EU’s global strategy document: stuck, trying to find a role to play…

baris-100x100by Baris Celik

On June 28, the EU published its new global strategy document. The most significant of such a development took place in 2003, when the EU published a strategy document (European Security Strategy) under the leadership of then-High Representative Javier Solana. Back then, the EU had the burden of responding to the events unfolded by September 11 attacks, which continues to represent a series of crisis with repercussions around the world, more particularly in the Middle East. Comparing the complexity and difficulty of now and then would be a mistake, as the EU still has a plentiful of problems both in its immediate neighbourhood and around the rest of the world. Therefore, the recent global strategy document should first and foremost take into consideration the lessons drawn from the experience of early 2000s. It seems that Federica Mogherini and her team were aware of that, and they felt the necessity of giving the message that the EU actually has a foreign policy.

The document followed a foreword by Mogherini, in which she explicity stated that ‘our union is under threat’. Although the foreword was shared online before the actual document, such a statement indicated that the new global strategy document will have a relatively strong tone. And the strength, as I understood after reading through the global strategy document itself, is associated with the explicit mentioning of ‘hard power’.

The issue of soft and hard power has occupied the foreign policy of the EU for decades. The discussion was part of my MA thesis as well, in which I tried to reflect on how the proponents of both soft and hard power tried to ascribe the Union a role in the international arena. The soft power camp believed that the EU will be an active actor in the area of so-called low-politics like development and humanitarian aid. This was mostly due to the ease of reaching consensus in those areas of foreign policy: Member States do not tend to push for their precious and ring-fenced interests when they are asked to contribute to foreign aid as they do when it comes to, say, condemning a failed state because of its actions. At the end, values should be the most important part of the EU’s foreign policy. On the other hand, the hard power camp believed that the EU can actually be an actor that intervenes militarily in the conflict situations around the world. This, they believed, can be done by the pooling of Member States’ military resources under the framework of EU foreign policy, which can be coined as common interests, rather than values.

So the EU felt this burden of being an active actor in the international sphere. Moreover, the recent developments such as terrorism and migration brought the debate to the fore: Should the EU just stop trying to respond to these problems, or should it react more actively? The global strategy document responded this issue with a comprehensive approach: a mix of soft and hard power. The EU, by virtue of being a non-state actor, tends to emphasise that it is a promoter of its ‘values’. However, it is well aware that the EU is more than simply a cluster of countries, and, from its own experience, it can actually take military action around the world (though with little significance in comparison to NATO). The document made this point explicit by mentioning that ‘our interests and values go hand in hand’. After that followed a play of words: the EU has interest in promoting its values and its values are embedded in its interests. Sounds clever, and it reflects a recent academic trend that merges values and interests, suggesting that these two are not necessarily contradictory to each other. It is believed that an image of an EU soldier armed with an automatic weapon may well be in harmony with the normative values and principles the EU aims to promote. Such an approach seems to be in accordance with today’s EU foreign policy, when we see its military presence in its wider periphery, such as the military missions in Africa. Moreover, in some occasions, the EU undertakes these military operations autonomously, i.e. not by replacing an already-existing NATO operation.

Also discernable in the document is another debate – the one between pre-emptive and preventive peace. These two concepts were also the point of discussion when comparisons made in early 2000s between US’ National Security Strategy (NSS) and the EU’s European Security Strategy (ESS). Following the September 11 attacks, NSS mentioned the pre-emptive peace, and ascribed the US military an active role in the Middle East. The EU then decided to publish a similar document (even the name was sort of a copy of it). However, mentioned in the document was the concept of preventive, rather than pre-emptive, peace. Back then, it was understood that the US is unsurprisingly more determined than the EU to respond to the crisis in the Middle East, and the EU has been sharply criticised because of remaining as a military midget. The reason was ‘pre-emptive’ was accepted as preventing before the crisis occurs, whereas ‘preventive’ was closer in meaning to ‘curing’ the crisis. This time around, however, the Mogherini-era global strategy document mentioned the concept of pre-emptive peace as an EU foreign policy objective around the world.

Despite these ambitious attempts, and efforts to mitigate values and interests, the global strategy document mentioned ‘foreign policy’ less than ‘external action’ (the first was mentioned 7 times, and the latter 16 times). For me, these are important details offering some clues about the approach behind the mentality of the document. In the EU literature, foreign policy is more related to high-political issues, such as military affairs. External action, on the other hand, emphasises external economic issues like development policy.

All in all, the latest global strategy document on the EU foreign policy is a development vis-a-vis its predecessor. It is ambitious, somehow pro-active, and decorated with carefully-selected words. But it seems to be stuck between soft- and hard-power, high and low politics, and values and interests. Therefore it comes short of giving the EU a clear guideline on its global role.

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