Comprehensive European Security

In public discussions the question of national security is very often dealt with in a very unclear way. It is often mixed with the question of internal security and different threats are intermingled. Especially in connection with real or possible refugee inflows, security threats are automatically mentioned.

Yes, we have to deal with possible threats to the public order and to the basic stability inside our countries. An uncontrolled inflow of refugees in big numbers can be interpreted as a threat to the public order. But that depends on the number of refugees and the capacity of the respective state. The state is able to mobilize to care for those refugees who may be in transition or who want to stay. But it is very dangerous to create an automatic link between refugees and security risks. And it is therefore very short-sighted to call for the military to seal off ones border and push refugees back without an imminent danger for the security of a country and without looking into alternative ways to deal with the refugee issue in a humanitarian and sustainable way.

If we want to guarantee the security of our European countries, we have to analyse external threats in order to find ways to avoid them. Besides the respective national military forces which, in a connected world/connected Europe are responsible for the security of the respective countries, there are basically four multilateral organizations, which are dealing with security issues.

The United Nations (UN)

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The European Union (EU)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)


United Nations have been criticized for its lack of power and enforcement various times. But the UN is by much dependent on the power given to them by the member states and especially by the permanent members of the Security Council with their right to veto decisions. Nevertheless, the UN is still indispensable in promoting international law and keeping up channels of dialogue when others seem to be closed.

A particular and tricky issue is the - in the framework of the UN elaborated - "Responsibility to Protect (R2P)" which has been claimed to promote military interventions to meet the interests of the intervening power, although the concept has explicitly been established to protect civilians. And as we can see the over stretching of respective UN resolutions may have a very negative effect on decisions which would need a strong and united Security Council.


The OSCE which can also be regarded as a regional organist ion according to the UN statute, is still the major platform of East - West dialogue. In many respects it has been weakened, especially as a watchdog for free and fair elections in different member countries. But even here it has duties, and to a vast extent, credibility. Concerning the security issue it is, unfortunately, not able to prevent conflicts, such as the one between Ukraine and Russia. But as we can see it can help to monitor developments and to reduce tensions in military conflicts.

But this role, as valuable as it is, once a conflict started, is not enough for an effective all European security organization. Especially if we want to establish a security system relying on mutual respect and cooperation. In this case security is not safeguarded against the "other", but with the "other"! From a Western perspective the OSCE would be an organization to work on security with Russia and not against it. And vice versa. But "both sides" are still thinking in their old terms with a lack of trust and confidence.

The role of connectivity

The OSCE would also be the organization to promote cooperation in the economic field. Energy is one of those issues which could be desalt by the OSCE because it includes producer countries like Russia, transit countries like Ukraine and many consumer countries in Eastern and Western Europe. The present sanctions between Russia and EU countries as well as with other OSCE member countries, prevents such a close economic cooperation, but we should find ways out of it. And the work by the former, present and future OSCE chairs - Switzerland, Germany and Austria on so called "connectivity" would be a way towards using the formal or informal economic ties to build trust and confidence at least between respective citizens.


The European Union has a wide range of tasks and obligations. To create stability and security in Europe is one of them. For establishing security outside its membership the pre-accession and the neighbourhood strategy are of crucial importance. But these policies are much more converted with conditionality than, for example, NATO membership. It is not the place to speak about the proceedings of association talks and membership "negotiations", but concluding the respective treaties are conditional on multiple measures and policies of the EU partners.

This conditionality makes the association process, and even more the accession process, slow and full of obstacles. And the longer it lasts the less influence the EU has on the countries policies. If the leading politicians see the future meme ship far away, they rather think on short term gains (election) and less on their contribution towards bringing their country into a stable community. This is why the accession process should be made much more transparent for the public to recognize the national or EU responsibility for the lack of progress in the talks between their country and the EU authorities.

Beyond the accession talks with its limited number of candidate countries, the neighbourhood policy is an important instrument of security policy. But we have to differentiate between the EU's eastern and southern neighbourhood. This is not only a geographical but also a political differentiation. Was only NATO extension to the "East" seen critically by Russia, now also EU association policy is seen critical and as "provocative" by Russia. The case of Ukraine has demonstrated this clearly but one might also include Georgia and Moldova in this list. Without going into the legality of EU association and membership, where sovereignty, of course, includes the free choice of each country to choose its allies, the political issues remain on the table.

A new neighbourhood policy

The situation is different in the "South" where we find many strong actors with very different attitudes. In addition we are confronted with wars, proxy wars, terrorism and territorial disputes. The military interventions by Western countries did not improve the situation, but even deteriorated it, especially in Iraq and in Libya. In the case of Libya a decision of the Security Council was the basis of the intervention. But the intervening powers might have surpassed the right given to them and had no concept for longer term stability in the country and the region.

EU's policy in the neighbourhood is based on economic support and cooperation with the government and the civil society to build up a state of law. But the possibilities to guarantee the responsible and constructive use of the EU's financial support are very limited. And the question if and when such a support should be cancelled because of lack of cooperation is very hard to answer. Nevertheless the EU needs a much more tailored approach to individual countries with a combination of value oriented demands and Realpolitik at the same time.

The neighbourhood policy is an integral element of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Unfortunately it is not always a common policy and too many initiatives are taken outside the common framework and without EU internal coordination. This reduces the credibility and force of the EU, even when the national actions are not in contradiction to the EU's principles as is the case with the recent peace initiative concerning Israel and Palestine.

Risks coming from the "South"

The lack of a conclusive and prospective policy for the Mediterranean region, has certainly one of the most devastating influences in the regional development. Many initiatives have been started, but none was comprehensive and concise enough to show results. The refugee crisis cannot be solved without a strong commitment of the EU for stability and development in that region. Even if many refugees come from outside and that is south and east of that region, we need a strong cooperation across the Mediterranean See.

The more the US is realizing the announced pivot towards Asia and reduces its attention and activities in the Middle East, the more the EU needs to step up its attention and activities. This cooperation must include opening up of European markets, exchange of students and professors and exchange of intelligence information in the framework of security partnerships. But of course we must not violate our laws and the principles of human rights.

The inflow of refugees, even when the Syrian war is stopped will be a remaining issue. And it cannot be stopped militarily, but must be an issue to be dealt with by a variety of economic and political measures. The latest "Risk Analysis" of FRONTEX for 2016, speaks of about 1,8 million of illegal border crossings in 2015, that is more than six times the number of 2014.


And if we look to the long-term development - without taking into account conflicts like that in Syria- in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) there will be a population rise from 300 Million in 2005 to 537 Million in 2050 that is an increase of nearly 80%. The Labour force will increase by about 115 million; it will decrease in the EU try 66 million. In addition we will see a strong increase of the Sub-Saharan population.


Of course not everyone will come to Europe. But as Ivan Kratsev recently wrote in the Financial Times the new communication technologies made it possible that people, in poor countries compare their standard of living with that in Europe - instead with that of their neighbours. So in the end, if you are no longer satisfied with your living conditions "you change not the government but the geography (…) To change your life you need a boat, not a party."


Nevertheless not refugees as such are a risk and danger for security. Certainly, with uncontrolled refugee flows dangerous people may slip into Europe, but terrorism develops also inside Europe without additional "resources" from other countries. And of course an excessive number of refugees may be a danger for internal stability and security. But we should be careful in identifying refugees with risk and insecurity.

European defense policy


In addition to its neighbourhood and foreign/security policy the EU is also trying to coordinate its security and even defence-policy. This coordination includes research and development (Defense R&D) and armament. But the cooperation is very limited and the same is still true for cooperation with NATO. The EU has difficulties to design a common defence policy with NATO and non - NATO members, but also strong differences between NATO members themselves. Nevertheless in view of the permanent demands to step up the military budgets, including at the last NATO summit in Wales it would be wise to look at the synergy effects of a common defence and armaments policy.


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the last surviving and active collective defence organization. Founded in 1949 the treaty underlined the connection with the United Nations and the "primary responsibility of the Security Council"! One of the core articles is article 5 with its call in case of an attack against one of them to "individual or collective self-defence recognized by article 51 of the charter of the United Nations".

It is important to stress this connection to the UN charter and the Security Council to demonstrate the global and comprehensive framework based on international law. In its Strategic Concept NATO wants:

"to provide (...) stable security environment in Europe",

"to deter and defend against any threat of aggression against the territory of any member state"

"to preserve the strategic balance in Europe"!

In the meantime, one could argue, the strategic balance has changed due to the enlargement of NATO. Of course the preservation of the strategic balance is not an obligation towards Russia or any other country, but one could understand some reaction of the Russian side. One has to mention the agreement between the US and other NATO member states of setting up the NATO - Russia Council. But there was no effort undertaken to establish a Common European Security System.

NATO and Russia

Due to the European history after the Second World War and Russian policies towards some new NATO member states it is logic that NATO did not want to give Russia a veto right for its own development. In the other hand it was not farsighted to decline any serious discussion about a common security structure which would include East and West.

One can have doubts, if Russia also in times of the proposed Medwedew Plan, had serious interest in a fair and balanced European Security Structure. And the moment now is probably not the best one for starting concrete negotiations. But nevertheless, the more NATO is thinking about expansion even in the Balkans, relatively far away from Russia, the more we need some fantasy of bringing Russia into a comprehensive European framework. The nuclear deal with Iran showed that cooperation with Russia is possible and the case of Syria shows that cooperation with Russia is sometimes necessary.

But it is not only the question of a changing strategic balance, one could also argue, that peace and security in Europe cannot be created and preserved without all major European countries. Therefore a way must be found to include Russia into such a strategy. This does not mean that all Russian wishes and policies, expressed by a very nationalistic and sometimes aggressive President Putin, have to be accepted. And in particular violation of international law should not be accepted. But the West would have a better moral position had not several Western / NATO countries violated international law themselves, for example by military intervention in Iraq and overstretching the legal basis for intervening in Libya.

In this respect we have also to listen to informed and intelligent Russian voices and not only interpret ourselves the Russian position. Andrey Kortunov in a contribution to the European Council on Foreign Relations and in answering to an article by Kadri Liik with the title " How to talk with Russia" stated:

"I clearly recall that in the early 1990s, Russia (and as the Soviet Union in late 1980s) was pushing very hard to transform the OSCE into the central organization body of the new European architecture. The West entertained the prospect of a greater role for the OSCE for some time but in the end resolved not to give the body even more importance. There were concerns among Europeans that the OSCE might start competing with NATO to be the main security provider in Europe.
There was little appetite in Washington and in Brussels to invest heavily in any "OSCE-based system" and, for understandable reason, the West made a clear choice in favour of a NATO/EU-based system".

And further on in his contribution under the title: "How not to talk with Russia" Kortunov drew the conclusion: "Russia had to accept that it would have even less influence on core matters of European security and development than the smaller countries of Central Europe (...) not a very comfortable position for a country that claims to be a "great power".

This argument was also taken up by Fiodor Loukianov in an interview for Le Monde, when he mentioned that already at the end of 1999 Vladimir Poutine stated: "For the first time in its history, Russia risks to fall into a second or third row of world politics. We have to stop that". And especially when NATO no longer was only a system of collective defence but became a intervening military power, Russia became nervous.

In today's discussion about the role of NATO very often collective defence is put in opposition to crisis management. In addition we can see different opinions between the Northern attitude stressing the role of a strong NATO against Russia and the South stressing the role in fighting the dangers coming from the southern/eastern Mediterranean. But even here there are different approaches between Turkey on the one side and Italy, France and Spain on the other side.

NATO and the risks from the "South"

A comprehensive and viable policy especially concerning the South has to be developed as the US will turn their attention more and more to Asia. Until now NATO was and is not involved on the fight against ISIS, although President Obama has recently - on the occasion of the visit of NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg in Washington - underlined the important contributions of NATO member countries in fighting terrorism and specifically ISIS. The military part of fighting ISIS cannot be put into doubt. But it must be clear that a sustainable victory over ISIS and similar terrorist organs tigons needs much more.


In a recent book the famous scholar Michael Madelbaum (" Mission Failure") speaks in this regard of impossible missions the US has tried to fulfil. From the Cold War period to the post-Cold War Period there was a change of strategy from containment to containment to transformation, from defence of the West to the political, economic and ideological extension of the West. And it is primarily the political mission that follows the military intervention that failed.


"The main focus of American foreign policy shifted from war to governance, from what other governments did beyond their borders to what they did and how they were organized within them." And this they wanted to do according to their "own democratic, constitutional order and those of its Western allies". This is not only true for the US but also in many cases for Europe. It needs much more than the usual tools of foreign policy: "weapons, money and words." But it is clear that, refraining from military interventions does not solve all the problems.


The transformation of our neighbouring countries - and beyond - to create more satisfying living conditions for its citizens, needs to come from the inside. We can and should help but with much more considerations of the specific conditions of each country and with a variety of -peaceful - instruments. And very often especially in relation to Europe’s South stability must be given a stronger consideration. However, stability is no guarantee for the absence of conflicts and wars.


If one wants a resilient and sustainable Security System in Europe one has to think about a package of different measures. Especially NATO expansion should be embedded into a wider and comprehensive concept.

The UN System remains indispensable also for Europe, and that is especially true for a well-functioning Security Council. On the one side the Security Council should be strengthened and there should be established clearer guidelines for any military activity in its name, on the other side the vetoing important peace initiative should be drastically reduced. Syria is a very prominent case of not trying to find a reasonable compromise on actions to stop the war.

The OSCE should be strengthened. The recent report of a high level group presents some good ideas, but it would need a strong commitment to improve the capacity of the OSCE to prevent crises in early stages. And even when a crisis could not be prevented and starts to become a military conflict the OSCE needs more support to intervene in the sense of demilitarization.

The EU must readjust its enlargement and neighbourhood policy to make it more transparent in supporting not only democratic development but also economic benefits for the citizens concerned. A clever strategy of fighting off Russia's ideological and economic intervention or against EU's policies is as necessary as fighting extremists/terrorists blackmailing and suppressing local populations.

NATO will have to embed its enlargement policy into a wider concept to reorganize European Security. The US pivot towards Asia will give the European NATO members additional task to care for Europe's security. In spite of present difficulties all European countries should be invited to participate in the design and implementation of such a comprehensive structure.

What is especially needed is a close cooperation between the different actors in the field of security. Claudia Major in a study for Istituto Affari Internazionali under the title " NATO and European Security: Back to the roots? " made it clear, that NATO and the EU need a better cooperation, when it comes to tackle with hybrid scenarios, with a more and more en vogue today:

"NATO has to recognize that it can only address a fraction of a hybrid scenario, namely the military one, by assuring deterrence and defence. The EU is in best position to take on civilian issues. It can most effectively assess where social, legal and economic situations might be fragile within member and neighbour states. Additionally, it has the tools, in social policies and infrastructural support for example, to address such vulnerabilities."

NATO and EU have to recognize their limits especially when they work alone in crisis management. Together they are much stronger and can display all their potential, but they would have to have the will to coordinate their activities in designing a long term policy for sustainable peace for Europe and its neighbourhood.

It is true, that the number of military conflicts was reduced over the last decades, especially this between states. But it also true, that the complexity of these convicts demand stronger coordination between the military and the civil side. In its Yearbook of European Security 2014 the EU Institute for Security Studies clearly states: "The security challenges we are facing today are numerous, complex, interrelated and difficult to foresee (…) These security challenges can only be tackled in a comprehensive approach combining different policies and instruments, short and long-term measures. This approach must be underpinned by a large range of civil and military capabilities. It is increasingly unlikely that member states can bear this burden in isolation". But not many member states have realized this yet. It is still a long way to go.

Finally, the question is not about militarization of Europe. We don't need Europe to become more like Mars (more interventionist) when the US is becoming more like Venus (less interventionist). There must not be a "transatlantic role reversal" of the descriptions given by Robert Kagan to Europe and the US, as was recently envisaged by Ross Douthat in the International New York Times. We both should be coming from Venus and Mars, but should always be aware, that it is not military and civilian leaders who suffer from war, but ordinary citizens.