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European Union


The basis of the European Union (EU) was a path towards ‘ever closer union’ (Maastricht Treaty, 1992, p. 7). Yet, the EU’s route towards a security and defence institution was not straight or even predictable. The EU (or European Community as it was then) having a defence capability during the Cold War would have been quite unthinkable. This was left to NATO, which would provide the guarantee of defence against any threat to (Western) Europe through the means of nuclear deterrence. However, the Cold War did not remain a constant and NATO as a collective defence organisation was unable to bring Europe together and provide it with a post Cold War defence and security identity. As we shall see in this chapter, the EU has evolved into a security provider, having performed military operations and civilian missions in many parts of the world in addition to creating security strategies and policy initiatives.

The chapter looks at the EU and its role in security, specifically focused on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The first section looks at how the EU as a security and defence actor has been conceptualised. This connects to ongoing debates about what type of power the EU utilises in the international system and whether the EU has any form of grand strategy or strategic culture. The second section looks at the rise of security as an EU relevant issue area. Thus, it examines the formulation and initial development of CSDP, paying particular attention to the institutions that have been created within the EU in order to give it strategic direction. The final section looks at CSDP missions, operations and policy initiatives in the context of new challenges.

Analysing the EU as a security and defence actor

In order to understand the EU as a security actor we must have an idea as to what the EU looks like in terms of power projection, which interconnects with the strategy that the EU is able and willing to pursue (Chappell, Mawdsley, and Petrov, 2016). The underlying question for scholars was: what sort of actor is the EU? The question was set against an understanding that it was unlike other traditional powers (e.g., the USA) because its power was not based on military might. Prior to the initiation of CSDP, the EU had no collective military capabilities on which to rely. Thus, if power was going to be separated from military might, where did this leave the EU as an international actor?

The debate about what sort of power the EU is in international relations began in the early 1970s. The first conceptual label used in relation to Europe (although not necessarily the EC as it was then) was that of ‘civilian power’ (Duchene, 1972). Duchene argued that Europe’s focus on cooperation and collective action through the rule of law was a force for change in international relations. Bull (1982), on the contrary, argued that without military might to accompany ‘civilian power’, Europe was not a power at all. This rather delayed debate between Duchene and Bull set the ground for later discussions and conceptualisations about Europe as a power and security provider and particularly to what degree hard power is related to security. Let us take a broad division between scholars of the EU as a power. The first is the traditional, neorealist, concept of the ‘rights of power’ (Falk, 2008). That is, there is an assumption that rights are given (and taken away) through the application of hard power; hence, security comes via military power. The alternative view, best encapsulated in Manners’ (2002) original conceptualisation of‘Normative Power Europe’ (NPE), focuses on the ‘power of rights’ (Falk, 2008). In other words, by increasing the empowerment of individuals and communities, power is (re-)distributed. Hence, in relation to our discussion, security comes via rights.

In the literature, these two different approaches to power and rights proscribe a different type of EU as a security provider. The ‘rights of power’ argument underlines the traditional forms of power through ‘hard’ means (i.e., the military). Although neorealist explanations of international relations traditionally focus on the state rather than on regional organisations, neorealist analysis has been applied to CSDP to argue that the EU is (soft) balancing the USA (Jones, 2007; Posen, 2006). Hence, the EU Member States are using CSDP to ensure the EU is less reliant on the US and to build up its military power (see Posen, 2006). This argument has been criticised by Howorth and Menon (2009), who contend that this misunderstands the rationale behind CSDP (to answer the USA’s burden sharing calls) and the actualities of the policy in which the EU has deployed a far greater number of civilian missions than military operations.

More recently, Hyde-Price (2012, p. 34) has applied a neorealist argument to explain the development of CSDP ‘as the response of EU member states to the uncertainties of US security policy in the context of global unipolarity’ in which it ‘establishes an institutional and procedural framework for limited security co-operation in order to collectively shape the Union’s external milieu, using military coercion to back up its diplomacy’. This reflects a failure of civilian power, thus concurring with the argument made by Bull in the 1980s as presented above.

The ‘rights to power' argument is furthered by a call for grand strategy (Biscop, 2009). Traditionally, strategy, as a concept, implies the connection of military means with political ends (see Chappell et al., 2016, pp. 3-4). Grand strategy broadens this to incorporate the full range of instruments to fulfil policy aims (Chappell et al., 2016, p. 4; Liddell Hart, 1967). In an EU context, a grand strategy will set out the EU’s vision of opportunities and risks in the international system and how it will go about trying to respond to them (similar to the US National Security Strategies). Especially in a time of limited resources, one might argue that it is important for the EU (and, thus, its member states) to agree what it takes seriously and what it may focus on as priorities. However, as will be demonstrated below, the EU has yet to create a ‘grand’ strategy which produces a hierarchy of threats and policy aims, although it has started to develop civilian and military capabilities and operational experience which indicates the potential to create strategy from a bottom up, rather than a top down, perspective (see Chappell et al., 2016, p. 5; Wedin, 2008).

Conversely, the ‘power of rights’ argument at first sight does not directly address European security as it originally set out, that it is the norms and principles of the EU, rather than its military might, that will have the most impact on the world we live in (see Manners, 2002). A case in point is Manners’ (2002) study that provided the initial empirical evidence of the NPE argument, which concentrated on the EU’s focus on encouraging the abolition (or suspension) of the death penalty worldwide. While the case study does not offer us much in terms of European security, the argument of norm-driven foreign policy does, especially when we take into account many of the other issues pushed forward by the EU at the international level, such as the trade in small arms (civil wars), land mines (human security), and deliberative democracy (peace-building) (see Chapter 10). Far from being irrelevant to our discussion of the EU and European security, rather it lies at the heart of the EU’s post-Westphalian (i.e., post nation state) approach to foreign policy and international relations.

More recently, NPE scholarship has incorporated military instruments (see Diez and Manners, 2007) while also viewing the use of military power as being of decreasing usefulness in international relations (Aggestam, 2008). Indeed, it is the normative underpinning of the EU that guides its use of instruments (whether military or civilian), connecting with key premises such as multilateralism and international law, which are of primary importance. Rather than dismissing military power as being incompatible with NPE, it is feasible to incorporate it as a means of diffusing normative power through symbolic manifestation (Manners, 2006). Hence, military instruments can safeguard EU norms provided they are not used coercively. Therefore, there is not an either/or choice between civilian and military power perse, but, rather, that it is the norms underpinning the tools and how these tools are used which is of importance to the ‘power of rights’ approach.

Circumventing the argument regarding whether a normative or civilian power can use military instruments, strategic culture connects norms to the civilian and military power utilised. Hence, a strategic culture approach seeks to understand why a security community acts as it does in the international environment with a focus on, inter alia, cultural beliefs, historical experience, geography and norms, connecting these with the means to carry out its strategic approach (see Chappell et al., 2016; Gray, 1999; Longhurst, 2004; Meyer, 2006). A security community’s underpinning beliefs, attitudes and norms should be integrated into strategic documentation and then actioned through crisis management tools - whether these are military or civilian (see Chappell and Petrov, 2014). However, whether the EU has a strategic culture is contested. Those operating from realist perspectives (Heiselberg, 2003; Rynning, 2003) deny the existence of a European strategic culture due to divergences between member states regarding when, where and how force should be applied. Meanwhile, proponents, utilising Gray’s (1999) idea of ‘culture as context’, point to convergences regarding member states’ strategic cultures (Chappell, 2012; Meyer, 2006) or to strategic developments at the EU level, including strategies, policy initiatives and military operations (Chappell and Petrov, 2014; Cornish and Edwards, 2005). However, the EU’s ability to operationalise elements of strategic thinking based on its underpinning normative basis has been mixed, leading to the conclusion that the EU has no more than an emerging strategic culture (if at all).

This section has outlined two generic approaches to the EU as an actor: the ‘rights to power’ and the ‘power to rights’, aligning each with different understandings of strategy (grand strategy and strategic culture). The former connects with neorealist explanations of the use of military power in the international system. Here, unipolarity and European regional multipolarity have combined to create a CSDP which allows member states to address specific second-order security concerns and which is led by the most powerful countries within the EU (Hyde-Price, 2012). Meanwhile, the latter has moved from a classical liberal to social constructivist understanding of the EU’s approach to security and defence. Here, the normative underpinning of CSDP enables us to understand the EU’s actions in the international security environment. As we shall see, both of these arguments around power and rights represent a side of the EU and how it responds to insecurities in the region and further afield.

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