The EU’s PESCO initiative and differentiated cooperation in security and defence

In a recent article, Benjamin Martill and Carmen Gebhard seek to clarify the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative in security and defence. They show that PESCO has been designed, through flexible forms of differentiated cooperation, to work around some of the perennial challenges of European defence. 

European security and defence issues have dominated the headlines of late, with Russia’s war in Ukraine having re-energised talk of Europe’s position in the global order and its actorness in the security domain.

But European security collaboration suffers from some perennial challenges that have yet to be overcome, even amidst the current conflict.

Member states hold different views on how best to respond to the crisis, and whether or not to prioritise negotiation and diplomacy (like France) or more active containment (such as Poland).

The EU’s institutional structures can work to exacerbate the impact of minor differences, because the unanimity requirement allows any individual member state to veto a common EU position or operation.

And the institutional architecture is complex, with a multitude of bilateral and multilateral initiatives and actors, overlap between the EU and NATO, and significant gaps in the membership of both organisations.

How can the EU become a more active security and defence player against this backdrop of institutional complexity and member state divergence? Given the current stakes, the question is an important one.

PESCO and the principle of differentiation

One solution can be found in the recent Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative, launched in 2017 as a way of allowing smaller groupings of member states to move forwards in security and defence initiatives.

Initially built into the Lisbon Treaty, PESCO remained dormant until the Brexit vote in June 2016 spurred soul searching in Brussels on Europe’s actorness and enabled further movement in the defence domain.

At the heart of PESCO is the idea of differentiation, the variegated application of Union policies across countries. While the selective membership aspect of PESCO received the most attention, differentiation in PESCO operates on multiple levels.

While previous examples of differentiation in security and defence, like the Danish opt-out, arguably rendered the policy area more complex, differentiation in PESCO – as we show in a recent study – has been shaped by the member states to adapt the initiative for the complex political and institutional environment of European defence.

Selectivity in membership

Initial designs on PESCO imagined a ‘vanguardist’ concept in which a small number of major defence players could agree on ambitious defence-industrial initiatives and establish a platform for joint operations. But this Anglo-French model was seen as problematic by some member states, especially Germany, which preferred a more inclusive design.

When PESCO launched in 2017 the agreed format was closer to Berlin’s preferences for an ‘inclusive’ design, with a far broader membership envisaged. In the end, 25 of the EU’s then 28 states signed up to PESCO, with neutral Malta, the soon-to-be departing UK and opt-out possessing Denmark the only countries not participating.

French designs on a more effective operational platform did not disappear, but were arguably resurrected in President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘European Intervention Initiative’ (EI2), which was sold as a more exclusive platform for major European defence actors.

Project-based clustering

One consequence of the move towards a more inclusive format was that PESCO was re-imagined as process rather than an end-point. Given the disparities between countries as defence actors, this motivated the adoption of a modular framework in which countries would participate in individual projects, each of which comprised clusters of member states.

The benefit of the modular approach was that it could calibrate the appropriate contributions of states and bring about (it was hoped) a productive division-of-labour based around individual specialisations, although it was acknowledged that modularity also risked a lowest common denominator outcome.

Since the first wave of projects was announced in March 2018, there have been a total of 60 projects in four rounds, covering a wide range of different defence sectors and activities, and varying in their intensity. Generally speaking, the fewer participants involved the more onerous the requirements, suggesting the modular format is providing for differentiation in the level of commitment.

Relationship with NATO

Concern existed among some Atlanticist member states, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, that PESCO would present a challenge to NATO’s defence role, since it represented an initial European incursion into the defence domain. Poland and Lithuania, both, expressed these fears in 2017 as discussions of PESCO were underway.

In response, those member states leading on the initiative – France, Germany, Italy, Spain – sought to reassure would-be participants both that PESCO projects would contribute to the Atlantic alliance through the development of member state capabilities, and that they would be put in service of the full spectrum of force.

Their ability to pledge underlying compatibility with NATO – thus ensuring a broad membership – was aided by the project-based approach, since projects like the Dutch-organised ‘Military Mobility’ promised to be of as much value to NATO as to the EU.

Third Country Participation

Whether or not non-EU countries could participate in PESCO projects was a major area of discussion in the years since its launch. With major defence actors like the US, UK and Norway outside the tent, some member states were concerned PESCO would lack credibility, or would risk becoming a protectionist measure for Franco-German defence-industrial interests.

On the other hand, external participation risked the autonomy of the EU initiative and raised the prospect of participation by Turkey and China, which some member states objected to.

The solution, agreed in October 2020, was to open PESCO for third country participation, on the basis of conformity with EU values, thus excluding countries of concern but allowing others to join projects where they could add significant value. The decision paved the way for the US, Canada and Norway to join the Military Mobility project in 2021, with UK accession agreed the following year.

The value of differentiation

As the PESCO example shows, differentiation in its multiple guises can be an effective means of navigating the institutional and political complexities of the European security landscape.

By allowing for non-participation by member states, providing a modular platform, contributing to EU and NATO goals, and allowing access to select third countries, PESCO has been designed to work around some of the perennial challenges of European defence.

In this respect, it offers a helpful example of how differentiation can be productively applied to security and defence issues, and the multiple forms such differentiation may take.

Benjamin Martill and Carmen Gebhard are the authors of “Combined differentiation in European defense: tailoring Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to strategic and political complexity”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Informal Groupings in EU Approach to Conflicts and Crises

EU foreign and security policy is often made by informal groups of member states rather than the EU institutions. In a new article, which is part of a special issue on differentiated cooperation in EU foreign policy, Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré studies these informal groups with respect to the cases of Kosovo, Libya, and Syria.

Informal groupings of member states are not a novelty in EU foreign policy. In the past, these groupings were generally conceived as attempts to solve the shortcomings of the collective logic on which EC/EU foreign policy was based and the ensuing lack of unified leadership. After decades of progressive Europeanisation, the Lisbon Treaty should have not only further centralised member states’ foreign policies but also filled this leadership vacuum through the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Nevertheless, informal groupings continued to steer EU approach to conflicts and crises, often by interacting with non-EU actors in institutionalised international cooperation settings without receiving a formal mandate from EU institutions and/or the other member states. How can we explain their emergence and various types in EU foreign policy?

The informal groupings considered are phenomena typical of the EU. In federal regimes and in international organizations alike, it has become a common practice for ad hoc coalitions of states to informally engage in differentiated efforts in international affairs. Nevertheless, these subnational actors do not generally engage in international settings dealing with matters under the exclusive jurisdiction of central governments, namely security-related issues.

At the same time, these informal groupings do not simply derive from the existence of overlapping international organizations in international security arrangements. They have a level of embeddedness in the EU formal institutional framework which is unprecedented in the interaction between ad hoc military coalitions and international/regional organisations. Moreover, member states participating in these informal groupings generally commit time and effort to sustaining EU policies on specific foreign policy issues in addition to those already devised by other member states and the EU as a whole.

These groups are not simply implementing branches of pre-determined EU policies. They often support, if not lead, the preparation, drawing up and evaluation of relevant EU policies on specific dossiers. Lastly, while national governments generally use ad hoc military coalitions for their immediate responses to imminent conflicts and crises, the informal groupings considered are persistent over time, as is epitomised by the informal group which has been participating in the Quint ever since 1994.

Nonetheless, to date, there is no systematic knowledge about informal groupings in EU foreign policy. Understanding their emergence and significance for EU foreign policy is particularly relevant in an international system marred by hard security concerns. This is even more so if one considers that external crises and conflicts are becoming increasingly multifaceted and transnational, and hence less solvable by EU member states individually.

My article argues that the emergence of informal groupings can be ascribed to conflicts among EU member states and the weakness of EU capacity for responding to conflicts and crises. At the same time, the article claims that the combination between the level of conflict intensity among EU member states and the EU level of capacity over time and across policy issues determines the development of specific informal groupings, and hence of specific manifestations of differentiation in relation to EU foreign policy. Kosovo, Libya and Syria represent three typical cases of the emergence and various manifestations of informal groupings.

Indeed, the Western Balkans’ Berlin Process and the P3+2 format in Libya indicate that when the member states generally agreed on a collective effort but lacked the capacities to address a specific policy issue, informal groupings have complemented the EU activities in international cooperation settings. While generating instances of combinative differentiation, they tempered the lack of effective policy co-ordination marring EU foreign policy.

At the same time, the Quint, the Berlin Process on Libya, and the International Syria Support Group show that when a high level of conflict intensity within the EU coupled with a high level of capacity, informal groupings manifested themselves as instances of cooperative differentiation in EU foreign policy. Nonetheless, when high intensity conflicts among EU member states have occurred and the EU has lacked the capacities to address specific issues, informal groupings have essentially replaced EU formal institutions. The Contact Group, the Friends of Libya Group and the Friends of Syria Group demonstrate that these groupings gave rise to forms of competitive differentiation within EU foreign policy.

One may wonder whether over time member states’ preferences for informal groups might reverse the progressive trend of centralisation of their foreign policies in the European integration process. As the informal groupings considered are an unprecedented phenomenon in both federal regimes and international organization, they inevitably raise an important theoretical challenge for the European integration of core state powers.

At first sight, these groupings seem to be positive devices rendering EU foreign policy more efficient and hence strengthening the EU stance in the international arena. Indeed, these distinctive patterns of interaction among member states may make EU foreign policy decision-making processes quicker and increase the likelihood that member states will devote their resources to achieving EU objectives in international politics.

Nonetheless, they cannot be considered a panacea for the urgent need to reform EU governance. Not only can informal groupings as they stand serve only short-term purposes but they are likely to sustain governance action in multiple segmented patterns thus hampering the overall consistency of EU foreign policy. In addition,  informal groupings are likely to decrease the already limited legitimacy of EU foreign policy. In fact, although their activities also have externalities on member states that are excluded from them, informal groupings lack mechanisms to ensure their accountability.

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré is Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (EUI). She is the author of ‘Informal groupings as types of differentiated cooperation in EU foreign policy: the cases of Kosovo, Libya, and Syria’, which is available here.

How Putin’s Increasingly Risky Decisions Shape Russia’s Wars

When invading Ukraine in early 2022, the Putin regime failed in its goals, predictably facing massive Ukrainian and Western resistance. Did the regime simply miscalculate or is it also becoming more accepting of risk? Confirming the latter, a recent article by Jonas J. Driedger shows how increasing risk acceptance has significantly shaped Russia’s offensive wars since the mid-2000s.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, it went up against a much more formidable opponent than in 2014, when Russia had annexed Crimea and started its semi-covert war in Donbass. Back then, Ukraine had been in political turmoil, its armed forces were poorly trained and ill-equipped, virtually nobody outside the Kremlin had expected the attack, and the West struggled to respond to the speed of events.

But in 2022, Ukrainian society was united and staunchly patriotic, its armed forces well-trained and ready, and the West had threatened massive retaliation months before the invasion took place. This different reality in 2022 was easily observable and could be corroborated by a wide array of publicly available information.

So why did the Putin regime decide to attack anyway?

In a recent article Jonas J. Driedger uncovers a key component of the Russian decision: By 2022, the Russian elite had become much more willing than it previously had to accept risks for itself, the Russian state, and for Russian society. In other words: Putin and those around him are observably becoming more reckless, and this process has been going on for a while.

For example, in 2022, Russia did not seek a credible pretext, broke international agreements and predictably faced a committed international backlash from the West.

Back in 2008, Russia also invaded another neighboring state, Georgia. But it only did so after Georgian troops had shelled secessionist territory. As there were Russian troops stationed there, Russia used this attack to claim both self-defense and humanitarian intervention, minimizing international backlash following the invasion.

The Russian regime also risked much more domestic backlash in 2022 than before.

In 2022, Russia unleashed an all-out invasion with massed troops, broadcasting the event to its own population, even though polling before the invasion had shown that Russians were worried about the fates of their loved ones in the case of a war with Ukraine.

This was not the case in 2014, where the regime denied use of Russian troops and annexed Crimea through an incremental operation, allowing the regime to avoid casualties and perceptions among Russians that it had tried and failed in a military operation.

Lastly, in 2022, the regime was also more willing to accept the risk of getting bogged down in the conflict, publicly announcing that the invasion would “de-militarize” and “de-nazify” Ukraine. Committing to the goal of all-out military victory, it became entangled in a grueling war of attrition.

In sharp contrast, in 2014 the regime undertook various measures so that it would not face exactly such a scenario during the Donbass War. By outright denying its role, using secret service personnel, mercenaries, criminals, and troops without uniforms, Russia was in a much better position to change plans if the situation called for it. In 2022, when facing staunch Ukrainian resistance, the regime did not double down. Rather, it wound down its goal of a pro-Russian “New Russia” (Новороссия) on Ukrainian territory, opting to exert influence through the much smaller pseudo-independent “People’s Republics” in Donbass and Luhansk.

All these findings flow from an analysis of all military operations that the Putin regime has undertaken against other states, zeroing in on observable trade-offs between risks and war-related goals using congruence and comparative analysis on policy documents, speeches, expert literature, and various interviews with Russian, Ukrainian, and Western policymakers. The article also checks for the role of miscalculation by juxtaposing relevant information available to Russian decisionmakers with the design of the operations, concluding that the finding of increased risk acceptance is robust.

The article also contributes to other areas of research. First, it provides a template to engage and measure risk acceptance in other cases, contributing to the explanation of other historically crucial cases and the further development of theories on the various interlinkages between risk acceptance and war onset. Second, the article questions the widely held assumption that risk acceptance is a historically rare and thus theoretically negligible factor. Third, the findings tentatively corroborate arguments based on prospect theory, which stipulate that leaders are biased toward recouping or avoiding perceived losses, driving both risk acceptance and war decisions. Indeed, the Putin regime waged all of its four offensive interstate operations against neighboring states that were seemingly shifting allegiances to the West.

Various findings of the article are relevant for policymaking vis-à-vis Russia. As the article finds that the regime’s risk acceptance has grown since the mid and late 2000s, the article cautions against a sole reliance on short-term, leader-specific factors and corroborates the significance of long-term developments, such as the role of increasingly autocratic institutions within Russia, or that of growing ties between Russia’s neighbors and US-led institutions, such as NATO.

However, on a cautiously optimistic note, the article also finds even the 2022 invasion still evinces limits of Russian risk acceptance. Albeit ineffectively, the Russian regime accepted trade-offs that jeopardized apparent war goals, for example, by using fewer troops than were warranted to placate anti-draft sentiments within Russian society. Additionally, while the regime has accepted further risks during the war through the unpopular partial mobilization of late-2022, the data suggests that the Russian regime can still be deterred or possibly also bargained with.

Jonas J. Driedger is the author of “Risk acceptance and offensive war: The case of Russia under the Putin regime”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Externalizing EU Crisis Management: The EU, OSCE and Ukraine

After years of progressive enhancement of EU crisis management capacities, the Lisbon Treaty should have turned the EU into a more efficient global crisis manager. Yet Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré finds, in a new article, that the EU has relied on third parties to achieve its crisis management objectives, essentially externalizing its activities to actors over which it has no control.

The past decade offers both well-known and lesser-known examples of such externalization across different crisis management areas. Among other cases, the EU’s recruited and supported civil society organizations to promote human rights and democracy in the Middle East and in Northern Africa after the Arab Uprisings; it enlisted the Libyan coastguard and Turkey to manage migratory flows across the Mediterranean; and it relied on the OECD to improve public governance and support socio-economic development in the Western Balkans’ process of democratic transition. Hence, the question arises: Why and how does the EU outsource its security?

Through the lenses of the orchestration model, my recent article addresses this question by examining the EU relationship with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe during the Ukrainian crisis. Not only the EU had deployed several CSDP missions in the eastern neighbourhood already before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, but the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the ensuing destabilisation of Ukraine were perceived as the most dangerous predicaments in post-Lisbon European security.

For sure, as this crisis unfolded, the EU devised a series of measures aimed at supporting Ukraine politically and economically. At the same time, while the EU sought to compel Russia to solve its conflict with Ukraine trough sanctions, it attempted to soft balance its position in Ukraine by boosting the resilience of the Ukrainian security sector through the civilian CSDP mission ‘EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Ukraine’. Still, to challenge Russia directly and confront Ukrainian separatists and Russian troops, the EU enlisted a third party over which it had no formal control: the OSCE.

My new article argues that the combination between the capability deficiencies across policy issues pertaining to EU crisis management activities and the OSCE’s capabilities determined the EU enlistment of the OSCE. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, EU member states favoured an approach that would avoid direct confrontation with Russia, particularly in eastern Ukraine where Russian troops and military equipment had been deployed.

Since the mobilization of EU military and civilian crisis management capabilities largely depends on member states’ unanimous consent and on their willingness’ to coordinate their resources on specific issues, the EU essentially lacked the operational capabilities to confront Russia directly. On the external level, in turn, EU lacked both the competence and the reputation for an acceptable intervention in the conflict. Addressing Ukraine’s destabilisation through NATO was not an option either. Not only Ukraine was not a member of the Atlantic Alliance, but NATO’s expansion was considered by many among the causes of the crisis.

Against this backdrop, OSCE’s regulatory competence over Moscow’s behaviour in Ukraine and its reputation vis-à-vis Russia were crucial in the EU’s decision to enlist this international organization. In fact, the OSCE was the only organisation within the European security architecture that could confront Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine directly. Since both Russia and Ukraine are participating states in this organisation, the OSCE had rights of implementation and enforcement over Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. Furthermore, the OSCE had a reputation for being an actor committed to ensuring cooperation between East and West.

The article’s findings have relevant implications for EU role as a conflict manager in international politics. Certainly, international organizations experience the absence of competence and/or reputation on a regular basis. Even if the EU had the competence and reputation to challenge Russia directly in the Ukrainian crisis, however, it would have not had the opportunity to mobilize the military and civilian capabilities needed to do this because of member states’ unwillingness to get directly involved in the conflict.

One could argue in this regard that decision-making stalemates and lack of political will to coordinate decentralized resources are typical of consensus based international organizations. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of a large part of the EU’s crisis management capabilities to member states’ contingent strategic preferences inevitably casts a shadow on the Lisbon Treaty’s attempts to boost the pooling of member states’ decentralized resources in the security domain.

The Ukrainian case demonstrates that orchestration has emerged as a crucial governance arrangement for the functioning of EU crisis management post-Lisbon. This governance arrangement can promote solutions to deal with contingent capability deficiencies which may mar different EU crisis management areas. In the case of Ukraine, outsourcing part of EU crisis management activities to the OSCE was not only necessary, but also appropriate given that the EU was perceived as being directly part of the conflict. Nonetheless, the EU’s adoption of orchestration to externalise its foreign policy activities raises serious questions about the EU’s overall capacity to act as a security provider through its crisis management activities.

For sure, the EU has enough ideational and material resources to guide and support third actors in addressing major security threats in its neighbourhood. In the long term, however, enrolling third parties cannot replace the lack of centralised operational capabilities at the EU level to respond to external conflicts and crises. Given the EU’s lack of control over its intermediaries, in fact, orchestration cannot be considered as a panacea for its structural deficiencies. This is especially so in policy sectors where the EU has so far mostly relied on member states’ voluntary coordination of their resources rather than on capacity-building, namely the CSDP’s military and civilian management; and the common foreign and security policy’s sanctioning power. Indeed, at a time when the West’s liberal values are being increasingly contested and hard security concerns have come back into the spotlight, the EU cannot afford to renounce to such crisis management tools.

Maria Giulia Amadio Viceré is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute (EUI) and a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at LUISS and a research associate at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). Her twitter account is @mariagiuliaama. She’s the author of “Externalizing EU Crisis Management: EU Orchestration of the OSCE during the Ukrainian crisis”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

Global Britain in the grey zone

In a recent article, Vladimir Rauta and Sean Monaghan analyze the new UK Integrated Review to understand how the United Kingdom attempts to grapple with its hybrid policy. They argue that this presents a good blueprint for thinking about some of the questions grey zone poses, not just for the UK but for all Western allies.

Over the past decade, trans-Atlantic and European security and defense policy have tried to make sense of the grey zone challenge. It framed this debate using a range of monikers: hybrid warfare/threats/interference, sub-threshold/hostile/malign activity, subversion and political warfare. What started with a discussion on combined modes of operations by supposedly weaker non-state armed actors such as Hezbollah took a life of its own in the aftermath of the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia.

On the one hand, with it came supposed Russian doctrines and repetitive claims that war and peace have merged into some strategic blur. On the other hand, it raised serious questions on security and defense policy, capability, and directions of military transformation and adaptation.

One such recent example is the United Kingdom’s (UK) review of national security, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (Integrated Review), published alongside a new Integrated Operating Concept 2025 (IOpC25) and the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) own contribution to the review, Defence in a Competitive Age. The review and its accompanying documents are part of a multi-level, multi-stakeholder conversation about how the UK should view and deal with the present and future security landscape, which for the Ministry of Defence will determine the shape of military capabilities and how they are employed in the years to come.

In our new article, we argue that this presents a good blueprint for thinking about some of the questions grey zone poses, especially as the UK has not the only nation to take a “hybrid-turn” in its security and defense policy in recent years. In fact, both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) have a strategy for countering hybrid threats—not to mention a dedicated institution in the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (NATO, 2017). Similarly, recent strategy documents published in the United States, Australia, France and Germany, all cite forms of hybrid or grey zone conflict as a primary challenge in the coming years.

Our argument invites scholars and policymakers alike to find utility in a simplified conceptual discussion based on distinguishing between threats and warfare. For better or worse, they are established policy terms which not only cement the idea that hybridity is a pervasive and constant feature of statecraft and warfare, but can help spark professional debates and public dialogue about evolving security threats in which both parties might play a part: Whether directly (e.g., cyber-security, disinformation, democratic interference, business resilience) or indirectly (e.g., in supporting government investment and the role of the Armed Forces in new security interventions, from NATO deployments to homeland resilience). Examples of the threat-warfare distinction currently in play include NATO’s policy and Counter Hybrid Threat Strategy, the EU’s “playbook” for countering hybrid threats, and the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats.

Against this background, we use the example of the UK’s attempts to grapple with its own hybrid policy as a national case study in closing the gap between rhetoric and practice which we call the stagecraft versus statecraft problem. There are two issues worth noting here. The first is the inconsistent and opaque language used by the UK government to describe a wide array of threats. The second problem is the need for concrete action to—in the words of Boris Johnson— “tackle hybrid warfare.”

The UK’s previous commitment to adapt to new hybrid realities also looked anemic when compared to the efforts of its allies and partners during the same period. Central European, Nordic, and Baltic nations revitalized Cold War “total defence” style strategies—complemented by highly visible strategic communications campaigns—while the United States Marine Corps spent a year experimenting to develop their new role in countering gray zone strategies and the Australian 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan offer significant detail on the changes to strategy, force structure, and capability.

In contrast to previous efforts, the Integrated Review sets out a clear strategic approach towards hybrid threats through “a force structure that principally deters through ‘persistent engagement’ below the threshold of war”. It also backs this up with a wide array of measures to deliver and enhance the capability required to deliver this vision. In doing so it builds on the UK’s conventional prowess as one of only two NATO allies capable of wielding nuclear, offensive cyber, precision strike weapons and fifth-generation strike aircraft—plus a carrier strike group and “Tier 1” Special Forces. These forces underpin existing contributions to NATO operations in the Baltics, high readiness forces and major multinational exercises—including framework nation leadership through the Joint Expeditionary Force, a multinational force comprising the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, which “offers these countries flexible options for managing sub-threshold competition”.

These are much-welcomed developments on which we draw to outline some avenues—informally, through a series of questions, puzzles and lessons—designed to help international policy and research communities align their efforts to address their own stagecraft-statecraft dichotomies. In doing so, we hope to support international efforts to discover just what the fundamental transformation advocated by the UK establishment really means in practice. For hybrid threats, we highlight three key questions or puzzles that are raised through the UK’s review, but not quite answered: Tolerance, going beyond deterrence, and the role of defense. Taken together they are useful for those wishing to further develop policy and scholarship on countering hybrid threats.

For hybrid warfare, we argue the policy agenda has to be reset and reconfigured in three ways. First and foremost, around conventional war/warfare, understood primarily through the lens of inter-state war. Second, to conceptualize and engage with the “combination” problem: That future adversaries are likely to mix and match forms and modes of warfare to offset conventional battlefield strength. Third, to avoid “Next-War-itis” and instead seek to be prepared for a range of contingencies across conflict and actor spectra.

As such, our article has focused on two related—but distinct—challenges that emanate from this environment: hybrid threats and hybrid warfare. It used the UK’s review to reveal lessons and insights for international policymakers and scholars also grappling with these challenges, forming these into policy and research guidance for both. Yet a closer look reveals a series of lessons, questions, and puzzles on tackling hybrid challenges to which the UK does not provide such convincing answers. These were used to draw a tentative way forward for international scholars and policymakers, using our threats-warfare distinction to provide some structure.

Taken together, this series of questions left hanging by the UK’s review form a loose research agenda for those in the international community developing policy and scholarship on countering hybrid threats and dealing with hybrid warfare—and in so doing, take further steps on their own journeys from stagecraft to statecraft.

Vladimir Rauta and Sean Monaghan are the authors of the article “Global Britain in the grey zone: Between stagecraft and statecraft”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming, which can be accessed here

Ambiguity of hybrid warfare

Understanding what hybrid warfare means to political and military representatives allows us to correctly interpret country’s policies and countermeasures. In a recent article, Silvie Janičatová and Petra Mlejnková analyze the British political-military discourse on Russia’s hostile activities, and the role of defense policy in countering it. This gives us a bottom up understanding of hybrid warfare.

“Hybrid warfare” and “Russia” have become connectively used words in political, military, academic, or even public spheres almost on daily basis since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Still, there is a fair amount of ambiguity in describing what hybrid warfare means, let alone the correct use of the term itself, which is further reinforced by conflicting arguments about the novelty of this concept. Such lack of clarity raises the question of how a particular country and its leaders understand hybrid warfare, which has important implications for formulating respective policies and countermeasures.

This article focuses on the British political-military discourse on hybrid warfare in the context of Russia’s hostile activities and the role of defense policy in the period 2014-2019. However, rather than examining this issue solely by applying the concept itself, as compared to other studies, a bottom-up approach, qualitative content analysis with quantitative aspects in particular, is used to obtain results from 68 primary sources of various actors relevant to British defense. The analysis itself aims at three areas: terms used to describe Russia’s hostile activities; Russia’s hostile activities abroad and their perception including corresponding tools and methods; and UK’s response to Russia’s hostile activities.

The results provide number of interesting insights and allow to indicate further implications. For example, the representatives not only used a wide range of different terms to describe Russia’s hostile activities, which corresponds with the overall ambiguity of hybrid warfare and its conceptualization and which tends to approach this issue in a further context, but the quantitative perspective further showed that they highlighted information and cyber warfare more often in comparison to other particular components of hybrid warfare definitions.

In the context of the UK, this calls for a more unified understanding of the issue, whether it could be in the form of adopting NATO’s approach to hybrid threats or formulating UK’s own perspective, for example, within the MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project which the UK is a member of. And since there is naturally a risk of creating more ambiguity than there already is, it is crucial to base such an approach on facts and proper understanding of Russia’s aims, tools and methods, since it would have additional implications for response measures.

Similarly, while keeping in mind the limits of generalization of one case study, these results also deserve some attention in regard to the hybrid warfare debate since they raise the question whether hybrid warfare is not really just a label primarily used for political purposes and it is really more suitable to research the particular components – an approach already held in academic circles.

Another example is the role of defense policy in countering hybrid warfare in the context of Russia, which was undoubtedly recognized in the British political-military discourse, although its engagement was considered being ultimately dependent on the nature of a particular hybrid threat that Russia poses. The results and their analysis may represent a helping tool in interpreting British strategic documents (including the potential differences between the political-military discourse and the documents), decisions made in relation to defense (such as preferences in development of particular capabilities or support of certain propositions at NATO level), or related countermeasures. And if additional data and governmental actors were added to the analysis, this approach could also be adopted towards other British policies which are impacted by the same threat.

Last but not least, the article shows that focusing on hybrid warfare within a particular discourse can provide interesting insights into particular country’s understanding of the concept as well as respective policies and countermeasures. The case study of the UK could thus serve as an example for researching political-military discourses in other countries/institutions that also have to deal with such a threat, in order to generate more data and even provide some comparisons, and the applied bottom-up approach, which proved its usefulness in analyzing such discourse, may represent a way how to achieve it.

Silvie Janičatová and Petra Mlejková are researchers at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, the Czech Republic. They are the authors of “The Ambiguity of Hybrid Warfare: A Qualitative Content Analysis of the United Kingdom’s Political-Military Discourse on Russia’s Hostile Activities and the Role of Defense”, Contemporary Security Policy, which can be accessed here.

 

 

Resilience and EU refugee policy: A smokescreen for political agendas?

“Resilience” enjoys widespread uptake across many and diverse domains – including security and crisis response. Shrouded in ambiguity and uncertainty, however, it may be just a buzzword as we know little about the implications of resilience as a strategy to insecurity and crisis. Exploring resilience in EU humanitarian and development policy and how it translates into practice in Jordan and Lebanon, we argue in a recent article that resilience-building may function as a smokescreen for buttressing “Fort Europe” against migrants and refugees. 

 “Resilience” enjoys widespread uptake across many and diverse domains, from technology to business management, to urban planning and counselling. The word stems from the Latin “resilire” – to leap or jump back. It gained traction in the 1970s, when the Canadian ecologist Holling defined resilience as the ability of ecological systems to absorb change and disturbance. Borrowing from Holling, risk scholars like Wildavsky viewed resilience as “the capacity to cope with unanticipated dangers after they have become manifest, learning to bounce back”. Wildavsky argued that resilience was a more effective and cheaper strategy to deal with risks than anticipation and prevention. From the 1990s onwards, resilience became an integral component of disaster risk reduction (DRR) programmes, aimed at minimising the impact of natural disasters and enhancing recovery.

Policymakers have recently started to use resilience in the context of man-made disasters and crisis. For example, resilience has been identified as a major leitmotif in the 2016 European Union (EU) Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy. Prior to the Global Strategy, resilience was already an important component of EU humanitarian and development policies, especially in the context of migration and forced displacement. The EU was not the first to use this buzzword: the UK placed resilience at the centre of its humanitarian and development aid in 2011. Shortly thereafter, USAID published policy and programme guidelines for “building resilience to recurrent crisis”. United Nations (UN) agencies and large international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) currently all have policies, guidelines and programmes aimed at building resilience. 

Despite its widespread uptake, uncertainty remains about what resilience is, how it translates into practice, and the implications of resilience-building as a response to insecurity and crisis, qualifying resilience as a buzzword. The ambiguity surrounding buzzwords often lead scholars and practitioners to dismiss them as empty and meaningless. Yet buzzwords generally espouse strong (normative) ideas about what they are supposed to bring about. The assumptions and rationales underlying buzzwords, moreover, frequently remain unquestioned, making them interesting to study. In our recent article, we examine the EU turn to resilience by analysing key EU humanitarian and development policies. Subsequently, we delve into an empirical example of resilience-building in Jordan and Lebanon to explore how this buzzword translates into practice.  

Our policy analysis yields two aspects that are key in EU resilience thinking. First, resilience-building requires humanitarian and development actors to be simultaneously involved in crisis response and to work closely together. The so-called “humanitarian-development nexus” resonates with older concepts aimed at bridging the ideological and institutional divide between humanitarian and development actors, such as Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development (LRRD). 

Second, resilience assigns significant importance to ‘the local’. This means, firstly, that the EU recognizes the importance of understanding context-specific vulnerabilities and their (root) causes, as well as what local capacities exist that humanitarian and development interventions could tap into, build upon, and strengthen. Next, resilience is strongly framed as the responsibility of national governments and local authorities. Finally, the EU constructs refugees in particular as an asset to host-country economies, their resilience dependent on access to host-countries’ formal labour markets. Refugees are turned into a development opportunity for refugee-hosting states – but at the same time constitute a threat to Europe.

How do these different aspects of resilience translate into practice in Jordan and Lebanon? Jordan and Lebanon host the largest number of Syrian refugees in respect to the size of their population. Government estimates indicate Jordan hosts up to 1.3 million refugees and Lebanon 1.5 million – respectively 13 and 25% of their population. In response to the challenges of Syria’s neighbouring countries, the multi-agency response framework – the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) – was established in 2015. 

In line with EU thinking, the 3RP combines a humanitarian response to protect Syrian refugees with a development response to build the resilience of national government and affected host communities. Although the 3RP structure simultaneously engages humanitarian and development actors in the response, evidence shows that different funding modalities and tensions between (leading) UN agencies weaken rather than strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus in practice. 

Second, whereas the 3RP country chapters are officially under the leadership of the Jordanian and Lebanese government, significant challenges arise in practice. Especially the involvement of Lebanese authorities was limited at the start of the crisis, its later statements and measures straining its relationship with the international community. Evidence indicating that Lebanon may strategically maintain the precariousness of Syrian refugees’ lives, moreover, points at the need for caution in insisting on national governments’ responsibility. 

Finally, the same framing of refugees as a development opportunity underlies initiatives like the EU-Jordan Trade Agreement, which promises access to EU markets in exchange for refugee work permits. The nature of the Jordanian and Lebanese labour market – in combination with structural political, social and economic problems – makes refugees’ employment as a pathway to resilience an unlikely reality. It also constructs refugees as a commodity, to be exchanged for aid. 

In conclusion, the way in which resilience is understood and the challenges it generates when translating resilience into practice, make us wonder whether this buzzword is not just a smokescreen for ulterior political motives. Building the resilience of “countries of origin and transit” may conveniently prevent migration, meanwhile externalizing the control of migration and forced displacement to crisis-affected states. As Jordan and Lebanon continue to struggle with the impact of the crisis, the EU’s strategy of refugee containment may instead increase their vulnerability, ultimately threatening rather than safeguarding the security of Europe.

Rosanne Anholt and Giulia Sinatti work at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. They are the authors of “Under the guise of resilience: The EU approach to migration and forced displacement in Jordan and Lebanon”, Contemporary Security Policy, which is available here.

Resilience and local ownership in the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy

The EU Global Strategy (2016) and the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (2015) initiated a new approach in the EU’s neighbourhood policy, with resilience and local ownership being hallmarked as the guiding principles. In a new article, Irina Petrova and Laure Delcour explore what meaning the EU attaches to these concepts and whether the recent narrative shift also brought about changes in the EU’s practices in the neighbourhood.

In the face of increasing instability and multiple crises, the European Union has recently embraced the concept of resilience as a governance strategy. As argued by Nathalie Tocci, “the EU acknowledged the need to build risk and uncertainty into its policies: The fact that developments in our surrounding regions (and beyond) are not simply beyond our full comprehension, but also and above all beyond our control.” Resilience therefore implies a greater reliance on the partners’ domestic structures. This puts local ownership at the heart of the EU’s foreign policy approach.

Although resilience and local ownership have been, for over a decade, studied in the context of peacebuilding and development, the extension of these concepts to other EU policies has yet to be scrutinized. We seek to enrich the understanding of the interplay between these two concepts by exploring how they are used in the neighbourhood policy (more specifically, its eastern dimension), a key foreign policy priority of the EU.

Our analysis of the EU’s foreign policy documents highlights a narrative shift. While the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) policy was previously built on the modernization theory (according to which external actors provide ready-made policy templates to be applied by domestic actors), after the 2015/2016 policy revision it increasingly refers to tailor-made cooperation templates and broad societal involvement. This signals a shift to a hybrid perspective on resilience-building, whereby resilience envisages the adaptation of domestic structures based on external templates, but only under the condition that they fit well with the local context.

Yet to what extent has this narrative turn also brought about actual change in the EU’s practices in its eastern neighbourhood? To answer this question, we traced the EU’s objectives, instruments and mechanisms in three pivotal areas of cooperation with eastern neighbours: trade, mobility, and good governance. Our findings reveal similar patterns across all three sectors. 

First, in contrast to broad conceptualization of resilience and local ownership in the EU’s rhetoric, the toolbox used in the EaP reflects a narrow operationalization of these concepts. For instance, policy instruments used as part of the visa liberalisation process or the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements indicate the EU’s framing that resilience of the EaP states can only be enhanced via the adoption of Western/European (or EU-promoted) standards. Despite the promise of a tailor-made approach, the cases of Azerbaijan and Belarus are particularly illustrative of the fact that approximation with European standards is still expected (albeit on the smaller scale) even from those partners who insisted on building a truly common bilateral agenda.  

Second, all three sectors show that the EU has left little scope (if any) to accommodate the preferences of those countries seeking closer ties with the EU, when these preferences diverged from its own vision. This continued reliance on the modernization paradigm in resilience-building reduced the space for the local ownership. 

Third, limited local ownership implies a logic of subordination between domestic and  external actors. This is despite the emphasis placed on partnership, ownership and dialogue in the EU’s narrative. Hence, our article confirms that the vision of the EU’s resilience-building in the neighbourhood aims at an effective governance of the EaP countries, rather than the genuine empowerment of local actors [hyperlink to the Introduction to the SI]. Therefore, if the EU is serious about adopting resilience as a way to navigate in an increasingly unstable and uncertain world, a substantial overhaul of policy practices is still required to match the narrative turn.

Irina Petrova is a doctoral researcher at the Leuven International and European Studies (LINES) Institute at KU Leuven. Laure Delcour is an Associate Professor in European Studies and International Relations, Université Paris 3-Sorbonne nouvelle (Paris). The are the authors of “From principle to practice? The resilience–local ownership nexus in the EU Eastern Partnership policy”, Contemporary Security Policy, which is available here

U.S. troops abroad lower allies’ will to fight for their own country

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (2-L), Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (C), US President Donald Trump (2-R) look on as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a working dinner meeting at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) headquarters in Brussels on May 25, 2017 during a NATO summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Matt Dunham (Photo credit should read MATT DUNHAM/AFP/Getty Images)U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized allies for their lack of contributions to common security and defense efforts. A new article in Contemporary Security Policy shows he is partially right: The presence of U.S. military personnel abroad, while bolstering U.S global influence, also lowers the willingness of the host states’ citizens to fight for their own country.

U.S. President Donald Trump is clear in his demand that allies must contribute far more to common defense efforts. Even before becoming president, he claimed that allies “are not paying their fair share” and that they “must contribute toward their financial, political, and human costs … of our tremendous security burden”; and that if they do not, “the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”

In short, the message is that defense burdens are unequally shared, and that allies unfairly free-ride on The United States’s military might. The United States’s military might, for its part, is unprecedented and unrivaled. The U.S. military budget exceeds 600 billion dollars, accounting for over one-third of world total military spending. The U.S. also has a vast, globally-spanning network of military bases, which no other country comes close to equaling.

These overseas military facilities have many noteworthy effects. One is that they significantly augment U.S. influence abroad and contribute to upholding U.S. hegemony – or Pax Americana. Another is that forward-deployed U.S. troops provide a “tripwire” that credibly conveys to any enemy of the ally that an attack on the latter will most likely draw in the United States. The tripwire function served by U.S. soldiers was brilliantly described by Thomas Schelling at the height of the Cold War; the same rationale still underlies much of U.S. base policies, including in states such as Japan, South Korea, and recently Poland as well. When U.S. troops are placed “in harm’s way,” deterrence is markedly strengthened. But so, too, is the ally’s knowledge that their patron cannot realistically abandon them. The ally’s scope for free-riding is therefore inevitably linked to the tripwire mechanism.

For U.S. allies, then, butter can to an extent be substituted for guns. This lies at the core of President Trump’s admonitions about allies’ purported free-riding: Their military spending usually make up only a meager share of total national income. On the other hand, it is quite common for allies of the United States to reciprocate by contributing in other ways; they often make other important policy concessions – such as providing access or basing rights, making financial contributions to the alliance, or, more generally, aligning their foreign policies closer to the United States.

This also means that it is not a straightforward exercise to measure whether allies “free-ride” on the United States. Still, the problem is more salient when burden-sharing and free-riding are conceived of as material – that is, as highly tangible – concepts (such as defense spending as a share of GDP). These are eminently measurable factors that the United States can influence quite directly. Things differ, however, when we consider the attitudes, norms, and values of the allies’ populace, such as the willingness to fight for their own country. The U.S. can certainly not have any direct power over the sentiments of people, which are exclusively intangible factors. This implies that, if the deployment of U.S. troops causes a lowering of citizens’ willingness to fight for their own country, the latter cannot as easily be compensated by policy concessions in other areas. Free-riding might therefore be more prevalent in its non-material version.

In our empirical analysis, which covers the period 1989–2014, we rely on global survey data that draw on the responses of over 200,000 people in about 100 countries. Our results show that citizens’ willingness to fight for their own country drops markedly if U.S. troops are stationed on their soil. Even when we control for a number of other relevant factors that can impact willingness to fight, U.S. overseas military bases remain a potent predictor. The forward-deployment of U.S. troops seems – as an unintended consequence – to contribute significantly to non-material free-riding by allies of the United States.

The results also indicate the existence of a tripwire- or free-riding threshold. One hundred U.S. troops, for example, are largely insufficient for purposes of creating a tripwire effect. A few hundred troops, however, may well be enough. And once U.S. troops numbers pass 500, and in particular 1000, it seems that the host state’s citizens become firmer still in their belief that their state’s defense has been credibly outsourced to the United States. These numbers approximate the size of a battalion – that is to say, an independently-functioning military unit. A battalion-sized U.S. force is a fully-working tripwire. But a battalion-sized U.S. force thereby also signals that the United States is providing for the defense of its ally – which essentially means that less is required by the ally itself.

The empirical evidence of non-material free-riding means that President Trump (and the many who share his opinion) is not necessarily in the wrong when he claims that allies free-ride. However, it is also true that U.S. alliances and forward-deployed troops are not acts of charity. They are, in fact, key ingredients of a long-standing grand strategy that stresses the centrality of a global presence; vital U.S. security and economic goals are served by the network of bases. Both the United States and its allies gain much and lose a bit from such relationships. For that reason alone, we can surely expect that the debates and bargaining about defense burdens and free-riding will continue for a long time.

Jo Jakobsen is a professor in political science at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Department of Sociology and Political Science. Tor G. Jakobsen is a professor in political science at NTNU Business School. They are authors of “Tripwires and free-riders: Do forward-deployed U.S. troops reduce the willingness of host-country citizens to fight for their country?”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming.

Alliance Entrapment and the Foreign Policy of Donald Trump

lanoszkaIn a new article in Contemporary Security Policy, Alexander Lanoszka provides a new conceptual framework to study how allies can entrap the United States in their conflicts. He argues that the Trump administration is actually attuned to those entrapment risks.

When Donald J. Trump became U.S. President in January 2017, many observers feared that he would abandon U.S. deterrence and defense measures in Europe in favor of rapprochement with Russia. After all, during his campaign he strongly criticized fellow members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as having suckered the United States into shouldering their defense burdens and even bearing the risk of their foreign policies. Yet almost one year into office the Trump administration has seen Montenegro join NATO, signaled strong support to Poland, contemplated selling lethal arms to Ukraine, and even approved of Georgia’s stance in its territorial disputes with Russia.

Foreign policy experts might be forgiven for thinking that Trump plays fast and loose with the so-called alliance dilemma. This alliance dilemma arises when a defender calibrates its security commitments to its ally. If the ally is confident that the defender will rescue it, then that ally might take undesirable risks. The defender thus worries of entrapment—that is, of being dragged into unwanted wars. However, if that ally doubts that it can truly rely on its defender in a future crisis, then it fears abandonment. Whereas Trump generated abandonment fears as presidential candidate, his actions as president might be seen as being blind to entrapment risks.

Are they really so blind, though? In a new Contemporary Security Policy article, I argue that international relations scholars have postulated different accounts of what shapes entrapment risks, often advancing theoretically incomplete arguments and contradictory policy prescriptions when taken together. Moreover, scholars often have overlooked how an underlying conflict makes both alliance formation and war more likely, making it empirically difficult to tease out an underlying entrapment risk from confounding factors. Leaders might even discount entrapment risks in pursuing their international strategies.

Four factors allegedly drive entrapment risks. One is institutional: by giving carte blanche to an ally, the defender emboldens that ally to adopt a risky foreign policy that raises the likelihood of water. Another is systemic: the number of major powers in the international system (i.e. system polarity) and whether attacking is easier than defending. If attack is easy and at least three great powers exist, then entrapment is likely because the defender will see the ally as necessary for maintaining a favorable balance of power. The third factor is reputation. An ally might believe that it will receive the support of a defender eager to preserve its commitments just for the sake of appearing reliable.

The final factor is transnational ideological. In the case of NATO, the alliance evolved from securing members against the Soviet threat to defending liberal democratic values. Accordingly, states that appeal to those values can maximize their likelihood in gaining support from that alliance, especially if they can also leverage elite networks.

Some critics argue that Georgia tailored its institutions to extract U.S. and NATO support in the years leading up to the August 2008 war with Russia. Indeed, those critics contend that Georgian leaders came to believe that alliance support was forthcoming even though their country failed in its application for the Membership Action Plan (MAP) earlier that same year. Their confidence made Georgian leaders more aggressive towards Russia than what was rationally justifiable, thereby creating the danger for that local conflict to spiral out of control.

These four accounts are compelling, but they do not square with other observations about international politics and even imply contradictory policy prescriptions. States can use institutional mechanisms—such as treaty precision and conditionality—to attenuate entrapment risks. Yet systemic drivers leave states powerless to formulate policies that would minimize entrapment risks. Moreover, defenders also wish to have reputations for not being reckless with their alliance commitments.

Arguments emphasizing transnational ideological networks need to explain why a pro-ally lobby should succeed in influencing the foreign policy of a defender over other competing interests. Indeed, in the Georgian case, such arguments need to explain why Georgia succeeded in eliciting support from the United States, Poland, and the Baltic countries but not from Western European allies. They also need to explain why Georgia still felt emboldened to behave aggressively towards Russia despite its rejected MAP application. Perhaps Georgian leaders like then President Mikheil Saakashvili were prone to misperceptions, hot-headedness, and other decision-making biases that would have raised the likelihood of war even in the absence of NATO.

What do these observations mean for comprehending Trump’s policy towards Europe and Russia? One take-away is that the Trump administration is not only attuned to entrapment risks, but even accepts them so as to place further pressure on Russia. By having allies become stronger vis-à-vis Russia, the Trump administration may believe that it is enhancing deterrence.

Indeed, many of the accounts of entrapment described above overlook a basic analytical issue—that is, conflict drives both alliance formation and the war. More conflict means a great acceptance of alliance entanglements and higher likelihood of war breaking out. The Trump administration may not want war with Russia, but it nevertheless believes that peace is best achieved through strength.

Alexander Lanoszka is lecturer in the Department of International Politics at City, University of London. His new Contemporary Security Policy article may be accessed here. For more on his research, please visit his website at www.alexlanoszka.com. You may also follow him on Twitter.