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Europe’s ‘Comprehensive Approach’ – Ability or Rhetoric?

February 4, 2013

Mali’s Crisis Leaves Europe Paralyzed

In the realm of the Obama Administration’s “Asia Pivot” , one might think that European policy makers must had prepared for what United States’ new strategic corner in Asia will mean for the future of European defense. In the light of the removal of 11,000 American troops from Europe, including two infantry combat brigades from Germany, one might think that European policy makers had replaced those troops with flexible rapid response teams with increased defense capabilities. And in the purview of the intervention in Libya in 2011, which highlighted the limits of Europe’s defense and crisis management capabilities, one might think that European policy makers must have had a series of crisis meetings that would have identified solutions to those limits.

So, with the security of Europe at stake, has Brussels managed to get its house in order?

As Mali, a textbook case of a crisis, came knocking on Brussels’ doorstep in March of last year, one might have thought that this must have been the perfect opportunity to prove that Europe can manage a crisis in its backyard, without the help of United States.

But no.

What the crisis in Mali really proved is Europe’s continued reluctance to develop a substantial military force that can help prevent these types of crises’ (which European leaders publicly preaches about to prevent.) It proves that Europe and NATO’s “comprehensive approach” is simply based on political rhetoric’s without any teeth. Finally, it proves, once again, that the European Union rather focuses on carefully supporting a “training mission” for the Malian forces, in order to avoid the critical question of defining the circumstances in which Europe will legally be able to use force. Even with United Nations backing and Resolution 2085, Europe still seems to be reluctant to mobilize the full array of foreign policy instruments at its disposal, including the deployment of battle groups.

So far, France has only received logistical support from some of its European allies, such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. The most notable support has been delivered by the United States with regards to the critical task of airlift support and aerial refueling, capabilities which Europe currently lacks.

Surely, Europe’s decision to only support the training missions is rooted in the Unions economic constraints. But it is also rooted in the competing political objectives of how the Union should respond to a crisis outside of its borders. Whether it is Europe’s policymakers’ lack of interest to intervene in Mali or simply the threat of loosing a corner office in a European capital by doing so, may have tremendous consequences, particularly as security experts have argued for years that Mali could become a new hub for terrorism.

While NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued that the French unilateral action in Mali directly points to the holes in European defense capabilities, it also points to the holes in the Unions political will of even wanting to become a strategically relevant actor in world affairs. But as the United States is shifting its priorities towards the Pacific, it has now become crucial for Europe to improve the continent’s defense capabilities. It is time for Europe to agree upon political objectives and realize that it cannot face a choice between soft or hard power. It must be able to combine both if it wants to achieve its political goals.


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