Junior Ambassadors Program 2017 - Simon Engler

Building on Europe's strengths for a stronger EU foreign and security policy

by Simon Engler


Over the last twenty years, the EU has made significant progress integrating climate change into its foreign and security policies. Yet in one essential area – the question of geoengineering, or attempts to artificially alter climate systems – there is much more work that needs to be done.


Even if most countries meet their current targets for limiting greenhouse-gas emissions, many of them will face serious dangers as result of climate change. That makes it more likely that some governments will turn to geoengineering in the coming decades, perhaps to the detriment of other states. Because the effects of geoengineering are unclear and because there is not yet an international framework for managing those effects, unilateral attempts to alter the climate could provoke international tensions or war.


The EU has a reputation as a credible actor on matters related to climate change and international law and is home to strong research institutions. It is well positioned to take the lead on what could become one of the century's most difficult foreign-policy issues. There are a number of ways the EU could do so: it could initiate conversations over the potential norms and laws surrounding geoengineering with foreign powers, for example, and it could ask the EU Institute for Security Studies to examine the lessons of relevant international regimes, like the nuclear nonproliferation regime, for those discussions.


Next, the recent targeting of political institutions, e.g. in the U.S. and Germany, have shown that electoral processes around the world are under increasing threat of digital interference. As more actors improve their cyber-capabilities, such attacks could become more common – not just on the part of great powers, but also on that of smaller states and non-state groups. That could undermine public faith in democratic institutions, as appears to have happened in the United States. Consolidated and developing democracies alike are insufficiently prepared for this threat. 


The EU should expand its election assistance missions so that they incorporate cyber security measures, supporting the EU CFSP's mission of consolidating global democracy. At the invitation of foreign governments, for example, EU teams could assess countries' digital electoral infrastructures and indicate their weaknesses to national electoral authorities, much as cyber security consultants audit private firms. The EU is already a leading force for fair elections and a secure and open digital realm: it should use those strengths to address a trend that could undermine fragile democracies in the years ahead.


These measures would play to the EU's strengths, and they would support the cooperative, rules-based order that underwrites European and global stability.