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The European Union faces significant security threats from countries in its border region. How can the eu legitimately intervene in these countries, and what is fair to ask of its Member States?
By Ton van Osch
The main focus of voters is most likely their own well-being. One dimension of well-being is the guarantee of fundamental (human) rights as stated in our constitution and several international treaties. Another dimension of well-being is prosperity. No wonder that the economic crisis gets so much political attention. But strategic thinkers in Brussels fear that the next crisis might be in a third dimension of our well-being: security. Some of our neighbours to the east seem to be moving away from democracy. China and Russia have had huge increases in their defence budgets. There is instability in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel, with related flows of refugees, negative effects on our economy, threats of terrorism, illegal trafficking, proliferation of small weapons and weapons of mass destruction. We can see new security tensions linked to consequences of climate change, shortages of essential resources and new threats related to cyberspace.
At the same time there are huge cuts in defence budgets all over Europe. The US has had its own cuts in defence and has shifted its priority to the Pacific; they will no longer take the bulk of the burden in crises mainly affecting European interests. The eu cannot fully meet its own security ambitions. It is no coincidence that the President of the European Council decided to have a meeting dedicated to security and defence with the Heads of State and Government for the first time in five years. The EU needs to deal with this growing security threat from the border region; in this article I will focus on how they should do so from a social-liberal perspective.
Common security threats
The protection and security of the European Union is laid out in the Common Security and Defence Policy. Its general objectives are the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and international law and order. All eu Member States support these objectives, and usually also agree that they are all affected by the security threats mentioned above. No single Member State can protect itself alone, nor hope to solve security issues on the global level alone. This is the main reason for countries to become a member of organisations such as the UN, NATO and the EU.
However, this international and European security cooperation leads to some fundamental dilemmas and problems, particularly for poli-ticians and political thinkers of a social-liberal persuasion. First of all, and most fundamentally, when is military intervention needed and legitimate? Though most security threats seem straightforward, they usually are not. Politicians are confronted with conflicting interests and values. Secondly, how can the responsibility for military intervention and security be distributed fairly? Some countries face more acute security threats than others, and therefore literally pay a higher price for military intervention or the lack thereof. In the European context for instance, countries in the border region – like Poland, Bulgaria and Italy – feel more threatened and usually have higher defence budgets1. The Baltic states and Poland are concerned each time there is a foreign military exercise close to their borders and Estonia was understandably upset when it faced a cyber attack perceived to come from Russia. Thirdly, international decision-making usually is quite complicated as most members of organisations have the sovereign right to decide whether they will contribute militarily or not. How can politicians and policymakers deal with these questions?
The first and most fundamental question for policymakers and politicians is if, and under what circumstances, military intervention in other countries is acceptable and legitimate. I understand social-liberalism to be a political theory based on the values of self-determination and pacifism, though it does not exclude the right of self-defence. When attacked by Russia, Georgia did have the right of self-determination. By extension, security threats from outside the borders of the European Union might affect the EU as a whole, which could also lead to the need for it to defend itself as a whole.
The question becomes more complicated, however, when we need to determine whether or not to intervene not on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of others. My conviction, based on social-liberal principles such as ‘treasure fundamental rights and common values’, ‘share prosperity’ and ‘think and act internationally’,2 is that countries bear a responsibility for the diffusion of liberal human rights across borders. When, for instance, all fundamental rights and values were broken in Bosnia, leading to a humanitarian disaster, it was fully in line with social-liberalism to try to separate the fighting parties (NATO’s IFOR) and stabilise the region (NATO's SFOR and EU’s EUFOR), especially if these missions are supported by un Security Council Resolutions.3 I think it also fits the social-liberal line of thinking if military support is given to a democratically elected government to support it against extremists who try to overthrow the government by force, such as in Mali4. In doing so we indirectly also help to counter terrorism, counter illegal trafficking of humans, weapons and drugs, support the legitimate government to improve good governance, and contribute to the restoration of international law and order.
A fair share of the burden
When military intervention is agreed upon, the next question is what is fair to ask of the various members? Obviously, the answer to this question depends on what is required to counter the security threats in question. First, countries need to determine whether to use nato or the eu. My advice is that each organisation should build on its strength and not try to move into the area of the other’s strength. The strength of nato is that it is suited for common defence and high intensity major operations. Some operations can only be implemented with support of the us, so it helps that through nato the us is auto-matically involved. Therefore, nato remains essential for our ultimate security and defence. But nato’s weakness is that its influence is almost only based on its military capability. The strength of the EU, on the other hand, is that it has many more instruments under its own roof 5 that can be comprehensively synchronised towards a common objective. This eu strength is excellently suited for crisis at the lower end of the intensity scale. Its ‘Compre-hensive Approach’ encompasses cooperation between all relevant instruments. This includes not only defence, diplomacy and development, but also areas such as humanitarian assistance, trade, sanctions (such as blocking visa or bank accounts), and law and order. The High Representative of the eu, who is also Vice President of the Commission6, has the mandate to coordinate all external action. This leads to better results, as proven in the Horn of Africa.7 From a social-liberal point of view it seems reasonable to strongly support the eu’s Com-prehensive Approach to crisis management, including the military dimension, because it aims to achieve all of the values supported in the social-liberal view and ensures that mili-tary action is fully embedded within all other EU actions.
Second, what is required of the members? Both NATO and the EU have based their answers on their own preferred scenarios:8 the EU’s is based on peace-enforcing operation and nato’s on common (self) defence. The eu and nato cal-culate what capabilities they need in order to respond to these different scenarios, ranging from the highest to the lowest ends of the intensity scale (such as conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance and evacuation operations). On the basis of these calculations, the organisations determine the shortfalls, the missing capabilities for responding adequately to the different scenarios.
It is important to realise that each Member State has only one set of forces. They can use it only once for the UN, NATO, EU, or national purposes, which makes the ability of different military organisations to conduct joint operations within these different organisational structures of crucial importance. nato usually sets the standards for military interoperability and the fair share taken on by each NATO Ally is based on a percentage of its gdp and negotiations on who does what. The EU leaves it up to the Member States as to whether they are willing to give priority to the maintenance and development of those underdeveloped capabilities, resulting in a growing list of shortfalls.
Like NATO, the EU cannot sufficiently cope with all the scenarios that it has politically agreed to. It would be very useful to strengthen the development of military capability in the EU in order to optimise the use of the military within the broader comprehensive approach, thereby strengthening the EU’s main asset. Strong capability development in the eu would not only allow the eu to meet the demands of their own scenarios, but would also allow it to support the European part of the nato ambition, as well as taking up a fairer share of the military burden in UNmissions.9 The Netherlands is one of the underperforming countries, not with the military means it still has, nor with its priorities within the Defence budget, but financially in comparison to other Member States10 and to what it has agreed to11.
In short, in the coming years the European Union will be confronted with significant security threats from its border region. From a social-liberal perspective, there are arguments in support of a security and defence policy which tries to counter these security threats through international cooperation and which demands that every Member State takes its fair share of the international military burden as part of the UN, NATO and the EU.
Ton van Osch
was Permanent Military Representative of The Netherlands to NATO and the EU, and Director General of the EU Military Staff. He studied Economics and Logistics at the Royal Military Academy, has a Master Degree in Civil Administration from Leiden University and is a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College. He retired from active duty in July 2013.
1 The Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy move between 1.4-2.5% of gdp. The Benelux countries move between 0.6-1.3% of gdp (SYPRI Yearbook 2013).
2 In 2006, D66 formulated five so-called ‘guiding principles’ of a social-liberal way of thinking. These three are at the heart of it, next to ‘Trust on people’s own power’ and ‘Strive for a sustainable and harmonious society’.
3 See list of un SCRs related to the implementation of the Dayton Agreement.
4 ‘Artikel 100-brief minusma’, letter of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the chairman of Dutch Parliament, The Hague, 1 November 2013.
5 Council (Member States), eeas, all Commission instruments, be it with different legal frameworks.
6 Lisbon Treaty Art. 9E and related Council Decisions on the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty.
7 Pirozzi, ‘The eu’s Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Management’, dcaf, 2013.
8 ‘Defence Planning’ in nato; ‘Capability Development Mechanism’ in eu.
9 Currently eu Member States deliver less than 5% of all troops for the un (see ‘Ranking of military and police contributions to un missions’, report 30 Sep 2013).
10 SIPRI yearbook 2013.
11 NATO, 2% of gdp; nl going under 1.3%
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