Research & Publications


The European Union and global security: is the EU becoming the indispensable partner?

The EU Centre has just published a background brief by Dr Cesare Onestini (EU Visiting Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy) entitled “The European Union and global security: is the EU becoming the indispensable partner?”.

Please click here for a copy of the paper.


The European Union has developed new capacity as a security actor in third countries, in particular in the area of crisis management. Over the past two decades the EU has deployed numerous missions, both of a civilian and military nature. Moreover the EU has defined its ability to intervene all along the ‘crisis cycle’, (from prevention to mediation, from peace-keeping to post-conflict reconstruction) and using all tools at its disposal (taking a ‘comprehensive approach’). However the EU is still not perceived as a major security provider globally and interventions remain limited to some geographic areas, mostly in its neighbourhood and Africa, with just a few examples further afield. The EU also tends to avoid taking direct action and seems to prefer partnership arrangements with other players. How can we explain the growing activism and number of EU’s intervention with the low impact and lack of visibility? Can we expect the EU to become more active in the future, taking on more responsibility and leading roles in addressing conflict situations?

This paper will argue that the main reason for the EU’s hesitant role in crisis management is to be found in the weak decision-making provisions for EU’s security interventions, as one of the few policy areas still subject to consensus amongst 28 European Union Member States. Lack of a clearer delegation of competence or stronger coordination structures is closely linked to low legitimacy for the EU to take more robust action as a security actor. In order to overcome this legitimacy problem, and in order to facilitate consensus amongst Member States, the EU thus privileges partnership arrangements with other actors who can provide legitimacy and know-how, such as the UN or the African Union. As there is no political desire in the EU for tighter decision-making in this area, we can expect that the EU will continue to play a supporting rather than leading role in crisis management, becoming the partner of choice as it deepens its experience. However this does not mean that the EU is playing just a secondary role in the wider area of security, in particular when looking at non-traditional security.

Looking at the role of the EU in Asia, where the EU has deployed just two missions, this paper will offer a broader assessment of the EU as a partner in the area of security taking into account different types of actions. The paper will argue that in order to strengthen cooperation with Asian partners in the area of crisis management, the EU will need to define better what it is able to offer, present its actions as part of an overall strategy rather than ad-hoc and piecemeal, and enter into partnership arrangements with different players in the region.