Monthly Mind March 2013 - Europe's Security, Europe's Responsibility

The integration of security policy continues to be one of Europe's key future challenges.

Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

The 49th Munich Security Conference was marked by the crises in Mali and Syria and the issue of Iran's nuclear program. In addition, the panels focused on the future of Europe's security policy. The conference in a nutshell: Most are aware of the problems but hardly anybody is willing to make a vigorous effort to tackle them.

"What we do need is leadership, long-term commitment and courage," the Dutch Minister of Defence, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, stated at the Munich Security Conference addressing the reluctance of European nations to intensify their cooperation in terms of security and defense policy. Since the Dutch are pioneers of defense cooperation, the Minister's statement also implied an invitation for her EU partners to take action. After all, those in charge are well aware of the fact that the European security and defense policy is facing enormous challenges. Yet too little efforts are made. It is imperative to pool and share military capabilities – a concept EU experts simply refer to as Pooling & Sharing.

It might seem abstract at first glance to think about a sensible future concept of European defense policy. But it is not abstract at all. If we want to be prepared to counter unexpected crises or humanitarian emergencies – as a last resort also militarily – we have to significantly boost cooperation and efficiency in Europe. No European country can afford the security instruments that would match the increasing demands by itself.

In other words: Europe's defense-political ability to act is at stake. There are many reasons for that. To begin with, the European defense budgets are continuously cut and important capabilities are neglected. Secondly, the security-political environment presents more and more difficult and complex challenges to our armed forces. Thirdly, we are bound in the future to brace ourselves up for managing potential crises in the European neighborhood more and more on our own as a consequence of the reorientation of the U.S.A. towards Asia. Although U.S. Vice President Joe Biden underlined impressively and credibly at the Munich Security Conference the continuing importance of Europe for the U.S.A. – one example: "Europe is the cornerstone of our global commitment" – it became obvious, too, that the U.S.A. is demanding more from Europe and will no longer automatically assume the leading role in the management of crises in Europe’s neighborhood.

The U.S.A. has basically performed a revolutionary volte-face in its view to Europe. For decades, America tended to be critical of the European unification process because it was not sure whether or not the growing integration could undermine the transatlantic security partnership. This has meanwhile changed completely to the contrary: Europe is being downright challenged to become eventually able to act in security-political matters. A strong security-political role of the EU is no longer considered to contravene but to be a prerequisite for a strong NATO. However, if we Europeans want to be partners of the U.S.A. on an equal footing, we must be prepared to render our contribution.

Understandably enough, one wants to stay out of many issues. But to say "No" is no substitute for security policy. Everything that happens even at the gates of Europe will affect our security. Of course, this does not mean that we should recklessly precipitate military operations in our European neighborhood. But both our own security interests and our moral responsibility oblige us to develop our military capabilities further – whether or not we will then have to use them.

Mali, for example: The French government could hardly save themselves from international praise for their intervention but the support of France by its partners is far from being abundant. Fundamental capabilities such as air-to-air refueling are scarce. As early as during the intervention in Libya in 2011 the material weaknesses of even the best European armed forces had become more than obvious. That intervention might have failed without the massive support by the U.S.A. In Mali the Americans made clear that they could not be expected to incur a far-reaching commitment. The U.S.A. and NATO cannot be everywhere, so the voice from Washington. So far, the French approach has been promising but to achieve a long-term success France will be dependent on the support of its European partners.

Another example is Syria: Here a country along Europe’s southeastern border is disintegrating. A dictator is killing ten thousands of people, the different ethnic groups of the population become more and more radicalized, conflicts in the entire region are exacerbating, and weapons of mass destruction could fall into wrong hands. For almost ten years we have pledged ourselves to the principle of the responsibility to protect according to which the international community is responsible to protect defenseless populations from mass crimes committed by their own governments. Yet today we are not dealing one jot better with the Syrian crisis than we did with the breakup of Yugoslavia twenty years ago. The discussions in Munich have once again revealed that there are no simple solutions. But the fact that Europe has virtually failed to emerge as a security-political player is extremely unsatisfying.

The Dutch defense minister is right: The European security cooperation needs determined leadership, a long-term perspective and courage. And a great deal of that.


Wolfgang Ischinger was State Secretary of the German Federal Foreign Office and German Ambassador in Washington and London. He is Chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Global Head of Governmental Relations at Allianz SE. A German version of this piece appeared in the German Magazine "Der Peutinger. Bayerischer Monatsspiegel", on 1 March 2013.

08 March 2013, by Wolfgang Ischinger