Civilian CSDP Compact: Boosting Crisis Management and Strategic Autonomy

11 June 2019   ·   ​Tania Laţici

Its blend of civilian and military instruments make the EU a unique security actor, but challenges in decision-making, implementation, and political will might impede its goal to become a stronger global player. Germany is in a strategic position to influence these processes and should use its diplomatic network and civilian know-how to better coordinate EU external action.

Instability and unpredictability have always been part of global politics. The speed with which new types of conflicts emerge today, however, is unprecedented. It is amidst this new strategic reality that the European Union (EU) hopes to become a stronger player with more responsibility in the world. Its emphasis on practicing an integrated approach to conflicts, complemented by a blend of civilian and military instruments, make the EU a unique security actor.

The Civilian CSDP Compact is key to the EU’s approach to security

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is a key instrument for international influence and power projection. Although the word “defense” evokes militaristic connotations, the EU’s CSDP has a very strong civilian element – one which has recently been revamped in the form of a Civilian CSDP Compact (CCC). The CCC aims to reform strategic crisis management by embedding it into the integrated approach through a more multidisciplinary portfolio of responsibilities and increased agility. The political advantage of the Compact is that it is of interest to countries that are strong on defense as well as ones whose citizens are rather critical of military solutions. Recognized as being key to the European approach to security, the Compact received broad support from EU member states in November 2018 when it was formally agreed upon.

The Compact links aspects of security, development, and aid with those of trade, justice and home affairs, energy, and climate. Perhaps most important are its defining characteristics of speed and flexibility. The so-called concepts of “scalability and modularity” included in Article 8 of the Compact refer to the capacity to adapt to and rapidly oscillate between changing security circumstances. The aim is to make civilian CSDP missions more easily deployable throughout conflict cycles. While this approach can, in theory, be applied to a wide array of mission types, in practice it risks being undermined by potential impasses in decision-making when formal approval from Brussels is needed.

A scalable and modular approach is valuable for all CSDP missions

Another practical issue is the speed with which money can be mobilized for missions to react to changing circumstances in-theater. Civilian missions require longer-term mandates for a safer bet on their effectiveness and to build trust with the stakeholders of the host-state. However, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and mandates need flexibility in deciding upon their respective durations in accordance with regular expert assessments and reviews in the field on a case-by-case basis. This, of course, requires member states to entrust the mission staff and external auditors with such assessments. As has been suggested by other authors, an increase in seconded staff from EU members could facilitate a growth in trust and, as a result, improve the speed and perhaps even the delegation of decision-making where possible. Furthermore, the required national implementation plans and annual reviews should serve as sincere self-reflection exercises if a fully functional and ambitious Compact is to be delivered by 2023.

The principle of scalability and modularity should be applied to all CSDP missions and operations, as all conflicts can take an unpredictable turn. The catalogue of possible civilian missions in the internal concept paper on “Strengthening Civilian CSDP” includes activities from countering organized crime to counterterrorism, and from border management to hybrid threats. Given the dynamic nature of these threats, a scalable and modular approach is particularly critical. For example, a coup d’état or a sudden campaign of coordinated terrorist attacks on a host country’s territory (or even in a neighboring country) might adjust a mission’s entire purpose and require different (even new) capabilities to be deployed.

Germany could better coordinate the EU’s external action

If the EU does not expedite its typically lengthy bargaining and consensus-building process, it might miss essential windows of opportunity in-theater. Mechanisms to facilitate swifter decision-making are therefore imperative. However, the political and diplomatic effects of EU member states rallying together behind a crisis intervention should also not be underestimated. This is precisely where Germany’s extensive diplomatic network and civilian know-how could help build bridges. Additionally, as gaps in Franco-German visions of security are slowly becoming smaller, Germany has an interest in continuing its alignment with France for better-coordinated EU external action.

In this sense, the EU and member states such as Germany could consider the concept of adaptive peacebuilding. Designed on the basis of the scalability principle, this approach sees peacebuilding as a stimulus for change, but regards the host state’s stakeholders as the actual actors implementing said change – the so-called ”ownership.” Through meaningful engagement with local populations, this sort of peacebuilding mission would test different conflict resolution approaches and adapt to any conclusions drawn from the process. What Compact implementers should take from this is the value of a “lessons learned” framework, which in the end could allow an informed decision of scaling a mission’s mandate up (or down).

The military dimension may be essential, but the civilian is indispensable

The Compact is killing two birds with one stone: boosting not only crisis management, but also the EU’s strategic autonomy. On par with recent official EU documents, the European Commission’s latest recommendations for 2019-2024 highlight the need for EU members to cooperate more on missions and operations as a means to improve (or, rather, create) strategic autonomy and take more responsibility for European security. Sharing responsibility and a sense of solidarity among member states are prerequisites for this objective.

An attractive buzzword, “strategic autonomy” has been the focus of policy debates in Brussels and beyond. However, these debates have blatantly neglected civilian crisis management, which is as key to European strategic autonomy as military capabilities. While the military dimension of crisis management can be essential in certain theaters of conflict, the civilian element is indispensable for promoting sustainable security and the buy-in of the host state and its peoples.

The scalability and modularity of the Compact can make a real difference as all CSDP missions and operations should be equipped with the decision-making ability and necessary capabilities for adapting to multifaceted conflicts, their unpredictable evolution, and even escalation.

Intelligence sharing in-theater is a key condition for more effectiveness

The challenge, however, is maintaining member states’ political commitment and ensuring that the Compact and recent defense integration initiatives such as PESCO, EDF and CARD will overcome the status of political pledges and instead be concrete stepping stones for a European Defense Union. This requires serious implementation as well as the transformation of ambitious commitments into ambitious action – putting some muscle on the bone and preparing to flex it once it’s there. 

Regarding the goals of scalable and modular mission mandates, another fundamental condition for future action will be to ensure consistent information and intelligence sharing between all stakeholders in theater – from NGOs, to governments and international organizations. This is also essential for an effective use of the EU’s early warning system and crisis management planning – significant building blocks for strategic autonomy. During its Presidency of the Council, Germany could prioritize civilian CSDP in its agenda and adjust its mechanisms based on the lessons drawn from previous presidencies – specifically, the Austrian and the Romanian – that too included it directly or indirectly amongst their priorities. The second half of 2020 could be a key moment for Germany to shape the Compact before the EEAS’s deadline arrives in 2023. 

The careful blend of the EU’s civilian and military instruments and their integrated deployment in missions and operations are the most visible parts of EU external action. In the quest for strategic autonomy, the EU and its member states must rise to the occasion by meeting words with actions. For the Compact to fulfil its potential, sustained political will and a common strategic awareness (if not threat perception) are needed. Though EU leaders have pledged that “united, we are stronger in this increasingly unsettled and challenging world” in the Romanian city of Sibiu, it is also necessary that the new leadership of the Commission and the new European Parliament share this view.

Europäische Union Europa

​Tania Laţici

Tania Laţici is a Policy Analyst at the European Parliamentary Research Service and a PhD Candidate at the University of Ghent and within the Doctoral School on CSDP of the European Security and Defence College. She writes here in personal capacity and does not by any means represent the views of her employer. Twitter: @TaniaLatici