Fri. Jul 19th, 2024
EU HRVP Borrell emphasized a renewed importance to the ‘security’ part of his job. Image: EEAS, 2023

Brussels, 3 July 2023

What security means is constantly changing and taking on new dimensions. Security is related to threats and conflicts. And today we have both old and new types of conflicts; both visible and invisible wars. As EU, we need to see the whole board, connect the dots and act as one.

Security used to be mostly associated in people’s minds with military threats and defence capabilities. As Russia’s war against Ukraine rages, it is clear that this type of conflict is, sadly, far from over. But we also see ‘war by other means’, as the title of the book by Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris put it. More countries are using all manner of tools, short of military force, to influence, coerce or otherwise try to get ahead.

In many ways, this is nothing new. To try to coerce and force changes in people’s behaviour without going to war is as old as history. I well remember the long economic blockade of the Franco regime in Spain after World War 2 or the even longer US economic blockade of Cuba nowadays. And of course we ourselves have adopted restrictive measure, often colloquially called ‘sanctions’, against Russia.

Nowadays the very notion of security is changing and expanding. These days many adjectives are put before the noun security: we hear about energy and climate security, cyber security, food security, economic security etc.

Presenting a new outlook on security at the EU ISS annual conference

All this gives a renewed importance to the ‘security’ part of my job as High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy. And it enhances the relevance and role of the EU Institute for Security Studies as much as the war against Ukraine has enhanced the importance of the work of the European Defence Agency. I chair the Board of both organisations and I would like to stress the importance of their work.

Last week we had annual conference of the EU Institute for Security Studies. This conference is where and when Europe’s strategic community gets together and discusses what threats we face – and what we can do about them. For me it was a good opportunity to set out what security means and make some links with the Joint Communication on economic security presented the week before (see my previous blog post on that).

It was also a good occasion to thank the Institute’s outgoing Director, Gustav Lindstrom, for his good work during the last 5 years. The Board of the Institute has recently appointed Steven Everts as the new Director of the EU ISS. He will now continue to lead the vital the Institute’s vital work to support EU foreign and security policy, making best use of its intellectual capacities and creativity while maximising its policy relevance and visibility.  

In my introductory remarks I tried to explain why and how we should adopt a broad approach to “security” and formulate an integrated response.  

As a start one has to look at the factors shaping the new global landscape: the trend towards bipolar US-China strategic competition spreading to all areas, coupled with messy multi-polarity and growing assertiveness and hedging behaviour by emerging countries.

In security terms, we see both old and new wars: brutal, high-intensity war on our doorstep and arms races worldwide. In Europe, defence spending has gone up by 30% since 2013, but in Asia it has risen by 45% as I said at the Shangri La Dialogue. If people spend more on defence, that is because they feel insecure. At the same time, we see the rise in hybrid wars and the weaponisation of everything.

From an economic point of view we see a paradigm shift from the primacy of open markets to the primacy of security; from ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’. Linked to this, we have growing competition over critical raw materials, especially those needed for the green transition. Finally, on technology we see strategic competition over technological supremacy. Technology is both a tool to fight with and an arena to fight in.

If you add all his up, two main conclusions emerge:

  1. This is a competitive, power-political world. In a world of giants, you need size and scale to survive: Europe must have the ambition to be a pole – and act as one.
  2. We need to see the whole board as everything is connected. We need a broad prism and an integrated security approach. Together with the green and digital transitions, maybe this should be the ‘third transition’ for the EU?

In principle, we as EU have certain advantages to deal with this new global landscape. We can cover the full spectrum of threats with a full spectrum of tools: diplomacy, civilian and military crisis management tools, financial and technical assistance, restrictive measures, regulatory powers, etc..

Of course, in practice, we often act in silos. And the need for unanimity means we can be slow. However, the war against Ukraine has accelerated our ability to think and act in geopolitical terms. Take our impressive success in ending our toxic dependence on Russian gas imports in less than 12 months. Nobody thought we could do it, but we have, cutting in half Russia’s 2022 energy revenues.

Or, take our work on countering foreign interference and the manipulation of information. This is a growing threat to our security and democracies with adversaries trying to conquer not territory but the hearts and minds of people. A few years ago, we had nothing in the EU to counter this. Now we have Task Forces in the EEAS, the EUvsDisinfo sites and a good network with member states, civil society and the private sector.

Economic security as part of foreign policy

Perhaps the most topical example is the debate around economic security and resilience. It is right at the top of the European agenda and was also discussed by EU leaders at their last Summit.

The starting point has to be that open markets, economic integration and rules-based trade have been good for our prosperity. They have also helped to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty worldwide. However, clearly we are now in a new historical phase. The time of “la mondialisation heureuse” is over. The benefits of economic integration are being re-evaluated through the lens of national security.

We have seen clear examples how others, including adversaries, are using market-distorting techniques for political purposes as well as economic coercion. We cannot be naïve. And we aren’t.

In recent years, the EU has taken several measures to protect itself from security risks and excessive dependencies. From the 5G toolkit to inward investment screening; from measures on procurement and subsidise to the anti-coercion instrument.

If you add it all up, it is quite a lot. Yet, it is not enough as the landscape around us keeps changing. This is why I as High Representative have, together with the Commission, put forward a set of ideas for a new approach on economic security including possible measures on outbound investment and high tech exports with national security implications.

In all this, we have to protect EU operators and citizens from economic risks and threats. But at the same time, we must make sure that when addressing these risks we do not unduly harm relations with third countries whose cooperation we continue to need.

We do not want to fuel fragmentation in the world; splitting it into two blocs or eco-systems. We have to look at how our ideas and measures are seen by the rest of the world. What does it mean for our credibility and for multilateralism?

For example, the term de-risking is central to this debate and rightly so. Who likes to run risks? But de-risking is itself not without risks. Cutting our energy imports from Russia and accelerating investment in renewables are good. However, they have increased our exposure to China, which controls 80-90% of the refining, and end products needed for the green transition.

And it is not always easy to say objectively where de-risking ends and de-coupling begins. Where you stand on this, depends on where you sit.

The European Council confirmed the strategic importance of this file and the need for a delicate balance between two different requirements: protecting ourselves from new threats and risks from excessive dependencies while protecting our freedoms and expanding our geopolitical influence. Get it right, and then all three go together. If we get it wrong then all three could be in danger.

Source – EEAS

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