Effective ‘S&R’ is already central to Europe’s emerging strategic culture. Last December, EU member states updated the Union’s Headline Goal for 2010 by saying Europe should be able to conduct two major stabilisation and reconstruction operations simultaneously, which means that in all 10,000 troops would be deployed backed by a civilian element that includes inter alia a civilian-military humanitarian assistance mission for some 90 days and about 12 civilian missions made up of, say, 3,000 experts.
Europe’s transatlantic partnership with the United States is vital, of course, but the real question for we Europeans is whether Europe can meet the stabilisation and reconstruction challenge presented at the end of 2008 in the French EU presidency's conclusions. Only if aggregated as “Europe” will the EU member states establish the sort of credible stabilisation and reconstruction presence will form the basis of European security.
The European Union is in fact well placed to perform this role because, unlike NATO, the EU mirrors the functioning of its member states as a matter of course, and if they are to be successful, stabilisation and reconstruction ambitions require above all else the full engagement of the governments that are involved.
"The decision to use stabilisation and reconstruction to wean people away from extremism and even terrorism has already proved very costly, with the link between stabilisation and defeating terrorism still unproven"
By much the same token; mirroring the U.S. would be a mistake because its European members have a very different political and security culture to that of the Americans. Having said that, the U.S. has of late proved itself more adept than Europe at adapting to the S&R challenge. So if Europe is to emerge as an effective regional stabiliser – for that is after all the political rationale for S&R missions – three questions need to be answered satisfactorily: In what direction are stabilisation and reconstruction missions likely to evolve? Will the emergence of the EU as an effective stabiliser matter not just politically but also strategically? Can Europe rise above its 'Junior Partner' status with the U.S. in key stabilisation and reconstruction partnerships?
So far as the evolution of S&R missions is concerned, the decision to use stabilisation and reconstruction to wean people away from extremism and even terrorism has already proved very costly, with the link between stabilisation and defeating terrorism still unproven. This confusion of values with interests has led to poor planning and weak performance, with political leaders only too wiling to pass the risks down the chain of command because they themselves are so uncertain about both the objectives and the methods. Even if the current S&R missions in Iraq and Afghanistan succeed – and debate still rages about what ‘success’ would look like – it is unlikely that either the Europeans or the Americans will adopt the same approach in future.
Future European stabilisation and reconstruction missions will therefore probably be less ambitious and also much far closer to home, in North Africa, the Middle East and Africa. There will be a much greater emphasis on conflict prevention, on defensive security and on policing the consequences of any state failures in the European neighbourhood. Far greater emphasis will need to be placed on pre-conflict intervention and on the stabilisation of existing institutions. In a sense, the European creed will be to embark on UN-sanctioned reconstruction and governance missions by promoting effective governance. That won’t negate the need for effective armed forces, but the lesson to be drawn from the Balkans to the Hindu Kush is that once armed forces need to be sent it is too late to stabilise a situation. And on that point only the extensive and extended use of armed force can hope to create the right conditions for political reconciliation. And given Europe’s lack of deployable forces that is unlikely; Afghanistan has already seen Europe putting its few military eggs into a single basket.
Turning to the possible political benefits of the EU’s emergence as an effective S&R agent, the first point to be made is that Europeans seen to have absolutely no appetite for playing a high-end strategic global military role. The British and French like to pretend they can play in a global league, but in reality that is highly questionable. European security and defence will necessarily be constructed around the concept of being autonomous from the Americans, so by definition they are forced to focus on S&R precisely because Europe will never be autonomous in high-end strategic military terms. Europe’s self-confidence as a security actor will thus be largely limited to stabilisation and reconstruction missions that are seen to be legitimate and that have a reasonable chance of being effective provided that creating stability is the goal.
"A new European culture and concept of stabilisation and reconstruction is going to be needed; diplomacy, aid and conflict prevention will form its core, with policing and the separating of parties to a conflict along with other forms of armed intervention"
In international terms, the emergence of the EU in this role is likely to be very significant indeed. In complex S&R missions political identity is almost as important as the forces and resources deployed. If much of the EU effort is to be in and around Europe, then in most places neither NATO nor the U.S. could lead because that would only complicate the political stability that the missions are aimed at.
On the strategic front, there is much guff written about security globalisation that has helped to cloud Europe’s judgement about its wider role in the world. There is little or no security globalisation, but rather a series of regional security problems in which the presence of the Americans is the globalising factor. The EU’s strategic role, such as it is, will thus likely be that of helping to keep America strong in Asia by keeping Europe stable. The Americans will, of course, retain a residual interest in NATO’s collective defence as defined by its Article 5 to ensure that no strategic threat emerges to the West, but it is up to Europe to handle stabilisation and reconstruction in its own neighbourhood. Such a role is the natural adjunct to the EU Neighbourhood Policy because much political energy will need to be expended on dealing with the many ‘uneven’ states on the EU’s periphery.
A new European culture and concept of stabilisation and reconstruction is going to be needed; diplomacy, aid and conflict prevention will form its core, with policing and the separating of parties to a conflict along with other forms of armed intervention. But if the EU is going to be effective in this, it will need to develop far more responsive decision-making mechanisms, as well as deployable policing and military power that is more credible. So far, Europe’s failure to get a grip on all these elements has undermined the credibility of the ESDP.
The third and the last question to be addressed is whether Europe can rise above its “Junior Partner” status in S&R partnerships with the U.S. The answer is yes, but only if the EU is bold enough to draft its own S&R concept and turn that into a physical instrument. A European S&R concept would at last make the European Security Strategy operational. Europeans must always retain the capacity to work with the U.S. but must not allow themselves to be defined by the U.S. as an S&R actor. In fact, all the tools are in place, other than the crucial element of effective armed forces able to act in support of S&R missions over time and distance. And it is that imbalance that has so damaged the development of a European Comprehensive Approach.
When the EU’s Lisbon treaty eventually comes into force, the fissures that have characterised the EU security and defence effort should be eased, with the Council and the Commission coming together into a more synergistic whole for the organisation of complicated civil-military effect in complex places. Permanent structured co-operation could then lead to a better relationship between the EU and its member states as they develop more effective S&R capabilities. That will mean not only improved armed forces but an enhanced cadre of civilian specialists ranging from policing to judiciary and from border and customs to civil service capacity-building. The EU’s Headline Goal and its Civilian Headline Goal would thus increasingly be seen as one.
It is not the Americans who force Europeans to act as a junior partner. Rather, it is the confusions over differing ambitions for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and its ESDP. The increasing instability of Europe’s own neighbourhood means the need for a new stabilisation and reconstruction concept is more pressing than ever.