Year LXII, 2020, Single Issue, Page 44



Power Politics.
The European Union
and the International System*





The Evolution of the International System.

How can we describe the international setting in which the European Union (EU) operates?

Until the mid-twentieth century, the world had a multipolar international system. This system was dominated by the great European powers (as defined by the Congress of Vienna of 1815), which were intent on pursuing a balance of power policy in order to ensure that no one power could prevail over the others, and also to prevent further hegemonic attempts like the Napoleonic one that had just been thwarted. The foundation of the European system of states dates back to the sixteenth century, its subsequent establishment coinciding with the affirmation of Europe’s hegemony following its colonial expansion. Around the turn of the century, however, a period that brought wars between the United States and Spain (1898) and between Japan and Russia (1904-1905), this system began to falter, as these two non-European powers entered the race to expand and colonise. The European system was definitively thrown into crisis by World War I, the first conflict that the European countries proved unable to resolve without the decisive intervention of a non-European state. Two circumstances — namely, the United States’ return to isolationism after WWI, and Stalin’s decision to consolidate the results of the Bolshevik Revolution by building socialism in a single country, which led to an inward-looking Soviet Union — allowed the European system of states to survive a further two decades, before the Second World War finally brought it to an end. No longer “great” powers, all the European countries in turn (albeit some, like France, sooner than others, like Italy and Germany) were directly hit by the effects of the crisis of the nation-state — a phenomenon that federalist theorists had long been discussing (we need only recall the writings of Luigi Einaudi at the time of the First World War and the Ventotene Manifesto). Even the United Kingdom, the third of the “Yalta big three”, which had never surrendered to Germany and emerged from the conflict victorious, was no longer a great power; on a historical level, it too had been defeated, as shown by its dependence on US aid in order to survive.

The subsequent bipolar world order arose from this crisis of the European system of states. As Europe, which had once dominated the world, embarked on a process of decolonisation, it also found itself under the hegemonic control of the United States and the Soviet Union, and split in two by the Iron Curtain. Paradoxically, however, the two superpowers, although strongly opposed to each other in ideological, political, economic and military terms, were united in their role as keepers of international order. Each, within its own sphere of influence, was able to guarantee relative stability by imposing, to different degrees, its hegemony on its satellites. Stability between the two superpowers, on the other hand, was guaranteed by the balance of terror, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, and their second-strike capability.

The end of the Cold War raised hopes that the Western and Communist worlds might meet on the common ground of democracy and the market economy. This view was espoused by political scientist Francis Fukuyama. His 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man[1] describes the history of humanity as a process destined to end with the affirmation of the liberal and democratic state. In the same year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, at the request of the UN Security Council, drafted a document entitled An Agenda for Peace. Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping.[2] This document acknowledged the end of the Cold War, the hopes in many countries raised by their newly won freedom, the broadening of the tasks facing the organisation, and the need to ensure that “efforts (…) to build peace, stability and security (…) encompass matters beyond military threats”. It also defined the terms preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and post-conflict peace-building, and called for cooperation with regional organisations, “reinforcement of the role of the International Court of Justice”, and secure funding for UN operations.

The reality, however, was quite different. The post-bipolar period brought a world that was no longer safe, but rather more unstable than before: unpredictable and anarchic. This new global disorder was described in many works, some with particularly impactful titles, such as, among others, Le Nouveau Monde, de l’ordre de Yalta au désordre des nations, by Pierre Lellouche,[3] published in 1992, and A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, by Richard Haass (2017).[4]

Although the United States, seeing itself as the only surviving superpower, and with no USSR to impede its efforts to impose its own hegemony, briefly entertained the illusion that it might be able to establish a unipolar system, the fact is that, even today, the international system still has not found an alternative stable arrangement. Instead, it has swung between different possibilities: a return to a multipolar system built around several major powers (USA, China, Russia, Japan, EU, India); the emergence of a new bipolarism (between the US and China); or, as described in 2008 by American diplomat Richard Haass in The Age of Nonpolarity,[5] a non-polar world in which international power is no longer concentrated in one, two or more poles, but widely distributed — shared between several state and non-state players exercising various kinds of power. Moreover, Haass argues that there are also other powers that should be added to the six major ones listed above. He refers, specifically to: regional powers (Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea, and so on), organisations of different kinds — global (the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank), regional (African Union, Arab League, ASEAN, etc.) and functional (International Energy Agency, World Health Organisation, OPEC, etc.) —, states within nation-states and large cities (California, New York, Shanghai, etc.), the multinational corporations that dominate the worlds of finance, energy and industry, global media channels (al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, etc.), armed militant groups (Hamas, Hezbollah, Taliban), political parties, religious institutions, terrorist organisations, drug cartels, and NGOs (Gates Foundation, Greenpeace, etc.).[6]

The Crisis of the Nation-State and the Need for a Copernican Revolution in Cultural Paradigms.[7]

A key aspect of the current world system is the fact that the nation-state, for centuries the undisputed and almost unique protagonist of international relations, no longer holds the monopoly of power. Globalisation has undermined its three constitutive elements: sovereignty, whose scope has been reduced by global interdependence and by the establishment of international and regional organisations at suprastate level; territories, which have been devalued by the deterritorialisation of many activities; and peoples. With regard to this latter element, it must be understood that popular consensus legitimises government actions, and therefore that this legitimacy is lacking whenever government decisions impact on third countries whose peoples had no say in choosing the decision makers. Furthermore, the homogeneity of the population, a myth belonging to nationalist ideology, has been weakened by the processes of hybridisation favoured by migratory flows.

The crisis of the nation-state, a concrete historical fact and a key heuristic element of federalist thought, indispensable for understanding twentieth-century history, requires us to overcome the tendency to view external reality from a nation-centric perspective. Indeed, all countries’ citizens typically regard political, economic and social problems from the perspective of their own country (nation-state), apparently assuming that everything revolves around it. The spread of national-populist movements in recent years, supported by slogans such as Prima gli italiani, Britain first, Love Britain, America first, Make America great again, Oui, la France, Votez patriote, and so on, all modern equivalents of the deadly Deutschland über Alles, has led to a particular entrenchment of this mental habit. Such slogans are easy to understand and, in communication terms, highly effective (after all, who would possibly wish their own country harm?), but they have racist undertones and are also conceptually wrong, in the sense that they do not pursue their purported objective: the good of the people they address. The result of the nation-centric mindset is that each country’s citizens believe that their national viewpoint corresponds to reality and cannot be questioned. This leads each people, without true grounds for doing so, to claim pre-eminence and makes agreements between them impossible. All this leads to clashes, verbal to begin with, but then violent, between various irreconcilable national positions and between opposing nationalisms.

In an essay written in 1942, Altiero Spinelli set out the logic of the nation-state.[8] All countries, he argued, have sought to obtain an advantage at the expense of the others, a behaviour that stems not from some perverse desire to dominate, but rather from the firm belief that they are responsible for safeguarding the well-being of their own citizens, not the well-being of all people. In fact, he explained, nation-states, being conceived for this very purpose, were not even designed to take into account the interests of a broader community. Accordingly, there was nothing to prevent them from prioritising the interests of particular groups (an attitude encapsulated in the slogans Prima gli italiani, Britain first, etc.) over cooperation designed to protect the general good, a choice that was bound to lead, ultimately, to the use of force in order to impose these interests. Spinelli also predicted the degeneration of national democracy that we are witnessing today. He understood that national democracy, rather than channelling particular pressures and aspirations, would actually be subjected to them and even end up embracing them, given that they came from the “sovereign” masses. These pressures and aspirations, he went on, sprang from nationalistic considerations or the desire to defend privileges or immediate economic interests, real or perceived, but they were always partial and took no account at all of the true general interest. As a result, democrats, eager to represent the popular will, actually became instruments of particular groups. Spinelli also pointed out that any exclusivism, economic or ideological, defended by the sovereign state, was bound to evoke similar countermeasures by other sovereign states, leading to a poisoning of the atmosphere and generating the threat of war.

To use the nineteenth-century concept of the nation-state, considered sovereign, self-reliant and sufficient unto itself, as a term of reference for acting in today’s world is to use an atavism, a legacy of the past that took Europe to two world wars: it amounts to using a Ptolemaic criterion in order to try and navigate a Copernican, globalised reality. It can only lead to failure to understand the contemporary world, and thus to incorrect choices.

Instead, to truly understand our contemporary world, we need a sort of “Copernican revolution” in our way of thinking and acting; in short, we need to adopt a global approach that is able to grasp the interdependencies that bind states, and tackle contemporary challenges with appropriate tools. At the same time, we must reject the nation-centric approach that prevents us from seeing reality as it is.[9] Adopting a global, Copernican logic means not remaining trapped by self-regarding interests; it means overcoming the strictly national point of view, which leads to exclusion and segregation of “others”, in order to be able to see things from others’ point of view and consider other-regarding interests, an approach that leads to inclusion and integration. The slogan Humanity First captures this need to think in global terms in order to rise to global challenges, and it highlights humankind’s common destiny.

History has taught us the grave error of the nation-centric logic. Let us consider, for example, the fact that the traditional idea of defence rests on the understanding that a country is safe if its enemy is weak; naturally, the weak, unwilling to remain so, strive to become strong. This is obviously bound to result in an arms race and instability. In reality, though, a country is really only safe when its enemy is too. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the French prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, reasoning in nation-centric (France First!) terms, was determined to punish Germany, convinced that this was the best way to ensure France’s security. The result was Nazism and the Second World War. In 1950, just five years after the end of WWII, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, on the other hand, adopting a non-nationalist approach, included Germany in the process of European unification. The result was the Continent’s longest ever period of peace, democracy and well-being.

Overcoming the nation-centric mindset raises a further problem: the need to rethink the concept of nation. Is the nation a social group characterised by a set of common traits (language, religion, history, traditions, customs, blood), or is it a community that shares the same ideals and also embraces those who were born outside its territory? Does belonging to a nation depend on one’s blood, or genetic ancestry, a view that leads to the horrendous ideas of the mono-ethnic state and ethnic cleansing? Or does it instead depend on shared principles — on participation in a community that includes all the residents of a territory, regardless of where they were born, who wish to live together, abiding by the same laws and having equal rights and duties? The idea that the state must coincide with a nation defined on the basis of birth leads to a closed society, intolerant of political, religious, cultural and social diversity, and hostile towards other nations. The identity element in cosmopolitan citizenship is what Habermas termed constitutional patriotism, a sense of attachment to values that citizens can identify with, regardless of their place of origin. Citizenship should thus be recognised as separate from ethnicity, but linked, instead to residence; accordingly, it should be open to all those who choose to live in a given territory. Fernando Savater recalls that in the Middle Ages there existed serfs who were bound to the land they worked; what we have today, on the other hand, are citizens who are bound to the land, given that citizenship rights still largely depend on the territory where a person is born.[10]

Regionalism and New Regionalism.

We therefore need to transcend the idea of the nation-state as the sole and exclusive political element within the organisation of humanity, and envisage more complex structures that overcome it: a distribution of power that, abandoning tribal identities, takes into account the problems that the different countries need to face together, and the interests that they share. What is called for now is a political community equipped to address challenges at different territorial levels: municipal, local, national, regional/continental, and now global, too. To ensure that these challenges are addressed effectively, there need to be political authorities, equipped with adequate powers and resources, in place at each of the aforementioned levels, so that problems can be dealt with where they arise. Political power is no longer monopolised by the nation-state as the single holder of power, but is distributed along a continuum that runs from very local to global. Regional integration is not optional; it is essential in order to solve problems involving continental areas, which cannot be tackled by individual states acting separately. The strategic doctrine of the EU, approved unanimously in 2003, indeed acknowledges the inability of individual countries to respond to certain problems on their own (“No single country is able to tackle today’s complex problems on its own”),[11] and thus the need for regional integration.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Cold War and American hegemony led to the development of regional organisations. These were mostly inward-looking and focused on achieving internal commercial liberalisation, although political objectives were not excluded, such as, in Europe’s case, that of overcoming the centuries-old Franco-German antagonism through economic integration. When the bipolar world order ended, regionalism took on other characteristics. The new regionalism of the post-hegemonic era has assumed comprehensive forms, encompassing non-economic sectors (security, protection of human rights, the environment, culture); it has also projected itself externally, and taken on the role of offering international public goods, such as stability, that the declining superpowers can no longer provide.[12]

What Form of Regionalism: Federalism or Intergovernmental Cooperation?

Regional organisation can have different institutional configurations. At one end of the spectrum lies an advanced form of integration based on common principles and rules, and in which superordinate bodies with effective powers take majority decisions independently of the governments of the member countries. This is a supranational form of integration, in other words, a federation that limits the sovereignty of the states. At the other end of the spectrum, we find an alliance of states that remain sovereign and cooperate within narrow sectors, aiming to achieve limited objectives through consultation between national governments; decisions must be unanimous. In this case there are no independent supranational bodies endowed with their own powers, the common institutional structure is weak, and decision-making capacity remains in the hands of the member states. This formula corresponds to a confederation based on intergovernmental cooperation.

Between these two extremes, intermediate institutional configurations are possible. European integration is a case in point, being the expression of a compromise between the need to tackle common problems together, which has led to definite movements towards integration, and the member states’ reluctance to relinquish powers to supranational bodies. The attempt to reconcile the need for integration with this jealous guarding of national power has given rise to a hybrid institutional structure in which two systems coexist. First, we have the Community system, which has strongly supranational features, and envisages qualified majority voting in the Council and important roles for the European Parliament, the Commission and the Court of Justice. This system works quite well and is responsible for the most important achievements of the process of European unification (the single market, the single currency, the ordinary legislative procedure that, by putting the European Parliament on an equal footing with the Council, guarantees the democratic legitimacy of decisions, European citizenship, and so on). Second, we have the intergovernmental mechanism, which deals with matters that touch on the delicate issue of national sovereignty. Within this system, the Council is required to take decisions unanimously (which clearly makes decision making difficult), the Parliament has a purely consultative role (meaning that decisions are not subject to democratic control), and the Court of Justice has no power of jurisdiction. Furthermore, in recent years, intergovernmental bodies (the European Council and Council) have taken on a more prominent role, while the Commission has seen its role downsized. This system, which respects state sovereignty, has slowed the integration process, produced limited results (as evidenced by the modest weight of the EU on the international political stage), and encouraged the formation of a hierarchy of national governments and the prevalence of the strongest.

This whole situation has created an efficiency deficit and a democratic deficit. The efficiency deficit is due to two problems. The first is the difficulty in reaching decisions, and it is an effect of the power of veto that paralyses the decision-making process. Moreover, since unanimity can only be reached by negotiating compromises that, in order to please everyone, are necessarily based on the lowest common denominator, the current decision-making system fails to provide effective answers. The second problem is the difficulty Europe has actually acting, because of the EU’s paltry budget, which amounts to about 1 per cent of Europe’s GDP (165 billion euros in 2019). And own resources account for only a small proportion of this budget, which is largely financed by national contributions. For comparison, it is worth considering that the US federal budget is 24 per cent of GDP, while the EU member states have, on average, a budget amounting to 44 per cent of their GDP, and that the entire European budget is smaller than that of a medium-sized EU member state! The democratic deficit, on the other hand, lies in the insufficient level of legitimacy of the European institutional system within which key decisions are taken that concern the lives of citizens. We refer, in other words, to the European Council and the Council’s lack of answerability to the European Parliament and the inadequacy of the powers of the Commission and of the Parliament itself. These efficiency and democratic deficits cannot be blamed on the EU; blame instead lies with the states that chose not to endow it with the powers and resources it needs in order to carry out its functions. Instead, responsibility for the EU’s failure to address the crises it faces and its lack of influence at international level lies with the intergovernmental system, in which the member states pull the strings.

The EU: an International Player?

The instability of the post-bipolar world has brought to the fore the question of the EU’s international role. Some commentators doubt that the EU can become a credible international player. One argument in this sense relates to the nature of international power. If it is true that international relations are characterised by power politics (realism) and nurtured in the shadow of war,[13] which is waged by sovereign states, then clearly the EU cannot be a credible and effective international player since it is neither a state nor, having no armed forces of its own, a military power. Accordingly, its international role should be limited to the use of civilian instruments, such as diplomacy, humanitarian relief, and aid to underdeveloped areas. All this paints the EU as a civil, not a military, power.

While armed forces and the use of force are certainly not central to Europe’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), these factors are key to America’s role on the global stage. That said, in recent years, the EU has proved to be capable of mounting military as well as civilian missions (the former accounting for around a third of all EU-led operations). Furthermore, while there can be no denying that the use of force is a decisive element in international politics — soft power not supported by hard power weakens the credibility of the international player —, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, in Iraq and in Afghanistan all proved that military means alone are ineffective in resolving crises; the use of civilian means is indispensable, and in this regard the EU has shown itself to be a civil power that knows how to act on the international stage.[14]

A second objection, raised by those who view Europe from a national perspective, concerns the alleged lack of a European identity and of a common concept of security to underpin the EU’s international action. It is impossible to compare the processes leading to the formation, respectively, of the European states and the EU, because the EU is not a nation-state. The identities and strategic culture of the former took shape over centuries-long histories of bloody wars, nationalistic and imperialistic pressures, and denial of citizenship rights to foreigners. The EU, on the other hand, was built peacefully, and is characterised by multiculturalism, tolerance and integration, not exclusion and marginalisation of the “other”. Even though, in the very early years, most Europeans were unaware of the existence of the European Communities, this did not prevent them from being created and starting to operate. This fact shows that Community policies (agricultural, monetary, foreign, security, etc.) work independently of the problem of identity.[15] Nonetheless, the essence of European identity has been identified and is encapsulated by the principles expressed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the values listed in art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union, both of which were approved unanimously. Just as national identity was not the premise for the construction of the nation-state, but rather the result of the state’s acting to create it through compulsory primary education, military conscription, the unifying effect of bureaucracy and the media (popular magazines, television, and so on), so European identity will grow out of specific actions by the EU (Erasmus exchanges, for example, are fundamental in this regard). Military operations and civil missions themselves can also contribute to the construction of the European identity, providing they are legitimised by the consent of the citizens and not decided through intergovernmental procedures that escape the control of the European Parliament.

As regards the question of strategic culture, there are certainly differences between the 27 EU member states — some are neutral, others are part of military alliances; two have nuclear weapons and are permanent members of the Security Council; some would like to see the introduction of European defence solutions, while others would prefer to rely on the Atlantic Alliance; and some have developed an arms industry, while others have not; they also have different ideas on the use of civil and military power. And yet none of these differences prevented the unanimous adoption of two strategic doctrines that inspire the operations carried out by the EU, namely the European security strategy for A Secure Europe in a Better World (adopted in December 2003, and revised in 2008) and the 2016 European global strategy entitled Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy.

In conclusion, it is not only possible for the EU to develop a foreign, security and defence policy, but necessary too, both for reasons outside the confines of Europe (the evolution of the international system), and also for internal reasons linked to the dynamics of the integration process and the need to give credibility to the CSDP.

The Need to Create a European Foreign, Security and Defence Policy.[16]

The nature of the EU. The EU is made up of 27 countries, has a population of around 446 million (making it the world’s the third most populous community after China and India), produces just under a quarter of the world’s GDP, is a major importer of oil and gas, the leading commercial power, and the most important donor of aid to developing countries. An entity of this size clearly cannot be just a large market; its dimensions are such that it inevitably acts as a global player. 

The new international scenario. From the 1990s, the strategic interests of the US and Europe, having converged throughout the Cold War period — the US could not allow the economic, industrial and technological potential of Western Europe to fall into Soviet hands —, began to diverge: the Pacific became the focus of America’s strategic objectives, and Europe, its defence no longer a priority for the US, was left marginalised. The EU thus had to start looking after its own security, rather than simply relying on that produced by others. The need to create a European foreign, security and defence policy became even more acute with the election of President Trump and the ensuing uncertainty over American engagement in Europe. Trump is the first US president to have spoken out against European integration, and he indeed welcomed Brexit, inviting other European countries to follow the British “example”.

The EU, instead of having the good fortune to be situated in the midst of friendly countries, has areas of instability on its doorstep. These extend from the Caucasus on its eastern border to the Middle East, North Africa and the area encompassing the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. Europe’s neighbours, far from being a set of well-governed countries open to cooperation, are a source of threats (wars, instability, terrorism, crime), which have arisen in part as a result of Europe’s absence in these regions, in other words the inadequacy, or failure, of European policies designed to promote their development and stabilisation. Indeed, such policies could have prevented the current political and economic degeneration and helped these countries evolve towards democracy. 

The costs of Europe’s absence in the defence field. The EU countries together are second only to the United States in terms of the level of military spending, yet their armed forces’ efficiency is well below 50 per cent that of America’s. In the early years of the new century, and in particular from 2008 onwards, the Europeans, driven partly by the economic crisis, chose to collect the “dividends of peace”, by cutting defence budgets, including investments in research and development; and they did so at the very time that mission costs were rising. (It should be noted, however, that recent years have seen a partial reversal of this trend to cut defence spending as NATO has introduced a defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP). In the same period, meanwhile, other countries, particularly China, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia, substantially increased their military spending (by 167 per cent, 97 per cent, 39 per cent and 112 per cent, respectively; sources: SIPRI, IISS).

The above cuts have not, however, been offset by increased cooperation at European level. The EU member states have 27 armies, 23 air forces and 21 navies. In 2016, Europe had 178 weapon systems (compared with America’s 30), 17 tank models (versus 1 in the US), 20 infantry fighting vehicle models (versus 2), 29 types of destroyer and frigate (versus 4); 20 types of fighter plane (versus 6), 12 types of anti-ship missile (versus 2), and 13 types of air-to-air missile (compared with 3 in the US) (sources: NATO, SIPRI, IISS). More than 80 per cent of tenders and investments in research are carried out at national level; European cooperation is therefore an exception. This situation translates into duplication, lack of economies of scale, increased production costs, low levels of interoperability, overcapacity in some sectors, poor competitiveness of European industry, lack of European champions capable of competing with US and Chinese multinationals, and fragmentation of the defence market, which, being a sensitive sector from the perspective of national sovereignty, is excluded from trade liberalisation rules.

Albeit difficult to calculate, the cost of this absence of Europe in the field of defence has been estimated to amount to as much as 100 billion euros each year, and that is in addition to the (incalculable) political and strategic cost of the EU’s irrelevance on the international stage. This “non-Europe in the defence field” is a politically and strategically penalising state of affairs, economically unsustainable, and unreasonably costly, especially in times of crisis.[17] 

Weaknesses of the national armed forces. Even though the war in Kosovo at the end of the 1990s had already highlighted the gap between European and US forces, and led to the decision to launch the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the interventions of the European countries during the war in Libya in 2011 would still have been impossible without the support of the US, which took care of 80 per cent of in-flight refueling, 75 per cent of the hours of air surveillance, and all of the electronic warfare missions.[18] Even today, without the support of American strategic capabilities, Europe would be unable to take care of its own security. It has critical capability shortfalls in a number of areas, such as strategic enablers, unmanned aerial vehicles, transport aircraft, precision munitions, air-to-air refueling, anti-access area-denial capabilities, suppression of enemy air defence capabilities, satellite communication, autonomous access to space, command and control capabilities, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, submarines and modern armoured fighting vehicles.[19] Europe’s strategic autonomy is limited to low-intensity operations. 

The limitations of CSDP military operations and civilian missions. Having established the ESDP in 1999 — this was renamed the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) with the Lisbon Treaty —, since 2003 the EU has launched 35 operations: around two thirds civilian and a third military. These missions have highlighted its ability to use both military and civilian means to tackle the new threats that have emerged since the end of the Cold War. These threats were specified in the aforementioned 2003 strategy doctrine and in the 2008 review of the same:[20] international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime, competition for natural resources, environmental degradation, cyber security, threats to public health (pandemics), and piracy. All the aforementioned are less visible and less predictable than the threats associated with the Cold War, and they are not exclusively military. Accordingly, the answer cannot be solely military, and the use of both military and civilian tools has indeed been necessary. Furthermore, the traditional strategic doctrine based on territorial defence (the defence of borders against external attack) has had to be replaced by the concept of “defence abroad”, meaning the building of security outside national borders. This has led armed forces to adopt a new configuration, abandoning the model typical of the Cold War period (static territorial defence with heavily armed forces) in favour of a more agile and flexible expeditionary model, which is projectable abroad, professional and capable of dealing with asymmetrical and unconventional conflicts.

However, the EU’s missions to date have been the target of numerous criticisms, which have highlighted their limitations: its operations have been modest in scope, low intensity, and of little strategic impact; furthermore, characterised by a reticence towards the use of force, they were launched extremely slowly and generally involved small numbers of personnel. Moreover, their operational effectiveness was undermined by their excessively short durations, by limited mandates, and sometimes by the suspicion, among some countries, that the proposing country was seeking to pursue national interests. There were also difficulties in sourcing personnel, due to concurrent engagements in NATO and UN operations, while the nature of the funding mechanism (with the exception of civil missions and military missions and operations covered by a common operational budget) meant that the costs were borne by those who participate, and not covered by the European budget. The EU does not have its own permanent headquarters, even though this would ensure greater efficiency and avoid wasting time and resources. The different perception of strategic interests, due for example to geographical location (Mediterranean countries are more sensitive to the threat of terrorism and migration, Eastern countries to the danger represented by Russia), is another element that discourages participation in missions mounted to tackle threats in distant parts of the world. Old colonial links or commercial relations, on the other hand, can be incentives to participate. Finally, those situations in which an operation stands to benefit everyone encourage the phenomenon of free riding: this is when countries avoid getting involved in a mission on cost grounds, while nevertheless enjoying the benefits, e.g., regional stability, that it brings.[21]

In conclusion, EU missions still seem incapable of overcoming the limitations outlined: small scope, small size, and limited duration.

European Defence Dilemmas.

Having established the need for a European defence mechanism, the next issue to address is the hugely difficult and complex task of establishing a European army (one need only think of the difficulties raised by the possible communitarisation of the force de frappe, and by France’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council, given the presence of neutral countries in the EU), a topic that demands specific examination, and thus goes beyond the scope of the present contribution. Having said that, some remarks need to be made. First of all, a European defence mechanism requires the establishment of a European political authority, as Spinelli had already pointed out in a 1951 memorandum to De Gasperi on the subject of the European Defence Community project.[22] An army requires a foreign minister, a defence minister, and a finance minister, responsible, respectively for foreign policy design, defence policy, and decisions on military spending, in other words a government answerable to the European Parliament. An army without the backing of a political power is a troop of mercenaries.

Furthermore, there are two key dilemmas that need to be resolved: the nation or integration? America or Europe? Respect for national sovereignty is incompatible with the construction of organisations based on the sharing of political power. While many factors are known to be holding back the sharing of sovereignty in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy, just as many are pushing in this direction. While it is true that USSR and the Red Army, which served as a federating force, are now gone, there have emerged other threats that cannot be dealt with by the European states acting individually; it is also true that the very internal dynamic of the unification process leads in the direction of political union. Defence, given its bearing on the questions of democracy, political control over decisions, power and sovereignty, is not something that can be addressed solely through technical measures designed improve its efficiency; in short, it goes hand in hand with political union. Europe is an economic giant, and to equip itself with effective military resources, it must cease to be a political bit player. Is this possible? As we saw in the case of the creation of the single currency, it will take political will and determined leadership. Spinelli affirmed that the task of politics is not to do that which is possible, but to make possible that which is right.

The emergence of a political Europe is not compatible with the continuation of a US-dominated Atlantic alliance. The time has come to review relations within this setting and establish an effective equal partnership between the forces on the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Europe must choose: it can opt, with conviction and courage, for integration, or it can make the short-sighted and misguided choice of continuing to defend national sovereignty; it can choose to be a European Europe, allied with but independent of the USA, or an Atlantic Europe, trampled on by America.

Peace is Europe’s structural vocation — in the Schuman Declaration, which marked the birth of European unification, the word peace is repeated six times in the space of a page and a half — and its process of integration is a crucial example and impetus for the affirmation of peaceful relations globally. However, if the objective, expressed at a congress of the European Federalist Movement in the 1980s, really is to unite Europe to unite the world, then Europe has to become fully federal.

* Contribution presented during a debate on Federalism and the Concepts of Political Power, Power, Statehood and Sovereignty, held in Florence on 17-18 October 2020 and organised by the Debate Office of the European Federalist Movement.

[1] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York, The Free Press, 1992.

[2] An Agenda for Peace. Preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping. Report of the Secretary-General pursuant the statement adopted by Summit Meeting of the Security Council on 31 January 1992,

[3] P. Lellouche, Le Nouveau Monde, de l’ordre de Yalta au désordre des nations, Paris, Hachette, 1992.

[4] R. Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order, London, Penguin Press, 2017.

[5] Id., The Age of Nonpolarity. What Will Follow U.S. Dominance, Foreign Affairs, 2008,

[6] Ibidem.

[7] This section returns in part to what was written in U. Morelli, From National Cultural Paradigms to European/cultural paradigms: A Copernican Revolution, Journal of Social Science Education, 18, n.3 (2019).

[8] A. Spinelli, Gli Stati Uniti d’Europa e le varie tendenze politiche, in Id., Il progetto europeo, Bologna, il Mulino, 1985, pp. 39-81.

[9] On the Copernican revolution in our way of thinking, cf. E. Reves, The Anatomy of Peace, New York-London, Harper and Brothers, 1945.

[10] F. Savater, Se il cittadino diventa un “cittadino della gleba”, La Stampa, 8 April, 2014.

[11] Council of the European Union, A Secure Europe in a Better World. European Security Strategy, cf.

[12] Cf. M. Telò (editor), European Union and New Regionalism. Competing Regionalism and Global Governance in a Post-Hegemonic Era, Farnham, Ashgate, 2007.

[13] R. Aron, Peace and War, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1966.

[14] On the EU as a civil power, cf.  G. Laschi, M. Telò (editors), Europa potenza civile o entità in declino?, Bologna, il Mulino, 2007; G. Laschi, M. Telò (editors), L’Europa nel sistema internazionale, Bologna, il Mulino, 2009; J. McCormick, The European Superpower, Basingstoke-New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; M. Telò, L’Europa potenza civile, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2004.

[15] J. Howorth, Security and Defence Policy in the European Union, Basingstoke-New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

[16] This section returns in part to what was written (paragraph 3) in U. Morelli, Forze Armate europee: un obiettivo ricorrente finora disatteso, in U. Morelli, G. Romeo, L. Soncin (editors), Forze armate europee? Riflessioni e proposte per una politica della difesa europea, 2020, pp. 15-37, published in an online series by the University of Turin.

[17] V. Briani, The Costs of Non-Europe in the Defence Field, Turin, Rome, Centro Studi sul Federalismo, Istituto Affari Internazionali, 2013,

[18] US Department of Defence, News Briefings with Vice Adm. Bill Gortney on Libya Operation Odyssey Dawn, 2011,; C. Taylor, Military Operations in Libya, House of Commons, Standard Note SN/IA/5909, 2011,; P. Batacchi, Le iniziative di Pooling & Sharing: impatto sulla base industriale nazionale nell’ambito concettuale della “Smart Defence” NATO, Centro Militare di Studi Strategici, Rapporto di Ricerca, Rome, 2012,

[19] See the European Court of Auditors’ report on European defence: European Court of Auditors, European Defence, Review No. 09, 2019,

[20]  Concul of the European Union, Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy. Providing Security in a Changing World,

[21] M. Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, Europe’s Defence Dilemma, The International Spectator, 2014, 2, pp. 87-102; T. Tardy, CSDP in Action. What Contribution to International Security?, Paris, European Union Institute for Security Studies, 2015, pp. 13-14, On European defence, see also U. Morelli, La politica di sicurezza e di difesa dell’Unione Europea, in: G. Finizio, U. Morelli (editors), L’Unione Europea nelle relazioni internazionali, Rome, Carocci, 2015, pp. 25-42; U. Morelli, La difesa europea e le relazioni in ambito ONU in: G. Amato, E. Moavero Milanesi, G. Pasquino, L. Reichlin (editors) Europa un’utopia in costruzione, Rome, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 2018, pp. 524-537. 

[22] A. Spinelli, Promemoria sul rapporto provvisorio presentato nel luglio 1951 dalla conferenza per l’organizzazione di una Comunità europea della difesa, in S. Pistone (editor), L’Italia e l’unità europea, Turin, Loescher, 1982, pp. 191-206.

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