Judy Asks: Can the EU Ever Be Strategic?
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.
Rosa Balfour - Senior fellow and acting director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and member of the Steering Committee of Women in International Security (WIIS) Brussels
Despite a habit of producing lots of strategies, strategy is not really in the EU’s DNA. The word comes from military planning; attributing it to the EU conjures up an image of Roman legionnaires retreating in the face of Asterix rather than the neat formations through which the Romans built their empire.
It is hard to be strategic with a cacophonous lot who struggle to toe the common line, are reluctant to invest in what they have agreed to, and pay more attention to domestic constraints than to external priorities. Even if the EU makes an effort to improve its international performance, it is hard to imagine the union pursuing goals like a military general. Being strategic would require a unity of action and determination of intent that the EU does not possess.
What is in the EU’s DNA is the ability to pacify international relations through the invention and pursuit of rules and to make smart and inclusive use of its power. Rather than make the EU more of a unitary state better able to be strategic, the aim should be to shape the international environment to make the world less of a chessboard that requires hard-nosed strategy. Today, this seems a lofty and unrealistic ambition, but that does not make it less desirable. Whatever its crises, the EU remains the most successful invention for international peace.
Kristina Kausch - Senior resident fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Of course it could. Being strategic is about aligning means and ends. The EU’s ability to act strategically therefore depends on the ambition of its goals and the appropriateness of the means employed to achieve them. In fact, when advancing a specific pressing interest, such as stopping migration flows, the bloc can be pretty effective. This kind of targeted, pragmatic pursuit of interests is the way Russia operates—and quite successfully.
Efficiency alone does not equal strategy, however. Being strategic also implies that tactical steps lead up to an overarching goal of lasting benefit. But the EU’s record is rather poor when it comes to implementing tactical moves along a path toward that spot on the horizon called strategic interest. Here, lofty goals clash with ridiculously inappropriate means, such as the union’s lack of money, influence, military power, or political consensus.
To be a strategic global player, the EU must keep its eye on the horizon. It must become somewhat less ambitious in its ends and far more ambitious in its means. Until this debate reaches a breakthrough, the bloc will remain in a limbo of erratic overstrain.