When looking at the European Union's strategic rise over the past two decades, one is very likely to ask oneself: "What is this 'beast' CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy)? Where does it really come from, and where exactly is it heading to?"
15 years have passed since the CSDP's formal inception— its pre-2009 form was known as ESDP (European Security and Defense Policy), an inertly used acronym nowadays—and more than 20 since EU security and defense policy was inaugurated in Maastricht with the backing of the now-defunct Western European Union (WEU). Today, just as then, the contemporary prototypes of common European defense puzzle far too many relevant observers, from various academics and policy makers to some of the world's top strategists.
Those insufficiently familiar with the CSDP—a great majority including mainly "the general public"—are thought to be "either [ignorant of]...or…bemused by" the idea of European defense and how the latter has materialized in practice, especially in the post-Cold War world. Meanwhile, the privileged "few" who know what this complex strategic enterprise is all about are compelled to tell essence-capturing metaphors whenever presenting it to a broader audience. One such metaphor, for instance, depicts the CSDP as a unique, diversified and potentially harmonious "jazz band," known and understood only by a limited group of "connoisseurs" (Borja Lasheras et al).
Unfortunately, as witnessed during the latest round of "spectacles" across the globe, this bend sui generis continues to be downplayed and ridiculed by the well-established orthodox bands; the reason being the same as always: its endemic incoherence, "distinct" approach and lack of "real" capabilities. More essentially, however, people have been troubled by the ambiguous and somewhat esoteric narrative created by CSDP insiders and those within the broader EU orbit. The majority of non-EU strategists, be they NATO-minded and vigilant or simply preoccupied with regional issues and national security priorities away from Europe, do not really know what to make of the present CSDP. In wavering whether and/or how to set their minds on it, they tend to (mis)perceive its ephemeral form as "a mere [historical] anomaly" (Hanna Ojanen) and an "elusive" (Alexander Justice Moore) politico-military phenomenon with debatable prospects.
But the CSDP is hardly an oddity or aberration, and it is certainly not as mysterious as one's ignorance might suggest. Just as an illustration, it is enough to pick a few referent secondary sources on European security and defense to realize that even leading experts in the field occasionally fail to distinguish between "European Council" and "Council of Ministers of the European Union," or between "Single European Act" and "Maastricht Treaty," or between the latter and the Lisbon amendments...Prone to terminological errors and conceptual inconsistencies, the CSDP's intellectual aces are sometimes no more helpful in informing the public than is, say, a superficial journalist, an unenlightened politician, or an analyst whose primary research interest lies far from Brussels.
The widespread lack of comprehensive and nuanced knowledge of the several decades-old EU fundamentals, as well as of the various elements and echelons within the Union's security and defense establishment, should normally be dispiriting. Yet, the irritating perplexities surrounding the EU/CSDP project have always been a great alibi in this regard, while also instigating fear and hyperbolic thinking.
Thus, on the one hand, one could still hear whinging from orthodox circles that the CSDP "is a complicated subject," purportedly the most repulsive in the field of strategic and security studies, and that "it is hard for American observers (even for European ones) to get a firm grip on these developments and their implications" (James Thompson) since there is "only a limited number of people on both sides of the Atlantic [who] have penetrated to the heart of the issue…" (Robert E. Hunter)
On the other hand, the "'heroic' claims" of the CSDP as a hazardous and potentially uncontrollable "military monster" (Jolyon Howorth) cannot be entirely suppressed. For their geopolitical essence, the enduring fear of a German-led Europe, has been stored in neither more nor less than the Pentagon's and the US intelligence community's sub-consciousness. Furthermore, while authors like Howorth make reasonable efforts to refute such claims by stressing the particularly complex EU structure and decision making in the sensitive realm of security and defense, the fact is that the EU/CSDP's restlessly evolving institutional conglomerate has become quite impressive. For the impressed Europeanists, the current absence of a hard-power disposition on the part of Europe is not an issue whatsoever; the sheer magnitude and potential of a "wiring diagram" (Lord George Robertson) as massive as the present CSDP seems to be a sufficiently good reason for optimism.
No doubt, the CSDP has grown into a kind of social octopus, constantly spreading its tentacles—both functionally and geographically. Rather than being a true "military monster," it currently bedevils great powers as a politically "unpredictable" (Sven Biscop and Jo Coelmont) and socially entangled aggregate. But why is this aggregate, which has recently been well researched by European security experts falling under the "constructivist" banner, so relevant in geostrategic terms? Is it just because it is that grandiose?
The present CSDP is actually just a minor part of an evolving pan-continental medium that encouraged the promotion of the idea of common European defense long before the post-WWII European integration (e.g. by Enlightenment thinkers such as Saint-Pierre and Rousseau). Yet, even so, it features a rich societal dimension presently embodied in an asymmetric defense and security network. Inspired by this large and yet growing web, Frédéric Mérand puts forward an important perspective of "CSDP as a social field." According to this "3 in 1" perspective (institutionalist/structuralist/balance of power) and concomitant approaches predicated on social networks theory, what has lately been perceived as a "dead" CSDP (2009-2013) is actually quite the contrary—a lively social "beast" apparently impossible to destroy.
As might be assumed, "the beast's" size, growth and transgovernmental processes can be generally scrutinized on two interrelated levels. First, there is the elaborate anatomy of the Brussels-based mechanism as illustrated by the chart below (here, the University of Manitoba Centre for Defence and Security Studies presents a rare, updated view of the CFSP [Common Foreign and Security Policy]/CSDP mechanism; for simplified pre-2010 sketches see, for instance, Jolyon Howorth, Security and Defense Policy in the European Union [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007], 69; and Elfriede Regelsberger, "Gemeinsame Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik," in Europa von A bis Z: Taschenbuch der europäischen Integration, 11th edition, ed. Werner Weidenfeld and Wolfgang Wessels [Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2009], 253-60).
2014 CFSP/CSDP Mechanism
Nevertheless, what definitely deserves thorough attention from an analytical and policymaking aspect is the much broader and highly intertwined CSDP web that spans across the old continent encompassing as many as four categories of entities and interests:
(1) European and US defense industry groups and credit insurance magnates;
(2) the national governments of "the big three" (UK, France and Germany), their foreign and defense ministries, specialized departmental/ministerial bodies, offices, programs and projects, as well as their parliaments and political parties;
(3) the Brussels-based CSDP mechanism and its ties to NATO committees and military command structure; and finally
(4) NGOs, informal expert groups, quasi-official and intergovernmental think tanks and Europe-wide military associations (see some of the work of Mérand, Stephanie Hofmann and Bastien Irondelle).
Today, as the world stubbornly enters a "Second Cold War," "the beast" is rendered all the more invisible next to a revitalized NATO. Coping with logic and irony at the same time, Berlin might finally realize that "It Is High Time" (Andreas Schockenhoff and Roderich Kiesewetter) to boost the EU/CSDP's own raison d'être.
*Special thanks to my supervisor and friend Dr. James Fergusson for inspiring me, in his own authentic way, to write this explanatory piece on European defense.
Hristijan Ivanovski is Research Fellow at the University of Manitoba (UofM) Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS), Associate Editor of iAffairs Canada, and a former coordination officer with the Secretariat for European Affairs of the Republic of Macedonia.