By Sonia Martínez and Giovanni Rasio.
European Security Challenges
Currently, there exists no popular support to equip the Union with substantial military capabilities to defend itself against common threats. There is no consensus among leaders regarding European Strategic Autonomy, the key aspect of European defence planning. And if this decision is made, European leaders need to craft a common strategy. This query would entail questions such as what the risks are, who would join, or what are the next steps.
Unless the United States abruptly decided to abandon its commitment embodied in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European defence configuration is unlikely to vary. Since the beginning of the Cold War, the United States has always acted as the security guarantor of Europe. In particular, the long-standing American support for the Old Continent's defence and security has pivoted around NATO. As a full-fledged multilateral security alliance, NATO has provided an effective shield against the threats arising in Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood. The Organisation also represented the main framework through which Member States’ forces have engaged in military operations under American guidance.
Approaches to Security
Nonetheless, as positions concerning defence diverge, propelling European self-defence would put the unity of the block under pressure. Europe should not stand solely on its feet, as transatlantic support has and will prove crucial. However, it must undoubtedly increase its defence autonomy to a great extent. According to Chancellor Merkel, the ‘task of the future’ for Europe is to take destiny into its own hands.
After a rather unipolar age, the EU should use the global power rebalancing scenario to its benefit. New challenges are compelling the US to shift its focus and resources from Europe and the Middle East towards the Indo-Pacific. This rebalancing dynamic, which partially began with the so-called Pivot to Asia during the Obama Administration, culminated with the Indo-Pacific Strategy introduced by President Trump. The attention required by the US posture in the Pacific, combined with Trump’s proneness to threatening European allies to withdrawal the American troops, have somehow pushed Washington and Europe far from each other.
The Union beyond question needs a more autonomous security approach. This is certainly the viewpoint of President Macron, who advocates for ‘European autonomy’ in defence matters, based on the principle of interoperability. This approach evokes a Union capable of delivering both soft and hard power. The German approach is comparatively different. It is based on cooperation, support, and it emphasises the importance of strong transatlantic relations. A coordinated European approach is needed to secure the continent in an unprecedented environment marked by COVID-19 and a complex setting on the East wing.
Impact of European Security Approaches on Strategy
Given the ever-changing uncertain global outlook, observing strategic moves conducted by other global actors is paramount. After Brexit, the UK pivoting from Europe to a global strategy adds complexity to the EU’s defence strategy. In January 2021, the European Union officially lost an important partner for its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Other than holding one of the most powerful militaries in the world, the United Kingdom, together with France, has historically proved essential in nuclear deterrence and expeditionary capabilities for the European Union.
After leaving the EU, the UK aims to revive a more global dimension of its foreign policy. This would allow London to regain a leading role on the international stage. The Integrated Review 2021 offers a first glimpse of the new ‘Global Britain’, conveying that the UK will be the first European country to tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, thus inevitably shifting its focus away from a continental perspective.
Further crucial points need to be addressed in common security matters of the EU. The EU's internal and external security issues are becoming increasingly intertwined. An updated version of the 2016 EU Global Strategy and the implementation of tailored policies are required to counter potential security threats.
Initiatives such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PeSCo) and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) are turning points for a coordinated approach to security. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) comprises both assets and capabilities of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), dealing among others with crisis management. And yet, this task remains a vital milestone to secure Europe.
This is even more essential concerning the EU's southern and eastern neighbours. In this regard, Karrenbauer highlights the need to pay attention to the four cardinal points. The CFSP, in fact, is a model based on multilateralism that aims to demonstrate that this sort of international order functions. However, European multilateralism will not prove successful without coordination and agility. The unanimity factor implies that if member states do not arrive at a consensus other states might make a move to solely benefit themselves.
Member States should work together concerning security matters in the direction of strategic autonomy. The region should take on its hard power responsibility in an uncertain multipolar environment. There is an inevitable overlap between internal and external security threats. Exchanging information is crucial to achieve an effective defence strategy.
As Kramp-Karrenbauer, German Minister of Defence, wrote, Brexit exhibits the results of a European policy that feeds on sentiment instead of devising ideas for a common European future. Brexit has possibly fissured relations between the UK and the EU, as press biases indicate.
Europe needs to cooperate to bring forward a common defence framework that rises above politics. The way ahead should be a combination of more strategic autonomy and stronger transatlantic relations; while the former will be critical, the latter has proved crucial. The US rebalance of power, the pandemic and Brexit are increasing the temperature of the stove. European leaders should know that a watched pot never boils.