The CSS Blog

Brexit and the Binary Bind

UK EU Leave image

UK EU Leave, courtesy Rareclass/Flickr

This article was first published on 1 July 2016 in the Kluwer Mediation Blog series

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the whole Brexit affair. I’m not talking about the result of the vote itself, but about the referendum process, the behaviour it engendered, and its aftermath.

All the classic features were present. Classic features of what? Well, of binary processes. Those that offer a win/lose, yes/no, remain/leave outcome, and nothing else. Rather like courts, as it happens.

Of course, I realise that decisions do need to be taken, and referenda are intended to produce a clear picture of the will of the people (only just, on this occasion, but I suppose it’s clear at least). Nothing wrong with that.

But the problem is that for all the desire for clarity and decisiveness, binary processes come with some fairly hefty downsides. And these have been laid bare for all to see in the referendum process. I will mention three.

» More

Eurocentrism and the Global Strategy: How Do Others Perceive the EU’s Role in the World?

Euro Blog

The Eifel tower lit up with the EU flag, courtesy looking4poetry/flickr

This article was originally published by European Geostrategy on 3 June 2016.

The idea of eurocentrism has been both debated and somewhat discredited in recent years. Philosophically, a realisation that European Enlightenment thought was perhaps more hegemonic than universal has led to a wider appreciation of alternative knowledge systems from further afield. Politically, a similar shift in the centre of gravity has displaced ‘the West’ as the paradigm of progress and development, helped by the economic rise of ‘the rest’. And on a more profane level, the navel-gazing of European policy-makers has also been challenged as too inward-focused in an increasingly competitive world.

As the European Union (EU) prepares to launch the new Global Strategy, it is worth examining how much it really has moved on; has it managed to come to terms with an increasingly non-eurocentric order? Can it craft a strategy which is assertively European yet realistically conscious of its external partners? A key consideration in gauging this is examining how these partners view Europe – what they think of its global role and how they see it developing. Such perceptions, although not fundamental drivers of policy formulation, nevertheless shape the reality within which decisions are taken, and are arguably often overlooked in the study of international relations.

» More

The EU as a Terrorist Target: Why, Where, and How

Map of Europe in flames, courtesy geralt/pixabay

This article was originally published by The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 4 May 2016.

As an international actor, the EU can expect to win enemies as well as admirers. Two recent terrorist attacks in close succession – the first targeting an EU military mission in Bamako, the second in the ‘EU quarter’ in Brussels – seemingly confirm this. They also lend weight to the argument that if member states want the EU to be a robust international actor, they must give it the counterterrorist powers to protect itself. But is the EU facing a classic terrorist logic of action-and-reprisal and, if not, what exactly is the EU’s risk profile?

A player and a pole

On 22 March, bombs were detonated in the public area of Brussels Zaventem airport, raising concerns about the vulnerability of Europe’s interconnected infrastructure networks – a particular preoccupation of the European Commission. Already last year, the Thalys train was the subject of two terror scares, showing that Islamists are ready to disrupt Europe’s transport systems. Now it has emerged that the perpetrators may have been eyeing harder infrastructure targets across Europe, including such critical infrastructure as nuclear power plants.

Another bombing occurred in Brussels that day, in a metro station serving the EU quarter. Although at least one of the attackers had been employed in an EU institution (as a cleaner) there is no evidence that the terrorists were directly targeting EU buildings or personnel. But, as Islamist media feeds now boast about having ‘attacked the heart of Europe’, the seed of an idea may well have been planted. Indeed, there are indications that the terrorists had been scoping the city’s diplomatic buildings (choosing the metro only because of the crowds and softness of the target).

» More

Nord Stream 2: Trust in Europe

Nord Stream – two pipes are welded together, courtesy Bair175/wikipedia

This article was originally published by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in its Policy Perspectives series (Vol. 4/4, March 2016).

The prospect of building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany is dividing the EU into two camps. By following geopolitical considerations, both sides are neglecting the concept of a liberalized natural gas market and are overlooking Europe’s favorable position in current international gas trade.

Key Points

  • Nord Stream 2 has turned out to be a symbolic conflict about how to deal with Russian gas imports and infrastructure projects
  • The German government has lost diplomatic reputation and credibility by politically backing Nord Stream 2
  • The EU needs to make clear, in how far a market approach or in how far a geopolitical approach is structuring its natural gas policies in general
  • When sticking to its liberalized gas market model, the EU Commission will have to evaluate Nord Stream 2 under existing regulation, not based on an undefined foreign policy assessment

When Russia’s Gazprom and its five European partners (BASF, E.ON, Engie, OMV and Shell) signed a declaration to build two new pipelines through the Baltic Sea (‘Nord Stream 2’) in September 2015, this came as a real surprise for most observers. The project would increase existing capacity from 55 to 110 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year by 2019. Gazprom would act as the main shareholder with a stake of 50 percent in the Swiss-based pipeline company. Nord Stream 2 will follow a similar route along the seabed as the first pipeline project that started deliveries in 2011. The project is completely financed by its shareholders and does not receive financial support from public sources of the EU or a Member State. It is clear that from the Russian side, not only the aspect of defending and maybe even the possibility of enlarging market shares in Europe, but also the geopolitical motivation of circumventing Ukrainian territory and reducing payments for Ukrainian transit play an important role in the project. After the Black Sea pipeline project ‘South Stream’ to Bulgaria was cancelled in 2014 and considerations to involve Turkey in the transit business have been put on hold, the Baltic Sea seems to be Gazprom’s most reliable and secure route to retain a hold on its most important market: Europe.

» More

The Paradox of EU Defence Policy

EU and NATO Flags

Polish, EU and NATO Flags, courtesy Pawel Kabanski/Flickr

This article was originally published by European Geostrategy on 9 March 2016.

There is a paradox at the heart of EU defence policy. On the one hand the strategic demand for a more active and effective EU defence policy has been growing in recent years, mainly due to the increasing number of complex security crises in Europe’s neighbourhood. On the other, political interest in member-state capitals in EU defence policy has been declining. If this strange dichotomy continues, it will demonstrate the increasing irrelevance of EU defence policy for international security, and will hamper the ambition of the EU global strategy to have a full-spectrum set of foreign policy instruments and more comprehensive foreign policies.

Growing strategic demand

It has become obvious to say that the EU faces a number of security crises in its broad neighbourhood. This is not to say that the EU does not have global security interests, it does, for example maritime security in East Asia. But its role in East Asian security is likely to remain mainly a non-military one. In contrast, the EU’s extended neighbourhood is currently very turbulent, and crises there are causing a number of internal security challenges, such as the refugee crisis and terrorist attacks. » More

Page 1 of 15