For a credible CSDP, the EU needs to overcome its military weakness


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Petros Demetriou
Petros Demetriou

NATO’s European members are having to decide whether they want the Alliance to continue as it is, or prefer to develop their own military capabilities via the European integration process and, more specifically, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

In the past, the military presence of the American superpower and the consecration of nuclear weapons as a central defensive element for NATO, produced a powerful deterrent to anybody thinking of starting a war in Europe.

The American defensive umbrella provided an easy defence and security solution for Europe, reducing the need for Europe to equip itself defensively. However, there have been growing voices calling for the establishment of an autonomous European defence and security system. They complain the U.S. military presence resulted in a defensive system based on Atlantic rather than European needs. It also left Europe without the ability to take autonomous military actions. The perpetuation of U.S. supremacy was seen as holding down the development of security and defence in the European integration process and restricting EU members to a secondary role.

The U.S. would like NATO to have an upgraded interventional policy role supported by advanced military capabilities. The Americans see this upgrade as a means to build the Alliance into a security organisation that will become the institutional regulator of global law and order. Europeans, on the other hand, view the Alliance’s upgraded policy role as a way to deepen intra-alliance democracy and boost cooperation with other international organisations.

The consensus within the EU is that the world order must continue to be based on multilateralism, and solutions must be negotiated within regional and global institutions. The EU is willing to use military force only grudgingly, after all diplomatic, political and economic methods of conflict prevention have been exhausted.

For some eurosceptics, the CSDP raises fears of an evolving superpower with a worldview fundamentally different from that of the United States. Some view the EU’s reluctance to use force, and preference for multilateral cooperation, compromise and diplomacy as evident signs of weakness.

In this complex era Europe’s unease with hegemonic American tendencies, that were tolerated during the Cold War, may develop into a critical issue. A Union of 28 member states constitutes a power which deserves to have a say in the management of international problems. Over the past few years, the EU has developed important defence and security functions using military and civilian power. It has gained access to NATO mechanisms to complement and act alongside the Alliance. Yet this-less-than-equal partnership still indicates that Americans and Europeans do not share the same strategic vision.

At the moment, the U.S. offers the EU a protective military power and the EU in return offers democratic legitimisation in their combined operations. Without this , the U.S. would find it difficult to convince the world of the ‘purity’ of its actions.

Several questions regarding the future role of NATO must be answered. One is whether it will continue to concentrate on just military means. The Alliance’s EU members do not seem to share that vision. NATO also needs to look at the type of missions it will be undertaking. The successful tackling of international terrorism, the suppression of uprisings, peacekeeping missions and nation-building rely on human values as well as military abilities. They constitute an area in which the EU may be more capable than anyone else. Has the time come for the EU to move toward the integration of its own military and non-military mechanisms without dependency on NATO support?

Since NATO has yet to define clearly its future role, the EU should try to be more active when it comes to defence issues. The EU should have an active role in conflict prevention, and to deal with crises rapidly and effectively, especially in its own backyard. For this to work, the EU needs to build stronger operational, military, and institutional capacities.

The CSDP must equip the EU with the ability to take autonomous actions, especially when NATO is unwilling to act. To achieve that, the EU should develop specific operational capabilities, based on credible military forces otherwise it always will have a comparative disadvantage vis-à-vis NATO. To deal with threats such as the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and terrorism, military forces must be agile, able to deploy rapidly and to remain at the field for long periods.

The EU cannot remain on the sidelines of developments that have a direct effect on the political and economic interests of its member-states. It needs political will to use all available tools in order for a reliable CSDP to evolve. This presupposes that member-states are conscious of their common interests and that national interests are better served when there is a collective effort. The development of an increasingly confident EU will unavoidably lead to some measure of European security autonomy.

In order for CSDP to be successful, it is essential that it bypasses the differences among EU member states which constitute the most difficult roadblock to defence integration.

The EU’s military options – while still small scale – are widening steadily compared to just a few years ago. However if EU members would like to see a more effective CSDP they should take a look at how they can overcome their own military weaknesses. The EU must not be afraid of its own ambition, but it has yet to develop the institutional capacity to cope with executive decisions that have to be taken rapidly and effectively.

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