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.

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