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


Fraser CameronDirector of the EU-Asia Centre

What a strange question. Everything is possible, but big decisions require political will, leadership, and timing. Despite the horrors of the March 22 terrorist attacks in Brussels, there is little sign of EU leaders accepting that more Europe is the solution for dealing with current security threats.

The first priority of any state is the protection of its citizens, and there has been a systematic failure to meet this need in several EU member states. While experts can make a rational case for greater security cooperation in Europe, the mind-sets of politicians and citizens remain stubbornly national.

It make little sense, therefore, to prepare grandiose plans for a new European—or, indeed, global—strategy for the EU when the timing is so wrong and EU leaders have no intention of implementing any such strategy.

The top priority must be to devote more resources to tackling the current terrorist threat, a threat that may last for years. Pragmatic cooperation in tackling terrorism may well lead to a de facto European security policy over time. Simply publishing another document will help no one, least of all Europe’s citizens.


Jo CoelmontSenior associate fellow at Egmont—The Royal Institute for International Relations and senior fellow at the Belgian Royal Higher Institute for Defense

Yes, because Europe can no longer afford the luxury of not having a security policy. Europe has just entered a new geopolitical era. The balance of power is back. And the borders between external and internal security are evaporating.

The balance of power implies that now, more than ever, it is essential—and for Europeans, even vital—to be able to forge solid and durable partnerships with other world actors. At present, the main threat to the EU and the member states is to lose Europe’s partners, in particular the United States, and to lose NATO, because of Europe’s so far persistent reluctance to develop a credible security policy and forge coherent and effective defense forces.

Given the nexus between external and internal security and the magnitude of the common problems member states are facing—such as migration, terrorism, and cyberthreats, to name just a few—the challenge is to explain why, based on the principle of subsidiarity, security policy is the next area in line to be Europeanized. This policy will be part and parcel of the EU Global Strategy that is in the making, to ensure that unity of vision is coupled with unity of action.


Karl-Heinz KampPresident of the German Federal Academy for Security Policy

A common European security policy is not only possible but has also been successfully practiced for about two years now, namely vis-à-vis a newly aggressive Russia. In the Ukraine crisis, the EU has evolved as the key institution for crisis management by being tough in keeping up its sanctions on Moscow and by trying to assist Ukraine on its thorny path toward democracy and prosperity.

However, no one speaks about any EU military tasks—the union’s dormant battle groups do not play any role in that context. NATO in turn focuses on what it can do best: deterrence and defense to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin from further escapades against Eastern European members of the alliance.

This successful job sharing between the EU and NATO has not only surprised Putin but might also be a model for the future. The EU will not become a decisive military actor, regardless of its ambitious concepts under the Common Security and Defense Policy. Instead, the EU disposes of crucial nonmilitary skills that are indispensable for crisis management but not available in NATO’s toolbox.

Hence, the EU should stick to the civilian aspects of security policy—and these are decisive in times of hybrid challenges—while NATO continues to deal with military tasks. In case the Europeans need to use military force for crisis management, they could do this within the framework of NATO, which allows for all kinds of formats, with or without the United States or in cooperation with nonallies.

It is not European autonomy but a Euro-Atlantic approach that is required in the new world of mutual defense that Putin has ushered in.


Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations

I guess not. Former British prime minister Winston Churchill proposed a common European defense back in the 1950s, to no avail. European public opinion is wary of increasing defense spending and generally does not even support the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense agreed to by NATO members but never implemented across the board.

The United States is no longer a partner the Europeans take for granted. U.S. President Barack Obama labels the allies in the Old Continent “free riders,” and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump despises NATO just as much as UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn does.

Europe and defense, more continental integration and more military spending, these are all very toxic terms in the EU. Military integration makes sense strategically, and Europe could save money and establish a more efficient task force by creating a European army. Alas, this common sense defies the European zeitgeist of our time.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

A European security policy is not only possible but also vital. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels and the revelation that a branch of the self-proclaimed Islamic State had been set up for a long-term terror campaign in Europe make it clear that Europe is at war, even if it has not understood that to be the case.

Europe has to centralize its refugee policies, border controls, intelligence collection and sharing, and police and military cooperation—exponentially and immediately. This will be a priority for the EU, but the EU alone cannot handle this scale of threats and demands, just as the member states cannot do so alone either. As Europeans’ recent sharing of phone and other data with the FBI indicates, NATO and the United States have to be part of this new campaign. European and U.S. security are tightly interlinked, and only a joint and combined effort to counter security threats will suffice.


Sylke TempelEditor in chief of Internationale Politik and the Berlin Policy Journal, published by the German Council on Foreign Relations

A European security policy is—or rather, must be—possible because it is necessary. That isn’t as banal as it might sound. Necessity, as in the need to muster the political will to do things that are strategically prudent, is the driving force of European integration. And it was strategically wise after the near-death experience of World War II to end centuries of European power struggles with a recipe as simple as it was difficult: to avoid future wars, foster liberal democracy, protect the freedom and security of European citizens, and create wealth through thriving market economies and peaceful competition, nation-states would have to give up some of their sovereignty.

Now, when Europe’s near abroad is completely unraveling, when ideologies like Putinism and jihadism try to undermine or declare war on liberal democracy, there should be no doubt that it is time to throw overboard the old belief that security is a key task of nation-states and an existential element of sovereignty that should not be given up. Joining forces in all security fields—intelligence, military, strategy, and diplomacy—is the order of the day. Without a common security policy, Europe’s raison d’être, all it was built for and all it has achieved, would be futile.


Pierre VimontSenior associate at Carnegie Europe

A security policy for the European Union has never really disappeared from the picture. But statements and political commitments on this issue have all too often been marred by such a denial of reality that they sounded almost like a surreal abstraction.

Today, an effective EU security policy seems easier to define. To that end, the union needs to take three steps.

First, avoid overexpectations. European security must nurture realistic ambitions in line with the EU’s geopolitical goals and current capacities. Europe’s experience in that field has shown its limits but also its real successes—in the Horn of Africa or in the Mediterranean—on which the EU must build its future progress.

Second, gradually shape a solid technological and industrial base for European armaments, and mobilize the necessary financial efforts for that purpose. The NATO objective of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense remains a target all member states have to adhere to if they want to be perceived as seriously engaged in the security field.

Third, focus EU security on what European citizens are asking for, namely a policy that can genuinely protect them against the many threats coming in particular from Europe’s neighborhood. Such a policy implies common capacities at the European level to ensure internal and external security. With improved cooperation with NATO and a strong political will, this can be done.

What makes an EU security policy more plausible today is that European public opinion will not easily accept Europe’s absence from the security field at a time when crises abroad and terrorist attacks on European soil require strong and well-focused action.