The European Union has focused much of 2016 responding to the fear of insecurity by reinforcing defence and military spending; I wish to show why a space should open in 2017 for the EU to strengthen its role as a civilian conflict resolution actor.
Research shows that out of 59 armed conflicts that have come to an end over the last thirty years, 74.6% were terminated through peace agreements, rather than military force. This trend indicates that negotiation is the most successful way to resolve conflicts, and that conflicts need political solutions.
Conflict analysts have also historically insisted that the international community should focus on addressing the root causes of conflict to open a path for long-term conflict resolution. But what does this mean in practice for an actor such as the European Union?
In July 2016, High Representative Federica Mogherini presented the European Union Global Strategy (EUGS) for Foreign and Security Policy to Member States. This took place right after Brexit referendum which provided some sense of integrity and vision to the European Union at a time when it most needed it. EU policy makers want to respond to European citizens’ rising fear of insecurity in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Europe and feel that the EU defence institutions are ‘behind’ compared to the rest of the world. Consequently, much of the focus of the implementation of the EUGS has been on defence making that issue the Panacea that would keep the EU together in the face of insecurity or other potential Brexits.
Four rapid developments took place in the course of a few months that highlight the extent to which the EU is focusing the implementation of the EUGS on defence. First EU Member States and the European Parliament launched the European Defence Research Programme which will cost an initial EUR 3.5 billion for 2021-2027. Second, the European Commission launched its European Defence Action Plan (EDAP). These initiatives will considerably help fund the arms industry and will ultimately increase the amount of weapons on the planet. Third, the Commission published its EU Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, and the Council provided Conclusions on the Implementation of the EUGS in the area of security and defence, which outlines 13 action points. Fourth, the European Parliament appointed an MEP from the European People’s Party to lead discussions on the issue of Capacity Building for Security and Development, enabling development funds to be used to train and equip external partners’ armies.
All of these developments took place despite Mogherini herself saying in a speech that: “we need to avoid that our work in the implementation of the Global Strategy on defence does not overshadow our work on all the other sectors which are maybe even more important than the one on defence and security.” The EUGS indeed calls for an ‘integrated approach’ to conflict and crisis which Mogherini describes as “the core business of the European Union”, “what works best” and also “where we have our biggest assets”. Indeed, the European Union is a unique player on the international scene, capable of acting on a variety of levels, including politics, trade policies, environment policies, aid, and development.
Concrete steps on the civilian response to insecurity will be needed in the new year to balance out the numerous initiatives that brought the defence agenda to the forefront. Defence alone risks answering the longer-term causes of conflict with short term ‘fixes’. The EU’s push for a defence agenda should not happen at the expense of civilian peacebuilding, conflict resolution or conflict prevention initiatives, a role the EU has so far excelled in and has proved a relevant actor in the field.
Much hope now lies in 2017 refocusing the implementation of the EUGS on some remaining open questions, such as how the ‘integrated approach’ will be successfully implemented. It could be an opportunity for the EU to engage more constructively with its citizens, a gap that has remained unfilled for quite some time and risks eroding the EU’s integrity far more than security challenges. More resilient and safer communities are built when we all share responsibility for building security rather than leaving it to the police, military and intelligence services. W A new approach would allow us to address the root causes of violence rather than relying on measures that hope to protect us from its consequences. The EU could learn from the origins of the European project: economic cooperation providing opportunities to youth and a space for innovative entrepreneurship.