Strategic culture in the European Union. The significance of the European Security Strategy of 2003

Essay, 2018

16 Pages, Grade: 8,2


Table of Contents


Theoretical context

Geography and history

Political structure and institutions

The European Security Strategy of 2003

Developments after 2008




Due to significant changes with regard to the security situation after the end of the Cold War, caused by conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the differences regarding the Iraq war for instance, the necessity for a coordinated European foreign and security policy became evident (Algieri and Kammel 2009, 1). Therefore, on December 12, 2003, the European Council agreed to the European Security Strategy (ESS), whose development was seen as an important step in defining common interests and goals of the EU regarding foreign and security policy (Algieri and Kammel 2009, 1). Furthermore, the document reflected the growing confidence and the increased significance of the enlarged EU as a global actor and pointed out how the Union could use its economic, political and military potential more effectively and coherently (Algieri and Kammel 2009, 1). For achieving these goals, the ESS has stressed the establishment of a strategic culture which “‘fosters early, rapid, and when necessary, robust intervention’” (Haine 2011, 582). Since then, this topic has become hotly discussed in academia (Haine 2011, 582). Concerning the standard of evidence, there is no consensus as opinions of scholars range from the statement that the EU already has developed a strategic culture (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1240) to the prediction that European strategies will rest on the “principle of ‘flexibility’” rather than a strategic culture in the future (Schmidt and Zyla 2011, 492). This academic debate leads to the following question: “Has the European Union established a strategic culture with regard to its foreign and security policy?

This topic is relevant because over the last decades, the EU has evolved into a “truly internationally operating security actor” and it has participated (with the UN and NATO) in more than twenty missions on several continents (Schmidt and Zyla 2011, 484).

This paper approaches the research question by focusing on the origins of strategic culture (history and geography as well as political structure and institutions) on the one hand and the ESS, which could be interpreted as evidence for the development of an EU strategic culture, on the other hand. The hypothesis of this essay is that the member states of the European Union have not yet established but are developing an EU strategic culture. Despite their differences regarding historical experiences, geographies and national strategic cultures, features of convergence (for example with regard to their political systems) can already be recognized and steps, such as the founding of institutions and the ESS, towards the establishment of an EU strategic culture have been made.

Regarding the structure of the essay, to give the theoretical context, the concept of strategic culture and the origins of strategic culture that are discussed in this paper, are briefly explained. Afterwards, geography and history as two fundamental sources of an EU strategic culture are debated. In the following paragraph, two other, namely political systems and institutions, are discussed. After that, the essay focuses on the ESS of 2003. Next, the development of the foreign and security policy of the EU after 2008 is briefly outlined. And finally, a conclusion is drawn.

Theoretical context

This essay uses the following definition of strategic culture proposed by Jack Snyder: “Strategic culture can be defined as the sum total of ideas, conditioned emotional responses, and patterns of habitual behaviour that members of a national strategic community have acquired through instruction or imitation and share with each other with regard to [nuclear] strategy” (Gray 2007, 6). This concept implies that particular “security communities” have a unique way of thinking and behaviour with regard to strategic affairs (Gray 2007, 6). Consequently, if a country has a national strategic culture and therefore a specific “’way of war’”, the people of that nation have a special kind of “thinking about the threat or use of force for political purposes, and of acting strategically” (Gray 2007, 5).

What are the sources of strategic culture? There are numerous origins mentioned in the literature (Uz Zaman 2009, 82). However, because of the scope of this essay, five origins that are important with regard to the creation of an EU strategic culture are discussed: The first two are the most fundamental ones, namely geography and history, which are stressed by Gray (2007, 6). As both are tightly connected, they are discussed together. The following paragraph debates two more sources of strategic culture, which arguably are a result of the first two ones, videlicet the “political structure” and linked to that institutions regarding defence affairs (Uz Zaman 2009, 82) of EU member states. These four aspects have been chosen as the EU consists of almost thirty countries that have similarities and differences with regard to those topics, and which consequently raise the question whether and if so, how these points support or hinder the development of an EU strategic culture. They are examined more generally in order to see whether those aspects have resulted in the ESS as a following step in the establishment of a strategic culture because “key texts that inform actors of appropriate strategic action” are a further source of such a process (Uz Zaman 2009, 82). Therefore, the paper analyses this document as it is worth examining whether the ESS is already the expression of an EU strategic culture or not.

Geography and history

The geography of a country, its locality and size, has a major influence on a country’s perception of “external threats” and its reaction to these dangers (Moore II 1998, 12). To illustrate this point, it is best to give examples: The strategy of Great Britain as an island is based on a “strong navy” and a “small land army”, while for France as a “continental power” that is surrounded by other countries that could pose a threat on its frontiers, this strategy would be ineffective (Moore II 1998, 12). Spain, for instance, whose frontiers are limited by the sea and which only borders on France and Portugal, would probably follow the UK’s strategy, while nations such as Austria and Hungary, that border on several other countries, would not focus on a navy but rather an army. Therefore, there are both similarities and differences with regard to geographies in the EU.

The geographical aspect is closely related to the history of a nation and its historical memories which also have a significant impact on a nation’s strategy and often show the strengths and weaknesses of its geography (Moore II 1998, 12). According to Meyer, “’(t)raumatic defeats, oppression, betrayal and exclusion, guilt as well as military triumphs plant themselves deep into collective memories as ‘lessons learnt’ and ‘beliefs held’’” (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). As a consequence, national strategic cultures do not only show differences, but often remain the same and just hardly change (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). Events such as the two world wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War and “US/USSR subordinate ‘allies’ status (where autonomous strategic ambition was discouraged)”, were important factors to prevent the development of new national strategic cultures in Europe and therefore also an EU strategic culture (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). With regard to this point, it is claimed that strategic cultures of countries such as France, the UK, Germany and Poland do not match to the strategic environment of the 21st century but still respond to the context of the second half of the 20th century (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232).

Therefore, at this point one can ascertain that for the EU, one of the greatest issues for creating a common strategic culture is that it is not a nation state (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1230) but rather exists of almost thirty nations with their own historical backgrounds and memories as well as geographies. As a consequence, the various historical experiences and geographies lead to a “range of different national strategic cultures, divergent military doctrines and traditions” and therefore strategic unconnectedness within the EU (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1231).

In the following, this statement is illustrated by giving relevant examples: France and the UK, for instance, are two of the largest countries within the EU and both share an “imperial/colonial tradition” (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). They have the necessary capabilities to engage in missions on a global scale and do not hesitate to use military force if necessary (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). The UK and France wish that their national strategic culture is adapted to an EU level and “each is subject to incremental Europeanization of their foreign and security policies” (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232).

However, this strategy is contrary to the ones of the “smaller and non-aligned states” within the EU whose strategic cultures “favour the current status quo – consensus-driven, regionally orientated crisis management in which co-operation with partners is confined to this limited ambition” (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232).

An example of this would be Finland as its history of “great power domination” leads to a “focus on homeland defence based on national conscription and self-determination“ (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232). And Poland, which also belongs to this category, and which has not been liberated after the Second World War, has struggles to trust allied European states (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1231-32).

As a consequence, overall, the individual perspectives on strategies in the EU vary from states such as the UK and France that favour the application of military force for defending interests, to states that are against the use of force, such as Sweden, Austria and Finland (Rynning 2003, 482-83) as well as Germany (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1231). And while the UK and Denmark are of the opinion that “strategy must involve tight transatlantic relations”, Belgium and France, for example, think that Europe must be autonomous with regard to its strategy (Rynning 2003, 483). And to make it even more complicated, there are not only differences and divergence between national strategic cultures, but even some EU member states’ individual strategic cultures themselves are “plagued by internal tensions”, such as the German and Swedish ones (Biava, Drent and Herd 2011, 1232-33).

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that there are countries, despite the obstacles mentioned above, that converge in terms of their strategies regarding foreign and security policy: Focusing on the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Poland, which, as stated by Meyer (Martins 2008, 286), are the key countries for establishing an EU strategic culture due to their “‘economic resources and political influence as well as their military capabilities’“, it is argued that although these countries have different historical experiences, they approach regarding security matters. Therefore, according to this author, the “’ideational and normative space for the emergence of a European strategic culture’” has been created (Martins 2008, 286). Indeed, with regard to the early stages of the formation of a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) from 1999 to 2008, there was a move to convergence of these countries in terms of security strategies, as the UK and Germany approached towards French strategic ideas (Göler 2014, 329). This development had been connected to inner political changes in the UK and Germany: In the UK, the “’British Government’s U-turn’“ was of importance in this regard, as the British government relativized its reservations towards an autonomous security and defence policy of the EU (Göler 2014, 329). Consequently, the UK ceased to focus almost exclusively on the NATO regarding its security policy and turned towards the EU (Göler 2014, 329). In Germany, the inner political debates about the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo and the operations of German armed forces in these conflicts played a significant role as they can be seen as a departure from Germany’s attitude of reluctance and a turn towards normalisation regarding the use of military force (Göler 2014, 329). Therefore, the strategies of both the UK, recognizing the EU as the framework of action for foreign and security policy, and Germany, accepting the use of military force, converged to the French model of security policy, called “Europe puissance” (Göler 2014, 329).

To conclude this part, with respect to the geographical and historical sources of an EU strategic culture, the fact that EU member states are diverse and consequently also have different national strategic cultures, complicates the development of an EU strategic culture. However, as the statements above show, there is nonetheless some convergence in terms of strategies as there are groups of countries, such as Germany, France and the UK, that share similar attitudes.

Political structure and institutions

A further source of strategic culture is the political aspect, especially in terms of the “organization of government and military institutions” that influences both the development of a strategy as well as the use of violence (Moore II 1998, 13).

It is striking to realize that over time and despite different geographies and historical experiences, all states in the EU have turned, at different time points and with different speeds of progress, into democracies according to Western perceptions (Hälker 2017, 244-326). There are differences in political structure and institutions, as there are still monarchies such as the constitutional one in the UK and the parliamentary monarchy in Sweden for example, but overall, the basis of the political structure of EU member states is quite similar. The creation of the EU is the result of this rapprochement and such a development implies that the member states also basically share the same values and norms regarding foreign and security policy, such as the preservation of peace, the development and consolidation of democracy, respectfulness for human rights and essential freedoms, etc. that are promoted by the Union (European Union 2018a).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Strategic culture in the European Union. The significance of the European Security Strategy of 2003
Leiden University
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
EU, strategic culture, foreign and security policy, geography, history, political structure, institutions, Strategische Kultur, 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS), foreign policy, security policy, Außenpolitik, Sicherheitspolitik, politische Struktur, Europäische Sicherheitsstrategie (ESS 2003)
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Carolina Gerwin (Author), 2018, Strategic culture in the European Union. The significance of the European Security Strategy of 2003, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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