The Development of a European Union Security Culture: Wishful Thinking or Reality?

Paula Sandrin*

This article attempts to answer the following questions: Does EU have the potential to construct a security culture, with common views about threat identification and the best means to tackle them? Does the EU already possess a security culture? If so, which are its main features?

Most of the literature about the EU strategic culture is pessimistic about the prospects for its development (see for example Rynning 2003, Hyde -Price 2004, Matlary 2006 and Tardy 2007). The Union is still reluctant to contemplate the use of force as a policy option and is incapable of commanding military forces aside from those engaged in peacekeeping and conflict resolution. For the EU to be considered a traditional strategic actor, it must have the willingness and the ability to threaten the use of force through coercive diplomacy and the capacity to actually deploy such force.

It is interesting to observe that, although these authors recognize that the EU has published a European Security Strategy (ESS), which identify threats and responses, developed a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and within that a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), which includes a military capability that has been deployed (i.e. the EU does use force) they do not consider that the EU has a strategic culture, with common views regarding the use of force. Because the use of force by the EU is so limited (in terms of number of personnel deployed, the necessity of approval by International Law, the kind of operations, such as Peace Support Operations, it is involved), they conclude that the EU does not have a strategic culture.

I would argue that the EU does have a strategic culture: it has established which the threats to its security are and which means it is to employ to guarantee it, including military means. The fact that the Union does not engage in coercive diplomacy, does not employ military means to defeat an opposed willpower, and does not see conflicts as zero-sum, does not mean that it is not a strategic actor. It means that it is a different strategic actor. In addition, because the US is usually the referent used to analyze the EU security policies, by comparison the EU is frequently found wanting. It is my view that the EU is not lacking a strategic culture: it has one, but it is obviously different from that of the US.

Furthermore, it is important to stress that the literature just mentioned is mostly concerned with the narrow concept of strategic culture, which is primarily about the use of force. Paralleling the calls in security studies for the broadening and deepening the concept of security, Krause (1999) suggested the introduction of the concept of security culture, which builds upon the work on strategic culture but moves it away from its emphasis on military affairs and the use of force. Security culture refers to all the means available to achieve security, including, but not restricted to, the use of force. With this perspective in mind, it is possible to argue that the EU has developed a security culture, albeit it is constantly evolving as the EU also is.

And which are characteristics of the EU security culture? The EU conceives itself as a zone of peace and prosperity which came about due to a process of integration and interdependence. Europe’s unique historical experience (and how it was narrated and propagated) helped shape its strategic behavior. The common historical memories are the destructiveness of the Second World War, a belief in the reconciliation of former enemies and the achievement of peace and prosperity through economic interdependence and cooperative institutional structures (Toje 2005). The EU presents itself as a force capable of bringing stability and prosperity within and without the Union. In other words, the EU formulates and conducts a foreign and security policy that derives from the way itself developed (its own history and identity). The EU foreign policy preference for diplomacy over coercion and the employment of economic solutions to political problems reflect the Union’s own sense of history.

The sources of insecurity to the Union are thus those that challenge its stability and prosperity (its identity features) and the Union itself (which brought about peace and prosperity). Terrorism, organized crime, proliferation of WMD, regional instability and failed states are considered threats to the stability and prosperity of the Union.

The EU conceives itself as a zone of peace and prosperity which came about due to a process of integration and interdependence.”

The Union tries to distinguish itself from the US because it employs civilian and military means and support multilateralism in order to handle crisis, and, more importantly, to prevent them (Brok and Gresh 2005). Therefore, in the EU view, a broad range of instruments is required to prevent and to deal with crisis. The EU has now military instruments at its disposal and EU soldiers have been or are being deployed, but the ESS imposes limitations on the use of force: it is only allowed when approved by International Law (Heusgen 2005).

The EU also holds a broad conception of security and links security with development. Javier Solana (2002), in a speech in the annual conference of the EU Institute for Security Studies, stated that: “since the beginning of the European project, [Europeans] have developed a specific culture of security, based on conflict prevention, political management of crisis, and taking account of the economic and social root causes of conflict” (quoted on Tardy 2007, p. 551).

“The EU, conceived as a zone of peace and prosperity brought about by a process of integration and interdependence, behaves in the international system in a way that reflects its identity construction and history.”

Hence, the EU combines long-term strategies addressing the root causes of conflict, such as underdevelopment, inequality and violations of human rights, and a short -term action dealing with the immediate causes of instability. The use of force is one of the many and varied instruments used in conflict prevention and crisis management.

Therefore, EU does have a security culture: it has common assumptions on what constitutes insecurities and the best way to tackle them. The EU, conceived as a zone of peace and prosperity brought about by a process of integration and interdependence, behaves in the international system in a way that reflects its identity construction and history. Finally, its main features are a preference to tackle threats to its stability and prosperity through non -coercive civilian means which the EU believes addresses to root causes of conflict.


* Paula Sandrin is a Doctoral Researcher at the University of Westminster.


Brok, Elmar and Gresch, Norbert (2005). “Paving the Way to a European Culture of Security”. In: Oxford Journal on Good Governance 2 (1): 17.
Heusgen, Christoph (2005) “Is there such a thing as a European Strategic Cul- ture?”. In: Oxford Journal on Good Gov- ernance 2 (1): 29.
Hyde-Price, Adrian (2004). “European Security, Strategic Culture, and the Use of Force”. In: European Security 13(4): 323.
Krause, Keith (1999). “Cross -Cultural Di- mension of Multilateral Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Dialogues: An Over- view”. In Krause, Keith (ed.). Culture and Security: Multilateralism, Arms Control and Security Building. London: Frank Class.
Matlary, Janne Haaland (2006). “When Soft Power Turns Hard: Is an EU Strategic Culture Possible?”. In: Security Dialogue 37: 105.
Rynning, Sten (2003). “The European Un- ion: Towards a Strategic Culture?”. In: Security Dialogue (34): 479.
Tardy, Thierry (2007). “The European Un- ion: From Conflict Prevention to ‘Preventive Engagement,’ Still a Civilian Power Lacking a Strategic Culture”. In: International Journal 62 (3): 539.
Toje, Asle (2005). “Introduction: The EU Strategic Culture”. In: Oxford Journal on Good Governance 2 (1): 11.

Previous post From Lehman Brothers’ Collapse to the Greek Debacle: Exposing Shifts in the World Economic Order
Next post Platonic Lovers Chasing Nukes Around the World

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *