Interview with Ben Hayes, part of the Transnational Institute series in the run up to the ASEM (Asia-Europe) summit and parallel AEPF (Asia Europe People’s Forum) in Brussels next month. See also Susan George interview, “European Union: most anti-democratic and neoliberal in history”.
What is the history of the European Union’s security strategy?
Security is one of the newest areas for the EU, as it didn’t have an overarching security policy until 2003. The strategy it adopted is called “A Secure Europe in a Better World”. It argued that Europe needed to change its way of looking at security. It needed to move from a traditional framework of looking at defence from attack that came from the time of the Cold War to being able to take on a whole new range of threats from organised crime to terrorism to uncontrolled migration.
The EU, it said, needed to take on a strategic security culture, accepting that the first line of defence will often be abroad, intervening in failed states, taking proactive measures, developing security infrastructure. It was in many ways neocon-lite. Politically, the main reason for the strategy was to justify a whole EU apparatus to do this.
What has this meant militarily?
People talked about a European army, and there were was talk of setting up battlegroups, but this has not got off the ground. There are 1.8 million soldiers in the EU member states (half a million more than the US) but – with the exception of Kosovo – the EU has not proved able to deploy even a 5000 person rapid reaction force. The EU has so far launched 22 security and crisis management operations, but only six have involved more than 1000 personnel.
NATO remains the dominant framework for military security in EU. Nearly all military missions are in some way dependent on US giving logistical support and most EU countries are happy to do that through NATO.
Would a European military framework be better than a NATO-based one?
There is an argument saying European values would be better represented in a European alternative framework, but there is a far more convincing argument that international policing should be done via the UN rather than the unilateral actions of a few powerful states or regional blocks.
The continued dominance of NATO, which has no democratic structure, is more reflective of the fact that NATO states want to go it alone.
What elements of the European security strategy have been taken forward?
Within Europe, the focus has been all about counter-terrorism and border control, which has been used as a pretext to introduce surveillance policies that would have been unthinkable in the 1990s. Fingerprinting, communications surveillance, travel records, financial transactions – we now have mandatory surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Frameworks for global surveillance developed with the USA have also been set-up.
Outside Europe the main priority has been joint working on migration, in other words, trying to prevent illegal immigration by stopping immigrants in countries of origin or in countries of transit. This has taken the form of technical assistance, with many states in North and West Africa receiving help in shoring up borders, setting up asylum systems and detention centres, training border police in coastal areas – all to prevent departure from Africa to Europe. There has been a huge effort by the EU and its member states to make developing countries accept migration management clauses as part of trade or aid agreements, which are measures to prevent departure as well as obligations to take back illegal migrants.
In terms of investment, the EU has decided that it wants European companies to compete in the global marketplace for homeland security which is expanding rapidly into a market worth hundreds of billions of Euros. So the European Commission is providing subsidies for companies, mainly arms and IT companies along with some specialists and academics, to conduct research into technologies that will supposedly make us safer. Most of this research has surveillance systems at its core and includes companies who have been involved in arms deals that have resulted in human rights abuses.
I reviewed all of these security research projects for the report I wrote last year, NeoConOpticon: the EU Security-industrial Complex, and one of the most disturbing projects was one which funded research into combat robots for border control. Supposedly unarmed robots would be sent to intersect with people crossing borders illegally. The Polish and Israeli companies that received the funds do produce combat robots and drones. Much of the EU security research funding are subsidies for arms companies to put their wares in the EU shop window.
What are the consequences of the new approaches to security?
The easiest way of describing the EU or US overall approach is that security is starting to eclipse the rule of law. Policing used to be about responding to criminal acts; now it is all pre-emptive – maintaining security. and preventing crime, which makes its reach limitless. Under the guise of preventing terrorism, states have been able to introduce blanket controls with very little consideration of human rights. This has created big challenges for citizens who are keen to protect civil liberties or prevent criminalisation of social movements.
The huge expansion of targeted assassinations using drones, which is also a big area for European research, is an example of complete disregard for the rule of law. Rendition, torture and the use of secret prisons, all of which continue despite Obama’s arrival, amount to the same thing. The US and UK are the only ones using armed drones at the moment, but what happens when other states with less checks and balances start to use the same method to target their “enemies”?
Where does climate change fit into the EU security strategy?
Climate change is a slightly newer issue. In 2008, the EU came up with “Climate Change and International Security” strategy, which identified climate change as a threat multiplier, one that would exacerbate existing tensions and that could lead to political security risks that would directly threaten European interests. The strategy also pointed to statistics that suggested that the resulting environmental refugees could create massive human migration. The strategy stops short of saying what it will do about this, but it is likely to be a continuation of the current programme of preventing refugees leaving and outsourcing border control to Southern countries.
What should European security policy focus on?
What European security policy lacks is a focus on peace-building or conflict resolution strategies. It has done nothing, for example, to advance effective resolution of conflicts in the Middle East. The EU could garner support – and be seen as a counterbalance to US global military power – if it invested in these areas but it doesn’t. Instead it follows the US in pursuing a hard security doctrine that doesn’t address most causes of insecurity.
On migration issues, for example, why is there so little on why people migrate in the first place? Migration is a logical part of globalisation. So if we want to address the reasons people leave and respond in a non punitive way, we have to look at the conditions that force people to leave in the first place. Unless the EU changes track, we are heading the same way as Arizona.
How does Asia fit into European security policy? Will security issues come up in the ASEM summit?
I think the EU is primarily concerned with economic cooperation at the ASEM summit, although there may be some dialogue on security issues and the usual predictable declarations on fighting terrorism and organised crime. I know that the EU has provided counter terrorism assistance to Indonesia and the Philippines. Sri Lanka was also one of EU’s targeted countries to prevent EU migration at source.
Beyond that European transnational companies will be hoping to cash in on the growing homeland security demands in countries like Malaysia and India. Most of this will be done bilaterally, as we have seen with the recent UK-India arms deal.
What do you think social movements should focus on during the upcoming AEPF?
I think the obvious priority is the way the focus on security is being used against protest movements and continues to be done so. We need to challenge the homeland security industry – who have become rich and powerful as a result of the outsourcing of the War on Terror and which one day could rival the military industrial complex. They have an interest in the endless expansion of the security-industrial complex, which has very serious implications for way the society is policed, and worrying implications for protest movements. While there are people within movements focused and working on this, I don’t think security and civil liberties at forums such as the European Social Forum or World Social Forum are high enough up the agenda.