EU Common Security and Defence Policy: The UK Perspective

"The EU has its own unique selling points when it comes to international security. Its advantage lies in the broad and complementary tools it can use to promote international peace"

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Lidington CBE

I would like to thank the Ambassador for hosting us today, and all of you for your support and commitment to Franco-British defence co-operation. This is my first trip to France since the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and I look forward to meeting my new counterpart, Bernard Cazeneuve, later today.

I know that the Government here wants to reinvigorate CSDP. CSDP forms a key component of Europe’s security and defence architecture, an architecture that can be traced back to the aftermath of the Second World War, when several initiatives set the stage for greater co-operation between European nations on security and defence. Among these was the 1948 Treaty of Brussels, which created an inclusive European defence community, and to which both the UK and France were signatories.

For the British Government, the decision to deepen our defence and military co-operation with France is a strategic and long term commitment. On the basis of the initial contacts between my colleagues in the British Government and the new French Government, we believe this approach is shared in Paris. Together we play an absolutely key role at the heart of international security. Together we have the capabilities - representing 50 per cent of European defence spending. And together we have the political will to deploy them.

We are grateful for the leadership and important contribution that France makes - be it at the vanguard of recent international efforts to protect Libyans from brutal repression; as part of NATO in Afghanistan; or through EU CSDP to protect international shipping and food aid off the Horn of Africa.

We share an aspiration to reinvigorate CSDP. And so today I would like to use this opportunity to explore and address the challenges facing it, and set out the steps that I think we must take to make CSDP in particular - and Europeans in general - more effective providers of international security.

CSDP and European Defence Architecture

First and foremost, NATO remains the bedrock of Britain’s national security, and I know this is the case for many of our European partners. As a defensive alliance it guarantees our safety. As a political alliance it offers a unique forum where we can discuss security threats with North American and European allies. And as a military alliance it provides the core structure and standards that allow us to fuse our defence capabilities together quickly in a crisis, as demonstrated by Libya last year. But our unbending support for NATO is not inconsistent with the value we place in other European tools that can, and do, promote our vital defence interests.

In 1998, the UK and France, were authors of the Saint-Malo declaration, which led to the creation of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. And we recognise the important and complementary role CSDP plays in realising Europeans’ international security goals. We want the EU to play a key role in preventing conflict; in building stability; and in tackling crises as they occur.

The EU is well placed to do this, standing in a unique position within the architecture of international security. Yes, NATO is and will remain the best tool for Europe to respond to high intensity conflict situations such as Afghanistan or Libya. And yes, the UN and others play a vital role in providing long term development and stability.

But the EU has its own unique selling points when it comes to international security. Its advantage lies in the broad and complementary tools it can use - diplomatic, civilian, military, developmental, and financial - which it can apply collectively to promote international peace, often in places where NATO and others cannot act.

And ever since St Malo, the UK has been at the heart of developing CSDP. More CSDP operations were launched during the UK’s Presidency of the European Council than any other Presidency before or since. The UK has led two of the EU’s most influential military missions - in Bosnia Herzegovina and off the Horn of Africa - and provided civilian and military personnel to many others. It may not suit the stereotype, but the contribution that Britain and France have made to CSDP has been indispensible. Together developing among other things, the Battlegroup concept and the European Defence Agency.

I am proud of what CSDP has achieved.

The EU is leading the efforts to tackle international piracy off the Horn of Africa -estimated to cost the international community up to $12 billion every year.

Since the establishment of Operation ATALANTA in December 2008 - incidentally, commanded from Northwood in the UK - no World Food Programme ship has been successfully hijacked whilst under its escort. And it has captured and transferred hundreds of suspected pirates for trial in the region and in Europe.

But we know that the causes of piracy lie on land. So the real advantage of this operation is that it sits within a wider EU approach to the region. This includes the other CSDP mission training Somali soldiers and the upcoming mission to build regional capacity to fight piracy, as well as broader EU support to AMISOM and through development aid. And these EU efforts are in partnership with others - NATO and coalition naval forces, the African Union in Somalia and, of course, the UN. The EU Operations Centre has an important role to play in supporting this civil-military co-ordination across the region.

Likewise in the Balkans, the EU military operation in Bosnia Herzegovina and civilian rule of law mission in Kosovo are supporting continued stability. And in so doing, helping to ensure that the significant progress made in recent years does not slip back towards political instability and ethnic violence, right on the our doorstep.

The EU has, then, demonstrated creativity and flexibility in developing CSDP. The St Malo declaration foresaw military missions where no other organisation was involved. But in fact CSDP has become much more useful to international security by offering flexibility in conjunction with others - from launching a civilian peace mission in Aceh with ASEAN, far from European shores, to taking on border control in Palestine in support of the UN, monitoring in Georgia, helping the African Union in Darfur, and a first ever naval mission in the Horn of Africa when circumstances required it.

And now new missions in the Sahel, South Sudan and the Horn of Africa, agreed last December, have demonstrated further the breadth, reach and ambition of CSDP. CSDP action in the Sahel is particularly urgent, given the need to help Niger secure its borders and better manage the threat from terrorism. I am delighted that the mission - made up of a multi-disciplinary team of European security, policing and border management experts - has been generated so rapidly. And the new civilian mission ‘NESTOR’ adds a new dimension to the EU’s work in the Horn of Africa by helping to build the region’s capacity to tackle the globally significant issue of piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Making CSDP better

But to fulfil the promise of this breadth and ambition, it needs to be supported by real capability and greater political will. Too often EU Member States have sought to deflect attention with discussions on CSDP’s future grandeur or even its existence, rather than what we can do to make it better.

Let me be clear - CSDP is here to stay. It has already played - and continues to play - a key role in promoting international security. There are no institutional barriers to a more effective CSDP, and no need for renewed debate over structures.

But, for us, there are two significant challenges that must be addressed:
Firstly, how do we ensure that European nations sustain their capability to act?

And secondly, how do we ensure that the EU makes best use of its unique range of tools and partners to work more effectively, known as the comprehensive approach?

I will respond to each of these challenges in turn.

The need to build European defence capabilities

The need for Europeans to work together to improve their defence capabilities has seldom been greater.

The US has signalled that it will become increasingly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, and is looking to work in partnership with Europe, rather than providing security on behalf of Europe.

Austerity in national economies will continue to put a severe strain on defence budgets for several years to come.

And international security remains unpredictable.

So what does this mean for Europe?

It means that we Europeans must take on much more responsibility for our own security interests. But we are, alas, not yet ready to do so. Too many countries are failing to build and maintain appropriate military capabilities.

For me, events in Libya last year, where twelve European countries played their part, visibly demonstrated that Europe’s neighbourhood is volatile; that Europeans can respond quickly and decisively when they need to, given the right leadership and the right capabilities; but that we lack the collective political will and military capabilities to sustain operations without significant US support.

The conclusion I draw from this is simple. If we Europeans are to shoulder our international security responsibilities, we must commit to maintaining, developing, and making available our defence capabilities which could be used by either CSDP or NATO. For CSDP this equally applies to developing those civilian capabilities such as security sector reform and legal experts.

Of course, while the conclusion may be simple, meeting that challenge is not. We are all experiencing unprecedented pressure on national budgets. As France begins work on another Livre Blanc, I recognise that French Ministers, like elsewhere, will have to make extremely difficult military spending decisions. On the civilian side, specialist civ-mil capabilities, like judges and gendarmerie, can often be in short supply. But actually, this makes the logic of Europeans working together better all the more compelling.

Great advances are often made in times of great stress - just look at the huge leaps forward in technology as a result of Cold War rivalries.

The trick for us all, then, is to seize the opportunity provided by financial necessity.

Only by working in partnership will we be able to increase deployable European military and civilian capability - be it when working through NATO, CSDP, or in coalitions with the will to act.

The good news is that we are not starting from scratch. There are already many successful examples of joint working and established relationships that can be developed further. Nordic countries cooperate flexibly through their regional organisation (NORDEFCO); the BENELUX countries, of course, have a long history of close co-operation; and the European Gendarmerie Force is striving for a co-ordinated deployment of gendarmerie capability. Next year sees the 40th anniversary of the UK-Netherlands Joint Amphibious Force. Danish forces are with us in Helmand and Estonians work with British troops in Afghanistan. We need to prioritise, identifying projects based on our realistic requirements, not our luxurious dreams. This may mean different groups of countries coming together in various groupings to collate their efforts in different areas, which in turn enhances Europe’s overall abilities.

For our part, joint working with France on defence and security provides a vital means for us to maintain and maximise our operational capability and effectiveness. Both our governments are committed to implementing the Lancaster House Treaties, further deepening the impressive progress that has already been achieved on operational compatibility, and working hard to develop equipment co-operation.

As the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, recently made clear in Berlin [2 May 2012], UK-France defence co-operation is not exclusive. It is based on areas where working together makes most sense and allows us to exploit economies of scale.

However, if other nations wish to co-operate with us, they should not dilute what is already working well or slow down progress. They must have the funding; the same level of ambition; similar capability requirements; and be able to add value.

We recognise that issues of sovereignty and accountability present problems for all participating states in joint expeditionary forces; so we have to carry our Parliaments and our publics with us as we move forward.

The need to deliver on the EU’s promise and embrace the comprehensive approach

I have described how we need greater European capability to act. The second pillar, making the EU a more effective contributor to international security, is achieved by using the tools we already possess more effectively, by taking a comprehensive EU approach to conflict.

As Europeans, we have an array of instruments at our disposal, ranging from the political and military to the developmental and economic. Our collective wealth of expertise, experience and deployable resources puts us in a unique position to play an important role in international security.

We see the EU’s distinct potential as the effective integration of all its diverse tools to address conflict and its causes at each stage of the conflict cycle.

To ensure that the EU and CSDP lives up to this potential and delivers a more comprehensive approach, I believe we should focus on two activities:

First, the EU should be more strategic in its approach to conflict response. This means for example, ensuring that conflict prevention activities, and not just conflict response, are a key part of EU thinking. It means sewing any EU CSDP action into the fabric of its broader country and regional strategies to ensure that any response complements other EU activity. And it means achieving greater synergy across the EU, particularly between the External Action Service and the Commission.

Existing structures should have complementary objectives and strategies. They should all draw together security, political, civilian, military and development activities for preventing and resolving conflict. There are some signs of progress in this area. For example, more comprehensive action is being taken by the EAS in the Horn of Africa under a strategic framework linking development, CSDP and political tools through the EU Special Representative. Of course, Member States should remain in control of the decision making. But this should not be an obstacle to greater flexibility and better communication across the EU.

The second area of focus should be to ensure EU’s external actions demonstrably add value by complementing and supporting the work of others. Here a comprehensive approach means working hand-in-glove with other international actors like NATO, the UN and the African Union; it means understanding fully the existing activities of international actors when planning a mission, and ensuring host country and regional buy-in from the start. It is about identifying genuine gaps in a wider international community effort where the EU can best respond. For example, CSDP might be a tool to help the Libyan authorities manage and control their borders. But before we decide to take action we need a comprehensive assessment of what the Libyans require, and where the EU can enhance - not duplicate - what other international actors are already doing.

Co-operation with others is particularly relevant to the EU-NATO relationship. Last year the UK and 14 other Member States wrote to Baroness Ashton to urge action that would turn political will into reality. And on this there are some positive signs. The EU’s close co-ordination with NATO on anti-piracy activity in the Horn of Africa, and on training the National Security Forces in Afghanistan, is already bearing fruit. But we can and should do more. Most urgently, we need currently independent initiatives to encourage capability development in NATO and the EU to be complementary and mutually reinforcing.

In this respect, I often hear concern that the EU needs to protect its “autonomy”. My response is twofold. Of course the EU is autonomous - its decisions on CSDP are only those agreed by the 27 Member States. But on the other hand, of course, the EU is not autonomous - it is operating in a world with many different actors and influences it cannot control. So Europe has to have the self-confidence to build strong mutual partnerships with other organisations if it is to be a mature international actor. We need Europe at the top table of global crisis management. The natural disasters and violence that continue to ravage the world demands it. So we must look at how we can break down any mistrust or competition which might suggest the EU is not ready for such serious fare.

I believe the two actions I have set out today: embedding the comprehensive approach both within the EU and in its relations with partners; and having the capabilities to support it, will enable the EU to step up to the mark.


We have good reason to be positive: CSDP missions make a real difference to international security. They are helping to keep the peace in the Balkans. They are protecting international shipping and food aid from the scourge of piracy. And they are helping to ensure a stable and secure future in Afghanistan. I could go on. The tangible, positive results that these missions and operations deliver matter to the UK, the EU and the international community. But as I have explained today, CSDP needs to improve to enable Europeans to shoulder their international security responsibilities more effectively. The future for European defence, then, is having the real capability to prevent and respond to crises as part of a comprehensive EU strategy. And, increasingly, doing so in tandem with many other partners.

And in this, the UK and France must play a leading role. We have a common view of the world, share a willingness to contribute to international security, and possess the bulk of European capabilities. Our two countries, as founders of NATO and of European defence policy, need now to work together in both NATO, and the EU, and with other partners to ensure that our relationship is the motor that drives a more effective European defence, capable of making a real difference in the world.

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Published 27 June 2012