French President Macron in the summit in Versailles in March 2022 said that the Ukrainian crisis “completely redefines the architecture of our Europe… [this crisis] will make the continent change even faster and stronger”, adding that “Europe must prepare itself for all scenarios…Europe must prepare itself to be independent of Russian gas, to be independent to ensure its own defence”[i] – thereby emphasising on the idea of strategic autonomy to make EU self-reliant and assertive on the world stage. The Ukrainian crisis is turning out to be a watershed moment for the European security architecture established in the aftermath of the Second World War. While the debates on the EU’s security architecture are not new, the crisis appears to be changing the way Europeans think and debate about security. The paper looks at the European security architecture and analyses the impact of the crisis.
European Security Architecture – Brief Introduction
The European security architecture has developed at two levels – first, at the Transatlantic Alliance level under the umbrella of NATO; and second, at the European level under different initiatives taken by European Community and later European Union. Following is the brief analysis of the various structures:
The European security architecture established at the beginning of the Cold War was centred on a balance of conventional power backed by nuclear deterrence. The idea was not only to stop large-scale aggression but also to limit the unnecessary conflicts within the continent. Declaring that they are “resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security,” 12 founding members of NATO signed the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949, making the alliance as the core security provider for the West. Seventy years since, challenges before the NATO have changed considerably. Nonetheless, the core of the Transatlantic security Alliance still rests on three pillars: common interests and values; political cohesion; and a sharing of the burden for collective defence.
In the post-Cold War period, the Alliance evolved into an outward looking organisation from its Cold-War agenda of a military coalition designed for warfare against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. During this period, NATO expanded to become an organisation of 30 member states. It undertook varied operation beyond its traditional areas of interest. It also modified itself for expeditionary interventions and acting as the force integrator in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. To strengthen its eastern flank, in the aftermath of Crimean crisis of 2014, it opened new command centres in eight member states: Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. It has also strengthened its defences in the Black Sea region by creating a new multinational force in Romania.
European Security Initiatives
During the Cold War period, the security of Europe was guaranteed by the US and NATO, giving the nascent European community time to integrate politically and economically. However, there were attempts made at the European level to carve a defence identity for the European community, the first such attempt can be traced back to 1950s with the French proposal of establishment of European Defence Community, however, the initiative did not pan out. The second attempt was seen during the 1970s with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 on Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The military dimension of the document defined the security architecture for the European regions as - first, refrain from use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State; second regard as inviolable one another’s frontiers as well as the frontiers of all States in Europe; third, will respect the territorial integrity of each of the participating States; and fourth, will likewise refrain from making each other’s territory the object of military occupation. No such occupation or acquisition will be recognised as legal.[ii] This was followed by 1990 CSCE Charter of Paris for a New Europe in which the signatories “fully recognised the freedom of States to choose their own security arrangements”[iii].
With the establishment of the EU, the European defence integration gained momentum. In 1993, the Treaty of Maastricht founded the EU, with the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) as its central pillar. CFSP encompassed all areas of security and foreign policy. The idea behind the common policy was that “the Member States of the EU make their weight felt internationally.”[iv] The work undertaken in this context was mainly civilian crisis management missions.
The next step towards integration of European defence was taken in 1999 at the Cologne European Council with the establishment of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The CSDP enabled the EU to “use civilian, police and military instruments to cover the full spectrum of crisis prevention, crisis management and post-crisis rehabilitation”[v]. Under this mandate, the EU has launched several operations in crisis management such as ARTEMIS operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Concordia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It has also undertaken several military operations, civil and police missions in Asia, Middle East, Balkans, Africa and Eastern Europe.[vi] So far, it has launched over 30 missions.
However, from 2005, there was a period of stagnation due to the failure of the adoption of the Constitutional treaty which was followed by the economic crisis in 2008. Although, the Treaty of Lisbon (which entered into force in 2009) institutionalised several achievements of CSDP and expanded the scope of the policy, nonetheless, it was never on the priority list of the member-states as importance was given to “national security” and CSDP lacked the resources required to take it forward.
In the second decade of the 21st century, several issues led the EU to seriously contemplate on the revival of its defence programme. These were, first, the Crimean crisis of 2014; second, the Brexit vote of 2016 which left EU without its main military contributor; and third, the ambivalence of the US policies towards Europe. These events have led EU to realise that it would have to take more responsibility for its own defence. The EU in 2016 released the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy to put forward its vision of an independent security architecture.
The idea of an independent European defence policy-making gathered renewed pace in 2017, after the election of President Donald Trump. In an attempt to increase its own military capabilities, the EU launched a comprehensive defence package in 2017 which includes four strands – first, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) with aims to enhance cooperation among EU Member States on in different formats such as joint training and exercise or acquisition and development of military equipment. Second, Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD)[vii] which aims at of monitoring the defence plans of member states to help coordinate spending and identify possible collaborative projects. Third, the European Defence Fund which aims to coordinate and increase national investment in defence research and improve interoperability between national armed forces. Fourth, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC)[viii] which is a permanent operational headquarters for military operations of up to 2500 troops deployed as part of the CSDP.
The Ukraine crisis has added further momentum to the idea that European defence needs to be strengthened through its own independent efforts and by strengthening the NATO.
Evolving European Security Architecture
It cannot be denied that the Ukraine crisis has emerged to be a critical juncture for the European security architecture. It has on one hand led to a unified and strengthened NATO and on the other, it has led the EU and its member states to take some key policy decisions in terms of defence integration.
A Strengthened NATO
The alliance had been facing its most critical phase in the past few years – with French President calling NATO in ‘brain death’ in 2019, to former President Trump discrediting the alliance and the destabilisation due to US exit from Afghanistan. With the Ukraine crisis, NATO is facing its most difficult challenge to the European security architecture since its inception. However, the crisis has resulted in strengthening of the alliance. The statement by Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, “If Kremlin’s aim is to have less NATO on Russia’s borders, it will only get more NATO. And if it wants to divide NATO, it will only get an even more united Alliance”[ix] – appears to be foreshadowing a strengthened alliance. One of the key outcomes of the crisis is the strengthening of NATO’s eastern borders – during the extraordinary Leaders’ Summit in March 2022, NATO announced that it will double the number of Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) missions to eight, with new battlegroups for Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria to “reinforce Allied deterrence and defence” in the region[x]. In 2017, NATO had approved four EFPs to be deployed in Baltic countries and Poland.
Image – NATO’s Eastern Flank
Apart from this, it has also, for the first time, activated parts of its Response Force as a defensive measure in response to the crisis[xi]. It is a multinational force consisting of land, air, sea and special operations forces from the allies that can deploy quickly in support of the NATO alliance. Further, NATO is also helping to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for assistance and is supporting Allies in the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid.[xii] Individual member states are directly sending military aid to Ukraine such as weapons, ammunition, medical supplies and other vital military equipment.
Second key outcome has been the Nordic Reset towards NATO. While Iceland, Denmark and Norway have been part of NATO since 1949, both Sweden and Finland had maintained neutrality. However, this neutrality did not mean that they were immune to the changing dynamics of the region. The Soviet Union had used the Kola Peninsula and ports, such as Murmansk and Archangel, for its Northern Fleet, nuclear weapons-armed submarines and reactors. This led both, Sweden and Finland, to adopt “a policy of armed neutrality and territorial defence based on conscription and higher levels of defence spending”.[xiii] During the post-Cold War period, both countries, as they became part of the EU, contributed to the EU’s CSDP missions and participated in EU Battlegroups and EU training missions (EUTMs) in the Sahel. Sweden, given its participation in UN peacekeeping, established a peacekeeping training centre, while Finland, concerned with cyber-attacks and Russian political interference, established in Helsinki an EU-NATO Centre of Excellence to study and respond to hybrid warfare.
The Ukraine crisis has dramatically changed the political discourse in Sweden and Finland and the public opinion. A public survey done in March 2022 indicated that up to 62% of Finnish citizens were in favour of joining the alliance, with only 16% opposing the move. This is a significant change from the 21 percent in favour in 2017[xiv]. Similarly, in Sweden, the support for joining NATO has increased to 59%, with 17% opposing.[xv] The Prime Ministers of both countries, in their meeting in April 2022, reiterated that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had changed Europe’s whole security landscape and dramatically shaped mindsets in the Nordic countries”[xvi]. Both countries, when they join the alliance, would bring highly advanced military and civil defence capacities and expertise at sea, land and air – which will be value addition for the alliance. While Russia has already warned Sweden and Finland against joining the alliance arguing that “it would not bring stability to Europe as the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation”[xvii], their bid for membership is expected to be taken up during June 2022 NATO summit. With both countries now pushing for the membership of the alliance, it symbolises a critical security re-posturing in Europe – as it marks the end of neutrality and military non-alignment that Sweden has followed for more than 200 years and Finland, since its defeat the Soviet Union during World War Two.
The crisis has led the EU to emerge as a proactive actor both at the regional and global level. During the crisis, the EU has shown unprecedented unity and resolve to take swift actions. The Union has mobilised all the instruments that are available ranging from sanctions, to diplomacy, to military support and humanitarian assistance. Three key aspects of its response to the crisis includes – first, activation of the European Peace Facility to support the Ukrainian armed forces. The instrument will provide €500 million to equip Ukraine with arms, including lethal weapons. Also, in terms to taking steps towards greater defence cooperation, the EU has declared the creation of a rapid reaction force as part of its Strategic Compass. Second, it has implemented coordinated sanctions on Russia. In total, the US and EU has put in place five rounds of sanctions on Moscow that covers individual and economic measures; ban on transactions with Russian Central Bank; exclusion of major Russian banks from swift system; ban on Russian coal imports etc. The sixth round of sanctions which includes embargo on Russian oil and is still under discussion. Third, is the triggering of the Temporary Protection Directive, for the first time by the EU. This emergency mechanism grants protection to the Ukrainian refugees, including rights to residence, labour market, medical assistance, and education. To support people in Ukraine directly, the EU has also announced an important package of humanitarian and financial aid.
Second key outcome has been the further push by member states towards increasing their defence spending. According the Military Balance 2022, there has been consistent rise in European countries defence spending in the past few years. According to the report, “In 2021, European defence spending grew by 4.8 per cent in real terms, higher than in any other region. The 2021 increase…means that European spending represented 18.7 per cent of the global total.”[xviii] The Ukrainian crisis has added further momentum to this with the member states announcing further increase in their military spendings, such as Belgium has announced an increase in spending from 0.9% to 1.54 per cent in the next eight years. In addition, other member states such as Romania, Latvia, Poland have planned to raise their defence spending by 2.5-3% of their GDPs.
Third and the most critical development is that Germany shed its traditional defence inhibitions. The Russian action in Ukraine has led to speedy reversal of some of Germany’s core policies. In his speech to Bundestag on 27 February 2022, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Russia’s action has “demolished the European security order that had prevailed for almost half a century since the Helsinki Final Act.” The Chancellor laid out five courses of action[xix] that Germany is going to take – first, is the support to Ukraine – major decision in this aspect was the supply of weapons to Ukraine – this marked a critical reversal of its practice of not permitting lethal weapons that it controlled to be transferred into a conflict zone. Second, is to divert President Putin from the path of war. This refers to the unprecedented sanctions applied to Russia by cutting Moscow from the global financial systems. Third, is preventing the war from spilling over into other countries in Europe. This includes strengthening of Berlin’s commitment to NATO, contribute to air defence of the allies in Eastern Europe and Romania. Fourth, is to invest much more in the security of the country. Under this the Chancellor announced that the federal budget for 2022 will provide a one-off sum of 100 billion euro for necessary investments and armament projects. In addition, he also set a goal to increase Germany’s defence expenditure to 2% of its economic output by 2024. Fifth, is to secure energy supply with the idea to eliminate its dependence on imports from individual energy suppliers.
It is true that the Ukraine crisis has altered the strategic outlook for European integration by highlighting the multi-dimensional nature of security issues and has given the member-states a renewed impetus to further enhance their defence capabilities. As stated earlier, the EU had been, since 2017, working towards an independent defence policy, nonetheless, the return of power politics has led to a realisation for the EU to accelerate its growth as a credible security actor. In the short term, various member states have declared the increase in defence spending, have supported Ukraine by providing military and humanitarian aid, and have sanctioned Russia. However, in the long-term critical efforts need to be made to strengthen NATO’s deterrence on one hand, and at the European level, to formulate a comprehensive security policy along with increased investments for enhancing its defence capabilities.
The Ukrainian crisis has given a fresh impetus to the member states to push for reforms, as has been seen in the reactions from the EU, but as the crisis drags-on, the question that emerges is whether this momentum for further integration will be sustained or will it be relegated as a knee-jerk reaction to the crisis next-door. This is primarily because, the idea of increased European defence spending and defence integration is not new. President Macron has been advocating for independent defence structures for the EU since 2017. Similarly, initiatives such as PESCO have not progressed, while the budgets of others such as European Defence Fund (from €13 billion in 2018[xx] to €7.9 billion) and Military Mobility Initiative (from €6.5 billion in 2018[xxi] to €1.5 billion) has been reduced under the multiannual financial framework for 2021–27[xxii].
While European countries, even those who had traditionally favoured normalisation of relations with Russia, showed exemplary unity in implementing the sanctions on Russia, the fissures in the unity have started to appear. The case in point is the ban on Russian oil imports. Even after the intense negotiations, the member states have failed to reach an agreement on the oil embargo. The main issues remain the timeline of six months to completely phase-out the Russian crude oil and then all refined oil products by the end of the year.
Another critical issue is Ukrainian membership of the Union. While President Zelensky has asked the member states to expedite the process in the aftermath of the crisis, in the recent speech President Macron has made it clear that “the process to allow [Ukraine] to join would take several years indeed, probably several decades”.[xxiii]
The Ukrainian crisis has also given NATO an impetus to further strengthen itself, however, as the European states move towards a more independent defence policy, the question arises on the relevance of NATO for the European partners. Critics have argued that the policies initiated by the EU have made the member states divide their limited resources between the EU and NATO, thereby making them competitors. For example, EU’s defence initiative, PESCO prioritises development of EU’s defence requirements over NATO’s allowing member states to jointly develop new weapons.[xxiv] As the majority of EU member states are part of the Alliance, it is imperative that the NATO collaborate with the European strategic institutions to bolster European security.
Nonetheless, Europe still has miles to go to achieve strategic autonomy. There are basic issues of finding the political will, the technical capabilities, and the financial resources to transform the EU into a militarily independent bloc capable of countering Russia, and acting independently of the US. Although, the EU leaders are pushing for independent defence policy, there is a realisation that it is going to be a long process for a credible European defence to emerge. It remains too early to say that Ukraine crisis represents a historical turning point for European integration and that the impetus for the security architecture emerging in the region will be sustained in the future.
*Dr. Ankita Dutta, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal
[i] Euronews, 10 March 2022, https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/03/10/eu-leaders-meet-in-versailles-to-discuss-the-ukraine-war-and-energy-independence, Accessed on 4 May 2022
[ii] ‘The Helsinki Process and the OSCE’, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/c/39501.pdf, Accessed on 4 May 2022
[iii] ‘Charter of Paris for a New Europe’, OSCE, Paris, 1990, https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/0/6/39516.pdf, Accessed on 4 May 2022
[iv] Aims and characteristics of the CFSP, Federal Foreign Office, Germany, https://www.auswaertigesamt.de/en/aussenpolitik/europa/aussenpolitik/gasp/-/228304,
[v] ‘Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)’, Federal Foreign Office, Germany, https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/aussenpolitik/europe/gsvp-start/209178#:~:text=The%20CSDP%20enables%20the%20EU,management%20and%20post%2Dcrisis%20rehabilitation., Accessed on 4 May 2022
[vi] The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Foreign Affairs, Foreign trade and Development Cooperation, Kingdom of Belgium, https://diplomatie.belgium.be/en/policy/policy_areas/peace_and_security/in_international_organisations/europe an_union/cfsp
[vii] Cordinated Annual Review on Defence, European Defence Agency, https://eda.europa.eu/what-we-do/EU-defence-initiatives/coordinated-annual-review-on-defence-(card)#:~:text=The%20second%20cycle%20of%20the,future%20in%20the%20EU%20context., Accessed on 15 May 2022
[viii]Military Planning and Conduct Capability, Europa, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/mpcc_factsheet_november_2018.pdf, Accessed on 15 May 2022
[ix] ‘Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’, Munich Security Conference, 19 February 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_192204.htm, Accessed on 5 May 2022
[x] ‘Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’, Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government, 24 March 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_193613.htm, Accessed on 5 May 2022
[xi] CNN, 25 February 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/25/politics/nato-ukraine-russia/index.html, Accessed on 5 May 2022
[xii] NATO's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 8 April 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_192648.htm, Accessed on 9 May 2022; BBC, 10 May 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18023383, Accessed on 9 May 2022
[xiii] Jamie Shea, ‘Finland and Sweden move closer to NATO membership: good or bad for security in Europe?’, Friends of Europe, 27 April 2022, https://www.friendsofeurope.org/insights/finland-and-sweden-move-closer-to-nato-membership-good-or-bad-for-security-in-europe/?utm_source=flexmail&utm_medium=e-mail&utm_campaign=2022criticalthinking01may&utm_content=jaimelopesunsplash200x200png, Accessed on 11 May 2022
[xiv] ‘Yle poll: Support for Nato membership hits record high’, 14 March 2022, https://yle.fi/news/3-12357832
[xv] Local Sweden, 24 march 2022, https://www.thelocal.se/20220324/six-out-of-ten-swedes-would-back-nato-if-finland-joined-poll/, Accessed on 11 May 2022
[xvi] The Guardian, 13 April 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/13/finland-and-sweden-could-apply-for-nato-membership-in-weeks, Accessed on 12 May 2022
[xviii] Editor’s introduction to The Military Balance 2022, IISS, 15 February 2022, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2022/02/military-balance-2022-introduction
[xix] ‘Policy statement by Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and Member of the German Bundestag’, 27 February 2022, Berlin, https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-en/news/policy-statement-by-olaf-scholz-chancellor-of-the-federal-republic-of-germany-and-member-of-the-german-bundestag-27-february-2022-in-berlin-2008378, Accessed on 4 May 2022
[xx]‘EU budget: Stepping up the EU's role as a security and defence provider’, European Commission, 13 June 2018, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_18_4121, , Accessed on 13 May 2022
[xxi] Euractiv, 25 February 2022, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/europes-military-mobility-latest-casualty-of-eu-budget-battle/, , Accessed on 13 May 2022
[xxii] Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/about_the_european_commission/eu_budget/mff_2021-2027_breakdown_current_prices.pdf, , Accessed on 13 May 2022
[xxiv] ‘European defense vs. NATO: Not the right fight’, Politico, 16 February
2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/european-defense-vs-nato-not-theright-fight/, Accessed on 13 May 2022