Alphen, Netherlands. 16 May. CSDP: what’s in a letter? Last Thursday I spoke at the 2016 EU in International Affairs bash in Brussels. The subject of the meeting was the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and to what extent ‘CSDP’ had imposed costs on the UK. My point was that hitherto CSDP had imposed very little cost on the UK because it is not actually CSDP. Instead, CSDP remains little changed from its forebear the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), i.e. an inter-governmental (to use wonk-speak) mechanism and decidedly not a ‘common’ mechanism. So what, many of you out there are no doubt asking?
Well, in theory at least CSDP could not be more different than ESDP. ‘C’, i.e. ‘common’ implies a supranational force over which political decision-making would be taken away from the EU member-state and given to what would need to be a form of European Government, especially as it would involve decisions over the life and death of service personnel. Still with me?
Since ESDP became CSDP with the 2007 Lisbon Treaty the ‘C’ has by and large remained silent. Rather, CSDP has become ESDP-plus (or is that ESDP-minus?). Indeed, CSDP remains much closer to the Franco-British view of EU security and defence as set out in the 1998 St Malo Declaration, than the vision for defence union in the ill-fated 1952-1954 European Defence Community of which in 1953 Churchill famously said: “We are with them, but not of them”. Consequently, CSDP has continued to be quite useful to the British, and indeed the French, the two European powers that matter in such matters. This is because the flag one puts atop a military campaign is almost as important as the force one deploys into a complex security environment.
Take Libya. There is much talk about an Italian-led EU operation to stabilise the Libyan coast around Sirte and thus help disrupt the hyper-people-smuggling that is destabilising Europe and taking so many lives. One could not imagine such a force operating in that environment under a NATO, UK, French, let alone an American flag. Therefore, having the option of operating under an EU flag communicates a very distinctive political message about the identity, and indeed the nature and purpose of a deployed force. For that reason CSDP is useful to the British and French precisely because it affords London and Paris political options in a crisis.
The countries that actually want CSDP are those that have neither a strategic culture nor many forces. For them a truly common CSDP would absolve their political leaders of responsibility for sending national forces on unpopular foreign adventures. For them the ‘c’ in is a small ‘c’ because it stands for weakness.
And now the must-ask question these days. Where does Germany fit into all of this? After all, once the Brexit brouhaha has calmed down the real fight for the future of Europe will begin which is the real relevance of CSDP. Indeed, implicit in the entire Brexit debacle is a debate about the future balance of power in the EU.
In the coming fight there will be three sides. On one of the three sides there will be the ‘plucky’ Brits desperately trying to keep the whole CSDP thing intergovernmental, probably with the quiet but incomplete support of the French. On one of the other sides there will be the Euro-federalists led by the supra-elite, as represented by the recent Five Presidents Report, which will seek to expand ever closer political and economic union into a defence union. And on a third side will be the Germans trying to use CSDP-plus, i.e. a European Defence Union, to push towards the creation of a hybrid EU super-state which it controls, possibly with the support of Berlin’s new best friend Washington.
CSDP would be central to the German creation of a hybrid EU precisely because it would combine elements of both EU supranationalism and contemporary German liberal hegemony. That is why Berlin is considering including the concept of a European Defence Union (EDU) in its July defence white paper. Under EDU ‘ever closer defence union’ would be imposed on all EU member-states except Germany. Berlin would claim a form of American-style exceptionalism on the basis that it would be the paymaster. Berlin would also no doubt claim that if there is to be a European Defence Union then at least one power would need to remain free to play Leviathan to ensure compliance. However, EDU will fail.
Why? Three reasons. First, one very important design purpose of CSDP is to weaken the fundamental purpose of the state, to ensure the security and defence of its citizens, by transferring state sovereignty over time to the Brussels institutions. Not even David Cameron would agree to that. Second, defence more than any other area of state competence is about power. In 2015 IISS placed Britain as the world’s fourth biggest defence spender. With a defence budget of $56bn Britain spends some $9bn per annum more than France, and some $20bn more than Germany. Third, if a state spends 2% of its GDP on defence and yet decisions are being taken on the use of that force by people coming from states that spend far less either said state would not join such a common mechanism, or said state would reduce its expenditure to the lowest common denominator of shared CSDP investment. In time CSDP and the defence of Europe would fail. In other words, as currently envisaged a ‘common’ CSDP is a defence nonsense.
So what to do? Neither the British nor in reality the French want much more ‘C’ in CSDP. Yes, the French pretend they want more CSDP for political reasons. However, there is no more chance of France subsuming its forces under supranational control than my beloved Sheffield United winning the Champion’s League. Moreover, for all the political ambitions implicit in CSDP there is not going to be a European super-state, and Germany is not going to be Europe’s leading military power. However, Europeans will need to work together more closely for their own defence and an American-centric NATO will remain central to that defence, albeit underpinned by an increasingly over-stretched US. Given the balance of realities there could be no EU security and defence policy worthy of the name without Britain.
Therefore, if CSDP is to be credible it must stop being used as a back-door to supranationalism and take its proper place in the gamut of mutually-reinforcing security and defence tools available to Europeans in the twenty-first century. In other words, take implied EU supranationalism out of the mix and CSDP might actually begin to work.
Critically, the world’s fifth biggest economy and fourth biggest defence spender will not be subsumed within a genuine Common Security and Defence Policy. Indeed, for all the German talk about including a European Defence Union in their forthcoming defence white paper unless it is underpinned by hard defence investment then Bismarck would suggest CSDP will remain not unworthy of the bones of a single healthy Pomeranian grenadier.
For all the EU obsession with rules, as President Putin has so rudely reminded Europeans the true ‘common’ denominators of security and defence remain power…and weakness.
CSDP; more ‘E’ less ‘C’. Still awake?