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Wed. July 17, 2024
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European Union Security Challenges

The European Union (EU) confronts the institutional challenges for whether its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) can effectively continue to have influence abroad, while significant economic burdens and dependencies dissipate the EU politically. If the CSDP fails to affect the changes diplomatically, strategically, and operationally it wants to project, then the EU risks delegitimizing its collective crisis management global vision. Going into its second decade with the large majority of its members integrated into an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the EU’s strengths exemplify models for democratized integration and cooperative security. The challenges for the CSDP, however, as part of the larger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) framework, concern its military force projection internationally and economic dependency on Russia. Both geopolitical areas portend a weakening of the EU’s institutionalization with grave potential for re-nationalization and possible debilitation of required CSDP and CFSP burden sharing.

A critical juncture for such institutional challenges occurred when key EU members, Great Britain and France, acted with the United States (the latter reluctant to participate outside of NATO) to forge an initial multi-state coalition. This coalition went beyond CSDP and outside of CFSP frameworks. Emerging rapidly to implement the UN- mandated military intervention in Libya, the NATO-led Operation, Unified Protector, quickly overrode EU deliberations. What appeared as an envisioned EU-led mission, Unified Protector fast became the international operation to try to stop the humanitarian disaster arising from Libya’s escalating civil war. As a result, NATO diplomatically and operationally superseded the EU’s strategic area of interest – and region of crucial importance – North Africa. Many EU members deliberated and determined within NATO’s North Atlantic Council, not within the EU’s CSDP and CFSP processes, to provide the command and control, assets and manpower, political legitimacy and military strategy for this major out-of-area responsibility. Whether NATO’s consensus decision-making and institutional impact last effectively beyond Operation Unified Protector remains a question beyond this analysis. Clearly, the EU’s consensus failure and reputation remain at stake and its institutional legitimacy, so long viewed economically as integral to the peaceful coexistence among members, stands at a crossroads.

If the EU fails to confront the institutional challenges for whether its CSDP and CFSP processes can effectively have influence abroad, then history may reveal that Operation Unified Protector signified a serious rejection of such processes. This possible rejection of the EU’s CSDP and larger CFSP frameworks might witness a major turning point since the EU’s 2009 Lisbon Treaty sought to solidify and extend the EU’s strategic capabilities, building on the decade-long European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The Lisbon Treaty generated a conjunction of common EU political, bureaucratic, and foreign policy objectives and restructuring, in the wake of some twenty small-scale overseas political, economic, and military missions from the past decade. Certainly, these missions across several continents, primarily civilian or military monitoring or peacekeeping missions, remain important for the countries where they’re deployed. The key objectives for such missions focused on transitioning from ESDP to CSDP, as the EMU evolved and the CFSP was extended internationally. Since none of these CSDP missions abroad today deploys more than several thousand European civilian personnel or military forces, their impact remains quite limited. The baseline of US and NATO military reinforcement as the only means to successfully counter the Balkan wars of the 1990s reveals how more globalized twenty-first century security dilemmas disrupt EU political consensus building. Moreover, key EU nation indebtedness exacerbates such political difficulties. Consequently, the EU grapples with realistically transforming its political commitments into impactful military operations. Such operations are jointly intended to reduce proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, prevent conflicts or stabilize post-conflict war zones, or counter terrorism internationally. Warning signs abound, though, over projecting legitimate operations abroad. EU efforts to maintain cohesiveness politically appear hindered at best, as mobilizing larger-scale military requirements to conduct such a regional and global set of objectives seem quite elusive.

Geo-Economic Security Dilemmas

The indecisiveness of the EU to lead on Libya critically impacts CSDP and CFSP legitimacy, but even more critical long-term decisions made on geo-economic considerations may dilute the EU’s institutionalization. Before the EU even attempts to forge large-scale international crisis management missions via CSDP with European manpower, resources, logistics, and equipment to field significant combined and joint operations, three key geo-economic challenges already weaken EU effectiveness. Such weaknesses arise primarily from the EU’s 27 members and serious dependencies verging on geo-economic security dilemmas. They center on continued membership, extended trade, and needed energy, all areas impacted by globalization that threatens the EU’s ultimate success from its six decade-old integration. Indeed, the EU’s energy dependency on Russia may yet determine the most troublesome geo-economic linkage, tying together key aspects of membership and trade. Even as specific member states’ domestic indebtedness- such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain- plagues the EU institutionally, geo-economic energy dependency on Russia may actually damage the CSDP, upending the CFSP and EU institutionally, and descending EU members into re-nationalization.

As Russian national security concentrates increasingly on its energy capabilities to ensnare EU members in an even more extensive dependency, the EU may find itself more encumbered geo-economically on Russia’s western and southwestern periphery. The Russian threat of military intervention in Ukraine over the past several years and the Russo-Georgian war in 2008 have driven West European political considerations and economic necessities. More than Russian military challenges, political and economic concerns have antagonized relations between the EU’s Central-East European leaders, their newer EU members, and their West European counterparts. Subsequently, non-EU states, Ukraine and Georgia, have become geopolitical pivots in Russian military planning for larger Russian national security strategy toward Europe. Given the pivotal Russian energy pipelines that traverse Central-East Europe into West Europe via these non-EU states, and the expanded EU membership of bordering Central-East European nations during the past decade, regional tensions will likely remain high. Therefore, energy security policy figures much more prominently in the EU’s eastern outreach, particularly in the aftermath of the January 2009 Russian-Ukrainian disputes and attendant broader European energy supply cut-offs.

During 2008-2009, EU energy assistance to non-Russian, non-EU states bordering Russia’s western periphery increasingly antagonized Russo-European ties over energy security. EU outreach initiatives consisted of and currently focus on financing and politico-economic support for Southern and Southeast European pipelines – attempting, in some instances, to avoid Russia and de-link from Russian pipelines. Instead of corroboration with Russia, EU eastern outreach raises EU-Russian tensions and continually provokes disagreement at EU-Russian Summits. Hence, EU enlargement to Central-East Europe in the twenty-first century (aimed at integrating Europe) actually heightens Russo-European tensions, particularly as the EU tries extending security to former Soviet Republics. Russian military anxiety intensifies as the EU increasingly sees its role across Europe and globally to conduct not only politico-economic policies, but also security policies with growing military implications. For the Russian military, the EU’s cultivation of its newly forming Eastern Partnerships may result in an anti-Russian and greater geo-strategic rivalry. Russian energy resources will continue to fuel European security developments as geopolitical struggles, mainly for oil and gas, may give Russia greater sway over European security.

Inherent in Russian national security strategy toward Eastern and Central Europe lies the basis for confrontation in Russo-EU relations. Growing EU development eastward alarms Russia. Since Central-East European leaders consistently point to Europe’s needed reinforced commitment to them via NATO, the EU’s drive for pipeline politics and economic maneuverability may yield higher stakes energy security competition. This geopolitical competition may then put Russian military strategy at a crossroads. The geo-strategic maneuvering among Russia, Central-East European EU and non-EU members, and West Europe, with a declining U.S. European role, signal potential renationalization over these counter-productive nation-state pipeline policies. The increased possibilities for renationalization for EU members may then augur such institutionally disintegrative tendencies and policies. Re-nationalized tendencies could stem from differing national security strategies regarding energy supply networks, resulting in intra-competitive EU regions along Russia’s Western and Southwestern borders. The consequences for renationalization and EU disintegration then make the challenges for reviving the CSDP and CFSP frameworks pale in comparison. Such regional geo-economic energy security dilemmas foreshadow further corrosive political discord within the EU, endangering the EU’s future cohesion, its institutionalization, and, ultimately, its survival.


Joshua B. Spero is Associate Professor of Political Science, International Studies Program Coordinator, and Regional Economic Development Institute Director at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. He previously was U.S. Deputy Assistant for Europe and USSR, Office of Secretary of Defense, National Security Analyst at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, Foreign Military Studies Office Liaison Officer (Ft. Leavenworth, KS), and Senior Civilian Strategic Planner (NATO Division) in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy. His research and publications focus on crisis management decision-making, middle power politics, and international security dilemmas. He is author of Bridging the European Divide: Middle Power Politics and Regional Security Dilemmas (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).

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