The European Union is notorious for producing reams of official documents. Does it need to churn out another one on the state of the world? In last week’s column, drawing on a new paper published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), I argued that the EU needs an overarching strategy to respond to escalating challenges both on its periphery and at the global level. The existing European Security Strategy, completed 10 years ago this month, remains a pithy analysis of the problems the bloc faced in 2003. But its age shows: It contains just two extremely brief references to China, for example.
More fundamentally, as I wrote last week, the current strategy is based upon an ambitious post-Cold War vision of the EU as a force for both stability in its neighborhood and the consolidation of a liberal international system. This feels sadly distant from the cut-and-thrust of today’s turbulent strategic environment, in which Russia and China in particular are regularly willing to confront the West, while much of the EU’s neighborhood is in chaos. It is possible, as the new ECFR paper suggests, “that Europe and the world have changed so dramatically in the last decade that the conceptual underpinnings of the 2003 European Security Strategy obscure rather than illuminate the challenges Europe now faces.”
These conceptual gaps relate not only to the EU’s strategic competitors in Beijing and Moscow but also to its allies in Washington. “Acting together,” the 2003 strategy proclaims, “the European Union and the United States can be a formidable force for good in the world.” This was undoubtedly a sore point in the aftermath of the Iraq War, when those words were drafted. Ten years on, it is arguably even more sensitive. The Obama administration has rattled European leaders with its “pivot” to Asia, to say nothing of its spying on EU governments and frequent disregard for their views on conflicts ranging from Afghanistan to Syria. As the U.S. rethinks its own commitments, it is likely to become less invested in European security issues and less inclined to value the EU as a strategic, rather than economic, partner.