The Independent High-Level Panel on UN Peace Operations held consultations in Europe 19-20 February. Prior to their meetings, the panel had received a background paper written by senior analyst Louise Riis Andersen on current trends in European thinking. This article was originally published by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS).
Europe is known to prefer a soft approach to crisis management. Diplomacy, sanctions and civilian assistance are the favoured instruments of the European Union and its member states. The return of geopolitics and lessons learned from recent interventions have prompted a rethink of some of the dogmas that have informed European foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. The rethink is pointing different actors in different directions and making it increasingly difficult to identify a distinctly European perspective on crisis management.
At the same time, a number of shared characteristics continue to inform the foreign policies of European countries, including a strong belief in the universality of human rights and the value of a comprehensive and people-centred approach to international peace and security. Against this backdrop, European policy makers are struggling to respond adequately to the increasingly complex and multifaceted nature of contemporary violent conflicts. As a result, present-day European perspectives on how to make and build peace contain elements of unity and divisions as well as continuity and change.
Looking out for the Long-Term: Peacebuilding as Development
The security-development nexus constitutes a corner stone in European crisis management. In Europe, it is beyond dispute that development and security are inextricably linked and that one cannot be achieved without the other. European security is widely understood to be directly linked to poverty and instability in other parts of the world. Development assistance is thus regarded by both the European Commission (the world’s largest donor institution) and most member states as a long-term contribution to European security and international peace and stability. Drawing on lessons learned from Europe’s own history, the European approach has focused primarily on promoting 1) regional integration as a means to establish stability and peace among states, and 2) democratization, good governance and human rights as a means to support peace and prosperity within nations.
One of the lessons that European policy makers are drawing from Afghanistan (and other statebuilding attempts in fragile states) is that the European model it is not necessarily realistic or attractive for societies struggling to overcome fragility and violent conflict. In combination with the crises that have followed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, this has prompted a search for new and more ‘contextualized’ approaches to supporting political reform and institution building in fragile situations.
At the same time, the long-standing European commitment to human rights, human security and human development is increasingly supplemented with a focus on stability, law and order, and countering terrorism and radicalism. The European approach remains comprehensive and long-termed in the sense that it seeks to combine civilian and military instruments to further these aims, including in particular through Security Sector Reform. Critics are, however, warning that an overly narrow focus on countering threats to European security, including forced migration and organized crime, may fail to address the real local drivers of conflict and could even prove counterproductive on the ground.
The need to balance different interests and values in foreign policy is well-known, as is the gaps and tensions between short-term measures and long-term needs. The European perspectives on both aspects are currently being redefined in light of the changing nature of violent conflicts and the changing global political landscapes. This might lead to a more pragmatic European commitment to global peacebuilding efforts.
Confronting Conflicts: Making Peace through Others
When it comes to the challenges of making peace, the common European perspective is clear: There is no substitute for a political process! The EU and the member states are both in principle and in practice active supporters of international engagement in reaching negotiated solutions to violent conflicts. The European approach encompasses both direct and active participation in high-level mediation processes, and more indirect and less visible types of engagement that includes supporting and facilitating the works of others, including the United Nations, regional organisations, international NGOs, local civil society actors and the parties to the conflict.
At the conceptual level, the European perspective on mediation is both rich and well-developed. It provides for a strong and principled support to UN peace-making efforts, including the Secretary General’s good offices, the mediators deployed by the Department of Political Affairs and the early deployment of special political missions. In practice, however, the united role of Europe often remains limited to crisis situations that are of limited strategic importance and, as a result, yields only limited high-level political attention and resources.
In the media, European splits are often portrayed as dividing military hard-liners and soft-speaking diplomats. This image is simplistic. Divisions cover a range of positions, most notably concerning the utility and design of sanctions; a coercive mechanism short of the use of force. Given the EU’s position as the world largest trading partner and aid donor, it is natural to regard access to European markets and money as the main European leverage.
Sometimes divisions reflect different perceptions of when and how a military option is needed. The debate following the 2013 use of chemical weapons in Syria is a well-known example. In the end, no military intervention took place, but the process outlined a Europe divided into at least two camps: one driven by the UK and France, willing to use force and if need be without authorization from the UN Security Council, and another spearheaded by Germany, calling for a diplomatic solution and an involvement exclusively based on a UN Security Council mandate.
The split related to questions of legality versus legitimacy and the utility of military intervention in general. As a whole, however, Europe (including UK and France) is increasingly cautious of intervening directly in violent conflicts. Instead, European institutions and member states rely on training and equipping other military actors, including most notably regional and sub-regional organisations in Africa. Within Europe, these efforts are widely understood as long-term peacebuilding, including SSR and regional integration. More recently, however, a growing number of European governments have resorted to short-term train-and-equip programmes directed at armed actors engaged in a specific conflict – either as a supplement to, or a substitute for, other forms of military engagement. While preferring soft power tools, the Europeans have far from renounced the utility of military force altogether. For the moment, they just prefer others to provide the boots on the ground.