Soft power? Hard work ahead

The EU must make its civilian capabilities work better alongside its military tools

European Union prides itself on being able to deal with security challenges
outside its borders, from Kosovo to Kabul,
because of what it believes to be its unique combination of “hard” and “soft”
power: the ability to persuade through trade, diplomacy, aid and the spread of
values. This comprehensive approach is meant to give the 27-country Union its foreign policy strength.

Central to this claim are the EU’s state-building, or “civilian”,
capabilities. The EU is supposed to be able to call upon almost 10,000 police
officers, dip into the world’s largest development budget and ensure that its
soldiers work hand-in-glove with aid workers and NGOs. But a lack of
imagination and broken promises from member states have lessened the impact of the
Union’s “soft” power. Its Afghan
mission has highlighted the limits of the EU’s civilian capacity. With little
more than 200 personnel in theatre, the EU police mission is at just half its
authorised strength. No member state has offered to fill the gap. Though
everyone agrees that a US
military surge must be complemented by a European civilian surge, little has
happened since the Obama administration sent its European allies a list of
suggestions. Yet the EU is meant to have 6,050 policemen on stand-by for
missions like this.

problem is not unique to Afghanistan.
European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) missions from Kosovo to Iraq struggle
to deploy specialists – of the 11,112 people reported by EU governments in 2008
as ready for ESDP deployment, only 1,928 were actually sent.

when member states sustain a significant civilian presence, the results are
often paltry. The EU has mentored Bosnia’s police for most of this
decade, but Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency – has detected no discernable
impact on crime rates.

the first ever audit of the civilian capabilities of all 27 member
, written with Richard
, the severity of the situation is uncovered. Problems include
conceptual confusion and, more importantly, the absence of capacity in almost
all of the member states.

first set of problems is down to the EU’s method of designing its operations,
which is flawed in many ways. Since 2003, when the EU deployed its mission to
Bosnia-Herzegovina, all subsequent missions have followed the same logic. The
idea is that co-location and training of senior law-enforcement officials by
Europeans – particularly police officers – organised in an international
mission, will gradually raise the standard of local forces. But by relying on
its “Bosnia
template” for its missions, the EU ignores reality on the ground. The
naïve use of the template means the EU struggles to deal with fragile states
and post-conflict recovery. The 2005-2006 mission to the Democratic Republic of
Congo was rendered largely irrelevant because EU planning failed to take into
account corruption and the country’s size compared to Bosnia.

survey also shows that EU governments do not have the resources, institutional
systems, training regimes and recruitment processes to allow civilian staff to work
in trouble spots and alongside the military. No member state has deployed even
half of what they promised in the 2004 “civilian headline goal”
process, and the EU has a shortage of 1,500 personnel across its 12 ongoing EU
state-building missions.

EU countries are either indifferent or opposed to improving their civilian
capacities. The Czech Republic,
Hungary, Poland, Portugal,
Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain report poor inter-ministerial
cooperation and admit that civilian crisis management does not enjoy a high
level of political visibility. The worst offender in breaking promises is Spain, which
deploys less than three percent of its pledged civilian experts. Britain does
little better, fulfilling only seven percent of its promises. France is more
than twice as likely to stand by its undertaking, but the country’s civilian
missions have serious flaws elsewhere – for instance, its debriefing procedures
are very inconsistent.

future, more effort will be needed at every level to develop the EU’s civilian
capacities, especially but not exclusively in the member states. The focus on
civilian capacities does not mean the EU should obsess over civilian missions
or work exclusively with NGOs on non-violent peacekeeping, at the expense of
military solutions. But to develop a comprehensive approach to crises, the EU
needs to turn its attention to the area it has neglected the most: its civilian
capabilities and how these work with its military tools. We have had one decade
with ESDP. The next decade should focus on the EU’s civilian capacity.

This piece is based on Daniel Korski and Richard Gowan’s report, Can the EU rebuild failing states? A review of Europe’s civilian capacities

It first appeared in E!Sharp on 19 October 2009.  

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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