Security and
the European Union

A common European defense mandate was taboo for decades, but a changing world has made it a major priority.
The European continent went from being at war to hosting one of the world's most powerful inter-state unions.

How did this happen, and how do differing nations find consensus on issues of security and defense?
Bruno Oliveira Martins, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), is here with us for the third time to talk about security practices in the European Union. Much of what he speaks about builds upon his first two seminars with us, about security and technology respectively, but today his goal is to show how the theory helps us notice the ways securitization impacts our day to day lives.

"Of course," he says, "we need to be aware that these practices do not affect everyone in the same way."

Speaking about European security, there should be a distinction between security on the continent and within the EU: the issues look different depending on which of these two lenses you look through. How we approach the question is also affected by who we see as the group in need of security. The issue of migration is relevant here, and we're asked if they are a threat to certain groups, or if migrants themselves are the ones threatened and in need of protection.

Which is all to say that so much of what you do (or pay attention to) depends on your assumptions of what security is and who it is for. Bruno mentioned critical security studies (CSS) earlier this week, and this lens tries to expand the idea of security to include people who might have previously been excluded from discussions of safety and threat.

In practice this means looking at existing security practices and thinking about who they serve, who designs them and how they impact lives and peoples' sense of safety. This can mean looking at policies meant to protect citizens (border practices) and seeing how they might marginalize people who live outside the regular European system (migrants, refugees, tourists).

This is the framework that Bruno uses to think about these questions, and before digging deeper into this issue he wants to give us a sense of the history involved. How did the EU come about, what threats was it meant to mitigate, and how have its security practices evolved over time?

The Road To Integration

The EU's story of security is tied up in its story of defense, which is not something that a lot of people know about. While integration can produce practices, especially at the border, that can exclude vulnerable minorities (especially those affected by war in their own countries), the original idea was a peace project at the beginning.

Back in the 1950's, Europe had been destroyed twice already. No one wanted more war, and the structures built at the end of the first world war (with the Treaty of Versailles) weren't enough to build a lasting peace. There was the radical notion of increasing integration between France, Germany, Italy and Benelux (Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg) to negate chances of conflict recurrence.

One way that this desire got implemented was in the coal and steel industries. These are necessary materials if you want to wage a war, and so creating a common institution between former enemies was an attempt at regulating supplies and thus make war impossible (or at least less practical). At first the steel and coal industries were merged in France and Germany in 1951, with Italy and the three Low Countries joining the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

There was a largely optimistic narrative surrounding this whole process, but it was also practical. There were fears that Germany could re-arm and build up its military again. But these fears were mitigated by the fact that the Soviet Union had expanded its influence in East Europe (including East Germany) and that was seen as a larger threat. Greater integration was seen as one way the western part of the continent could protect itself from Moscow.

There was a lot of assurances from the US in terms of protection, for sure, but Europeans still wanted to take some of their protection into their own hands. Developing a defense arm for its emerging economic community was one way to do so, and the members of the Coal and Steel Community signed a treaty creating the European Defense Community (EDC).

The EDC was short-lived (1952-54), but it was fundamental to understanding what Europe would become.
The community was framed in terms of working towards a common European army and, perhaps, defense minister. Churchill framed ideas like this as a kind of 'United States of Europe', and there was a lot of anxiety about this. It was one thing to merge coal and steel, and another thing when talking about defense strategies. Individual countries that had quite recently been at war would have less capacity to arm against each other should one of them become a belligerent power.

It was a radical idea and had to be ratified in all six countries – for some this wasn't an issue, but in France it was complicated. The approval of the French National Assembly was needed, and there were understandably high anxieties over self-defense and the right to arm oneself in the face of neighbouring aggression. Defense was a higher priority there than nearly anywhere else in Europe, and the long discussions ended with the ratification being postponed indefinitely. This was in 1954, and so the EDC was de facto never fully implemented.

This contributed to what's known as the defense taboo, which generally marginalized conversations about common defense (and a common army) for nearly the rest of the century. It took forty years to get over the spectre of Germany.

But that's not to downgrade how spectacular European integration achievements were in the first two decades after the war: you went from large countries being moral enemies to economic collaborators in a very short period of time.

Economic and social issues nearly always led the way, which eventually resulted in the market integration we see today. Another major area of integration involved rule of law, with the European Court of Justice founded in 1952. Much of that court's interpretation of disputes was through a lens of increasing integration.

So if this was the status quo for forty years, what changed at the beginning of the nineties?

Common Defense

The end of the Cold War was a large factor in changing European attitudes toward defense, particularly with the reunification of Germany. Suddenly it was an even more important country in Europe – larger, more populous, with a stronger mandate to take steps for European security and defense.

Another piece of the puzzle is how the United States was expected to take less of an interest in Europe post-Cold War. With no more Soviet Union to deal with, the US could pivot to other areas and not invest in European security as enthusiastically as in the past. Which meant that Europeans had to continue taking matters into their own hands, especially with the emergence of the European Union in 1993.

A real turning point was on December 4th, 1998 with a summit taking place in France between Tony Blair and Jacque Chirac. It was the first time that two major European leaders declared the need to develop the conditions for defense cooperation on the continent. It caught many people by surprise, both in European capitals and overseas, and it was a turning point in conversations on defense.

Three days later, on the 7th of December, US Secretary of State Madeline Albright published an article in the Financial Times about potential concerns that a European defense branch might pose to NATO. She warned against any initiative that would make NATO less relevant, and framed her concerns as "three D's".
Duplication of Assets
Not wanting to be spending extra money to provide extra services that were already being maintained by alliances like NATO.
Decoupling Assets
If the EU were to assign funds to their own defense branch, then they may decide to take that money from the assets normally reserved for NATO.
Discrimination of Members
There are many NATO members who are not part of the EU (Canada, Turkey, etc), and there were concerns that there could be favouritism within the alliance towards EU states. Since there are EU members who are not part of NATO, this could mean spreading assets outside of the alliance.
Certain elements of integration began to happen very quickly, with the issue of common defense changing the most dramatically in the shortest period of time. What would eventually emerge as the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) started launching various missions.

There were missions to Moldova concerning border security with the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, as well as the EULEX mission in Kosovo and various interventions in the Central African Republic. There was no mandate to engage in combat, but these were military forced deployed to perform various functions.

In the CSDP's early years, they were concerned with what was known as the Petersburg tasks. These were developed by a pre-EU organization called the Western European Union, which was formed in 1948, and they came together in 1992 at the Petersburg Hotel in Germany to discuss what common tasks they would like to work on as a whole. This eventually became a catalogue of missions (including humanitarian work, rescue tasks, peacekeeping, reconstruction and crisis management) that were later taken up as a mandate for the CSDP.

The Lisbon Treaty, signed in 2007 and implemented in 2009, expanded this mandate to include fighting terrorism and other tasks, which led to a mandate known as Petersburg+.

One common mission are the EU Border Assistance Missions (EUBAM), which facilitates the deployment of police forces and border agents to problematic border crossings. These missions start at the invitation of the relevant countries and provide assistance for regular border function. The Moldova mission was through EUBAM, and these eventually expanded beyond Europe with missions like that between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The EULEX Kosovo mission worked with civilian deployment, and was mostly made up of EU professionals helping Kosovo develop its judicial and legal system. As it was a new de facto state, it needed to build new systems and governing structures. The fact that it came at Kosovo's request calmed some of the anxieties surrounding post-colonial power structures.

There were also military missions, like when the CSDP inherited the NATO mandate in the Balkans. There were also missions in Afghanistan, Palestine and across Africa, as well as police-related missions in Iraq. Some of these were long-term, but others were short and rather quickly fell into inactivity.
EU Training Mission In Somalia | EUTM Somalia | flickr
Some of these missions were in pretty problematic areas, and this can lead to the impression that the EU is involved in risky stuff. But Bruno wants us to keep in mind that the EU's global fingerprint might not be as large as it might seem. There are 5000 people total deployed in these missions, which isn't a whole lot relatively speaking.

Some missions deploy about 10 people, some of which don't leave their compound. The EUBAM mission between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Rafah is still active but, since the border was closed by Egypt, there's actually no crossing to speak of. There have been reports of mission members spending much of their time in hotels and on the beach.

He also draws our attention to certain gaps between capability and expectation. There's the issue of defense spending (or the lack thereof), as well as contentions with armies, infrastructures, political will and so on. What was actually implemented is arguably far less than the EU could do.

A large article concerning this came out in 1993, and after this some of these gaps were closed, but there remains a salient conversation about what role the EU expects to play and what role they can actually play.

Soft Power

One concept that gained momentum was civilian power. It was introduced in a nearly-forgotten book chapter in 1973 but went on to be majorly influential. The concept has defined the way the European community has saw itself from the seventies onward: not as a military power, but a global power nonetheless.

But this poses major questions: how do you express your power without force? what does that power look like?

Economic power is one obvious answer, but also normative power. This is a kind of soft power that emerges when a group becomes a standard and has the ability to influence others to follow its model. The EU did become a standard on an international level, with many nations trying to mimic various European models. This gave EU policy makers power in defining global conversations on governance, defense and more.

There have been some criticisms of normative power as a concept, saying that it's too soft, but responses affirm the concept of Normative Power Europe and its ability to not only set global standards but also increase normative integration across the continent.

Bruno calls civilian power, the capabilities/expectation gap and Normative Power Europe the ABCs of EU foreign policy, and most conversations on common defense will revolve around these.

But another thing to pay attention to when looking at foreign security policies is who the actors are. Individual states? The EU? What's the place of NATO in Europe, and where does it matter more (or less)? How do the European Council or the European Commission impact defense policies? What is the role of aspiring members? And what kind of consensus can be sustainably generated among the various member states?

There are different structures that try to work within existing structures like NATO, and one example is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which is a framework that lets things move ahead even if not all states are on board. It is a mix of EU and NATO states, and tries to find a way to institutionalize varying degrees of consensus.

But Europe constantly changes, and Brexit is one development that not a lot of policy makers saw coming. EU (and other) institutions looking to promote common defense have to be quick on their feet to keep up with a reality that's constantly changing.
Bruno Oliveira Martins is a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) with a focus on the intersection of technological developments,
security practices and societal change.

Josh Nadeau is a freelance writer and peacebuilding practitioner.
He studied at PRIO in 2018.
Banner photo: NakNakNak on
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Further Reading
The Enigmatic Role of Defence in the EU:
From EDC to EDU?'
Duke (2018).
European Foreign Affairs Review 23 (1): 63–80
The EU Global Strategy
and Diplomacy
Cross (2016).
Contemporary Security Policy 37 (3)
The (in)Securitization Practices of the Three Universes of EU Border Control: The Military/Navy, Border Guards/Police and Database Analysts
Bigo (2014).
Security Dialogue, 45 (3)