Looking through the rear mirror

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fecha: septiembre 2016
autor: antonio notario

A back reading of the 2003 EU Security Strategy (A Secure Europe in a Better World) is not a vain exercise. It is over 12 years since its heir, the Global Strategy for the European Union´s Foreign and Security Police, has seen the light. The evolution of the international context in this long period sets two different Europes: on the one side, the prosperous and promising Europe at the beginning of a brand new century; on the other side, a decade after, a dull Europe in the center of a significant identity crisis; a Europe who needs to re-invent to live or die.

However, both strategies keep a common spirit: a firm commitment for the European values. This is the truly center of gravity of the European Union: An European identity and sense of belonging based on prosperity, liberty and democracy. It provides our strength and sets the European Union a proper and deserved place in the international arena. From this cornerstone, both strategies, 2003 and 2016, offer a wide angle with a common vision and good ideas on foreign policy and security well deserved to explore.

A retrospective analysis of the 2003 EU Security Strategy provides a wide depth to project to the future those key aspects that have worked well, and identifies those things not going so well and it should be better set them aside.

From 10+15 to 28-1
The very first thing that strikes us is the very first sentence of each strategy: “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”, states the 2003 Strategy. Is this statement valid in 2016? Actually, the 2016 Strategy starts with “The purpose, even existence of our Union is being questioned”. These two different starting points mark two different contexts, two completely different scenarios when the strategies were born.

In 2003 we find a growing European Union, composed by 15 countries plus 10 others to join in a few months. Actually, the 2003 Strategy refers to a Europe 25, with more than 450 million people. This figure has gone up to a population of more than 500 million Europeans. However, despite the expansive process of the European integration, the European Union suffers a major setback in 2016 with the results of the referendum in the United Kingdom (BREXIT). It is the first act of European disintegration since the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1951. The optimism and strength in the beginning of the last decade have evolved towards a skeptical and pessimist position, raising doubts about the European project itself.

In accordance with a recent survey carried out by Pew Research about views of the European Union, the results are favorable, with a 51% in favour, and the 47% against the European Union. However, the evolution in ten years has been negative. Almost all consulted countries have decreased their figures to the “YES” position, as the following graphic shows:

Pew Research´s survey

Terrorism: A constant preoccupation
Not everything are differences. A common making point that provides both Strategies with continuity is the signaling of the international terrorism as one of the greatest challenges to security. The 2003 Strategy is born two years after the terrorist attack against the twin towers in New York. This terrible event, marking a new era in our contemporary history, had its projection towards European soil with the Madrid train and London bombings in 2004 and 2005 respectively. We have gone from the limelight of Al Qaeda to Daesh: Paris, Brussels, Nice…..many other places in the world…have witnessed the horrors of international terrorism, making this phenomenon one of the biggest worries in terms of security.

This document shares with its successor, the 2016 Global Strategy, other threats, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed states and organized crime. The time machine could perfectly transport us to the 2003 Strategy, where we find words which are perfectly valid for today, in line with the 2016 Strategy.

New challenges
New challenges have emerged. Technological disruption, economic fragility and migrant & refugee crisis complete, along with the climate change, the spectrum of threats to the European security nowadays. Cybersecurity is one of the most demanding fields, as our lives go more and more digital. The global economic crisis in 2008 hit severely the European countries, raising unemployment rates to unacceptable figures which already are present in countries like Spain. The current migrant and refugee crisis is the worst since the Second World War. The environmental consciousness is another “new” domain, as climate change is seen from some years now as one of the threats to our security. The heat is felt all over the world, and we fear to lose the green of our grounds and the white of the ice. The consequences of global warming are being looked through in terms of security implications. Also, in 2014 a new deep wound seems to re-open with the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, resembling old cold war times.

Strategic objectives
One of the more relevant contributions of the 2003 Strategy is its three strategic objectives. Addressing the threats, building security in our neighbourhood and the bid for the effective multilateralism should have guided the European action in terms of external action and security. This is something really missed in the 2016 Strategy: clarity and structure. This strategic document lacks strategic objectives, at least explicitly. Of course, we could argue the Global Strategy is aimed to place the European Union as one of the relevant actors in the world. And this is true. The strategy is a call (an S.O.S call) to survive in a changing and dynamic world. However, from our point of view, a strategy is always to stablish clear objectives, without room for interpretations. End, Ways & Means is the golden rule. Therefore, I see in the Global Strategy a disordered document, mirroring the current status of the European Union itself.

A last thought
From the 2003´s “more active, more capable and more coherent” to the 2016´s “A credible Union, a responsive Union, a joined-up Union”. Are we more active, capable and coherent? The answer is no. Are we more credible, responsive and joined up? The answer is no again. The good point is the strategic humility of the Global Strategy: to admit the things are not going as good as expected is an excellent starting point. The new strategic concepts (principled pragmatism, strategic autonomy and social resilience) sound a little bit empty for me. Let´s hope that this lexical originalities fit for purpose. Actually, from a wide perspective, the biggest current challenge is the lack of a proper European identity. A kind of infecting wound which can become even life-threatening if left badly treated.

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