an overview of its missions as well as an emphasis on more recent political tensions. Chapter 6, by Laura Chappell and David J. Galbreath, analyses the increasing importance of security for the EU, focusing on the creation and development of the CSDP. It encompasses the key political and institutional innovations, underscoring the ongoing discussions on the role of the EU in defence as well as highlighting some of the main military operations and civilian missions.

The final area, on issues of European security, covers a range of important themes. We begin by introducing the challenges posed by soft security questions deliberately, because they have the most impact on the day-to-day lives of Europeans. Chapter 6 moves on to a discussion on resilience as a replacement, less interventionist concept in EU policy. The chapter by Raphael Bossong and Hendrik Hegemann looks at the ways in which internal security has become a matter for great concern for European societies and their security institutions and builds on the idea of securitisation. Topic areas include counter-terrorism, border control and the refugee crisis with a corresponding discussion on the trade-offs between privacy, civil rights and security. Chapter 8, by Jocelyn Mawdsley, expands the traditional discussion of European security to human security. It covers the introduction of the topic and explores how disillusionment has set in following the undermining of R2P in Afghanistan and Iraq. Broadening the scope beyond the military as traditionally conceived, Chapter 9, by Katharine A. M. Wright, underscores the importance of gender to European security. It compares and contrasts the gendered composition of two European security institutions, NATO and the EU’s CSDP. In so doing, the chapter explores the role of structure, practice and performance in gendering European security and includes contemporary developments, particularly by introducing the Women, Peace and Security agenda encapsulated in UNSCR 1325.

The book then moves on to hard security questions. Chapter 10, by Peter Viggo Jakobsen, outlines the fundamental threats to Europe, highlighting ‘the ring of fire’ encompassing Europe from Russia through to the MENA region. The chapter examines European security institutions’ responses and asks whether these new threats have empowered or undermined particular institutions. Chapter 11, by Simon J. Smith, examines the various ways defence forces in Europe have innovated to accommodate having to do more with fewer resources. It provides an insight into the varied and particular approaches to innovation that European militaries have incorporated to meet their material, ideational and operational challenges. The final chapter, by Laura Chappell, Jocelyn Mawdsley and David J. Galbreath, acts as a review of the key contributions within the chapters and sets out implications for the politics within the European security architecture. This includes what this means for how Europe might maintain regional peace and security.

Further reading

Galbreath, David J. (2007), The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Abingdon: Routledge.

Howorth, Jolyon (2014), Security and Defence Policy in the European Union. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Manners, Ian, and Murray, Philomena (2016), 'The End of a Noble Narrative? European Integration Narratives after the Nobel Peace Prize’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 54 (1), 185-202.

Webber, Mark, and Hyde-Price, .Adrian (eds) (2015), Theorising NATO: New Perspectives on the Atlantic Alliance. London: Routledge.


European Union:

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Organization for Security and Co-operation:

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:


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Ringsmose, Jens, and Rynning, Sten (2017), ‘Now for the Hard Part: NATO’s Strategic Adaptation to Russia’, Survival, 59 (3), 129-146.

Schimmelfennig, Frank (2003), The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetoric. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, Simon J. (2011), ‘EU-NATO Cooperation: A Case of Institutional Fatigue?’, European Security, 20 (2), 243-264.

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