1. New European Security
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 17.09.2018
* Great power competition is increasingly shaping Europeans’ security environment, while other security threats are also on the rise, from terrorism and cyber attacks to climate change.
The EU now faces security threats from its east and south – and an uncertain ally in the West.
To the east, a new kind of uneasy neighbourly relationship with Russia is developing – one that appears to involve Europeans accepting Russian meddling in their political affairs, from deliberate interference in elections to cyber attacks on European companies, systems, and political machinery. Further east, China continues to deepen its influence on EU states through trade and investment in the Union and its neighbourhood.
- To the south, European countries now rely on cooperation with an increasingly autocratic regime in Ankara on some of the issues that their citizens are most concerned about, particularly migration and counter-terrorism. Meanwhile, conflicts and poverty on the other side of the Mediterranean, and the migration that stems from them, are increasingly challenging Europe’s security and even its solidarity.
- Most importantly, to the west, US President Donald Trump is demonstrating a total disregard for the international agreements and norms that Europeans hold dear. By withdrawing from the Paris climate change deal, by pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme, and by attacking the integrity of the international trading system through the unilateral imposition of tariffs, Trump has called into question Europeans’ formerly unshakeable faith in diplomacy as a way to resolve disagreements and to protect Europe.
- European leaders now fear that the transatlantic security guarantee will centre not on alliances and common interests but purchases of American technology and materiel – and on obeisance to an unpredictable president.
Europeans are – understandably – worried about this picture. But they are divided on how to handle it. The political crisis around immigration into the EU from 2015 onwards has revealed fundamental divisions in the way member states view their security.
As Ivan Krastev has argued, “the refugee crisis exposed the futility of the post-Cold War paradigm, and especially the incapacity of Cold War institutions and rules to deal with the problems of the contemporary world.” For many Europeans, the migration crisis has called into question the ability of the EU and the global multilateral system to protect them.
There are divisions not only between but also within member states. In recent years, national elections across the EU have resulted in intense battles between political movements that favour an open, progressive agenda and global engagement, and those that prefer a nationalist, inward-looking approach that is, ultimately, anti-EU.
In this unstable political environment, the need to keep citizens safe – a basic responsibility of any government – has taken on even greater importance. Safety is central to the nationalists’ increasingly popular arguments. They argue that mainstream EU governments have failed to protect citizens. In power, however, they face the inescapable dilemma that small European nations (and they are all small) cannot effectively respond to today’s threats through national policies alone.
Against this backdrop of worry and division, this report aims to understand security perceptions across the EU more fully and to search for common responses to protect the EU’s citizens. In April and May 2018, ECFR’s network of 28 associate researchers completed a survey covering all member states, having conducted interviews with policymakers and members of the analytical community, along with extensive research into policy documents, academic discourse, and media analysis.
Based on this pan-European survey data, ECFR’s new report maps the security profile of all member states, identifying areas of agreement, points of contention, and issues on which they should cooperate to keep Europe safe.
The results reveal an EU that is fairly united in its understanding of the threats it faces, but that diverges significantly in the vulnerability it feels to those threats. This is not just a question of geography or size, since France and Germany, neighbours at the heart of Europe, fall nearly on opposite ends of the spectrum. France feels relatively resilient across the range of threats, while Germany thinks of itself as relatively vulnerable.
- There are also important variations among the member states on what role the EU should play as a security actor.
- There is a near unanimous consensus that NATO must remain the backbone of European security, but EU member states differ significantly on the extent to which, within the NATO framework, Europe can or should begin to develop autonomy from the United States.
Finally, and somewhat sadly, given that there is no shortage of real threats for Europeans to be concerned about, our research paints a picture of an EU that is in some ways its own worst enemy. The responses on the preoccupation with immigration highlight the extent to which it is the political fallout of the migration crisis – its potential to increase support for populist parties and its use as a weapon in European domestic politics – and not migration itself that currently threatens the EU.
Europeans are united in their fear about the future. There is widespread agreement throughout Europe that security threats are on the rise: respondents to ECFR’s survey judged that the threats their countries faced intensified between 2008 and 2018, and will intensify further in the next decade.
Today, the top five perceived threats are, in descending order: cyber attacks; state collapse or civil war in the EU’s neighbourhood; external meddling in domestic politics; uncontrolled migration into the country; and the deterioration of the international institutional order. Respondents expected the order of these threats to remain largely the same in the next decade (with terrorist attacks joining the deterioration of the international order in fifth place), and each threat to grow more intense in the period.
Our researchers assess that, with the benefit of hindsight, the situation appeared to be slightly different in 2008, when the top perceived threats were, in descending order: economic instability and terrorist attacks; instability in the neighbourhood and disruption in the energy supply; and cyber attacks – of the kind Estonia experienced in April 2007.
The only threats that seem to have diminished in the past decade are those from financial instability and disruption in the energy supply. Respondents perceived all other threats to have intensified. They believed that the only threats that would diminish by 2028 were those from: an inter-state war involving their country or allies; the disintegration of the EU; disruption in the energy supply; and financial instability. They anticipated that all other threats would become more severe in the next ten years.
There has been little change in the international actors they perceive to be most threatening: jihadists continue to top the list, with Russia and international criminal groups sharing second place, and North Korea in third. Europeans expect these threats to persist until at least 2028. The most significant threat pertains to Russia. With Russia’s annexation of Crimea, perceptions of the country have shifted: in 2008, Europeans viewed Russia as the fourth largest threat they faced.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu