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

Indeed it is. European public opinion, vexed by Europe’s economic crises, is strongly against any increased spending on defense. European leaders are more concerned by the immediate level of their domestic popularity than by the medium- to long-term effects of their decisions. Europe is investing less than in the past in both security hardware and research into security-related technology. In short, Europe is lagging behind.

Europeans failed to foresee and contain trouble in their own backyards.
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To make things worse, Europe’s self-proclaimed soft-power leadership—which some observers praise as complementing U.S. hard power in a supposed informal division of labor—has reached its limits. Europeans failed to foresee and contain trouble in their own backyards, East and South alike.

Deep divisions among EU member states are further weakening Europe’s ability to act coherently in foreign and security policy.

As a result, Europe is condemning itself to increased irrelevance on the world stage. The U.S. administration is growing ever more impatient and the transatlantic relationship, which is and should remain the main pillar of Western foreign policy, is being further shaken. Unfortunately, nothing suggests that Europe is going to wake up and change course anytime soon.


Koert DebeufRepresentative of the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe to the Arab world

At only 1.5 percent of GDP in 2012, the total military expenditure of the EU member states is very small. The United States spends 4.2 percent of its budget on defense, China 2.0 percent, and Russia 4.0 percent. The reason for Europeans’ minimal spending is a general belief in Europe that no one will never attack the continent, and that if someone does, the United States will protect the Europeans.

It is time to wake up from this dream. Europe’s neighborhood is becoming more violent and less predictable. Russia is occupying parts of Ukraine and threatening to do the same in some EU countries. The Islamic State is fighting on the borders of Turkey, a potential future EU member state, and dreams of capturing parts of Spain, the former Islamic territory of al-Andalus.

At the same time, the United States is becoming tired of military intervention and of its role as the world’s policeman. The danger of these combined trends is obvious, yet Europe seems helpless.

It is time to move forward with a real European defense union.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State clearly don’t care about the EU’s soft power. The question is whether raising the EU’s military budget is the only answer to the threats they pose. In absolute terms, the EU spent a total of €190 billion ($242 billion) on its military in 2012. Only the United States spent more. With 1.5 million active military personnel, the EU has the second-largest military force in the world.

Instead of being weak and divided, Europe could be strong and united. The idea of a real European defense union is more than sixty years old. It is time to move forward with it.


Karl-Heinz KampAcademic director of the Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin

Conventional wisdom would suggest the answer to this question is yes; many Europeans have been naive about hard power for some time. On closer inspection, though, the issue is more complex as Europe is undergoing a crash course on the changing role of hard power.

That goes both for Russia and Ukraine, where hard power is unexpectedly back as a means of conflict resolution in Europe, and for the Middle East and North Africa, where the impotence of hard power for crisis management is becoming apparent.

Where states are falling apart, myriads of religious and ethnic groupings are bitterly fighting each other, regional powers and governments have hidden agendas, and multinational organizations like the Arab League prove incapable of getting to grips with the scale of what is going on, the chances for external intervention to succeed are close to nil.

Hard power today is used largely as a fig leaf to avoid accusations of idleness.
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When one adds to this backdrop the voices of prominent Middle Eastern imams who believe the Islamic State to be a Zionist-U.S. conspiracy, it becomes clear that outside power—be it hard or soft—can hardly achieve anything.

Hard power today is used largely as a fig leaf to avoid accusations of idleness. The U.S. Air Force currently executes fewer than 20 combat sorties a day against the Islamic State. In the 1990–1991 Gulf War, the United States flew over 1,000 sorties daily. Under these circumstances, what do you expect from Europe?

The views expressed above are the responsibility of the author alone.


Daniel LevyDirector of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations

There is a strong case for the naïveté of certain Europeans who consider that the need for hard power has been eclipsed in today’s world. Threats still very much exist, and a toolkit without hard power is not wise. The U.S. guarantee of European security should not be taken for granted, especially if Europeans themselves are skimping.

Yet there may be even more European naïveté on display in certain cases where hard power is thrown at a problem. The recent response to the Islamic State is a case in point. The ease with which the jihadists were able to mesmerize and provoke some European states into reengaging militarily in Iraq is a worrying sign about how Europe uses what hard power it has.

The mission against #ISIS is like Noah's Ark, with each ally donating two aircraft.
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Europe and the United States have wisely avoided deploying ground troops in Iraq and Syria. But the airpower-led military operation being undertaken to counter the Islamic State sometimes resembles Noah’s Ark, with each coalition ally donating two military aircraft.

The United States does not lack military airpower, and symbolic European contributions may represent the easy option as well as a naive one. More necessary ingredients for tackling the Islamic State are, first, the software to challenge the group’s ideology (on which Arab allies should take the lead) and, second, diplomatic leadership to forge both a more inclusive anti–Islamic State grouping and political progress in Syria. Europe can be a core part of that diplomacy, especially given U.S. limitations in that arena induced by American domestic politics.

European (and U.S.) deployment of hard power in the Middle East tends only to encourage regional powers to continue to shirk their own responsibilities. To imagine that the failures of past military deployments in the region will be avoided this time around, now that is naive.


Gianni RiottaMember of the Council on Foreign Relations

How tempting it would be to fire off a simple answer—“Yes, of course!”—and move on. Alas, that would be simplistic.

European skepticism about hard power, aka “defense,” has bitter roots and was not born out of the feelings of cheesy peaceniks. Europeans have fought for centuries, at home and abroad. World War I memorials are full of the names of thousands of young men who were killed before they turned twenty. Just google “Battle of Towton, England, 1461” and you’ll find pictures of the skeletons of many brave warriors, each of which bears scores of fractures from an entire lifetime spent at war.

European skepticism about #defense is not due to the feelings of cheesy peaceniks.
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The same ancestral scars cover the European psyche, soul, and mind and make the union wary of war. A less noble sentiment is rooted in the post–Cold War zeitgeist: the United States will continue to foot the bill for defending Europe, but instead of praises, Europeans will offer schadenfreude. When Washington trips on a nasty trench, European pundits will rush to explain how a suave dose of diplomacy from Brussels would have been oh so much better.

Few European capitals meet NATO’s defense spending threshold of 2 percent of GDP, and even France and the UK have decided to trim their defense budgets. Hard power is expensive and ambitious. Being powerful scares your neighbors, especially if they live near the Kremlin. So Uncle Sam will remain on his own for a while, à la John Wayne in an old western movie.

But not forever. From the Islamic State to Ukraine and beyond, war is knocking at the door of the peaceful Club Med. When the time comes to open up, let’s hope Europeans are protected by more than just sunscreen.


James RogersLecturer in European security in the Department of Political and Strategic Studies at the Baltic Defense College

Let’s get something straight: hard power is simply coercion, whether it is diplomatic, economic, cultural, or military. Yet perhaps with the exceptions of the UK, France, and a few other countries—not least Russia, insofar as it is in Europe—Europeans generally seem to dislike talking about power in any shape or form. Power is seen as a Bad Thing. It is Europe’s hostile “other,” to be pressed down and forgotten.

Instead, many Europeans hope their good example will make the wider world more European in character. These Europeans would rather be pure than powerful. This is a noble ideal yet ultimately unsustainable, largely because the world beyond Europe is unfortunately not like Europe—and will likely never become so. Vast swathes of the non-European world are not “domesticated”; rather, as British diplomat Robert Cooper has warned, it is more like a hostile jungle. And left to their own devices, jungles tend to expand, gradually eating away at the perimeter of civilization.

Europeans lack a grown-up and worldly attitude to using power.
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The point is that unless Europeans become more willing to use their coercive power, they will become more and more like the Last Men, pitiful creatures who watch on helplessly as their security is reduced and their values and principles are rolled back, even on their own borders.

Europeans do not lack the capabilities for the exercise—or even the permanent “extension”—of their power. What they lack is a grown-up and worldly attitude to using them. This needs to change, and soon.

The author writes here strictly in a personal capacity.


Ulrich SpeckVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe

France, Belgium, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland are certainly not naive about hard power. They know that to achieve foreign policy goals, states need to have military power at their disposal. Otherwise, they leave the field open to those who do possess military power and are ready to use it.

Having a credible military threat in one’s toolbox gives a state weight on the international stage. In most cases, states don’t need to use that threat; it’s enough that others know it exists. But the threat must also be credible: others must believe that a state is ultimately willing and able to use it if there is no other choice.

However, these kinds of considerations are not very common in Germany, at least not in public debates. Go to any gathering in Germany—sports club, dinner party, or parliament—and declare that “war is not the solution,” and you can be sure that everybody will applaud you. A politician who openly challenged that consensus and came up with arguments such as those above wouldn’t last long in German politics today and would be dismissed as a warmonger.

The more #Germany dominates EU foreign policy, the more military power will be sidelined.
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Germany’s brief flirtation with military power in Kosovo and Afghanistan is long over; the country is back to the cozy fundamentalist pacifism that it developed over decades under the U.S. security umbrella.

This means that the more Germany dominates EU foreign policy, the more the military aspect of power will be sidelined. An EU dominated by Germany will continue to need the United States to supply hard power to Europe.


Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy

Much of Europe has enjoyed a prolonged period of peace. A number of generations have come of age during this period, and many people have taken a united and peaceful Europe to be the natural state of affairs. The protection offered by the United States has also been a buffer, sheltering Europeans from the need to think about hard power.

Europe needs a better balance between economic and military instruments.
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Eastern Europeans, however, have not shared this experience and have always thought in hard power terms—as have the continent’s two military powers, Britain and France.

Now, perceptions are beginning to change, as Germany’s new debate on defense spending indicates. Europe has hard-power capabilities as part of its economic might and has begun to exercise this power through a number of sanctions regimes. The task Europe faces is to find a better balance between economic and military instruments than it currently has. It can only do this at the EU level rather than at the level of member states.