The European Union has historically relied on its economic position to build its "soft power" through trade and international aid flows. However, the time has come for the EU to learn the "language of power", Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said.
The EU is indeed at risk of "strategic shrinkage" due to growing ideological pressure from new global players, increasingly labelling our liberal values as a Western construct and thus disputing our normative power. Europe's share in global wealth and population has shrunk in the past two or three decades. Consequently, our influence on international standards and innovation capacity in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing has declined too. Moreover, the demonstrations of military capability and the destabilisation strategies featuring cyber warfare of new prominent actors have reinforced the concerns about the ability of the EU to preserve its own security and respond autonomously to emerging threats. Russia is indeed blackmailing the bloc by leveraging energy supplies, while today's news is that the non-democratic Belarus, backed by Moscow, is pushing its relations with the EU to the breaking point by weaponizing migrants on Poland's borders.
To follow up on its strategic autonomy priorities, the European Union is now discussing the so-called Strategic Compass, a military strategy document organised around four pillars: crisis management, capabilities, resilience, and partnerships. The Strategic Compass blueprint was formally submitted to EU foreign ministries on Monday, November 15. Italy and France, two of the EU's military powers, welcomed the draft. The view of Germany's incoming federal coalition government, expected soon, will prove critical. An amended version of the proposal will likely be discussed in December, while the final document is expected to be approved by March 2022, incidentally during France's EU Council Presidency. Even though we owe the initiation of the "Strategic Compass" political iter to last year's German Presidency, France is indeed the leading proponent of greater EU military-strategic autonomy and has long campaigned to build an EU-led alternative to NATO. In an attempt to stimulate a reflection among its European allies on the long-term credibility of the US as a protection guarantor, French President Macron has further fuelled the debate, defining NATO as "brain dead". NATO's shortcomings, including the confused retreat from Kabul in August, added fuel to the fire. Last but not least, the recent announcement of AUKUS, the military alliance involving Australia, the US and the UK, and the consequent political escalation with France could further speed up the development of the new European common defence framework.
The EU military blueprint contains the first threat assessment, a comprehensive classified analysis of global and EU-specific security risks. The document was drawn by the EU's diplomatic service (EEAS) and national security agencies and should constitute a guide to action rather than another EU paper, Borrell stressed. Of course, most of the document focuses on incoming threats from Russia, whose vision of the world contrasts with the EU's one and China. Despite its crucial role as an EU commercial partner, China's growing assertiveness and continued involvement in regional tensions constitute a threat to EU security. According to the draft, national security agencies will be mandated to update the threat assessment at least every five years or sooner if the rapidly evolving strategic context calls for it.
Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Source: Flickr
The focal point of the blueprint is the creation by 2025 of a joint military intervention force, the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity. Equipped with 5000 troops, including land, air, maritime and cyber units, this military force should operate according to "operational scenarios" and respond rapidly to imminent threats or crises, such as stabilisation in hostile environments, rescue or evacuation operations. Although already equipped with battle groups, the EU has never deployed its force due to disputes over funding and lack of political consensus. Indeed, the existing institutional mechanism to enact similar operations requires unanimity among all Member States, which has been proven difficult to achieve and undoubtedly impinges the rapidity of the response. Different provisions have been put forward to reduce this attrition within the EU and make the Rapid Deployment Capacity operational. First, "operational scenarios'' would be predetermined and precise guidelines dictating the size and composition of the groups in each specific situation issued. Second, the blueprint theorizes the use of "constructive abstention" to enable willing and capable EU-led coalitions. To do so, the circumstances for the activation of article 44 of the Treaty would need to be specified to allow Council-approved subgroups of Member States to plan and direct military operations within the EU legal framework. The draft proposal also leaves the door open to the United Kingdom participation. Indeed, the former EU Member has the required military capacities and martial culture to enhance the Old Continent's strategic autonomy.
The Strategic Compass focuses on cyber, maritime, and space security, as well. To face these threats, the Compass proposes boosting intelligence capacities and enriching the available tools for responding to hybrid and cyber attacks as well as foreign disinformation and interference. Finally, additional investments in innovative technological equipment for European armed forces complete the policy package.
Aggressively increasing the geopolitical weight of the EU through enhanced military capabilities and even further actually deploying those forces in field operations to contrast nascent threats would require a strong unity among the Member States. However, it is yet to be seen whether diverse European positions, ranging from the prevailing pacifist sentiment of Germans to the vast French ambitions, will be reconciled in the pursuit of broader EU strategic autonomy.