TCS Daily

Can Soft Power Really Save the World?

By Marcus Stober - February 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Almost a year after the launch of the so called European Security Strategy (ESS), European leaders should re-visit the document and ask themselves: have we lived up to our joint commitments? To be fair, from the politicians' point of view, the great idea of having a general strategy without concrete targets, is precisely to prevent having to account for its (lack of) implementation. But just for fun, let's take a look at what was promised to become the European way of security and whether it has been delivered.

In their December 2003 summit EU leaders decided to equip the Union with a document outlining a grand strategy and providing it with a general framework for the security dimension of the European project. No concrete goals were set but a couple of priorities and raisons d'ĂȘtre were envisioned on its 15 pages.

"As a Union of 25 states with over 450 million people producing a quarter of the world's Gross National Product (GNP), and with a wide range of instruments at its disposal, the European Union is inevitably a global player," states the introductory part of the report - and rightly so. But the question remains: one year after the report, has the EU become a global player in security? The answer is a qualified yes.

The document also outlines a couple of key priorities. Bluntly put, EU member states were able to agree that terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the problems related to failed states topped the list of urgent matters that the EU needed to deal with in a joint and coherent way. A year after: are we closing in on the targets?

The year 2004 started quite modestly. Early on the EU still seemed consumed by its internal division over Iraq, and European leaders met in an atmosphere of "let's talk about everything except the war". Although the European press at the time still seemed to see intra-EU relations through the spectrum of Iraq and relations with the US, small but important steps took place involving the flexing of European muscle abroad.

The EU mission to the Republic of Congo (now ended), and its missions in the Balkans are minor engagements but still important tests of Europe's abilities to coordinate and organise itself outside its territory. In 2004 we also saw the decision to establish battle groups ready to be deployed outside EU territory and continued progress towards a joint defence agency. The establishment of an EU anti-terrorist coordinator - Gijs de Vries, a.k.a, "Mr. Terrorism" - is another key institutional development of the ESS.

The major breakthrough for EU assertiveness abroad came in late November 2004. It was not institutions, but real politics that changed the nature of the game. It was in Ukraine. The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, was put to the test. Yes, the Orange Revolution was won by the Ukrainians camping on Independence Square, but the EU played a role simply because it was not silent. The result is a victory for the EU and for Ukrainian democracy.

A word of reflection, though. It took quite a lot of noise from independent observers, NGOs, the OSCE and outspoken US politicians - who had already reacted firmly after the first round of fraudulent elections - before the EU acted. Not until it was absolutely clear that the world (outside of Russia) would not endorse the results, was Solana able to rush off to defend Ukrainian democracy. Still, we should celebrate even that slow response.

What does this have to do with the European Security Strategy? A lot. The strategy was conceived just for these kinds of events. As envisaged in the document, the EU acted forcefully after a number of criteria were met. Amongst them was the famous multilateral approach (which of course means different things to different countries).

It seems the European Security Strategy has at least passed its raison d'ĂȘtre test. What about its pressing priorities?

Well, consider Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan is often portrayed as the success story of European involvement. We currently have soldiers there (supported by the Americans) keeping the cities calm and supporting the government. This is important but more could be done. Reports of an upsurge of lawlessness, revived Taliban activity and flourishing opium export to Europe make for depressing reading. The Afghanistan government's request for additional troops to patrol and secure the countryside has received a lukewarm response. While the bulk of the American forces are busy in Iraq Europe should do better to help out in Afghanistan. a

That Iraq is the front line of the war on terrorism is a European issue whether we like it or not. After more than a year of division and abandoning of allies (when Spain withdrew its troops it not only left its American allies but also its fellow Europeans behind) some opportunities have emerged. The recent elections in the in Iraq and the American support for the new Palestinian leadership has made clear to Europe that the American strategy to support democracies in the region is genuine. A more active US should also open up for greater European involvement. President Bush's visit to Brussels later this month provides excellent opportunities for the US and the EU to meet each other half way, by supporting each other, and thereby mending torn transatlantic relations.

Perhaps soft-power will be a component of this? Taking up that good old Soft vs. Hard power debate it might just be worth re-visiting the European Security Strategy and considering how it will secure Europe.

An Iran equipped with the atomic bomb would be bad news for Europe - not only because it is in missile range but also because it would change the balance of power in the region. It is therefore in the immediate self-interest of the EU to prevent the spread of nuclear technology. On this issue the EU and the US share a vision. The allies currently playing good cop-bad cop on Iran should continue doing so. Diplomacy backed up with lucrative trade deals could persuade Iran to open up for genuine inspections.

The deplorable recent pull-out of North Korea from the six-nation talks is another issue where the EU needs to back up the US in its efforts to re-start negotiations. As in the case of Iran, negotiation can only be affective if the aims are clear and the intra-EU or the EU-US positions are not played out against each other.

Multilateralism has always been a key component to the European Security Strategy. Since the EU is a coalition of independent states it can only act collectively on a multilateral basis. Since the publication of the European Security Strategy, the EU has shown that it has the potential to act when the conditions are right. The multilateral component is key to the success of collective European engagement, but it is also its greatest drawback. There are conditions under which the multilateral and soft approach of the EU will fail.

There comes a time when words need to be backed up with force. The year that has gone by since the launch of the Security Strategy has shown that when the EU acts together with its allies it can be effective. But what happens when this is not achieved and the threat persists?

Despite the coming together round the European Security Strategy in 2003 the Union remains a coalition of independent states. The EU can become an assertive voice in the world only when all members are playing the same tune. Perhaps this will change but today we still depend on our collaboration with the US. The Atlantic alliance is and should always stay a vital component of European security ambitions in the world. The European Security Strategy recognizes this relation and stays therefore a modest but important document in the emerging European quest for greater unity.

The author is director of policy for the European Enterprise Institute.


TCS Daily Archives