European Security Strategy

The European Security Strategy is a statement, endorsed by the European Council (of EU heads of government) in December 2003, analysing the global security threats confronting European Union and identifying a common strategy for addressing them. Entitled A Secure Europe in a Better World, the text was proposed by Xavier Solana, the Union’s (then) High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and offered an overall policy framework for the EU’s nascent Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), formalised in the Nice Treaty twelve months later. The concept was loosely modelled on the US National Security Strategy, published by the President’s National Security Council in Washington, a year after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The adoption of the European Security Strategy represented the first occasion on which the EU as a collective entity – as opposed to its individual member states acting on their own or within the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – had endorsed a significant common statement on policy in this field. Given the formal neutrality of six EU member states – Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden – this was a politically significant achievement.

The ESS was produced soon after the 2003 Iraq war and at a time of bitter international division over the foreign policy of US President George W. Bush. Reputedly drafted by Robert Cooper – then a senior official in the secretariat of the Council of Ministers, who had previously worked as foreign-policy adviser to British prime minister Tony Blair – the strategy attempted to strike a conciliatory and understated tone, melding together notions of hard and soft power, and accepting the basic concept of Europe as a ‘civilian power’. The ESS argued that the global setting was one characterised by poverty, migration, criminality, resource depletion and climate change. Specific threats to EU security included the risk of terrorism, the growth of failed states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of organised crime, and the intractability of certain regional conflicts. The Union’s ‘strategic objectives’ should include ‘building security in the European region’ and ‘creating a viable new international order’. The policy implications included pursuit of a more ambitious European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), improved crisis management, and a renewed commitment to international law and multilateral institutions, whilst all the time remaining willing to engage in ‘early, rapid and, where necessary, robust intervention’ using military force. The Union needed to underpin this approach with improved coordination of its various external and internal policies, so that CFSP, CSDP, Common Commercial Policy (CCP), development policy and humanitarian aid – as well as policies for the environment, energy and immigration – all pointed in the same direction.

The ESS was reviewed in December 2008. The European Council reconfirmed the 2003 document, whilst highlighting both the evolution of existing security threats in the intervening five years – including the Madrid and London bombings, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, and piracy off the Horn of Africa – and the emergence of new or greatly enhanced problems, such as cyber security, energy insecurity and struggles over scarce resources. (The issue of fossil-fuel resources in the Arctic region was identified as a particular ‘threat multiplier’). The advent of the US and EU security strategies, as well as budgetary constraints occasioned by the economic crisis, has prompted several individual member states to undertake their own national strategic reviews – notably France and the United Kingdom, the countries with the two biggest defence capabilities in Europe.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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