Jan Techau: “Today, security is about more abstract things, such as the protection of security interests in far corners of the world”

29 November 2012, 16:28

UW: In your recent piece The Four Threats to European Security you summarize the four key threats postulated by European and American experts who are either current or past foreign policy professionals: (1) lack of confidence, (2) the de-linkage across the Atlantic, (3) lack of public resilience, and (4) the undermining of European solidarity. While we may perhaps also call the above four factors “trends” and think most of these trends had been in fact known and discussed, in your publication you do name them “threats”. What exactly are these important factors and why are they, and not climate change, nuclear proliferation or international terrorism, defined as "threats to European Security"?

You could also call them mega-trends, as they illustrate larger developments that take place underneath the surface. They are not threats in the sense of “a clear and present danger”, but they are very powerful in the long run. They are threats because, as mental problems, they undermine resolve, robustness and the willingness to defend oneself and one’s interests. A lack of confidence means that we are often in doubt about ourselves and whether our model, our way of life deserves defence and robust protection. We are not so sure of ourselves anymore. This undermines our ambitions, our will to survive, our creativity in handling the threats. This is linked to a lack of public resilience, the No. 3 threat listed above. The public does not seem to have a proper understanding that threats today are not as they were 30 years ago. Invasions are over. Today security is about more abstract, less immediately visible things, e.g. the protection of security interests in far corners of the world. But publics often don’t support such strategic thinking. And without public support and resilience, protecting a society’s interests becomes very difficult. De-linkage is a problem because Europeans still depend on the US for their security. But while the US is getting relatively weaker and less interested in Europe, the Europeans make decisions that increase their reliance on the US What Europeans need to learn is that if they want to keep the US on board, they need to invest in their own military capabilities, and in their intellectual participation in tackling global issues. Both are absent and that makes us unattractive as a partner.

UW:  Who do you think are the key security actors in today’s Europe? Is it the EU, NATO, Germany, China, the US, Russia or Turkey? Could the strategic interests of the key players be aligned?

The US is still the key security player in Europe. Everyone else, including Russia, follows their lead, or defines themselves vis-à-vis the US in one way or another. NATO is still the pre-eminent tool to guarantee security in practical terms, and to conduct operations if need be. France and Germany both play a bigger role than Germany alone. The EU does not play in the first league, as the member states have chosen to not turn the EU into a significant player. The EU’s role in European security is more an internal one, as it guarantees the peaceful mechanism for problem resolution among member states. That alone is a huge achievement, for which it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

UW: Do you think that a common EU foreign and security policy is actually possible? If yes, will we see an "EU National Security Strategy" or an "EU Army" someday?

CFSP will not replace national foreign and security policies for some time to come. EU member states, especially the bigger ones, have little interest in communalizing their foreign policies. As everyone has less and less money to spend, we will probably see increasing cooperation, but not across the board, equally strong in all portfolios, and at all times. CFSP will remain a case-by-case enterprise for the foreseeable future.

UW: It seemed that President Vladimir Putin's strategy is increasingly becoming pro-European. He proposed to establish a ‘common economic space’ between the European Union and the ‘Eurasian Union’ based on common markets and regulation (hopefully, Ukraine would be integrated with the right ‘Union’ before this ever occurs). But quite recently, Putin began ‘targeting’ Eastern European states in connection with the Gazprom antimonopoly investigation: “the very political system, the high level of social guarantees, the inability to ensure growing consumption – all this is a crippling burden that lies on the shoulders of the European economy…“The matter is that all those [Eastern European] countries were accepted to the EU and the Union committed to subsidize their economies”  (as quoted from RT). Was this meant to destabilize the European Union? Could you describe relations between Europe (meaning not only the EU, but also Germany, Bulgaria, or Cyprus) and Russia from a security perspective? And is your peer Carnegie Moscow Center a ‘foreign agent’ in accordance with the new Russian law?

The Kremlin underestimated the independent power of the European Commission to take on Gazprom as a monopoly player. They thought they were safe because of their good relations with some EU member states. That was a miscalculation. The aggressive tone is the overreaction to a self-inflicted foreign policy wound.

Putin’s words about European decline are ambiguous. On the one hand he is right. Europe’s economies suffer from over-regulation and bloated social security systems. On the other hand, Russia’s internal catastrophe is much worse. Life expectancy, the health system, education, governance – all this is going south. Russia believes the West is in decline. Russia itself is in a much faster, and much more substantial, decline. And unlike the West, it does not seem to have the self-correcting powers to do something against it.

So far the Carnegie Moscow Center, thankfully, has not been targeted as a foreign agent.

UW:  Imagine Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition leaders are released and the Association Agreement with the EU is signed. Would this add more stability to Europe or alternatively provide additional arguments supporting Mr. Putin’s rhetoric about "weak" CEE states? How do you see Ukraine’s role in European security?

Ukraine’s balancing act between the West and Russia is unlikely to end anytime soon. It’s ruling elite can’t afford to get too close to the EU, as this would undermine their business model. Neither can it afford to get too close to Russia, as this would equally end their comfy, comparatively independent lives. It’s hard to speculate about the results of a more Western-friendly policy. It could create clarity, but it could also stir up old conflicts. It would definitely have a profound impact on Ukraine’s domestic politics.


Jan Techau is director of Carnegie Europe, the European center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a noted expert on EU integration and foreign policy, transatlantic affairs, and German foreign and security policy. Before working at Carnegie, Techau served at the NATO Defence College’s Research Division from February 2010 until March 2011. He was director of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin between 2006 and 2010, and from 2001 to 2006 he served at the German Defence Ministry’s Press and Information Department. Techau is an associate scholar at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and an associate fellow at both the German Council on Foreign Relations and at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS). He is a regular contributor to German and international news media. He has an MA from Christian-Albrechts University, Kiel; Exchange Fellowship, Pennsylvania State University (United States).

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