As Europe increasingly finds itself challenged by Russian assertiveness as well as by instability in its nearĀ  periphery, how can it still ensure a coherent and effective European external policy in the fields of security and defense? What do changing regional tensions imply for the modern relations between the EU and NATO? And after decades of budget cuts, is there any hope for revitalizing and integrating European military capabilities? On the early morning of the 26th of February, JASON Institute left for Brussels with a group of motivated students, to speak with key players in the field of European defense and security, and get answers to these very questions.


The first presentation, delivered at the Netherlands House for Education and Research, was by Eric Povel, Programme Officer at the NATO Public Diplomacy division. Mr. Povel, a 20-year veteran of NATO, spoke about the three core roles set out in NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept–Collective Defence, Crisis Management, and Cooperative Security. He discussed at length how NATO operations in these three roles have changed over the last year, in the face of Russian actions in the Ukraine, and particularly in the wake of the September 2014 Wales Summit, as NATO has expressed greater interest in immediate reassurance measures to its Eastern-European members, as well as realizing long-term adaptation and enhancement of the NATO military posture. This takes the form of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the pre-positioning of military materiel, as well as nurturing the Ukrainian partnership through armed forces reform assistance. Mr. Povel suggested that recent Russian behaviour in the Ukraine conflict runs counter to the principle of sovereignty, and has created a crisis of trust. He rejected the suggestion that NATO expansion ‘encroached’ on Russian interests, arguing that NATO is a defensive alliance of free will that responds only to sovereign invitations by nations and peoples; and that–contrary to popular belief–NATO never promised Russia that it would not enlarge. However, Mr. Povel argued that despite suspending formal political and military cooperation with Russia, NATO still seeks an open dialogue, and remains committed to the terms of the 1997 NATO-Russian Founding Act agreement.

With regards to the transatlantic bond, Mr. Povel noted that the US still accounts for the lion’s share of NATO defence expenditure, and that there are still great inefficiencies in European defence spending. Moreover, the experience of the 2011 Libya intervention demonstrated that “Europeans cannot do a mission like this on their own”, and in operational practice still often require US materiel such as tanker planes. He argued that the political dynamics of the NATO are different from EU decision-making, since NATO has equally weighted votes and universal veto for all members. Still, he argued that while NATO – EU cooperation has at times been plagued by problems on high levels, there has been very good on-the-ground cooperation, for instance on missions such as Operation Ocean Shield. And that the Ukraine situation had forced people to work together again, especially in terms of formulating effective counter-narratives to ‘set the record straight’ on ‘Russian myths’.


After a tasty lunch provided by JASON, the second stop was at the office of the European External Action Service (EEAS), where Joel Schuyer provided a detailed insight into the history and development of this relatively young EU detachment, its relations with other EU instruments, and its role in the formulation and execution of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) in general, and the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) in particular. The EEAS, he noted, aims to support the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Federica Mogherini, since November 2014) in considering the totality of external policy, whether operational, military and civilian operations abroad, in a single Comprehensive Approach. It hereby examines and ‘pre-cooks’ decisions before they are presented to the European Council. Mr. Schuyer noted that the EEAS, as a young service, experienced a number of challenging years after 2009, as it sought to establish continuity in the aftermath of an institutional merger, and had to wrestle with the profile and role of the High Representative; he suggested that while the Treaty of Lisbon gave the HR a greater voice in the discussion, it’s reduction of the rotating presidency has eroded an important mechanism for reaching consensus, and it therefore remains necessary to improve on the EU decision-making structures.

Mr. Schuyer furthermore discussed the European External Security Strategy document, which was commissioned in 2003 by HR Javier Solana, in response to the divided European policies on the US invasion of Iraq, and which was a reaction to the ‘Bush Doctrine’, that sought to delineate the important challenges, and strategic objectives of Europe. However, he admitted that while this document was reviewed in 2008, it has not yet been sufficiently updated to take stock of new threats such as cyberwarfare. On the question of institutional overlap between EU and NATO operations, Mr. Schuyer noted that whereas NATO emphasizes territorial defence, the EU has (at least until recently) focused on Crisis Management; however he also argued that these organisations can work together, and such overlap is more often productive than it is redundant. With regards to the military policies of the EU, Mr. Schuyer listed a number of past and current successes, in EU anti-piracy as well as training and capability development missions. He also mentioned the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict as one instance in which the very rapid deployment of EU monitors–a move which would have been inconceivable for NATO–helped temper the conflict. However some problems remain; for one, the EU does not always anticipate the security implications of its own external policies (such as the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement); moreover, while the EU Battlegroups have all achieved operational capacity, this has so far proven a capability without the political will to deploy them, which reflects the differing national interests of member states.


Finally, the third lecture at the European Defence Agency was chaired by Rini Goos, and focused on the various initiatives and projects undertaken by this relatively small agency (~130 people) to support EU member states in developing effective defence capabilities. The EDA is in close contact with the European Council as well as the European Commission and – Parliament, and it primarily has a leveraging function in identifying and facilitating project interests of member states. The EDA presentation emphasized that while the EU spends less than half as much on defence as the US, it only achieves about 15% of US’s operational ‘output’ in terms of extraterritorial operations. The underlying problem lies in the fact that EU member states continue to operate a large number of distinct types of platforms (e.g. they operates 19 different types of frigates) with different operational regulations. By consolidating R&D projects and defence production, by encouraging dual-use R&D of technologies with both civil and military applications, by harmonizing guidelines and training programs, and by promoting the sharing and pooling of resources and standardized components, the EDA hopes to achieve economies of scale and an European defence establishment that is both more cost-effective and cutting-edge. To illustrate these projects and the roles of its various units and divisions, the EDA experts discussed various projects they are running in the fields of airworthiness regulation (commissioned in 2008, to be implemented by 2015), helicopter training programmes, and the Single European Sky initiative. However, they noted that the EDA does not seek to standardize all operational requirements across all EU states–there is no ‘single recipe’–but that rather it operates through a collaborative database in which member states can identify research interests. Finally, for current students or recent graduates, Frederic van Kerrebroek, Policy Officer at the EDA Strategy and Policy Unit, had the following piece of advice: don’t get discouraged with the job market; take the European Union recruitment exams, and don’t keep doing lots of internships.

With the EDA lecture concluded, the participants enjoyed dinner in the centre of Brussels, before gathering for the long drive back to The Hague, enriched by new insights.

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