European security: where do we go from here?


In the preceding 11 chapters we have introduced and outlined the key challenges and actors in respect to European security. As we have identified, the term ‘security’ has broadened theoretically and empirically in its scope since the end of the Cold War. This chapter acts as a basis for reflection regarding the actors, institutions and security threats that Europe faces presently. In doing so, we can consider where the modern day foundations of European security have come from and their evolution. From the ‘simplicity’ of security threats and actors during the Cold War, we now face multiple challenges with institutions designed for a different security environment, and European state leadership that has not always been able to rise to the task. The institutions studied in this book - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) - have tried to adapt; how far they have been able to provide security is a matter of debate. Finally, what we define as a security threat is, in itself, part of a narrative, founded on the idea of threat perception. This leads to a particular focus on what security means and which hard and soft security tools are required to try to deal with these security challenges. As has been demonstrated, Europe suffers a capability-expectations gap (Hill, 1993) and a ‘consensus-expectations’ gap (Toje, 2008). Hence, there is not only a dearth in capabilities, but also the political willingness to utilise those capabilities to which Europe does have recourse.

This chapter is structured as follows. To start, we highlight key contemporary trends regarding security and insecurity in Europe, using Section Three of the textbook as the basis to provide some critical insights regarding security threats and security approaches. Secondly, we will offer some concluding thoughts on the evolution and cohesiveness of the European security architecture in meeting today’s security challenges. By summarising some of the key themes which came out of the three institutional chapters found in Section Two of the textbook, we will highlight the continuing issues with all three institutions and how this shapes

Europe’s ability to provide for its security. Finally, we highlight the role of security leaders in providing a response to serious threats and ask whether new innovations such as Macron’s European Intervention Force are a way to address challenges such as Brexit and the lack of political willingness to utilise military instruments. We finish with some reflections regarding the direction that European security is heading in, and what this means for both institutions and European leaders.

Security and insecurity in contemporary Europe

The 1990s saw an initial flurry of security initiatives, agreements and a de-securitisation of political rhetoric in Europe. It was more popular to talk about the peace dividend than to urge increased military spending. There was certainly conflict in both the Balkans and Caucasus, but for the majority of European states and citizens the decade was marked by a lack of threat. Peace deals were struck in the Balkans and even the Troubles in Northern Ireland came to a settlement. With the emergence of the EU as a security actor in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the consequent winding up of the Western European Union (WEU), the security landscape was simplified. Gradually, the current post-Cold War European security architecture emerged, with the three institutions studied in this book enlarging their membership and taking on new security-related tasks. As Forsberg and Haukkala (2015) point out, there was no grand plan or a single peace-making event; rather, the evolution of Europe’s security order was gradual and closely tied to the liberal order that emerged globally after the end of the Cold War (Deudney and Ikenberry, 1999). While there have sometimes been difficulties in managing cooperation between institutions, particularly between the EU and NATO as already mentioned, and the flaws in European defence were always well-known (Menon, 2011), so long as there were few active threats such problems were easy to ignore.

As Chapter 11 has highlighted, the ability of European militaries to innovate and adapt to changing threat perceptions and needs is patchy at best. While some have managed to track US military innovations, or learnt lessons from combat experience in the last two decades, others have largely given up. This means that there are real doubts that European military capabilities, let alone the institutional architecture within which they function, are fit to deal with what objectively can only be described as a worsening security situation. While, as we describe later in the chapter, new initiatives are being launched to tackle this problem, they are having to chase a quickly evolving security environment.

So, what are the concerns? In 2018, a European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) survey of citizens in all 28 EU member states found that the top five perceived threats are, ‘in descending order: cyber attacks; state collapse or civil war in the EU’s neighbourhood; external meddling in domestic politics; uncontrolled migration into the country; and the deterioration of the international institutional order’ (Dennison et al., 2018, p. 2). Survey respondents expected the order to remain the same for the next decade, with the addition of terrorist attacks. In comparison, a similar survey in 2008 found that the top perceived threats then were: economic instability; terrorist attacks; instability in the neighbourhood; disruption to the energy supply; and cyber attacks. The ECFR survey found that there was more continent-wide agreement on threat perceptions than is sometimes thought, although fear of uncontrolled migration is strongest in the south and east, concern about Russia is most prominent in the east and the threat of terrorist attacks is strongest in those countries that have recently experienced them (Dennison et al., 2018). The question is how such threats might be countered and whether Europe’s security institutions are well equipped to do so.

As Chapter 10 on changing conventional security threats showed, the concern about state collapse or civil war in the neighbourhood is merited. A low-level war is continuing in Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. To the south, open conflict continues in Syria’s civil war, while Libya is no longer a functioning state. Moreover, while so-called Islamic State, or Daesh, may no longer hold large areas of land, enclaves of Islamist groups exist across the Middle East and Sahel regions. These conflicts have challenged Europe’s security institutions, and, just as with the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia or the 2008 Georgian war, the response has been largely piecemeal, reliant on particular countries taking action, and, long term, seemingly ineffective. As Chapter 8 on human security argued, the enthusiasm for liberal interventionism in Europe has largely waned.

It is thought the conflict in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea has posed the most serious question for the European security order. As Forsberg and Haukkala (2015, p. 1) argue, ‘all the key parties - Russia, the EU and the USA/NATO - are all intimately involved and at loggerheads while some of the key norms of the order, namely territorial integrity and peaceful resolution of conflicts, have been broken’. As the chapter on NATO argued, this is particularly challenging as the USA’s commitment to NATO under President Trump is questioned. Suddenly, the weaknesses of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) have become too important to ignore.

Arguably, Russia has never felt comfortable with the order that emerged at the end of the Cold War (Baranovsky, 2000). Charap and Troitskiy (2013) argue that as both NATO and the EU expanded to include former Warsaw Pact members and even the Baltic states, which had been part of the Soviet Union, Russia felt increasingly threatened. NATO considering offering membership to Georgia, and the EU offering an Eastern Partnership agreement to Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus to strengthen ties, was simply too much for Russia. Mearsheimer (2014) is among those scholars who claim that the conflict in Ukraine can be blamed on NATO and the EU attempting to interfere in Russia's sphere of influence. Others, such as Kuzio (2017), argue that the EU was naive not to realise that Russia viewed it, as well as NATO, as a hostile actor, with its plans to strengthen partnerships with its Eastern neighbours. There is, though, increasingly little doubt that Russia has moved from dissatisfaction with the institutionalised European security order to actively trying to destabilise it through what is called hybrid warfare (Malksoo, 2018). European citizens are increasingly aware of cyber attacks, electoral interference and the support of anti-system parties that some argue can be traced back to Russian interference (Ziegler, 2018). It is, in short, not difficult to understand why, in this climate, the ECFR survey found that Europeans feared cyber attacks, external meddling and the deterioration of the international institutional order in 2018; especially given the increasing unpredictability of their main ally, the USA, under President Trump (Dennison et al., 2018).

The presence of both civil wars and collapsing states in the southern Mediterranean has brought large numbers of refugees fleeing the conflicts to Europe, peaking in summer 2015 when more than 1,000,000 people crossed into Europe by land and sea. Their arrival has been controversial and attitudes and responses across Europe vary widely. Some politicians, like Angela Merkel of Germany, have championed humanitarian values; others, like Viktor Orban of Hungary, regarded them as an existential threat to their states. This has meant that a coherent EU response has been noticeable by its absence (Scipioni, 2018). The member states simply do not agree. In a similar time frame, some European cities have suffered major terrorist attacks. Again, as Chapter 7 on internal security has argued, disagreements have emerged between European states on the best ways to respond to this threat. The balance between values of liberty and privacy, on the one hand, and security, on the other, is proving very hard to agree. The sense that an adequate response is not being given by, in this case, the EU, has been fuelled by the rhetoric of populist parties across Europe. While this has brought electoral success to some, and contributed to the British people voting to leave the EU in 2016, it has not, thus far, caused major damage to the EU.

The agendas of Europe’s populist parties also challenge the liberal international order that underpins the institutionalised European security order. Increasingly, European citizens appear polarised between those who instinctively support that order, and those who reject it. In the bitter aftermath of the UK’s Brexit referendum, these tensions are particularly noticeable (Browning, 2018). The tensions between those who view themselves as progressive, and those who feel change has come too quickly and challenges their understandings of how the world works, have also entered the field of gender politics and sexual violence, the importance of which were highlighted in Chapter 9 on gender and European security. The #MeToo campaign, which encouraged women to report sexual abuse and harassment, and which had consequences for a number of prominent men, has also sparked a backlash among those who felt threatened by it.

Kinnvall et al. (2018) have argued that to understand contemporary European security, we need to consider how Europeans are interpreting the crises around them as existential threats to the world as they know it. This brief overview of how threats are perceived and how security and politics interact suggests they have a point. Europeans had enjoyed a stable security order for nearly two decades, but now that order is being challenged, both internally and externally, at a time when Europe is facing genuine security threats. The well-known flaws of the CSDP, the unwillingness of many European states to fund defence and the over-reliance on the USA as a security provider are real problems now. All three of Europe’s security institutions are struggling to be effective in this new environment. Even the norms that supported the European security order are under threat. As Forsberg and Haukkala (2015) argued, the annexation of Crimea by Russia challenged the norms of territorial integrity and peaceful resolution of conflicts that tacitly underpinned the institutionalised European security order. As Mitzen (2018) has argued, this series of existential threats, together with the inability of Europe’s institutions to solve them, has created an anxious community rather than a security community. For a security order that has relied on its institutions to provide collective security for decades, this anxiety is a serious matter. But is it justified?

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