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April 18, 2005

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Global Europe: Rescuing the State, Europe’s Next Challenge

Malcolm Chalmers, Michael von der Schulenburg, Julian Braithwaite


If the European Union has begun to develop a strategic identity, it is rooted in state-building. From the early 1990s, the need to respond to the failure of Yugoslavia has been a driving force in the evolution of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Today, the EU has primary responsibility for both the security and economic reconstruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina – it is expected to become predominant in Kosovo in the years ahead. Beyond the Balkans, European funds have contributed to the foundations of a Palestinian state and governance projects worldwide.

The EU has thus contributed to state-building in both post-conflict situations where its members have a military presence, and in territories where it does not enjoy such hard power. As we argued in launching the Global Europe project, Europe has “developed a new type of power that starts not with geopolitics but with domestic politics.”

Yet the EU’s reputation as a maker of states is not secure. As the 2003 European Security Strategy explicitly recognised, the business of Bosnia is not yet over. That of Kosovo appears, if anything, even more intractable. Further afield, four processes are beginning to test Europe’s commitment to, and capacity for, state-building:

1. The enlargement of the EU towards regions of instability;
2. The post-9/11 linkage of state-building and confronting terrorism;
3. The EU’s increased focus on African conflicts;
4. A growth in doubts about state-building as a strategy per se.

The essays in this pamphlet offer a strong case for a continued EU commitment to state-building – but a form of state-building based on rethinking many current practices and assumptions. As Malcolm Chalmers and Julian Braithwaite note, it is in part a distinctly European case, drawing on the Union’s internal experiences. But it is the issues of enlargement, terrorism and Africa that give it urgency.

The challenge of enlargement is the clearest. The expansion of the Union to a divided Cyprus and the borders of Moldova has brought it into closer proximity with a variety of small wars and frozen conflicts. Combined with growing awareness of the volatility of the Southern Mediterranean, this process has spawned a “Wider Neighbourhood” policy intended to bring strategic stability to the EU’s periphery. But in cases such as Moldova, Georgia and the Palestinian territories, stability will be unachievable without long-term assistance towards political reconciliation, solid governance and economic growth.

Such cases are unlikely to demand the sort of military-civilian structures in place in the Balkans. Nor could they ever be exclusively European projects: there can be no solution in Moldova without Russia, no Israeli-Palestinian agreement without the USA. But the extent to which European states and institutions are prepared to underwrite state-building in these countries will be crucial to their stability – and to the credibility of the EU as a strategic actor.

But if the EU must take on burdens in its region, the ramifications of terrorism represent a potentially greater threat to our coherence and reputation. Since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, state-building has been increasingly treated as a corollary of anti-terrorism and counter-proliferation. And in Afghanistan and Iraq, European institutions and governments have engaged in the task of rebuilding the physical and political infrastructures of the state. In both, this engagement has had mixed results.

In the case of Afghanistan, European leaders have played an important part in overseeing the development of a constitutional state, building on the Bonn agreement. They have also provided a large percentage of the funds for its achievement. But the international community’s resources and rhetoric have not been sufficient to quell an opium economy and continued (if reduced) political divisions.

In Iraq, by contrast, European divisions over the high politics of the invasion have hindered the process of reconstruction at all levels. As Richard Youngs has noted, the EU member-states managed to agree a “positive and constructive” common paper on Iraq in June 2004, but “officials have lamented the limited impact” this has had. More broadly, “no clear state-building strategy has been elaborated to guide aid work.” Even if the Iraqi case has been exceptionally problematic, this un-strategic approach should act as a warning: if we believe that state-building is a long-term answer to threats to our own security, we cannot go about it piece-meal.

While our practices in Iraq have been imperfect, our attitude to Africa may prove equally divisive. There is a growing trend of argument that the EU should take a primary role not only in the continent’s economic development but also in its security. State-building surely stands at the nexus of the two. Yet, in Africa, the EU often appears ready to leave the task to other organisations, most obviously the UN. While this is arguably justifiable in terms of our resources and international legitimacy, it places practical limitations on the EU’s strategic reach.

This has been underlined by the aftermath of Operation Artemis, the militarily successful EU operation in the Ituri region of the eastern Congo of 2003. This was launched to assist a hard-pressed UN mission (MONUC) and prevent the area from slipping into anarchy. The operation lasted for a pre-set period of three months, after which MONUC resumed full responsibility – the UN mandate included state-building issues. But after Artemis, the erosion of order recommenced, and the International Crisis Group has since reported that Ituri has all but reverted to its former state.

This reaffirms the need for better-developed strategic frameworks for peace-building and state-building. Outside the Balkans, the EU seems to have faltered both in identifying such frameworks and mustering the resources to put them into practice. A 2004 European Parliament report concluded that “the EU rushes from case to case on an ever-larger watch-list.” Another review of Europe’s ability to respond to African crises was harsher: “the EU needs to vastly increase its capacity to play a greater role in dealing with politically fragile countries – this is not helped by institutional infighting”.

The EU is, in short, approaching the limits of it present state-building capacity. After the launch of the European Union Police Mission in Bosnia in 2004, officials in Brussels admitted that the member-states had insufficient manpower to launch another such mission. A European pool of two hundred legal professionals has been created to assist in post-conflict situations – but this is held in low regard by many observers. 2004 saw the launch of a six-country European gendarmerie, to be put on standby for future emergencies, but in other areas inter-state and inter-institutional co-ordination remains poor.

Concerted efforts are required to resolve these dilemmas. The EU should match the proposals of the 2004 UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel Report, which has called for a UN “peace-building commission” with an attached secretariat. Within the US State Department, a post-conflict section has been formed to avoid future Iraqs. Unless it matches such reforms, the EU’s claim to state-building skills will suffer.

But these practical issues are overshadowed by the fourth challenge to state-building: a widespread loss of faith in its efficacy. Spikes of violence in Kosovo and the ongoing troubles of Afghanistan have created concern that state-building simply does not work in many (or even most) cases – Iraq has only given this argument added venom. Some of those, such as Michael Ignatieff, who strongly advocated state-building in the 1990s, have now expressed unease over the techniques used by governments, international organisations and NGOs. In this pamphlet, Michael von der Schulenburg underlines the extent to which these techniques have been counter-productive, undermining the states they supposedly construct.

Yet recent episodes point to the need to reform our state-building practices, not to renounce them altogether. As von der Schulenburg argues, there are potentially more effective approaches to reconstructing local communities and authorities. These require both new technologies and new doctrines. If the EU is to develop strategic frameworks for state-building, they must be based on such innovations.

This pamphlet arguably outlines some of the elements of an up-dated doctrine of state-building. Malcolm Chalmers sets out both a definition of failing states but also the strategic goals that the EU should adopt in assisting them – goals that reflect not only post-conflict problems, but elements of Europe’s social democratic heritage. Michael von der Schulenburg describes a new operational doctrine for state-building in the field, especially in its early phases, that demands greater respect for indigenous skills and ideas. Julian Braithwaite analyses the broader political, strategic and operational factors necessary for long-term state-building projects.

By building on these arguments, the EU can become more effective in its state-building activities both in its neighbourhood and in other regions. A key element of its strategic identity will be enhanced – and its “new type of power” will grow accordingly.

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