Events & News


Withering away? Is there a future for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)?

Associate Professor Stephanie Anderson, Visiting Fellow at EU Centre in Singapore and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Wyoming

25 Apr 2012

SR 607, Level 6, NTU@one-north campus, Executive Centre 11 Slim Barracks Rise (off North Buona Vista Road) Singapore 138664



The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP, formerly the European Security and Defence Policy or ESDP) has been, for some, the pride of the EU since its establishment in 1999. In a 2008 book,Université de Montréal academic Frédéric Mérand said the Policy ‘redefines the nature of European integration in the way we think about the state in the 21st century’.  It has overseen successful missions in the Western Balkans to places further afield from Europe like Aceh. Yet as observers have pointed that, there have been no new CSDP missions since 2010. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton has said that there will be no more new missions until ‘we have solved the problems of the current missions’.  In her lecture, Dr Stephanie Anderson sought to account for this apparent ‘withering’ of the CSDP.   

She first dealt with the hypothesis that this is caused by the eurozone sovereign debt crises. It would seem logical given that the period since 2010 coincided with a period of financial and economic difficulties for the EU that a shortage of funds would stymie any new CSDP activity. But Dr Anderson argued that EU citizens were largely not against more military and foreign aid spending, even in times of austerity measures. Rather it was the increase of government spending that they were specifically against. Most common public opinion surveys indicated a consensus to keep to current levels of defence spending. As it has panned out, European defence spending has been remarkably constant for the last 20 years, contrasting with that of the US, and despite pressures from US for Europe to increase its contributions towards NATO. Yet the EU has managed to execute 24 CSDP missions against this pattern of constant defence spending.

Dr Anderson then examined the possible cuaisal impact of  a certain lack of political will for new CSDP missions. With France rejoining NATO under the presidency of Nicholas Sarkozy, it has been posited that the CSDP was deemed less necessary. War fatigue from Afghanistan was probably a further contributing factor. With ‘Obama-mania’ in Europe (in certain countries of which, as Dr Anderson noted in some detail, the US President Obama enjoys higher popularity ratings than  in many  States ), it would seem Europeans are now happy to follow the US’s leadership in military issues through NATO, and not have to come up with alternatives. But for Dr Anderson, the political environment is certainly a contributing factor, but it is not a causal one– CSDP missions have been launched during the time of the Obama administration as well as during the more unpopular Bush administration.

Dr Anderson attributed the ‘withering’ of the CSDP to institutional factors.  She felt that the way in which the European External Action Service (EEAS) was created by the Lisbon Treaty has ‘hurt the CSDP’.  The CSDP is ‘physically marginalized’ in the EEAS structure. The fact is that Ashton wears two hats, or as Dr Anderson put it, she has one ‘leg’ in the European Commission and the other in the European Council, as thus may prefer sanctions rather than missions with boots on the ground. CSDP missions have inherently higher risks than other EEAS activities. Moreover a recent CSDP mission to Kosovo, EULEX, has turned out to be unpopular with Kosovar Albanians.

The phasing out of the rotating presidency of EU has also meant less leadership and less backing for CSDP. Previously, EU member states keen to ‘leave their mark’ through the rotating presidency saw the CSDP as one key channel to do so. Now with Higher Representative Catherine Ashton’s style of quiet diplomacy, sanctions are preferred to CSDP missions as a foreign policy tool.

Another problem is the EEAS’s legitimacy- and democracy deficit. As a bureaucratic organization with an unelected head, it cannot act like a foreign minister of a member state. It still relies on the European Commission as a source for its budget, while the prerogative on EU foreign policy still lies largely with the EU member states through the European Council.