• Judy Asks: Does Europe Have a Security Problem?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey November 25, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.


    Federiga BindiSenior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

    Yes, it does. However, Europe’s biggest security threat is endogenous rather than exogenous. In the aftermath of the November 13 Paris attacks, the French government asked for the application of the EU’s mutual-assistance clause, instead of the solidarity clause specifically deigned to deal with terrorist attacks (or natural disasters)—suggesting that Europe is facing an external threat to be defeated militarily. French President François Hollande’s tour of EU capitals is also aimed at obtaining military support.

    Yet, the terrorists who attacked Paris were homegrown: European citizens who held European passports. Continental Europe has provided over 5,000 fighters to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, compared with about 100 from the United States. Because of the evident gaps in European intelligence, these fighters moved freely across France, Italy, Greece, and Belgium. Police stopped them repeatedly—even after the Paris attacks—but they were let go.

    What Europe needs is to redefine its integration policies, to coordinate its intelligence, and to share data. Whether it is a European FBI or an upgraded Europol, the point is: more Europe, not less, will help solve Europe’s security problem.


    Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Center

    You bet it does. The first job of any state is to protect its citizens. This requires control over its territory as well as domestic and foreign policies that promote and do not damage the state’s security interests. If some security matters are outsourced to the EU (as with the external borders of the Schengen passport-free zone) without the implications being thought through, this is a severe blow to the credibility of the EU project. Three steps are needed to restore that credibility.

    The first is to secure borders and establish who is living and traveling around on EU territory. This can never be 100 percent effective, but it is an important signal to reassure European citizens and to combat criminals and terrorists. Another long-overdue measure is the introduction of ID cards in the UK.

    The second step is to craft domestic policies of inclusion, make multiculturalism work, especially through education and job creation, and ensure there is no European home base for terrorists, including on the Internet. This is a generational task, but it succeeded in Northern Ireland. Politicians, cyberexperts, religious leaders, and teachers have to do more to combat prejudice and preach tolerance. This will also require reallocation of state resources.

    The third step is to devise sensible foreign policies that reject interventions to remake the Middle East as the West would like, and to tackle the prime sources of terrorist funding and Wahhabi propaganda. Prioritizing arms sales to the Gulf states over support for democracy and human rights is not a sensible foreign policy.


    Paul CornishResearch group director for Defense, Security, and Infrastructure at RAND Europe

    The EU faces not one but several security problems, covering different security areas (economic, human, and internal) and ranging in intensity from the structural and long-term to the violent and immediate.

    The EU’s structural security problem is economic. Persistent uncertainty over the euro questions the EU’s validity as an economic union and its prospects as a political union. The internal security problem reflects the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and the continuing state of alert in Brussels: incontrovertible evidence that jihadist teams have been able to infiltrate European cities to prepare and conduct murderous attacks. Somewhere between these two—and connected to both—is the EU’s medium-term, human security problem: the influx of large numbers of asylum seekers and migrants from North Africa and the Middle East.

    As if these were not enough of a challenge, the security of the EU is also undermined by the quality and coherence of the union’s response. There is not one response but many, from the various departments of the 28 EU member governments as well as from the EU’s own directorates and agencies. Efforts to coordinate these elements—and even to share intelligence—might most politely be described as a work in progress. But if the EU cannot coordinate and meet these challenges, then what is it for exactly?


    Pauli JärvenpääSenior research fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security in Tallinn

    Europe does not just have one security problem; it has at least two major shortcomings.

    The first telling symptom of an acute European security problem is the ongoing massive manhunt in France and Belgium for one of the suspected perpetrators of the November 13 Paris attacks. Three days after the killings, French President François Hollande, speaking during a joint session of parliament, proclaimed that “France is at war,” calling the self-styled Islamic State “not just France’s enemy [but also] Europe’s enemy.” Hollande sought to galvanize other EU member states to support France when he invoked the mutual-assistance clause of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. What that could mean in concrete terms will be seen in the next few weeks. The credibility of European security and defense policy is at stake.

    Second, while the chase for Islamic State terrorists was going on, the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine seized the opportunity to ramp up the unrest. There was a spike in violence, with the rebels capitalizing on the worldwide distraction of the brutal terrorist bloodbath in Paris and the war in Syria. Many in the West fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to secure a deal in Syria that allows Ukrainian interests to be sold out, with the Russians and the separatists free to act with relative impunity in Ukraine.

    Maybe there is yet a third security problem, looming in the background. That is the dearth of leadership in transatlantic relations. No matter what Europe’s security problems are, they can get better only with the Americans and the Europeans pulling in the same direction. For that to happen, clear and forceful leadership is a must.


    Christian MöllingSenior resident fellow for Security Policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States

    Europe does not only have a security problem; it is also trundling into a perfect storm, because the ineffectively addressed crises around the old continent are beginning to blend into one another. The crises of recent years started in an ad hoc way. Yet EU governments were not able to manage them, and so their effects became chronic and sclerotic for Europe’s political power.

    It was in this degraded shape that Europe entered the Ukraine crisis in 2014. That marked the return of military might to international relations and a direct attack on the EU’s political unity, norms, and values. While the EU has managed to keep its level of political unity so far, Russia’s permanent pinpricking shows that this issue is far from solved.

    The war in Syria marks the beginning of a new stage in Europe’s panoply of crises. It forces EU states to deal with two security crises at the same time, and it shows that EU rules and institutions have proved ineffective. The refugees arriving in Europe are the visible evidence that ungoverned external crises easily turn into internal ones—for the EU and its members.

    The likely next stage is that these crises fuse into each other. The November 13 Paris attacks set the prelude: France declared that it would suspend EU fiscal rules to finance necessary domestic measures and its operation against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria. Moreover, Paris aims to team up with Russia and other European governments that are playing with the idea that cooperation could lead to rapprochement with Russia—unfortunately linking the Syria crisis with the Ukraine crisis.


    James RogersDirector of the Department of Political and Strategic Studies at the Baltic Defense College and co-founder of European Geostrategy

    It depends what “security problem” refers to. If it means external threats or challenges, Europeans—though many fail to realize it—are faced with numerous problems, which are mounting on almost every front. To the East, Russia is becoming more and more revisionist, having already invaded and annexed a foreign country’s territory, whose inviolability Moscow had previously agreed to uphold, sending European geopolitics back to the past. To the South and Southeast, the perverted worldview of Islamism continues to gain ground, while globally, the ongoing emergence of a multipolar order is likely to complicate further the strategic equation.

    If “security problem” refers to Europeans’ lack of a will to power, then Europe has a serious problem. That even includes, to some extent, Britain and France—the continent’s only strategic powers. Indeed, many of the external security problems Europe now faces exist because Europeans have descended into Nietzsche’s last men, pitiful creatures who take no risks and believe in nothing more than their own material comfort.

    If Europeans want to overcome their security problems, they must do two things. First, they must reappraise what they stand for—liberalism, constitutional government, and the rights of man—and they must defend those values vigorously against anyone who dares to challenge them. Second, they must rebuild their defenses, both conceptual and actual. Defense budgets must be boosted, and European political elites need to be willing to use force, both preventively and offensively, to reassert the security of the European citizen. If not, Europeans will no longer face a series of security problems, but a security hemorrhage—and sooner rather than later.

    The author writes here strictly in a personal capacity.


    Shimon SteinFormer ambassador and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University

    If security is the state of being free from danger and threats, then the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which led to the canceling of a soccer game in Hannover and a long state of alert in Brussels, have made it abundantly clear that Europe is far from secure. In fact, the Paris attacks exposed a lack of preparedness at the European level as well as at the national level.

    Dealing with the problem first requires a good understanding of the nature of the threat, which has an external and an internal dimension. Subsequently, there is a need to devise an effective response—that is, a comprehensive strategy—which will in turn require the allocation of political, military, and economic resources over a very long period of time and a coordinated effort by all states concerned.

    In addition, the open societies in the West will have to play an active role in the struggle against terrorism. That will entail coming to terms with a new reality and, therefore, with the need to change the existing equation between freedom and security.


    Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

    Europe and the United States have entered a new and very troubling era. As Pope Francis put it, this is a version of World War III; or, as French President François Hollande stated, the response will be unrelenting and unforgiving.

    This means that the Europe that everybody has come to take for granted—open borders, peaceful interdependence, and prosperity—will be weakened. Borders will certainly be less open. Civil liberties will be more restricted. Immigration policies will now be seen as part of security policy. Economics will be subordinated to security and order.

    Will Europe respond with a common European approach or a series of national responses? The idea that a postmodern Europe does not need hard-power military capabilities will now be replaced by a return to a modern version of Europe.


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Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe offers insightful analysis, fresh commentary, and concrete policy recommendations from some of Europe’s keenest international affairs observers.

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