Opinion: Time for EU to review security strategy

Salman Rushdie, a British writer of Indian decent, once said that there is no such thing as ideal security – instead, we have to accept the fact that we live in a world we try to turn into as little secure as possible.

Such pessimism notwithstanding, the European Union, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, proudly opened its security strategy for the continent with the following words: “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free.”

A little more than a decade has passed and it is obvious that the situation has changed profoundly. The world has been hit by the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the consequences still felt today in countries like Greece and Spain where every fourth person of working age is jobless and national debts exceed 100 percent of the GDP.

However, Europe faced an even bigger challenge in 2014, the year that should have been characterized by joyful speeches about lessons learnt from a hundred years since World War I rather than talks about cracking security and stability. Instead, we have to state that those who had been pronouncing structures like NATO to be relics from the Cold war, were proven wrong.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the financial crisis and other factors are forcing to reconsider also the role of the EU and its positions. It shall be a collective search for the answer to the question of how much Europe is ready to face the critical challenges in the continent. Despite a wealth of various specialized documents, the fact remains that Europe has so far failed to update its basic comprehensive strategy – and it begs the question, why?

Even more so because the text, prepared in 2003 and evaluated five years later, contains several aspects in need of corrections or complements for objective reasons.

For example, strategic objectives include a provision on creating secure neighbourhood. There is a statement that “the integration of acceding states increases our security but also brings the EU closer to troubled areas. Our task is to promote a ring of well governed countries to the East of the European Union and on the borders of the Mediterranean with whom we can enjoy close and cooperative relations… It is not in our interest that enlargement should create new dividing lines in Europe. We need to extend the benefits of economic and political cooperation to our neighbours in the East while tackling political problems there.”

In today’s perspective, the EU must not forget its objective – not to create new dividing lines, which is very much what Russia wants. One of the main objectives of the Kremlin in Ukraine is to show by force that post-soviet Eastern Partnership countries fall into its zone of interest, thus they should stay away from pro-Western integration area. In other words, there is an attempt to draw a red dividing line near Ukraine that reminds of what right after the war Sir Winston Churchill called “the iron curtain”: despite the desire to see Eastern Partnership countries free and closer to democratic Europe, there are attempts to block this road by building artificial walls. Even in the West there are voices saying that there shall be no expansion of the EU and NATO in Eastern Europe without Russia’s endorsement.

Therefore, in the renewed strategy, the EU should note that it will not allow to be made hostage to these and similar ambitions and will find effective measures to deepen integration with all countries that want it. Obviously, the current Association and Free Trade Agreements, centred on opening EU markets to those countries, are not enough; they have to be supplemented with new incentives to help implement reforms. One question that still remains unanswered: can EU neighbors in Europe (such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia) be thinking of EU membership perspectives in the long run? After all, all analysts studying EU external relations agree that membership perspective is the most influential tool in the EU’s foreign policy. Thus, will the EU remain an “open door” community or will it turn towards the direction of a closed “European castle”? The European security strategy must answer this question.

Spreading European “rules of the game” is in the self-interest of Europe, since the more democratic and free its neighborhood is, the safer and more secure the entire EU. The same applies to the so-called frozen conflicts – realizing Russia’s strategy to continuously create new frozen conflicts and thus paralyze development of the neighboring countries, measures shall be foreseen for stopping it.

For example, Europe shall not be a go-between who proposes to include separatists or terrorists from various regions with the so-called “self-determination right” into the negotiation room. Moreover, the EU shall send a clear message to Russia that its attempts to check integration of neighbouring countries to EU via artificially created frozen conflicts – in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and now in parts of Donbass – are not fooling anyone and will fail.

More attention in the European security strategy shall be allocated to energy sector. If the current strategy makes only a fleeting reference to it, from now on strategic directions for problem solving should be clearly outlined. In such case, energy security shall find its place in the list of principal threats.

In order to deal with threats, even partially, the EU should once again unambiguously reiterate its objective to solve the “energy island” question, i.e., to leave no states isolated from alternative raw material supply sources or connections with other Community member-states. One of the directions should be the acknowledgement that implementing ambitious ideas like the common energy market requires a practical starting point, i.e., developed infrastructure. The EU should prioritize regional energy projects, LNG terminals, gas pipelines, construction of energy links and it shall foresee that implementation of such projects will be interrelated with a deeper energy integration on the level of the entire EU. Then, not only would the “energy island” issue be solved, but there would also be a guarantee of a return on investment in expensive projects, since they would be a purposeful part of the EU’s infrastructure.

It is important not only to strengthen the integration of the EU’s internal market, but also to strengthen the EU’s negotiating power with external energy providers. For that reason, we need joint EU powers to negotiate gas acquisitions (e.g., a common EU gas acquisition agency), which would limit possibilities of third-country monopolist companies to dictate politically-skewed prices and thus would increase energy security of all member states.

At the same time, the strategy should highlight new directions for cooperation with strategic partners, such as the United States of America. Due to revolution in shale gas, over a short period of time the US has become a gas-exporting country. Therefore, the EU shall make effort to ensure that dependency on imports is at least partially solved by deeper cooperation with allies. It is extremely important in the context of current negotiation on transatlantic trade and investment partnership agreement.

Furthermore, the renewed EU security strategy should pay more attention to the defense of information space. It is valid not only in the content of cyber challenges, which are mentioned in the current document, but also in a broader sociocultural perspective. The Ukrainian crisis and active propaganda of Russia have shown that, up until now, no instruments have been created to help solve the problem of stopping malevolent propaganda. This has created preconditions for continuous information attacks that are particularly felt in the EU periphery. The EU strategy shall foresee creative measures rather than prohibitions – a programme for expanding European TV retransmission, supporting programming targeted at integration of ethnic minorities in various countries.

On the other hand, the EU shall find a way to prevent countries like Russia from exploiting opportunities provided by liberal democracy to spread its propaganda and defend it under the guise of freedom of speech.

It’s a paradox that the European security strategy of 2003 names Russia as a strategic EU partner. Therefore, the least what the EU must do is cross out Russia from this list.

In short, the EU shall use the opportunity to prove that it is not a “toothless” actor in international processes. Stable, secure and democratic area created by European integration today faces more and more challenges which require new and decisive responses.


Dr. Laurynas Kaščiūnas and Linas Kojala are analysts at the Vilnius-based Eastern Europe Studies Centre.

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