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The Common Security and Defense Policylocked

  • Simon DukeSimon DukeProfessor, European Institute of Public Administration, Maastricht Unviersity; and Senior Research Fellow, Maastricht University


The European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is scarcely two decades old, yet a considerable and diverse body of literature has emerged during this time. CSDP can best be thought of as the functional crisis management end of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), of which it is an integral part. It covers both the military and civilian aspects of crisis management, with the majority of overseas missions being civilian in nature. Yet, it is the growth of the military dimension that has spurred extensive debate about the nature of the EU’s actorness and whether it can still be thought of as a civilian power par excellence. Much of the research has been driven by the application of the main theoretical approaches in international relations to CSDP. The result is an extensive, but occasionally cacophonous, body of literature. Given the relative youth of CSDP there are inevitably gaps in the literature, especially the question of how CSDP relates to other policy fields in the external relations of the EU and whether the “D” in CSDP will remain indefinitely silent.


The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is an integral part of the wider Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). By narrowing our focus to CSDP the task is somewhat more straightforward but, even here, selectivity is required in order to try and capture the main developments in the relevant research. A good indicator of the rapid growth of the CSDP scholarship was suggested by Jolyon Howorth (2014), the author of a leading book in the field (see Further Reading). He was invited by his publishers to update the first edition of his book and in the intervening period of seven years he discovered over 1,000 articles and chapters published on CSDP (Howorth, 2011, p. 5). The real figure is probably higher, especially if one includes the wider body of CSDP-relevant literature, including history, legal dimensions, relations with other policy areas, case studies and multilateral aspects.

The very fact that there is a burgeoning literature on CSDP is all the more remarkable since the policy area is scarcely a decade and a half old. Since CSDP research often reflects and draws upon broader debates in political science, most notably international relations, the following sections will consider how CSDP research both reflects and impacts upon these debates. This article will therefore try and contextualize the CSDP-relevant research, without attempting to be exhaustive. It is also important to try and distinguish the key questions that have driven research on CSDP. It is suggested that these can be grouped under clusters of endogenous (internal) and exogenous (external) catalysts, with the overall conclusion that the research agendas that have emerged so far are best understood as a response to both stimuli, rather than to one or the other specifically.

The question of methodology is important but, in the case of CSDP, it remains highly disparate. One explanation for this lies in the relatively recent development of CSDP. It can of course be argued that historically based research focused on, for example, European Political Cooperation (EPC), is contextually important and informs much of the current research. Whilst this is true, most of the CSDP research is framed by the post-cold war era. This time frame also suggests that, as a research field, it is still in its early days, but herein lies its attraction, since many significant questions remain. With this in mind, some of the boundary, or “competence” issues (to use the legal jargon) surrounding CSDP will be considered. Some of these questions stem from the location of CSDP within CFSP and therefore pertain to the so-called “intergovernmental” aspects of the EU’s policies. The initial impressions that the intergovernmental nature of CSDP was sacrosanct has gradually been challenged by research that now suggests a more complex and nuanced reality—one that Jolyon Howorth (2012) memorably labeled the development of “supranational intergovernmentalism.” There are also questions of how CSDP relates to the broader security dimensions of other important policy areas that are increasingly securitized, such as climate change, development, and migration. As if this were not enough, much of the existing research has been compounded by meta questions concerning the strategic direction, purpose, and role of the EU in the world. This, most notably, led to the unveiling of a new European Security Strategy in mid-2016 as the result of an extensive global overview exercise within the EU and its members, where CSDP assumed a central position in the deliberations.

Finally, this article will touch upon a number of interesting questions that will, hopefully, provide stimulation for further research. There is much still to be done, but the foundations are nevertheless there.

A Note on Terminology and Acronyms

Before getting to the substance, a few notes on terminology are necessary. This article refers to CSDP. It should though be noted that the policy area originally evolved with the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) in 1999 when it was formally launched at the Cologne European Council in June. A decade later, with the advent of the Lisbon Treaty, ESDP became CSDP (and for a brief, and confusing, period it was even CEDSP!). The transition from ESDP to CSDP is also of passing interest since the early crisis management operations (or “missions,” as they are called in policy circles) under ESDP were nearly all focused on the Western Balkans, whereas under CSDP the focus changed far more to Africa. The EU bodies established under ESDP, which were originally interim in nature, also reached maturity under CSDP and continued to grow and adapt as a consequence of the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

There is no fully convincing account of why ESDP became CSDP, although it is logical to suggest it was counterintuitive to have a Common Foreign and Security Policy and a European Security and Defence Policy. Arguably, CSDP has always tended to be more “common” than “European.” Not only are decisions made consensually between the EU’s members, but the Union also remains largely reliant upon its members for the necessary resources (most notably in the military domain where the EU has no “European army” to call upon). For the sake of clarity and simplicity, the text below will refer consistently to CSDP even if, in stricto sensu, it is not always historically accurate.

The institutions involved in CSDP are principally the European External Action Service (EEAS), within which many of the civilian and military crisis management bodies are to be found. The EEAS was established in 2011 as a result of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The EEAS falls under the authority of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also a Vice-President in the European Commission. The other relevant body referred to in the text is the Council of the EU (2004), founded in 2004 with the mission of developing crisis management capabilities; promoting the enhancement of European armaments cooperation; strengthening the European Defence Technology and Industrial Base and the European Defence Equipment Market; and, enhancing the effectiveness of European Defence Research and Technology. This article does not attempt to describe decision-making in CFSP, or other institutions or bodies that play a wider role in security beyond CSDP.

The Shaping of Research and the Origins of CSDP

This section is based upon the assumption that even if the overarching concern of this volume is politics, much of the research is intimately shaped by our understanding of the origins of terms, concepts, and practices. History has done much to inform the politics surrounding CSDP. Although it is true that there was little thinking about external security matters during the Cold War, and it could even be claimed that there was a “security vacuum” within the early European Community, this risks ignoring the essential milestones that led to and shaped CSDP (Duke & Ojanen, 2006, p. 478). The vacuum can easily be explained by the particular circumstances of the Cold War and the existence of the rivaling superpowers and their respective alliances. For West Europeans, most of whom were NATO members, there was no compelling need to create something that would rival America’s hegemonic position or that of NATO. Not all agreed though.

Throughout the early years of post-war European integration, France made a number of proposals that were designed to boost European autonomy. One of the earliest was the plan for a European Defence Community (EDC) which was proposed by former Defence Minister and Premier, René Pleven, to the French National Assembly on October 24, 1950. The plan proposed the creation of a European Army, which would fall under a single military and political authority (along with the gradual integration of Germany into the scheme). The advocacy of a nominally federalist option advanced under the EDC had at least as much to do with control over any potential West German rearmament and revanchism as it had to do with proving the case for (west) European-wide security. This also hints at the persistence of the “German question”—or more accurately, questions—which has changed from the post-war concerns that Germany will do too much, to the paradoxical concerns of the 1980s that Germany will not do enough and, more recently, back to concern that it will again do too much (possibly without France). Germany’s commitment to the military aspects of CSDP, in distinction to the civilian aspects where it remains highly supportive, reflects the ongoing domestic ambiguity about Germany’s participation in combat roles.

Through a number of twists and turns that lie beyond the scope of this analysis, the Pleven Plan was eventually rejected by the National Assembly in August 1954 (for a complete account see Fursdon, 1980; Duke, 2000). Subsequent French inspired ideas aimed at creating a Europe of States surfaced under General de Gaulle, along with ambitious plans for cooperation in foreign policy and defense. Two plans to this effect were launched under the name of Christian Fouchet, a French diplomat and former Gaullist politician, in 1961 and 1962. It was not, however, until the Single European Act of 1986 that the first explicit mention of security was made when the members of the European Community stated that they were “ready to co-ordinate their positions more closely on the political and economic aspects of security” (Single European Act, 1986, Title III, Article 30. 6(d)). What we now know as CSDP only emerged in the late 1990s in response to the dissolution of the former federal Yugoslavia and civil war.

The crisis in the western Balkans made clear what had been implicit for a long time, that the EU needed to be “in a position to play its full role on the international stage” (Joint Declaration, 1998). The political push necessary to bring what became CSDP to life was provided by President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair at a meeting in Saint-Malo on December 3–4, 1998. The meeting is of importance for three reasons.

First, the agreement was between two powers that had traditionally differed over the degree of desirable security autonomy for the EU from NATO and, more specifically, the United States. The wording of the agreement reflected this with reference to the “capacity for autonomous action,” which was countered by the (British) insistence that any such autonomy should contribute “to the vitality of a modernised Atlantic Alliance which is the foundation of the collective defence of its members” (Joint Declaration, 1998, p. 1). The declaration thus reflected the historical differences between “Europeanists” and the “Atlanticists.” The former, led by France, but also joined on occasion by Germany and Luxembourg, put more emphasis on developing European security as an alternative to dependence upon the U.S. and NATO. One of the key reasons for de Gaulle’s drive to develop an independent French force de frappe (nuclear deterrent) resulted from the open distrust of American nuclear guarantees to come to the assistance of its European allies for fear that they would invite retaliation against themselves (of course, the point that the French force de frappe might be used in Germany to defend French territory was not mentioned in polite company). The “Atlanticists,” primarily the United Kingdom, but also Italy, Portugal, and more recently Spain, saw the development of security in the EU context as a buttress to NATO and not as an alternative.

The Europeanist–Atlanticist dichotomy has faded somewhat as a central preoccupation in CSDP research, due in part to the French reintegration into NATO’s Military Command, along with the United Kingdom’s close security relationship with France, as well as the fact that most of the post-2004 EU members feel no evident partisanship one way or the other as members of both the EU and NATO. Yet it is nevertheless a theme that is notable for its resilience. This, as Biscop and Coelmont (2012, p. 107) note, is due to the fact that, “As long some Member States see NATO and CSDP as competitors, the EU will continue to swing between Atlanticism and ‘Europeanism’.” If the EU and NATO are successful in forging some type of post-cold war modus operandi, arguments about security orientation are likely to subside. But, if fundamental differences between the Atlanticist and continental visions of the world remain, especially if there is the perception that “the EU is in danger of being subsumed into the new Atlanticism,” research may yet revert to fresh consideration of the wider geopolitics of European security and the Union’s role therein (Sakwa, 2015, p. 579).

Second, the Saint-Malo agreement led to the demise of the Western European Union (WEU), a collective defense organization, which came into existence in 1954. The WEU assumed responsibility for the defense-related provisions of the EU after its creation until its tasks and institutions were gradually transferred to the emerging CSDP. The demise of the WEU elicits little comment in the literature, but it left the politically sensitive question of who, or what, should be responsible for defense in the EU context (see Duke, 2000). The EU is therefore stuck with a largely silent “D” in CSDP (even if EU officials and academics alike often refer to “defense,” which relates to the territorial protection of sovereign territory from external incursion, when they clearly mean the Petersberg tasks which were adopted by the WEU and inherited by the European Union).1 This arises partially from the special position of defense, as opposed to more general security, which for many EU members is the last bastion of sovereignty and often of national pride. It can also be ascribed to the irrelevance of defense to the EU since, as the 2003 European Security Strategy noted, “Large-scale aggression against any Member State is now improbable” (European Security Strategy, 2003). As will be argued below, this may be changing with the advent of concerns about the threat of “hybrid warfare” by Russia against, in particular, the Baltic states.

Finally, the fact that it took an Anglo-French push to bring CSDP into life is no accident. These two countries possessed the necessary military hardware and personnel that would prove critical to underpinning many future CSDP missions. It would, however, be incorrect to see CSDP as some form of Anglo-French behemoth, since a minority of the subsequent missions were civilian in nature, meaning that their natural advantage when it came to resources and personnel was less pronounced, and even if military operations tended to reflect the interests of one or other, or both, there was still the need to build political consensus at the European level. In time this would open up burden-sharing debates within the EU questions of whether some of the smaller Member States were effectively free-riding at the expense of the larger and more able powers.

Debating the Nature of the Beast

One of the earliest debates, which has since proven perennial, concerns the nature of the beast. Even if decision-making formally remains a matter of consensus between the Member States in the CFSP area (which, remember, includes CSDP), the manner in which consensus is reached has apparent supranational elements. This, as Jolyon Howorth noted, was one of the rare elements of (more or less) agreement emerging from the CSDP literature, although debate still continues about how far either intergovernmentalism or supranationalism extends on a sliding scale. The arguments suggesting movement towards the supranational end of the scale revolve around tangible socialization effects that develop through the practice of working together in various fora, such as Council Working Groups, at the ambassadorial level (in the Committee of Permanent Representatives or the Political and Security Committee) as well as on civilian or military crisis management itself. The idea of socialization is that by meeting in different formats at different levels, bonds are created between colleagues which, over time, changes mindsets and processes to those that are more amenable to the recognition of collective interests and actions. Eventually a “cohesive transnational network of experts,” or epistemic community, emerges (Cross, 2011, p. 258).

On the other hand are those who, like André Dumoulin (2010, p. 30), argue that, “La renationalisation des politiques de défense sera la principale menace à la solidarité.” Evidence of renationalization is seen as a particular danger for the larger and better-equipped Member States (notably France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) and is measured by major disagreements over fundamental defense questions (Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Libya), as well as by continuing reluctance to engage in permanent structured cooperation, or to otherwise significantly engage in defense integration of the type urged by the European Defence Agency (EDA). The move towards homeland security, and away from the common procurement and development programs urged by the agency, is especially notable in the case of the United Kingdom, as is “free riding” on the part of a number of smaller Member States.

Debate is likely to continue about where on the spectrum the European Union is at any one time. Two issues are likely to be significant for this literature. First, there is an evident need for a clearer understanding of the drivers that may push CSDP one way or the other. For instance, the impact of the global financial crisis on CSDP has generally been underresearched, as have relations between the internal and external aspects of EU security policies. The second factor is the lack of any compelling global, or even regional, strategic ambition on the part of the EU that might galvanize CSDP, and more generally foreign policy, at the highest levels. There is no clear conception of the tangible security threats that could be used to justify renewed appeals for greater solidarity, or even supranationalism. In the absence of firmer “anchors” pulling CDSP one way or the other, continued oscillation is likely.

Any determination of the exact point on the sliding scale will depend, in part, upon the theoretical assumptions underpinning any research methodology. The following section will consider the main theoretical drivers of CSDP-related research which are notable for their diversity and thus their conclusions about the nature of CSDP.

Drivers of CSDP Research

A good deal of the theoretically informed debate over the last decade or so has revolved around the “normative power” Europe thesis, initially articulated by Ian Manners in 2002. His argument was an attempt to move away from polar and stereotypical notions of civilian or military power Europe, which tend to be state-centric notions, towards normative Europe, or one that includes “cognitive processes, with both substantive and symbolic components” (Manners, 2002, p. 239). This and subsequent iterations of the core arguments were widely debated and just as often misunderstood. Manner’s thesis was often interpreted as critical of “military Europe” since it rejected the assumption that “normative power requires a willingness to use force in an instrumental way” based upon the observation that the resolution of any differences “pre-disposes it to act in a normative way” (Manners, 2002, p. 242). This has since become something of a straw man. The essential point is that most of the CSDP missions have not been military in nature and those that have been tended to follow the model of classic United Nations peacekeeping patterns, stressing their role in separating combatants, allowing for the safe provision of humanitarian supplies, the policing of peace agreements, or training. The word “military” has been employed evocatively but was often divorced from the reality of what the EU actually does in CSDP missions, which is entirely consistent with the idea of normative Europe.

To some, the “normative” debate was a distraction from the real issue, which is the “absence of systemic, empirically grounded theoretical inquiry” in much of the CSDP research (see Irondelle, 2002; Bickerton, Irondelle, & Menon, 2011). This appeal, and others like it, led to renewed efforts from 2011 onwards, when the pace of theoretically-based inquiry accelerated. The main theoretical contributions can be grouped around three general approaches, although it should be noted that in each case there are nuances and differences between scholars.

The first is the growing interest in liberal institutionalist perspectives. The key driver behind institutionalist approaches was the bid to escape the European studies “intellectual ghetto” and to try and link CSDP with more mainstream international relations theorizing and multilateralism (see Menon, 2011). Institutionalism, understood broadly as the formal and informal “rules of the game,” where institutions represent potential players, has proven a useful approach to explaining the evolution of CSDP. Anand Menon, one of the most prominent proponents of this approach, made two particularly interesting contributions. First, he observed that the need for consensus in CSDP could have risked paralysis but instead led to a form of creative dissensus, whereby ambiguous agreements and the possibility of trade-offs shaped institutional evolution. This was particularly evident in the insistence on the parallel development of civilian crisis management under CSDP as a quid pro quo for the leading role played by France and the United Kingdom in the initial development of the military dimensions. Second, Menon noted that the downside of institutionalism is that it can serve to “hamper the kinds of domestic reform that they were intended to foster” (Menon, 2011, p. 96). A good example of this would be the EDA, which was created with the support of its members, but has had little discernible impact upon the defense expenditure patterns of its members due, in part, to the lack of any formal powers aside from those of suasion.

Institutionalist approaches stood in direct competition with realist-inspired perspectives which downplay the role of institutions as pawns of the key state players. Classical notions of realism argue that “CSDP reflects the erosion of political power within Europe and is, as such, a measure created to cope with inner weakness, not external power” (Rynning, 2011, p. 32). Hence, power dynamics drive policy while people and institutions, with their long and complex histories, actually make policy. This would suggest that the fate of CSDP is tied to the relative growth in power of the EU internally and on the global stage. The EU’s influence may be based upon ingrown efforts to increase influence and power or, to structural realists, the development of CSDP can be conceived of as a process of partial internal balancing (against Germany) and external balancing (either against the United States or as a form of entrapment to keep it involved). Classical realists dispute the views of structural realists, like Barry Posen (2004), since there is little evidence at the strategic level to suggest any such conscious balancing, or even geo-political pretensions to that end. Indeed, one of the more general laments has been precisely the absence of strategy, let alone “grand strategy” (Howorth, 2010). Realists do not discount the possibility of cooperation or even supranational institutions emerging, but they typically lead to an “alliance security dilemma” whereby states are faced with the choice of “how firmly to commit themselves to the proto-partner and how much support to give that partner in specific conflict interactions with the adversary” (Snyder, 1984, p. 466). Alliances, or in this instance CSDP, tend to be transitory in nature due to fears of abandonment or entrapment.

A third major school of thought that has shaped thinking about CSDP is constructivism. Like other theoretical approaches, constructivism was imported from wider international relations theorizing and holds that “though material factors exist independently from the social world, they are given meaning only through ideas, beliefs and norms that are reproduced through social interaction” (Meyer & Strickmann, 2011, p. 62). Evidence for this is forwarded in a variety of different forms ranging from the emergence of a strategic culture within CSDP to various forms of “socialization” that stem from working together in committees or working groups (Chelotti, 2014; Juncos & Pomorska, 2014). Constructivist approaches also acknowledge the importance of social interaction between differing groups, whether they be EU fonctionnaires, national representatives, or the governments of EU members, whilst not denying the importance of elite roles, such as the Anglo-French Saint-Malo declaration referred to above (Joint Declaration, 1998). Constructivist approaches remain optimistic in the sense that states have the option of escaping an anarchical international system by establishing common strategic cultures and supranational institutions. Such approaches have also been aided and abetted by the apparent difficulties that realist scholars have in explaining why EU Member States have embarked upon closer integration and cooperation on security matters since 1999, in a policy field that is often seen as the bastion of national sovereignty.

A persistent weakness of constructivist approaches has been the difficulty of explaining the relationship and effect on ideas, beliefs, and norms on material factors—the latter being the focus of realists. Christoph Meyer and Eva Strickmann (2011, p. 69) suggest that the material factors are important, to the extent that “the most relevant social and political actors believe that they matter.” There is a tension in this argument between those who believe that, for example, defense expenditure is dangerously low and those who believe that it is not, when they are one and the same actor—in this case the Member States. This leads to the suggestion, made principally by Anand Menon, that the behavior of actors within institutional settings can be motivated by objectives that appear to complement the overall goals of CSDP but which, in reality, represent a way of abnegating national responsibility.

Security Governance

There are examples of attempts to build theoretical bridges and to offer holistic approaches that put CSDP into a wider security context. One that deserves highlighting is security governance. Although there are differences between security governance scholars, they are united by the shared assumption that there is a growing synergy between the national, transnational, and supranational levels of security where multiple actors cooperate. In other words, security within and beyond Europe cannot be considered as an entirely state-driven process. Security governance proposes a conscious shift of focus to non-state actors and the norms that regulate their interactions. It is often classically defined as, “the coordinated management and regulation of issues by multiple and separate authorities, the interventions or both public and private actors … formal and informal arrangements, in turn structured by discourse and norms, and purposefully directed towards particular policy outcomes” (Webber, Croft, Howorth, Terriff, & Krahmann, 2004, p. 4). Security governance is claimed to perform two functions—institution-building and conflict resolution—and employs two sets of instruments—the persuasive and the coercive (Sperling, 2009, p. 7).

Although the theory—or perhaps pre-theory to be more accurate—has been applied to European security more widely, it remains of interest to CSDP scholars as a way of grappling with the essentially contradictory impulses that surround CSDP, which are, at the same time, post-Westphalian as well as persistently Westphalian (on this point see Kirchner & Sperling, 2007). One of the undoubted positives of the security governance approach lies in its implicit invitation to consider CSDP in the broader context of EU security actions. This is an important palliative to the earlier tendency for CSDP-related research to become a somewhat insular cottage industry.

If there is a weakness in the literature it is the underconsideration of issues of strategy and what might be termed strategic culture within the EU and the Member States. The lack of clear agreement upon strategic priorities or objectives poses the obvious question of what kind of “governance” is being discussed. How can governance be conceived of in the absence of agreement upon basic rules or strategic objectives?

Connections between CSDP Research and Other Research

Research on CSDP has tended to reflect the development of the policy domain itself, with the original focus confined to understanding the policy area itself, the institutions, and their workings. Within this the emphasis was upon the military aspects of CSDP, for the simple reason that they were the first to emerge, along with the more technical discussion surrounding capabilities and defense budgets. Subsequently, interest in the civilian aspects of crisis management was stimulated by the 2000 European Council in Feira, which incorporated police, rule of law, civilian administration, and civil protection mandates into CSDP missions. It was during this same period that the various operational bodies facilitating crisis management missions were also created, such as the Political and Security Committee, the EU Military Committee, and EU Military Staff, followed later by the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate and the Civil Planning and Conduct Capability. This gave rise to a further cottage industry of not only political scientists’ interested in institutions and wider questions of governance, but also those of legal scholars who occasionally found common cause with political scientists in examining the scope of state action in CSDP, as well as the potential of supranational governance (Koutrakos, 2011).

The initial research phase of grappling with the basics of CSDP soon gave way to more complex and interlinked research agendas. The idea of coherence between the external and internal dimensions of the Union’s external actions, as well as between the EU institutions and with the Member States, had been enshrined in the Treaty on European Union. It was thus natural that questions of coherence (or consistency in English), especially following the ECOWAS judgment in May 2008, were prominent on research agendas (see Hillion & Wessel, 2009, pp. 551–586; Duke, 2011, pp. 15–54, Portela & Raube, 2012, pp. 1–20). More recently, the idea of coherence was rewrapped and reinforced in policy terms with the adoption of the Comprehensive Approach to External Conflict and Crises in December 2013 (European Commission, 2013). Although the concept was nominally applied to external conflict and crises, it was actually intended as “a guiding principle to EU external policy and action” as a whole (European Commission, 2013, p. 12). In spite of the rewrapping of the well-established theme of coherence under the “comprehensive approach,” some of the research, such as that on the Horn of Africa, continued to raise many of the same points as the earlier literature on coherence. For instance, a study commissioned by the European Parliament noted that “the coordination between the EEAS and the Commission regarding CSDP missions and development programmes needs improving due in part to the lack of common direction at the strategic level” (Solman, Vines, & Mosley, 2012, p. 43).

A further connection drawing upon the theme of coherence, or the comprehensive approach, can be found in the literature examining the security-development nexus. The comprehensive approach noted that, “The connection between security and development is therefore a key underlying principle in the application of an EU comprehensive approach” (European Commission, 2013, p. 4). The literature on the security-development nexus is both rich and diverse, although in historical terms security and development have only been interrelated since around 2000. One of the key points of debate, which almost risked becoming theological at times, involves the extent to which development should or should not be “securitized.” The literature is less clear on whether securitization is a causal factor or not (see Furness & Gänzle, 2012; Merket, 2012; Keukeleire & Raube, 2013; Smith, 2013). Nevertheless, the advent of the comprehensive approach has allowed practitioners and, to a lesser extent researchers, to acknowledge that security and development are at least interrelated.

The emergence of a body of literature in the security-development nexus has yet to be matched with any equal concentration on how, for instance, CSDP and trade relate to one another (beyond the purely defense industrial aspects, which will be discussed below). Other crosscutting themes with CSDP can be expected to develop, such as those with migration. The irregular migratory crossings of the Mediterranean are not new, but the scale of the crossings is likely to intensify interest in the linkages between CSDP and the internal and external aspects of migration that at the moment remain underdeveloped.

In a similar vein, a number of multilateral areas of concern, such as climate change or water security, have been “securitized” in the sense that they are becoming “securitized” at the policy level. But, it is less clear whether such perspectives are generated due to legal competence issues, or if there is a genuine security perspective emerging including those that might have implications for CSDP. Even on issues like CSDP and counterterrorism, research is under-developed and CSDP has struggled to find a narrative, let alone a role, with one author concluding that, “Not only has the Union’s CSDP been so far unable to provide a substantial contribution to the fight against terrorism in Europe but will continue failing to do so in the foreseeable future due to political, strategy and capacity factors” (Argomaniz, 2012, p. 36).

Capabilities and Expectations: Mind the Gap

The previous section suggested that the CSDP literature has only just begun to make the vital links with other areas of EU external action or, for that matter, the important interface with the internal and external aspects of security. In contrast to the broadening literature, there is also a stream of research that considers narrower, but nonetheless pertinent, questions relating to capabilities—in a sense, this represents the “deepening” of the CSDP specific literature. The identification of a capabilities–expectations gap by Christopher Hill in 1993 has frequently punctuated research (and policy fretting) about CSDP (Hill, 1993). Although Hill was making a wider geopolitical argument about the EU’s place in international security issues, his observation about capabilities resonated with scholars. This subsequently led to dissections of various “Headline Goals,” or national capabilities and resource availability, for both the civilian and military crisis management (Helwig, 2013). In policy terms various efforts to secure adequate national support for CSDP missions saw the adoption of the European Capabilities Action Plan, the adoption and implementation of the Battlegroup Concept, the introduction of permanent structured cooperation with the Lisbon Treaty—these too have met with academic scrutiny.

One potential response to Hill’s capabilities gap has laid with the EDA since 2004. Its fundamental purpose is to support “the member states in their efforts to improve the EU’s defense capabilities in the field of crisis management and to sustain the ESDP [now CSDP] as it stands now and develops in the future” (Council of the EU, 2004, Article 2.1). The EDA has attracted serious scrutiny with the general conclusion that the Agency has played a valuable role in identifying norms and standards to which the Member States should aspire, but it is hampered by the lack of any significant powers other than that of persuasion (see Shepherd, 2015; Cross, 2015). The logic that underpinned the first decade of the EDA’s work continues to apply. Indeed, there is an ever more apparent need to do more with the same, or even less, through common procurement, joint research, and development and sharing arrangements. A refined, but important, literature has emerged on the extent to which the harmonization of national procurement laws by EU legislation might lay the eventual foundations for something that is more recognizably a “common” defense. Against this, the Member States still enjoy reasonably wide latitude to exempt themselves from this legislation on the grounds of the protection of their essential security interests. Although this is a heavily legally-oriented field, the work of experts such as Martin Trybus (2014) is of more than passing interest to political scientists. This particular point serves to underscore the general “domination” of CSDP research by politics to the detriment of other approaches, such as defense economics, other than for a few lonely voices (Hartley, 2003, p. 108).

Future CSDP Research Agendas and Questions

The ability to analyze the changing world and to fashion strategic direction and priorities is vital for any understanding of the scope and ambitions of not only CSDP but the EU’s external actions more generally. An assessment of the changing global environment, which formed the kickoff to the strategic review process culminating in the June 2016 revision of the Union’s security strategy, made the observation that, “Greater clarity and conviction among Member States is needed on what a vigorous and responsive CSDP can and should look like in a more connected, contested and complex global environment” (EEAS, 2015, p. 10).

The above quotation suggests several research agendas. One theme would be to strengthen and expand the existing links between international relations scholars and those who are more related to “European studies,” law, and defense economics. Another strand might usefully consider the linkages between CSDP and the wider security interests of the Union, including the interlinkages between (nominally) internal and external security issues. For example, the launch of Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean in June 2015, with the ambition of countering human trafficking, and a parallel NATO operation in the Aegean and the boosting of its military presence in the Baltic states, alongside plans to from a European Border and Coast Guard in December 2015, point to the expansion of CSDP’s role beyond crisis management and the further muddying of the internal and external dimensions of security. Similarly, the interplay between national defense perspectives and postures and those at the EU level is underresearched. This is vital if the EU is to avoid situations where it is flying under the radar with insufficient knowledge of the positions of the Member States and vice versa.

There will be a continued need for researchers to study individual CSDP missions with the aim of extracting wider “lessons learned” in a parallel process to any conclusions reached at the official level (this might usefully start by considering how lessons learned are identified and implemented among the CSDP actors). The need for closer attention to the outcome of civilian crisis management missions, which form the vast majority of CSDP missions, is especially apparent (see Dari, Price, Van der Wal, Gottwald, & Koenig, 2012).

Those more concerned with questions of institutions and governance might dwell more closely on the apparent isolation of many of the CSDP bodies from the mainstream of the European External Action Service (EEAS). The change of High Representative needs to be accompanied by serious scrutiny of the extent to which the CSDP structures are truly integrated into the EEAS and the extent to which it is possible to refer to an emerging security culture within the EU institutions. When it comes to the resource or capability questions referred to above, scarcity was always meant to be the harbinger of invention. So far it has not proven to be, but this is no reason why research should not play an important role in stimulating thought along the lines that have been consistently advocated by the EDA for over a decade.

The advent of the British vote to leave the EU on June 23, 2016 (the “Brexit”) and the unveiling of the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy within a week of one another provided an unfortunate juxtaposition. The full implications of the Brexit vote will only become apparent over the forthcoming months or possibly years, but a UK withdrawal from the EU will severely damage CSDP since the UK is one of the Union’s diplomatic and military heavyweights (along with France). Although withdrawal from the EU need not end the UK’s cooperation with their European counterparts on matters of security and defense, it obviously complicates it. Precisely how will be the subject of much ongoing research.

The Global Strategy reinforced the role of security and defense arguing that, “Full spectrum defence capabilities are necessary to respond to external crises, build our partner’s capacities, and to guarantee Europe’s safety” (EEAS, 2016). Whilst acknowledging the role of NATO, the Global Strategy also observed that, “An appropriate level of ambition and strategic autonomy is important for Europe’s ability to foster peace and safeguard security within and beyond its borders.” But, in a well-worn refrain, this will involve Member States “moving towards defence cooperation as the norm” with the aim of moving towards “full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers.” Attaining the ambitions of the strategy will be challenging, especially bearing in mind the ongoing consequences of Brexit, which include economic recession. In research terms, the bid for greater cooperation and sharing has generally been met with some skepticism, but if other aims of the strategy are realized, such as the EU’s greater involvement in Asian security, securing data networks, cross-border tracing of weapons, and the interface between other external and internal policies, new and exciting research fields will evolve.

Finally, the silent “D” in CSDP, referred to earlier, may also have interesting implications for future research. Research has tended to concentrate on crisis management, both civilian and military, although events in 2014 in the form of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and allegations of Russian support for separatists in the east of Ukraine have given rise to renewed concerns about defense, especially from those EU members who are not NATO members (like Finland and Sweden). The Lisbon Treaty makes provision for a mutual defense clause of sorts (Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union). The clause has only been invoked once (as has NATO’s counterpart Article 5 mutual defense guarantee). In the EU case it was as a result of the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015. Once invoked by the French Defense Minister, it soon became apparent that the exact type of aid and assistance was a matter of bilateral discussions with the Member States with minimal EU involvement and no requirement for a formal decision or Council conclusion. As Hillion and Blockmans (2015, p. 4) perceptively commented, “France uses the clause to demand support and solidarity—not so much to deal with the effects of attacks on its territory—but in pursuance of a certain conception of Europe’s role in global affairs.” Care obviously has to be taken when generalizing based on a single case, but the Paris attacks and fear of hybrid threats to the Baltic states in particular raise the question of how much longer the “D” in CSDP can remain silent.

Future research will have to grapple with a changing world and, with it, further transformation of CSDP. If it is to thrive, more attention will have to be paid to levels of ambition and capabilities and to the challenges presented by hybrid threats, the increasingly indistinguishable internal and external dimensions of security, and the possible need for more security and defense autonomy. Inevitably, a cottage industry will spring up examining the multifaceted dimensions of Brexit, including those pertaining to CSDP. Ongoing scholarship will hopefully not only provide the tools for reflection but, just as importantly, as a way of looking ahead and helping to formulate responses and policy input in a rapidly changing international system.

Further Reading

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  • Pohl, B. (2013). EU foreign policy and crisis management operations: Power, purpose and domestic politics. Abingdon: Routledge.


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  • 1. The Petersberg tasks were originally adopted by the Western European Union in 1992 and were later introduced into the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam but have since been updated in the Treaty of Lisbon, Article 43, to include, “joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation. All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.”