Panic is not the answer to the EU’s security and defence challenges

19 November 2018 Lucia Montanaro and Luca Venchiarutti Panic is not the answer to the EU’s security and defence challenges

This comment piece was originally published in the EU Observer.

Today, the European Union Foreign Affairs Council is meeting to discuss the future of EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) civilian missions and operations. In doing so, it must choose between contaminating the CSDP with policy panic over security and migration, and reaffirming the EU’s core values as a global actor for peace and development.

The Civilian Compact is meant to strengthen the civilian dimension of CSDP missions. However, EU member states want to use it to integrate so-called ‘new tasks’ into the CSDP, including counter-terrorism, preventing and countering violent extremism, fighting organised crime, addressing ‘irregular migration’, and beefing up border management and maritime security. These new priorities may suit some European leaders, and there is no doubt that the issues are relevant to EU member states and citizens alike. However, including them as new tasks within CSDP missions risks undermining the EU’s long-term commitment to promoting peace and human security.

Short-term, securitised responses to migration and terrorism are often popular at home because governments can be seen to be ‘doing something’. However, they are inherently counter-productive when applied abroad. This approach carries considerable risks and shortcomings for both European citizens and citizens of partner countries by relying on abusive and unaccountable partners, offering them security assistance that can reinforce repression and fuel instability. This has backfired in many contexts.

In the Sahel and parts of East Africa, for example, the EU outsources its migration response to several authoritarian governments that use the political and financial backing to further repress their citizens and those migrating through their territories. It also gives them an incentive to spin a narrative of ‘threats’ to gain financial and political support and to use their security capabilities to entrench their power. Moreover, the EU has tasked its CSDP mission in Niger to support security forces to control ‘irregular flows’ and set up a permanent office in Agadez, a major transit point, but this is disrupting transnational trade and livelihoods that depend on mobility.

Stabilisation and counter-terrorism are prominent on international actors’ agenda in Somalia.  Yet, despite relatively fragile territorial gains over al-Shabaab, the diversion and misuse of security assistance has caused harm and created risks for longer-term stability – including conflict between sub-national administrations and continued marginalisation and exclusion.

Instead, the EU should focus on promoting peace by addressing conflict drivers – being sensitive to conflict dynamics and ensuring due diligence on the human rights impacts of all EU assistance – as a central component of the Civilian Compact and future CSDP missions.

Upholding the EU’s commitments to conflict prevention and human rights requires more than the noble sentiments expressed by its leaders at Sunday’s Armistice Day commemorations. Putting short-term security objectives at the centre of EU foreign policy will undermine more integrated EU strategies that tackle the drivers of conflict and promote resilience in the longer-term.

Fighting ‘extremists’ and stopping migrants likewise diminishes the EU’s credibility in taking on the peace-making role needed to address the complex conflicts at the root of its security challenges. Effective security and defence policy doesn’t support peace and reconciliation with one hand while reinforcing authoritarianism and inter-communal tensions with the other. CSDP missions are meant to complement other EU initiatives, not contradict them.

A move to expand the scope of civilian CSDP missions to take on new priorities risks sucking vital resources away from conflict prevention, rule of law and human rights, and ultimately undermining the EU’s contribution to sustainable peace. Allowing policy panic about migration and terrorism to drag CSDP off-course could prove dangerous and counter-productive – paradoxically making EU citizens feel even less secure but more inclined to support ineffective solutions.

Today, the EU must hold its ground on human rights, development and human security as the only viable long-term answers to instability. At a time of global uncertainty it is more important than ever that EU foreign policy lives up to its core values as a global actor for peace and development.