EUSA Review Essay:
CESDP After 11 September: From Short-term Confusion to Long-Term Cohesion?
Jolyon Howorth

Written especially for the EUSA Review (15: 1), Winter 2002, pp. 1, 3-4.
Copyright 2002 European Community Studies Association. May be reproduced for classroom use.
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PRIOR TO 11 SEPTEMBER, THE EU's attempts to forge a common European security and defence policy (CESDP[1]) faced two major internal challenges. On the institutional front, several turf wars presaged a struggle for ownership of the policy itself: tensions between the brand-new Brussels-based agencies (HR-CFSP[2], COPS, EUMC) and the more long-standing ones (COREPER, Council Secretariat, Commission); between foreign ministries and defence ministries; and above all between national capitals and "Brusselisation" (Howorth, 2001). On the capacities front, defence planners were faced with the challenge of transforming an assortment of military assets emerging from the November 2000 Capabilities Commitments Conference into a coherent and effective Rapid Reaction Force (Andréani et al., 2001: 53-71). These internal challenges were complicated by two external problems: how to involve "third countries"-especially Turkey-in CESDP; and how to ensure that CESDP was conducted in harmony with both NATO and the US (Quinlan, 2001). Those challenges did not disappear on 11 September. At the same time, the terrorist attacks introduced further challenges to the fledgling CESDP, involving leadership, internal security, intelligence, diplomacy and procurement. The initial reactions did not augur well for further integration. But longer-term and deeper-rooted trends suggest that the CESDP could emerge strengthened from the crisis.

The most immediately notable feature of European responses to 11 September was renationalisation of security and defence reflexes. National leaders all expressed solidarity with the US-on behalf of their respective countries. Each pledged national military assets to the US administration-which Washington, for the most part, studiously ignored. Leaders were keen to be seen to be engaging in bilateralism with George Bush. Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder practically raced one another to the Oval Office. Although most European leaders, with the notable exception of Blair, were careful to insist that the emerging campaign against Al-Quaeda and the Taliban was not a "war," their evaluation of the root causes of terrorism varied considerably. Some countries stressed that tough questions needed to be asked about US policy across the globe, while others insisted that nothing could ever justify the events of 11 September (propositions which are logically compatible but which betoken very different approaches to the issue). Most leaders, with the notable exception of Silvio Berlusconi, were careful to express their respect for and solidarity with Islam and with Muslim nations, but there was cacophony between those insisting that US military retaliation should be tightly "targeted" and those who offered "unlimited" support to the US military effort. Some leaders managed to articulate both propositions. Countries eager to incarcerate Islamic terrorists engaged in bitter recriminations with others prioritising habeus corpus and the protection of asylum-seekers[3].

This heterogeneity of response was symbolised by two highly mediatised events. The first was the 19 October 2001 European Council meeting in Ghent, controversially preceded by a tripartite conclave between Chirac/Jospin, Blair and Schröder to discuss the (as yet hypothetical) military involvement of their respective national forces in Afghanistan. This crude attempt to organise a widely resented Directoire overshadowed the substantive decisions of the Council itself. The triumvirate planned to meet again on 5 November in London, but this time a cosy dîner à trois/quatre was gate-crashed by Berlusconi, Aznar, Solana, Verhofstadt and Kok, highlighting once again the disordered ranks of first, second, and third division players, allies and neutrals, "militarists" and "pacifists" and one CESDP opt-out (Denmark). This confusion enormously complicated the task of the Belgian presidency, struggling to impose its authority in the context of high profile solo diplomacy on the part of Europe's "big three."

Above all, it was Tony Blair's crusading leadership style which, while commanding respect, also fostered divisiveness. Seemingly abandoning the precariously balanced structures of CESDP which he, more than any other EU leader, had been responsible for engineering, Blair threw himself into personal shuttle diplomacy on behalf of the US administration. He reverted overnight to a brand of unconditional Atlanticism which many in Europe (and even in Britain) had assumed to be anachronistic after Kosovo, the missile defence controversy and the Bush administration's generalised penchant for unilateralism. NATO's 12 September invocation of article 5 emanated from a telephone conversation between Blair and the Alliance's secretary-general Lord Robertson. Did this amount to unconditional EU alignment on US foreign and security policy?

Paradoxically, NATO's invocation of article 5, high in political symbolism, could prove to be the historical death-knell of the Alliance as a military instrument. It also helps explain why, despite the short-term disordered cacophony of European responses to 11 September, the longer-term dynamics of CESDP are likely to be reinforced. Although in mid-September NATO adopted a series of measures to enhance intelligence sharing, to increase security of Alliance and US facilities, to guarantee blanket over-flight for US and allied aircraft and to re-deploy certain naval assets to the Eastern Mediterranean, these must be regarded as the bare minimum given the gravity of the crisis. The US preferred to discuss military cooperation via multiple bilateralisms rather than through the framework of the Alliance itself. The response from Washington to article 5, as well as to national offers of military assets, was: "Don't call us, we'll call you." Why?

Throughout the 1990s, several US leaders had been calling for NATO to go "out of area or out of business." No longer perceiving Europe to be central to US security interests, they proposed a global deal whereby Europe might attain a measure of regional security autonomy in exchange for political backing of US policy across the globe. The Europeans, preoccupied with their own backyard, remained uninterested. NATO's first ever war-in Kosovo in 1999-revealed the serious limitations of allied cooperation. On 7 October 2001, in the skies over Afghanistan, the US went "out of area" - unilaterally. Although Washington eventually associated with its military efforts a handful of cherry-picked European forces, and although NATO's contribution in terms of logistics and infrastructure was not insignificant, the Afghan war was anything but a NATO operation. European nations, in proffering their troops, may well have hoped to lock the US into a multilateral operation legitimised by the United Nations. In reality, despite the coalition-building efforts of Colin Powell and the State Department, US instincts and practice remained deeply unilateralist. Did the unilateral US shift to "out of area" therefore imply that NATO was destined to go "out of business"?

No. NATO will survive. But it will be further transformed from an essentially military organisation to an essentially political one (Forster & Wallace 2001-2002). The accession of up to nine new member states from Central and Eastern Europe, almost certain to be announced in 2002, will accelerate the Alliance's transformation from an instrument for delivering collective defence to an agency for managing collective security. The new upgraded relationship between NATO and Russia, inaugurating a "Russia-North Atlantic Council" will intensify and accelerate that development. In the war against terrorism, in the campaign against weapons of mass destruction and in regional peacekeeping tasks, Russia is likely to share the stage with the US and the EU[4]. Washington is likely further to reduce its military presence in Europe. An Alliance with less US military involvement and with more involvement from former Warsaw Pact members will be a very different actor from the body founded in 1949 and even from the body reinvented in April 1999.

Which brings us back to the EU and CESDP. Analysts and actors agree that, by every available measure, 11 September has made the case for CESDP more compelling. Beyond the probe of the cameras, in the Chancelleries and in the corridors of Brussels, significant elements of cohesion-and even integration-can be detected. While in moments of international crisis it is natural for both publics and elites to revert initially to nationalist reflexes, both constituencies are well aware that the post-11 September world will not be made safer by wagon-circling. Nor do photo-opportunities in the White House rose garden for European leaders in search of status equate to real influence in Washington. Tony Blair learned from the Downing Street "bring your own bottle" fiasco that even the UK's voice has resonance across the pond only to the extent to which it is seen to be expressing the collective views of the EU-15. Those views were refined and consolidated in the months after 11 September.

Institutional turf wars were set aside and the complex EU nexus of agencies and actors worked seamlessly together to develop a coherent political approach to the crisis. Within ten days, the main outlines had been agreed and were articulated at the extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 21 September. A clear CFSP/CESDP program was elaborated and progressively refined at GAC and European Council meetings over the coming weeks. Beyond the expression of "total support" for the American people and recognition that UN Security Council resolution 1368 made a US military riposte "legitimate," a relatively distinct EU political agenda suggested a longer-term approach to the global crisis. First, the creation of the broadest possible global coalition against terrorism under United Nations aegis. Second, major political emphasis on reactivating the Middle-East peace process on the basis of the Mitchell and Tenet reports[5], but with the explicit aim of creating a Palestinian state and guaranteeing Israel's existence inside recognised borders. Third, the "integration of all countries into a fair world system of security, prosperity and improved development." Humanitarian relief for Afghanistan and its neighbours and a long-term commitment to regional stabilisation became a number one priority. Europe's CFSP/CESDP leaders, in various combinations, embarked on an unprecedented round of shuttle diplomacy, repeatedly visiting most countries of Central and South Asia and the Middle East in a relentless quest for solutions. The EU, despite its obvious shortcomings, was emerging as an international actor.

Similar overtures were made towards the EU's neighbours, with intensive diplomatic activity towards Russia, the Mediterranean and Turkey. These coordinated efforts bore real fruit. Russia is an increasingly qualitative partner, not only on trade (the move towards a "Common European Economic Area") but also in the field of security. Monthly meetings now take place between Russia and the COPS. A Euro-Mediterranean Conference of foreign ministers (5-6 November) highlighted a commonality of purpose in consolidating the Barcelona process in the fields of economic development, anti-terrorism, cultural exchanges and security. Above all, a breakthrough was finally announced (early December) in the long-standing impasse over Turkey's refusal to play ball with CESDP.

The fact that the UN-brokered political discussions on Afghanistan's future took place -successfully-in Bonn is testimony not only to the EU's insistence on a proactive role for the United Nations but also to the emerging role of Germany as a key actor within the Union. It also draws attention to the relative discretion of France, torn between frustration and relief at playing only a minor role in the American military campaign. The 11 September crisis completed the transformation of Germany into a security actor determined-under Schröder's bold leadership-to play a part commensurate with its size and influence within the Union. Although Schröder's determination to deploy combat troops to Afghanistan was several steps ahead of public opinion (and could still backfire electorally), it cleared away a major hurdle to the harmonious development of a viable CESDP. The unprecedented mix of military and civilian instruments that will be the hallmark of CESDP's future political leverage now enjoys the support of all major players.

The one crucial outstanding problem is that of military capacity. The war against terrorism may well be more effectively conducted through civilian, police and intelligence instruments rather than through smart bombs. Cheque-book diplomacy and a concentration on development aid and the reconstruction of civil society are appropriate foreign and security priorities for an EU which does not seek to become a military superpower. But the carrot without the stick is a far less effective instrument than the carrot backed by the stick. At the Capabilities Improvement Conference on 19 November 2001, the EU began rectifying the very considerable deficiencies in its military "Force Catalogue." Despite an optimistically worded report, and despite the controversial declaration of CESDP "operationality" at the Laeken European Council, most analysts concur with the view of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that the EU has still "fail[ed] to grasp the severity of the looming crisis" and that "final operating capability" is unlikely to be met before 2012 (IISS, 2001: 291). One major problem is the continued reluctance of member states to adopt a proactive methodology, orchestrated by a formal Council of Defence ministers. The EU's current military inadequacy, compounded by the likely unavailability of US assets, is the Achilles heel of the CESDP project. It is made worse by only half-hearted attempts to Europeanise and rationalise procurement and by the failure of political leaders to make the case to their publics for rising defence budgets. Worse still, given the near certainty that the US, in the wake of 11 September, will significantly increase defence spending, the already yawning gap between EU and US capabilities will widen even further, rendering interoperability and cooperation in the field still more problematic.

Without the crucial attribute of military capacity, the considerable progress recorded in CESDP, resulting from powerful historical stimuli, considerable political will, harmonious institutional dynamics and the horror of the twin towers, will remain seriously incomplete.

Jolyon Howorth is Professor of French Civilisation and Jean Monnet Professor of European Politics at the University of Bath.



Andréani, Gilles, Christoph Bertram and Charles Grant (2001) Europe's Military Revolution. London: Centre for European Reform.
Bannerman, Edward, Steven Everts, Heather Grabbe, Charles Grant, and Alasdair Murray (2001) Europe after 11 September. London: Centre for European Reform.
Forster, Anthony and Wallace, William, (2001-2002) "What is NATO for?" Survival, 34: 4, 107-122 .
Howorth, Jolyon (2001), "European Defence and the Changing Politics of the European Union: Hanging Together or Hanging Separately?" Journal of Common Market Studies, 39: 4, 765-789.
International Institute for Strategic Studies (2001), The Military Balance 2001-2002. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Quinlan, Michael (2001), European Defense Cooperation: Asset or Threat to NATO? Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.


1. Strictly speaking, CESDP - an acronym launched at the Helsinki European Council in December 1999 - is a sub-set of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) launched at Maastricht in 1991. Since 1999, the CESDP project has dominated the concerns of policy-makers and analysts. In this article, in order to avoid excess acronymania, I shall use CESDP to cover both processes, unless otherwise indicated.
2. See explanations of acronyms at the end of the article.
3. The French media expressed out loud what the political class whispered in private: that the UK in particular had an asylum policy that amounted to harbouring terrorists.
4. While the U.S. Air Force "softened up" Taliban targets in Afghanistan, it was Russian military hardware, from Kalashnikovs to T-55 tanks, which allowed the Northern Alliance to achieve the all-important victory on the ground.
5. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell presented a plan to end the intifada in May 2001which was accepted "100%" by Yasser Arafat but met with reservations from Israel. George Tenet, director of the CIA, then refined the plan with concrete proposals for a ceasefire and withdrawal to positions held in September 2000.

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