Sciences Po
Dimanche 15 Juillet 2018

How the European Union couldn’t help becoming a crisis manager after the end of the Cold War

The end of the Cold War confronted “Europe” in the form of the European Community with two main opportunities respectively challenges: first, the perspective of enlargement to the East and second, the new responsibility as a (regional) security actor.

Regarding the former, the perspective of enlargement immediately dominated the public discourse at the European level. During the democratic revolutions, the people of the communist states from Central and Eastern Europe claimed their “return back to Europe”. Consequently, the 1993 European Council meeting of the heads of state and government in Copenhagen launched the then biggest enlargement round which culminated in the accession of twelve new members to the European Union (EU) in 2004 and 2007.


In contrast, the potential new role of the EU as a security actor was not high on the political agenda after the end of the Cold War. On the one hand, when the European Union was created in 1993 on the basis of the Maastricht Treaty, the new set-up included also a genuine Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the so-called “second pillar”. The Treaty called upon the member states not only to “strengthen the security of the Union in all ways”, but also to “preserve peace and to strengthen international security” (art. 11 TEU). Overall, though, the implementation of these ambitious goals remained limited to the co-ordination of member state positions and, eventually, the representation of common foreign policy positions in international forums. Operational action was left to other security actors such as the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Some EU member states such as the United Kingdom were particularly reluctant to underpin the EU’s foreign and security policy with operational structures and capabilities out of fear to undermine NATO and to put off NATO’s lead nation, i.e. the United States of America (USA).

Yet, the outbreak of violent inter-ethnic conflicts on the territory of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s changed the parameters. First, these conflicts underlined the need for crisis management action in the immediate neighbourhood of the EU. Second, the military interventions in the Balkan countries accentuated the huge capability gap between the United States and its European NATO partners. In particular, the NATO air campaign during the Kosovo war in 1999 was perceived as an illustrative example for Europe’s incapacity to act without substantial support from the United States. Finally, the previous creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy brought to the fore the gap between high expectations and limited capabilities within the EU framework. Consequently, the United States asked for “a more capable European partner, with modern, flexible military forces capable of putting out fires in Europe's own back yard” (then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in her statement to the North Atlantic Council on 8 December 1998). Thus, as the focus of US foreign policy shifted from the arena of Cold War super power confrontation, i.e. Europe, to other conflict hot spots in the Middle East and Asia, the US were increasingly interested in a strong Europe (not necessarily in the form of the European Union) taking over the responsibility to guarantee peace and stability at its borders.

Against this background, the creation of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in 1999 and the related set-up of structures for the conduct of crisis management can be interpreted as a result of the fall of the Berlin wall. Obviously, various factors account for the establishment of the ESDP: while the United Kingdom was mainly interested to push the development of European military capabilities as a pre-condition to keep NATO alive, France saw the opportunity to emancipate the European Union from the close transatlantic links in the field of security policy. In sum, after the Soviet bloc had collapsed, the EU was confronted with a range of external pressures which led to a fundamental re-orientation of its foreign policy: arguably, the EU couldn’t help becoming an international crisis manager.

Until October 2009, the EU has carried out 23 civilian and military crisis management missions. Most of these missions have been deployed to the Balkan countries, but mission destinations have included also African countries, Afghanistan and Aceh/Indonesia. Since 2008, the first EU maritime operation (EU NAVFOR “Atalanta”) is patrolling off the Somali shore in order to prevent acts of piracy. While an overall strategy of EU crisis management at the global level is far from being defined, the EU member states increasingly rely on the crisis management structures which would probably not exist without the fall of the Berlin wall.

Dr. des. Nadia Klein

Image : Holloway, Mark. UK HET, Juin 5, 2003. Flickr.

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Kate   |22-04-2010 11:11:40
I guess the chickens are finally coming home to roost for the germans...

are parts of Europe which are not as industrious and fiscally disciplined as
they are......only now, they are waking up to the fact that Greece has been
pissing its resources against a wall and they are being asked to bail the place
naturally they don't like it one little bit - and why should they?

they'll also now wake up to the fact that this great Euro project is nothing
more than a pipe-dream.
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