IMI-Analyse 2010/010en

European Offensive: How Brussels is planning to militarize the Union until 2020

von: Sabine Lösing / Jürgen Wagner | Veröffentlicht am: 11. März 2010


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The official „birth date“ of Europe’s militarization, formerly known as the „European Security and Defence Policy“ (ESDP) and know renamed into the „Common Security and Defence Policy“ (CSDP)[1], was the European Council summit in Cologne in June 1999. There the decision was taken to establish an EU rapid reaction force for global military interventions. Six months later at the follow-up meeting in Helsinki from 10 to 12 December, the target size of the force was announced: 60,000 soldiers (which with the necessary rotation and logistical support amounts to a total force size of around 180,000). After having been declared operational, the first combat missions of Europe’s army began in 2003; since then the military has been deployed with increasing frequency in order to enforce European interests.

Small wonder that the EU Council, at its meeting on 17 November 2009, indulged in some collective backslapping and adopted a ministerial declaration saluting the progress achieved: „ESDP Ten Years – Challenges and Opportunities“: „Commemorating the 10th anniversary of the inception of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the Council commended the success of this policy which saw the deployment of some 70,000 personnel in 22 ESDP missions and operations“. Yet for all the overt satisfaction, not all is sunshine and roses. Nick Whitney, former head of the European Defence Agency, for example, recently summed up what EU foreign policy had so far achieved, stating that the European Union was, in his judgment, falling far short of its target of being able to project effective military power.[2]

Which version is true, one ventures to ask. The answer is that both are! The scale and speed of the militarisation of the EU is indeed alarming, yet not nearly as much progress has been achieved as had been hoped. The goals are ambitious: In December 2008, the European Council agreed to expand capabilities as rapidly as possible to the point where it would in the future be possible to carry out up to 19 ESDP missions simultaneously – including two rapid response military operations and two „stabilisation missions“, i.e. occupation missions such as that in Afghanistan.[3]

The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009, now provides the legal framework to step up the pace of militarization. Europe’s militarists were in the starting blocks well before this. In joyous anticipation many wishlists have been drawn up in recent months, detailing what measures now have to be taken.[4] The most important list of demands by far was published by the EU’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS). „What ambitions for European defence in 2020?“ (henceforth: ISS 2020) appeared first in July 2009 and quickly went out of print. In October, after the „successful“ Irish ‚yes‘ vote to the Lisbon Treaty, the volume was reissued in a second revised edition.[5]

In the preface to the volume, the then High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, stresses the book’s „important contribution to the strategic debate“. He further notes that the EU, under his aegis, has successfully developed into a player with global power pretensions. However, Solana also underscored that there is an urgent need now, to provide the necessary military resources for the aspired policies. „We must have the personnel and capabilties – both civilian and military – to back up these political ambitions. The current gap between ambitions and reality must be addressed.“ (ISS 2020: p. 7 f.) What this means in concrete terms is summed up by Álvaro de Vasconcelos, Director of the ISS and editor of the book, in his conclusions: increasing the size of the rapid response force as rapidly as possible to 120,000 troops, i.e. having at the ready 360,000 combat troops to assert European interests (ISS 2020: p. 162). In plain text, the book also spells out against what or whom the European Union is arming itself.

Focusing on Great Power Rivalries

In addition to the question of how to „deal“ with conflicts in the „Third World“, the contributors to the volume also discuss the growing rivalries between the major powers. In her article, Nicole Gnesotto, who has been part of the EU military establishment for years, poses the rhetorical question: „should the aim of European foreign policies be to shore up an ailing Western supremacy and enhance Europe’s position within this system?“ (ISS 2020: p. 35)

The Paris-based professor provides no explicit answer, unlike her colleague Tomas Ries, Director of the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, who offers the most comprehensive threat analysis in the volume. He reasons that the danger posed by state actors may have decreased since the end of the Cold War but that it has by no means become obsolete. He explicitly names North Korea, Iran and Russia as states which have disengaged from the globalisation process and therefore represent a threat, or at least a potential threat. „The task here is to convert them if possible and, failing this, to manage their challenges to the globalizing world. This will require a capability for hard power politics. (…) By 2020 we can expect the ESDP to need to perform several tasks. (…). Towards (these states) a capability to support hard power politics, both for Clausewitzian influence and possible direct military confrontation“. (ISS 2020: p. 68f.)

Fighting the poor, instead of fighting poverty

Ries is particularly keen to protect the globalised system. There is growing recognition not only among researchers but also within the military establishment that poverty created by the neoliberal globalisation process will lead to growing conflicts in the „Third World“. Yet because this system has proved highly profitable to European corporate interests, a change of course is not on the agenda. On the contrary, despite the havoc which the economic and financial crisis has wreaked on the countries of the South in particular, the European Union intends to continue to pursue and even intensify its neoliberal foreign trade policy.

Statements made by the head of the EU Commission José Manuel Barroso in his „Political Guidelines for the Next Commission“ of 3 September 2009 serve as an example of this position: „Openness is critical to Europe’s future competitiveness. […] Reaching a deal in the Doha round remains the priority. But FTAs and trade arrangements will also have to be pursued. Trade negotiations have to be at the service of EU interest. […] We need to join up the different strands of our external policy much better to use our ’soft power‘ leverage to deliver solid results for EU businesses and for citizens. The European interest has to be promoted in a coherent and determined way.“

Set against this background, there remains little option for the EU’s military strategists other than to make ready to „stabilise“ conflicts sparked increasingly by poverty in order to keep a lid on the powder-keg of globalisation conflicts. Tomas Ries acknowledges this with unapologetic candour, identifying the future central task of EU military policy as follows: „Barrier operations – shielding the global rich from the tensions and problems of the poor. As the ratio of the world population living in misery and frustration will remain massive, the tensions and spillover between their world and that of the rich will continue to grow. As we are unlikely to have solved this problem at its root by 2020, (…) we will need to strengthen our barriers.“ (ISS 2020: p. 73) Based on such considerations, the decision was taken at the meeting of the EU Council at the end of October 2009 to further expand the EU border agency FRONTEX.[6]

There is also, however, the „need“ for direct intervention „on the ground“, and this needs to happen at least by the time that relevant economic and/or strategic interests are affected or the stability of the entire system is compromised. In the words of the intellectual armchair activist Ries: „Protecting flows will require global military policing capabilities.“ (ISS 2020: p. 69) In reiterating the importance of these comments, Vasconcelos, the ISS Director, uses virtually the same terms in his conclusions, referring to the common interest in „keeping the flux of globalization open.“ (ISS 2020: p. 166)

Civil-military Cooperation

To stabilise the increasingly turbulent periphery it is now finally time in Ries’s opinion to draw a line under earlier approaches which were predicated on restraint, neutrality and the consent of the parties to a conflict. This phase, he believes, must now be consigned to history. What is needed today in his view is „social engineering“ by means of military „nation building“. „Boots on the Ground“ operations are becoming increasingly necessary, “providing security for conflict resolution or nation building, from consensual peacekeeping to enforcement.“ (ISS 2020: p. 63) In operations of this kind, the focus is no longer on fighting a regular army but on controlling a crisis region by means of occupation and nation building. The Long-Term Vision report published by the European Defence Agency, which serves as a basis for EU armanents projects, formulated this shift as follows back in October 2006: „ESDP operations will be expeditionary, multinational and multi-instrument, directed at achieving security and stability more than ‚victory‘. […] In such circumstances, the military will be only one of a range of instruments applied to achieve the campaign goals.“

The suitability of combat troops for such „social engineering“ is plainly limited; instead there is a need for civil actors (everything from well diggers, through legal experts to agricultural engineers) to support the pursuit of military interests. Virtually every contributor to the ISS volume makes explicit reference to the need for such civil-military cooperation (CIMIC), although there are few details as to how this is to be achieved in practice. This gap is filled by a recent study by the influential European Council on Foreign Relations, which states that the „dogmatic conceptual distinction between ’security‘ and ‚development‘ issues […] makes no sense in the kind of crisis situation that threaten fragile states.“ Moreover, the EU needs to „rethink its entire approach to foreign interventions“ and to be „ready to use violence on much shorter notice.“ The report calls for an EU special representative to be appointed for each of the 20 states regarded to be at greatest risk of instability and which are under permanent observation. Detailed advance planning would be prepared under the aegis of each special representative. „Each plan should have an annex laying out contingency plans for a military intervention.“ At the same time, the report calls for the civil capabilities of the EU to be massively expanded and dovetailed as closely as possible with military structures. The report proposes that, by way of incentive, Member States which fail to deliver on their specified planning targets in future be excluded from all positions of leadership in the EU.[7] In general terms, one could say there is currently a convergence in the EU of what in the eyes of the leading EU countries has long belonged together. For this purpose, civil and military operational planning will be indivisibly linked together under the umbrella of the European External Action Service (EAS) which is currently being established.

EAS: Towards fully integrated imperial power politics

Civil-Military Cooperation is at the heart of Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, especially within the new External Action Service, which will be set up in the course of 2010. The EAS will absorb the competencies of the European Commission (foreign, trade, and development policy) and the Council (civilian and military operations) which will be united under the hat of one single „super-ministry“. Furthermore, Council Directorate E-VIII which is responsible for military mission planning and Directorate E-IX (civilian operations) will both merge into the new „Crisis Management Planning Directorate“ (CMPD). Thereby, a separation of civilian and military missions virtually ceases to exist. This poses the „risk that the proposed integration of civilian and military dimensions of EU crisis management strategic planning could lead in effect to the absorption of the civilian dimension into the military dimension.“[8] Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU since December 1, 2009 and therefore head of the External Action Service, summed the whole approach up as follows: „We must mobilise all our levers of influence — political, economic, plus civil and military crisis management tools — in support of a single political strategy. […] The creation of the European External Action Service is important to promote exactly the kind of joined up thinking and action we need. This is not just a bureaucratic exercise, It is a once-in-a- generation opportunity to build something new. […] I hope by now you get my point. The days when EU foreign policy could be dismissed as all talk and no action are long over.“[9]

In the words of Alexander Stubb, the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, thereby, the coherent application of power will be significantly improved: „Thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will be able to speak with a stronger voice and, importantly, through a diplomatic service of its own, the European External Action Service. […] In particular, the current effort of unifying strategic planning under the new Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD) serves the goal of a comprehensive approach. That will help to build one comprehensive plan that makes use of both military and civilian crisis management instruments. Building civilian-military headquarters would be a logical next step.“ (ISS 2020: p. 137f.)

At the same time, the EAS is being used by Germany in particular as a role model. The new development minister, Dirk Niebel (FDP), has already called for his ministry to be more committed to pursuing German interests and incorporated in time in the Foreign Office. There is a threat that civil and military resources will coalesce to the point where they are no longer distinguishable. The fatal consequences can be observed today in Afghanistan where CIMIC is being tested out for the first time on a large scale. Questioned about development tasks in Afghanistan, Niebel answers: „Our armed forces and civil reconstruction workers must work to the same goal”, that is to say, the assertion of German interests.[10] Happily VENRO, the Association of German Development NGOs, is highly critical of this development. „The consequence of [CIMIC] is that official development assistance and reconstruction aid are subsumed under the military goals of ‚counterinsurgency‘. […] This takeover of development assistance by the international military [is causing] an unholy mix-up of interests and goals which is detrimental to the cause of fighting poverty and promoting development.“[11]

Core Europe in the making

One of the most important – but frequently overlooked – new features of the Treaty of Lisbon is the huge shift in the power structure within the EU in favour of its strongest Member States. One factor in this is the weighting of votes in the Council. Germany, whose share of the vote nearly doubles with effect from 2014 from 8.4 to 16.73 per cent, stands to gain most from this redistribution (double majority). France and the United Kingdom, too, will be among those to gain, albeit not to the same extent.

In the military sector, this centralisation is reflected in the introduction of „permanent structured cooperation“ (PSC). The elites of the European Union have been toying with the idea of the emergence of a „core Europe“ (Schäuble/Lamers), an „EU avant-garde“ (Joseph Fischer) or an „EU pioneer group“ (Jacques Chirac), for a long time. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, suggested back in March 2008 that permanent structured cooperation be used to create a directorate for the CSDP, naming France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland as members.[12] Up to now the formation of an exclusive club of this nature, which could in certain circumstances go over the heads of the other Member States to assert its own foreign and security policy agenda, has been forbidden in the military area. As Vasconcelos stresses in his contribution to the ISS volume, this also changed on 1 December: „Indeed, one of the most interesting developments for ESDP envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty is the permanent structured cooperation open to a limited number of ‚able and willing‘ Member States.“ (ISS 2020: p. 25)

It is important to point out in this context that PSC offers an elegant way of annulling the consensus principle which has characterised the ESDP to date. Article 46 (6) of the Lisbon Treaty states that permanent structured cooperation can be established by a qualified majority. It also provides that „unanimity shall be constituted by the votes of the representatives of the participating Member States only.“ The trick seems to be to set the bar so high in terms of entitlement to participate that ultimately only the largest Member States are left. Protocol 10 of the Lisbon Treaty already identifies the fielding of EU combat troops and participating in the major EU armaments projects as necessary criteria for joining a PSC. Stefano Silvestri, President of the Institute of International Affairs, even proposes some sort of Maastricht-style criteria, attainment of which would be a precondition for being part of the EDSP core: „With the implementation of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PSC), as foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty, to be established among a few able and willing EU members, the prospect of common defence expenditure standards will arise, and of fixing targets and conditions, similar to what has been done for the core eurozone states in the monetary field.“ (ISS 2020: p. 83). The Chairman of the EU Military Committee, Henri Bentégeat, is more than aware of the benefits which may accrue from this when he writes: „In particular, the possibility afforded by the new Treaty of establishing enhanced cooperation in the field of the common foreign and security policy, opens up great potential for EU operations. Just one third of the Member States will be needed to take a decision in the Council to launch an operation, if it can be shown that the operation will further the objectives of the Union and protect its interests.“ (ISS 2020: p. 98) Hence in future it will be possible to circumvent obstructive and time-consuming negotiating processes and kick off a war in a far shorter time. Clearly this clashes with the German parliament’s right of prior approval, which is why the summary of the ISS study stresses unequivocally: „The possibility of being able to launch missions before all final political decisions have been taken needs to be considered so as to minimize critical procedural delays.“ (ISS 2020: p. 163) The threat that in future an EU directorate could decide on all relevant aspects of the CSDP policy in turn puts huge pressure to arm on the smaller Member States who are seriously worried that they could be completely sidelined in the foreseeable future in military matters.

Arming Europe

At the end of 2008, the European Defence Agency submitted a Capability Development Plan identifying numerous capability gaps which are now to be progressively closed. Until the Lisbon Treaty came into force, however, there had been a ban on appropriating EU budgetary funds for military spending. This, too, will change in the form of the „start-up fund“ provided for in Article 41 (3) of the Lisbon Treaty to finance military expenditure. The real political issue here is that there is no provision for the European Parliament – or the national parliaments – to exercise budgetary control: „The Council shall adopt by a qualified majority, on a proposal from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, decisions establishing: (a) the procedures for setting up and financing the start-up fund, in particular the amounts allocated to the fund; (b) the procedures for administering the start-up fund; (c) the control procedures.“

Thus the heads of state and government have the power on their own to determine the level of funds that should go into this „war chest“. Where this journey is leading, namely towards an EU defence budget, is made clear by Vasconcelos in the ISS volume: „A common budget should be established, to pay for the common structures and to finance a significant part of ESDP military missions.“ (ISS 2020: p. 162) It is hardly surprising that a paper published by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation forecasts that, „In the medium term the start-up fund could form the basis for a European fund for military missions.“[13]

Military operations within Europe

A further particular concern is the militarisation of domestic policy which is likely to be given fresh impetus by the Treaty of Lisbon. In this case it is the „solidarity clause“ (Article 222), which opens the door to military operations on home territory. This clause states that Member States should rush to the aid of another Member State with all civil and military means at their disposal not only in the event of a terrorist attack but also in the event of a „man-made disaster“. Since this also includes social unrest, EU Chief of Staff Henri Bentégeat states that what is „original“ about the solidarity clause is not the possibility of deployments within the Union to counter the terrorist threat. „The second element is more interesting, since it envisages the use of military means on the territory of a Member State, at the request of its political authorities.“ (ISS 2020: p. 99)

What will soon become normality within the EU is already being practised on the periphery of Europe: following the huge deterioration in the standard of living of the people of Kosovo in the wake of neoliberal economic reforms, protests are becoming increasingly frequent, including on the part of the Albanian population in Kosovo. In reaction EULEX, the „civil“ EU mission active in Kosovo, and the NATO KFOR force have embarked on joint exercises to refine their counter-insurgency methods. In the first six months of 2009 alone, four such „Crowd & Riot Control Exercises“ were staged. The following description of on of these exercises is revealing: „The exercise’s scenario was based on real facts. European Union parliament made the decision to redirect donation of money to Kosovo from building two hospitals, as it was announced an early spring press release, to establishing trash recycling centre in Kosovo. The following day, after the announcement Kosovo television and radio station reported upset and disappointed local civilians. In response to the news, the hospital workers association (HWA) called for demonstrations and actions to be taken against EU, EULEX and the Ministry of Environment and Spatial planning (MESP) on 17 June [2009] in Camp Vrelo. […] As a result, exercise’s participants were taught valuable lessons on being readily prepared in case they are faced with a furious mob, the ability to anticipate what the crowd may do and finally, practice their crowd riot control techniques.“[14]

Implementing the ISS-Blueprint

The ISS volume declares quite openly that the European Union should resort more readily to military force in order to maintain global hierarchical structures and structures of exploitation. The European Parliament is complying with this wish. The report „Implementation of the European Security Strategy and the Common Security and Defence Policy“, adopted by the European Parliament in March 2010, states, for example, that the Union must expand its civil and military capabilities. The report also identifies the next areas of intervention: In Kosovo the NATO KFOR force is to be replaced by an EU military operation. Furthermore, the EU is to provide support via „civil“ missions in Somalia and Pakistan to build up their military and police forces. It seems that EU troops will be deployed increasingly frequently on the front line. This makes it all the more necessary to organise resistance to this.


[1] First, Europe’s military policy operated under the term „European Security and Defense Identity“ (ESDI), then under „European Defense and Security Policy“ (ESDP) before it has been renamed again with the Treaty of Lisbon entering into force on December 1, 2009.
[2] Whitney, Nick: Re-energising Europe’s Security and Defence Policy, ECRF Policy Paper, July 2008.
[3] Conclusions of the Council Meeting of 11/12 December 2008.
[4] Cf., for example, Heise, Volker: „Zehn Jahre Europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik: Entwicklung, Stand, Probleme“, SWP-Studie, October 2009; Grevi, Giovanni/Helly, Damien/Keohane, Daniel (eds.): European Security and Defence Policy: The First 10 Years (1999-2009), ISS, Paris, October 2009.
[5] Vasconcelos, Álvaro de (ed.): What Ambitions for European Defence in 2020?, ISS, Paris, October 2009 (2nd edition).
[6] Conclusions of the Council Meeting of 29/30 October 2009.
[7] Korski, Daniel/Gowan, Richard: Can the EU Rebuild Failing States?, ECFR Policy Paper, October 2009.
[8] EPLO Statement on Civilian-Military Integration in European Security and Defence Policy:
[9] Ashton, Catherine: Speech at the 46th Munich Security Conference, 06.02.2010:
[10] „Niebel will in Afghanistan Vernetzung von Entwicklungshilfe und Militär“:
[11] Was will Deutschland am Hindukusch?, VENRO position paper, 7/2009.
[12] Howorth, Jolyon: The Future of European Security, EXPO/B/SEDE/2008/16, March 2008.
[13] „Eine Zukunftsagenda für die Europäische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik“, FES, July 2009, p. 5.
[14] The Balkan Hawk 2009 CRC Exercises,, 30.06.2009: