European Defence Policy: A Political Analysis: Stephen Hoadley Finds Reasons for Optimism in the Evolution of a European Approach to Defence

By Hoadley, Stephen | New Zealand International Review, November-December 2005 | Go to article overview

European Defence Policy: A Political Analysis: Stephen Hoadley Finds Reasons for Optimism in the Evolution of a European Approach to Defence


Hoadley, Stephen, New Zealand International Review


Despite recent rhetoric, it is evident that European Union defence policy remains subordinate to the individual defence policies of the 25 member states. Sovereignty remains the rule in the foreign and security policy sectors despite significant advances in communitarisation of other policy sectors. (1) Nevertheless the European states are achieving substantial convergence in defence policy that closes the gap between this policy sector and the more closely co-ordinated policy sectors of trade, aid and diplomacy.

Diplomatic influence

Clearly the European Union owes its prominence in world affairs to its success in forming the world's largest economic bloc, the European Economic Community. This customs union with its domestic and export subsidies has since the 1950s made Europe prosperous and attracted applicants to either join the European Union (Eastern Europe and Turkey) or gain better access to its market (Asia, Australia, New Zealand).

In contrast, Europe's collective diplomatic influence was slower to emerge, becoming visible only in the 1970s. It was expressed initially in common positions, sanctions, and consultations reacting to human rights violations and Third World aid needs, and later in membership of 'contact groups' with the United Nations, the United States, and Russia, in conflict mediation and arms control initiatives. The European Union members attempt to caucus in the United Nations and other multilateral forums but individual members often break ranks and the European Union only occasionally displays complete solidarity in contentious issues such as security policy.

Common defence

Despite promising beginnings in the Brussels Treaty of 1947, a nascent common European defence was aborted when the French National Assembly vetoed the European Defence Community scheme in the mid-1950s and the project was set aside for the next three decades as politically too controversial. In the bipolarity of the Cold War period, NATO was deemed to be not only adequate to manifest Europe's defence requirements but also necessary and pre-eminent, as asserted by Great Britain, Denmark, and Netherlands in the face of doubts by France and the neutral states.

In the 1980s the concept of a European pillar within NATO gained acceptance as a manifestation of 'burden sharing'. In 1992 the notion of a Common Foreign and Security Policy was made explicit in the Maastricht Treaty (Treaty of European Union). In 1994 the EU members went a step further to accepted responsibility for the 'Petersburg Tasks', essentially preventive diplomacy, rescue, and peacekeeping operations--but only if NATO is not already engaged.

Security agencies

Nevertheless it was not until the revelations of Europe's military powerlessness in the Bosnian and Kosovo conflicts that a need for an explicit defence and military policy became critical. Starting in 1998, Britain and France led a series of initiatives to give muscle to the rhetoric of the 1992 Maastricht and 1997 Amsterdam treaties and to proclaim the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

Supported by Germany, Italy, Spain and the Benelux and Nordic members (except Denmark, which stood aside), these initiatives led to the 1999

Helsinki Headline Goals to establish a Rapid Reaction Force. (2) Adoption of the 2002 Nice Treaty, the 2003 European Security Strategy, and 2004 draft Constitutional Treaty (now in doubt) further refined the declared policy of establishing common European defence aims, doctrines, institutions, and capabilities. These treaties also clarified and consolidated the institutions of a common European defence. An array of agencies and a hierarchy of authority has evolved more or less as listed in Figure 1. (3)

FIG. 1 AGENCIES OF THE EUROPEAN SECURITY AND DEFENCE POLICY

European Council (of heads of government)
General Affairs and External Affairs Council (of Ministers)
Council of Political Representatives (Ambassadors in Brussels)
Political and Security Committee (Ministers of Defence or Ambassadors)
Working Parties and Special Envoys
Military Committee (Chiefs of Staff)
Military Staff Committee
European Satellite Facility (located at Torrejon, Spain)
High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy (Xavier Solana)
Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management Unit and Military Staff Unit
European Defence Agency (semi-autonomous advice and liaison)
European Union Institute for Security Studies (semi-autonomous
  analysis)

While duplication of functions and some ambiguity of lines of authority vis-a-vis the External Relations Commissioner and the European Parliament remain, the working relationships have evolved to the point where they work satisfactorily, if slowly. …

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