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Defining Europe's Liberal Grand Strategy: An Interpretation of a Secure Europe in a Better World

Pascal Vennesson
Pascal Vennesson is Professor of Political Science at the Université Panthéon-Assas, Paris II.

This paper was presented at the 20th Taiwan-European Conference "Asia, Europe, and the Unipolar International System", co-organised by the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University (Taipei, Taiwan), and the Centre for International Relations (Warsaw, Poland), Warsaw, Poland, November 7-8, 2003. I thank the organizers for their invitation, and the participants to the conference for their helpful comments.

Introduction: Europe's role in the world

In June 2003 at the European summit of Thessaloniki, Javier Solana the European Union high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy made public the document A Secure Europe in a Better World. The explicit goal of this text of about 15 pages, that should be modified and finally approved by the Council of Europe in December 2003, is to define a "grand strategy" for the European Union and, indirectly, for its member states. The goal of this paper is to suggest an interpretation, and provide a critical analysis of A Secure Europe in a Better World. If we want to assess the evolving nature of security in Europe, and in contemporary international politics, this is an important issue. First, because in the history of Western Europe's integration, it is the first time that the High representative in the name of the European Union has tentatively defined a " common strategic concept ". Second, because this "liberal" grand strategy, not only reflects EU's decision makers' self-perceptions, it is likely to shape their subsequent perceptions of international security and their responses to challenges and threats. Third, like any grand strategy, A Secure Europe in a Better World might have far ranging consequences for Europe's role in today's unipolar international system, and implications for the EU' relations with different regions, including Asia.
A grand strategy is "[...] the capacity of the nation's leaders to bring together all of the elements, both military and non-military, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation's long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests" (Paul Kennedy, "Grand Strategy in War and Peace: Toward a Broader Definition", in: Paul Kennedy, ed., Grand Strategies in War and Peace, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991, p. 5). This capacity is related to conflictual relationships, potential or actual. What conception does the EU high representative have of European interests in the world? How does he perceive threats to those interests? What responses does he choose to make, in the light of those interests and threats? How does he justify those responses? To answer these questions, this paper proceeds as follows. In the first part, I will argue that Europe's grand strategy is deeply informed by a liberal world view, and I will present the main characteristics of Europe's liberal grand strategy. In the second part, I will offer a critique of this evolving grand strategy.

I. Europe's Liberal Grand Strategy

A Secure Europe in a Better World is informed by a liberal world-view. Specifically, this text has three major characteristics which reflect some of the major ideas of liberalism international theory.
§ 1. Globalization: Europe's power in a fragile international system
A Secure Europe is largely based on the idea that the current international system is globalized. Javier Solana explains that Europe's security policy is taking place in a globalized international system which he perceives as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, globalization brings positive consequences, like growing freedom and prosperity to many people (p. 2). On the other hand, however, "many problems remain unresolved and some have got worse" (p. 2). Europe's grand strategy is based on the idea that globalization leads to a fragile international system. It means instability and disruption. Unfavorable developments can cascade rapidly and have an impact on European interests. Even distant regional conflicts, like in Kashmir or the Korean Peninsula, have an "impact on European interests, directly and indirectly" (pp. 2-3), like crisis taking place closer geographically to the EU (notably in the Middle East). Such conflicts "foster instability, disrupt economic activity and reduce opportunities for the people concerned" (p. 2). The result is a chain of logic that connects the security of Europe to a host of distant troubles. Therefore, these distant troubles cannot be ignored: peace is indivisible.

§ 2. Democratic peace

The European grand strategy is grounded in democratic peace theory. Democratic regimes are more peaceful in their relationship to one another. Promoting democratic good governance is a mean and an end. A change in the ways international actors reach goals should be sufficient, liberal and neoliberal theorists argue, to produce mutual benefit, and therefore promote security. Javier Solana explains that "the quality of international society depends on the quality of the governments that are its foundation" (p. 9). "Good governance" is a key factor because it is supposed to reduce the costs and risks that are likely to impair international agreements, and put security in jeopardy. Specifically, fighting corruption, eliminating abuse of power, establishing the rule of law, and protecting human rights favor stability, transparency, and make cooperation much easier. On the other hand, the existence of violent domestic conflict, of weak state influenced by organise crime, "dysfunctional" societies and exploding population growth "all pose problems for Europe" (p. 7). Promoting good governance will allow Europe to "enjoy close and cooperative relations" with those countries (p. 7). Once changed in domestic political systems have been put into practice, the context will be seen as "offering justice and opportunity for everyone [...]" and therefore is will be "more secure for the European Union and its citizens" (p. 10). Finally, A Secure Europe's primer on ways to reach goals might potentially be put to the task in a wide variety of situations: in the Balkans, in Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, in Southern Caucasus, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in the Mediterranean area and perhaps elsewhere.

§ 3. International institutions

A Secure Europe in a Better World puts a premium on international cooperation through international institutions. In European's decision maker view, a multilateral system of interlocking and expanding institutions is desirable, and favors security. This institutional framework is multilevel. It shapes the transatlantic relationship with NATO, it influences many regions (Europe with the OSCE and the Council of Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa), under the broader United Nations umbrella. "Strengthening the United Nations, equipping it to fulfil its responsibilities and to act effectively, must be a European priority" (p. 9). Finally, the EU has in interest in the development of new institutions like the International criminal court (p. 9). Those country who stay outside of the "good governance" area, and outside of the institutionalized zone because they seek isolation or because they violate international norms (of domestic governance or international behavior) "[...] should rejoin the international community" (p. 10), or pay the price. This primer on multilateral cooperation in international organizations is strongly emphasized in the effort to face new challenges and threats (p. 15).

§ 4. Force structure

While A Secure Europe in a Better World does mention military force, it does not really specified any military strategy, or define any force structure. However, this document shows that Europe's world role is based on a rather frequent use of force. These uses of force should be systematically associated with non-military capabilities. Javier Solana evokes early, rapid, and when necessary robust intervention, and favors a capacity to sustain several operations simultaneously. The Secure Europe document also recommends more resources for defence and less duplication, as well as an improvement of crisis management capacities: integration of civilian and military efforts, stronger diplomatic capability, shared intelligence, and enlargement of the spectrum of missions, beyond the "Petersberg" tasks.

II. The Limits of Europe's liberal grand strategy

What are the limits of A Secure Europe in a Better World? Keeping in mind that this document is a preliminary statement, I provide a preliminary critical appraisal.
First, Europe's grand strategy underestimates the trade-offs of an activist international action in the realm of security. A Secure Europe in a Better World is based on an "activist" conception of security. The need for action, specifically for early and preventive action, is frequently repeated. For Europe's decision makers, the potential dangers of international security do not stem from action, but from inaction or late action. Only an energetic action can confront efficiently various threats and dangers. "[...] Left alone, terrorist networks will become ever more dangerous (we should have tackled Al Qaeda much earlier)" (p. 11). Inaction will lead to disastrous consequences and therefore, "conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early" (p. 12). Europe's liberal grand strategy does not acknowledge that action does not necessarily means effectiveness, and that too much action might lead to counterproductive consequences. Furthermore, early action presumes reliable and timely intelligence, which is costly, demanding and not as reliable as it is sometimes claimed.
Second, Europe's grand strategy is grounded on an excessive belief in democratic peace theory, and in the universal applicability of the "European method". The underlying assumption of A Secure Europe for a Better World seems to be that on security issues some outcomes will always be acceptable to both sides. Using the classical "European method" of small steps, dialogue, consultation mechanisms, as well as technical and functional agreements on various dimensions (not necessarily, nor primarily, military), "engagement" will lead to the desired outcome. Yet, if the issue is change in preferences over goals or outcomes, a change in ways to reach goals might not suffice. International relations and cooperation in economics and security, might be different! Vital interests sometimes do clash. And when they do about survival (or what decision makers perceive as such), for example, an attempt to change ways to reach goals might appear insufficient, if not counterproductive. A Secure Europe does not acknowledge that security issues might be, in large part, conflicts about goals and outcomes. The willingness to risk war to expand, or the incompatibility of security requirement, are part of international politics.
Third, the blanket statement of promotion of good governance might bring a vast long-term commitment with inadequate resources. The problem of failed states and wars of the "third kind" are serious and pervasive, but the question is how to choose among many potential interventions. A simple call for action might lead to relative ineffectiveness and widespread disappointment because of the growing gap between expectations and capabilities. Furthermore, such a perspective does not lead to criteria leading to a definition of priorities. Yet, this is what grand strategy is supposed to do.
Finally, Europe's grand strategy in its current form appears militarily demanding. Collective action is hard when some powers perceive the intrinsic stakes as small, and the aggressor as far away and difficult to fight. Since the EU is committed to the promotion of democracy and governance, one of the consequences is that the public must be persuaded to go to war. However, risking the lives of troops in distant wars is an argument inherently difficult to make politically. To overcome, at least partially, this obstacle, the member states might want to create decisive military superiority of a technologically dominant coalition. Holding such a decisive military-technological superiority would enable them to wage speedy, low-casualty wars. This is a costly and demanding endeavour.
European grand strategy is only in its early stage, and the above presentation and discussion preliminary. Different aspects of this ongoing process will require serious study. Further discussion of the competing arguments about Europe's role in the world is needed. Academics, government officials, journalists and policy analysts should all contribute and sharpen the public debate on this crucial aspect of international security.


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