Javier Solana: EU has a moral obligation to engage in world security

Photo: © CoE, S. Parmentier

On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the International Relations Programme at the College of Europe, Rector Jörg Monar welcomed Javier Solana to deliver the third annual High Level EU Diplomacy Lecture on the 27th October 2016. Secretary General of NATO from 1995-1999 and subsequent EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy 1999-2009, his guest lecture at the College of Europe aimed to deliver a stark warning to the EU not to forgo its responsibilities as a global power.

By: Nye Williams-Renouf

In a wide-ranging speech that lived up to its promise to examine where the EU could exercise its agency better and more efficiently, Mr Solana:

  • spoke at length on the bloc’s relationships with Russia and China;
  • lamented his own failure accurately to predict the future trajectory of great power relations in the post-Cold War era; and
  • urged European member state governments to accept the need for much deeper and more forward-thinking defence integration to engage with the humanitarian and security challenges posed in the 21st

Power politics in the post-Cold War era

Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Solana acknowledged that many observers, himself included, had mistakenly anticipated that the end of the 20th Century would usher in a new era of great power cooperation between the USA, Russia and China. Instead, he identified a shift in global proactivity over the past two decades, an arc heavily influenced by the events of 11 September 2001 and the backlash against interventionism in both the USA and the EU as a result of the West’s chastening military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Building on this theme, the now President of ESADE Centre for Global Economy and Geopolitics linked the fallout from those wars to the West’s response to the Arab Spring, suggesting that “when you look at the situation today, much of the problems we have are because of the mistakes we made at the beginning of the century”. He cast the ongoing crisis in Syria as being the product in part of a global security status quo in which “the Europeans have disappeared, the Americans are leading from the back and the Russians are there…controlling and taking the initiative in Syria”.

More broadly, Mr Solana also criticised the belated European and global awakening to China’s rapid emergence as a formidable world power in the early 2000s, and suggested that in hindsight he might have approached the relationship differently given the chance. Conversely, the former head of NATO identified the nuclear power negotiations with Iran as an isolated modern-day example of the political potential of major power coordination, stating his pride at having been an early participant in the negotiations in 2002-2003 and celebrating the preliminary framework agreement arrived at in 2015 as evidence of what the international community could achieve through intelligent cooperation combined with a healthy dose of stubbornness.

A future for European defence

Returning to matters closer to home, the former EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy suggested that the EU is falling short of its moral and strategic obligation to engage positively in world security matters, and bemoaned the rise of nationalism across the EU as a significant factor in obstructing coordinated, effective European actorness on security issues such as Mediterranean border controls. With a glance to the potentially paralytic effects of national elections taking place across Western Europe in 2017, he urged European policy-makers to prioritise security integration, taking specific aim at what he casts as the dysfunctionality of the classic European distinction between internal defence as a matter for member states and external defence as a matter for the EU.

Describing the EU’s Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods as the centre of gravity of the world’s problems today and citing the examples of recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium as evidence of the ever-increasing inter-connectivity of external and internal security challenges, Mr Solana made a forceful case for the inadequacy of nation-based solutions, advocating instead a fundamental reorganisation of the division of policy responsibilities to ensure a continuum between internal and external European security measures, featuring the efficient deployment of new technologies such as satellite and drone surveillance and a much greater reliance on international intelligence sharing moving forward.

Wrapping up with a rallying cry to a packed auditorium in what Solana labelled the ‘house of Europe’, he ended his lecture with an appeal to keep fighting for European integration and to persist in a rational discourse-based defence of the importance of the EU to its citizens and the global community. Based on the number of students who waited long after he had finished his speech to meet the speaker and secure a fleeting selfie with him, it would appear safe to say that his advice met with a receptive audience.

Javier Solana together with the Spanish students at the College. Photo: © CoE, S. Parmentier

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