Pawel Swieboda’s appeal for a new European Security Strategy (ESS) is a heart-breaking read for any strategic thinker. The ache comes not from any of Swieboda’s very sensible proposals to update European security strategy. One can only applaud his acknowledgement of new global realities, his desire to turn vague good intentions into specific purposeful actions, and his smart ideas for rationalising Europe’s often byzantine structures. Indeed, if everyone in the European Union though as sensibly – as strategically – as Swieboda does, European strategy would certainly rest on a much stronger foundation. But in that case, of course, a new Security Strategy would be completely unnecessary.
And therein lies the source of my pain. We perceive a necessity for a new ESS specifically because the nations of the European Union lack consensus around ideas like Swieboda’s. The formulation of a security strategy therefore is (or should be) a political process, an effort to build consensus around a broad approach to securing a polity’s interests. It is much more than just a document, it is an effort to negotiate the limits of what the polity can agree on, to smooth out the most logically incompatible edges of that consensus, and to produce a document that can command widespread respect and agreement. The resulting strategy document, even if it gets the headlines, is the least important part of that process. The document is in fact the result of the process of strategy formulation, not its catalyst.
But of course the European Union lacks the political foundation and, more prosaically, the institutional infrastructure to carry out such a process. So, as is frequently in the case in recent efforts at pushing forward European integration, Swieboda appears to advocate a technocratic process that would “leave politics aside” as if politics were petty encumbrances to right thinking. The end result would assumedly impose the ESS on an unwilling, or at best inattentive, populace in the hopes that the document itself might convince the Union to follow its advice.
This was the tack taken quite successfully by the first ESS process which was heavily centralised in the staff of the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana. The document was then pushed, in only slightly modified form, through a rather dyspeptic European Council. It reflected its authors’ fears that, during the crisis over Iraq, Europe had strayed dangerously far from the transatlantic alliance. As such it represented an important and welcome step in repairing the rift within Europe and across the Atlantic that had opened because of the war in Iraq. But in the process, it also ignored the vast majority of the European population that recoiled from the American actions and resented the obvious genuflection to the Bush Administration. Transatlantic unity was enhanced, intergovernmental resentments were assuaged, but popular alienation toward the EU increased.
Exercises in abstract strategic thinking can be useful. But in the context of a European Union groaning under the weight of its failure to establish a basis in popular politics, the last thing it needs is another strategic edict, however sensible, from some politically isolated Brussels staff known only by an incomprehensible acronym. Consistent with Swieboda’s desires, some such staff is apparently drafting an updated ESS. I look forward to an eminently reasonable document that I can agree with totally and disregard completely.