Barcelona Workshop on International Security | Threats and challenges to European security in the 2020s: how have perceptions and responses changed?
Debates about the extent to which Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a game changer for EU security and defence policy remain highly contentious. On the one hand, the war has upended the national foreign policies of many member states, among them Germany and France, by ending infatuation or ambiguity in their relationship with Russia. This involved much soul-searching and emphasis on greater cooperation between all member states. On the other hand, despite some changes in national and EU-level security and defence policies, we have also witnessed a great deal of continuity. For almost a year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, EU and international efforts to militarily assist Ukraine hinged on key EU member states and their unwillingness to move before the US did. Overall, the responses of EU members to the war in Ukraine showed that NATO continues to be the first port of call when things turn sour in Europe. Yet given that Washington’s preferred long-term strategic priorities lie elsewhere and next year’s U.S. presidential elections may well undermine NATO, Europeans continue to tiptoe around the question of how to address territorial defence as well as instability and insecurity in their neighbourhood.
The war in Ukraine lends urgency to rethinking European security in the 2020s. This involves discussions of security priorities in light of perceived threats and challenges (e.g. whether the EU’s attention to its Eastern neighbourhood affects its role as a security actor elsewhere). These debates necessitate both introspection, for instance through joint assessments of threats and risks or identifying lessons from past crises, as well as extrospection by opening up to trends and opportunities outside of Europe. 2023 marks a special anniversary in EU security and defence policy: 20 years ago, the EU launched its first crisis management operations to support peacebuilding and rule of law in the Balkans and temporarily assist the UN in improving the security and humanitarian situation in the DR Congo. Today, the dominant narrative in the EU’s institutions and national capitals is that conflicts and crises are more complex, harder to anticipate and respond to, and entail numerous risks that undermine world orders and the EU’s resilience. The past year saw rising levels of violent conflict in most regions around the world. According to ACLED estimates, political violence rose by 27%, or almost 27.000 events, compared to 2021. In late 2022, the EU’s military assistance mission in support of Ukraine was established to help tackle the threat of military aggression in Europe. 20 other crisis management operations (12 civilian, 8 military) are ongoing. These include deployments to the Balkans, where the EU is increasingly seeking to prevent governance breakdown and contain migration flows, and the Sahel, where the EU is struggling to come to terms with the combined effects of military rule in and French withdrawal from Mali and uncertainty around Wagner’s presence. The EU is also confronted with ongoing or potential escalation in other regions, such as conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, the war in Yemen, or instability in the MENA region.
In this workshop, we invite contributors to reflect on changing perceptions and responses by the EU and its member states vis-à-vis violent conflicts abroad over the past few years. This involves discussions of how perceptions of threats and risks to European security as well as opportunities for cooperation have changed among European political elites and publics, and how EU actors foresaw and prepared for the potential escalation of violent conflict. In terms of responses, this includes action within and outside of EU structures, as well as inaction. We also welcome explorations of why and how the European periphery has become central to European security and how larger geopolitical considerations have shaped these changes.
The workshop is jointly organised by IBEI (Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals) and CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs). It provides a forum for scholars to discuss work in progress and identify avenues for future research on Europe’s volatile security environment and the adequacy of European responses. The initiative complements the activities of IBEI’s European Foreign Policy Observatory, its project on European Sovereignty in a World of Systemic Rivalry (EUSOV), and its participation in projects on Reconceptualising European Power (RENPET) and Envisioning a New Governance Architecture for a Global Europe (ENGAGE). It also complements CIDOB’s participation in projects on Understanding and Strengthening EU Foreign and Security Policy in a Complex and Contested World (JOINT), Rebuilding governance and resilience out of the pandemic (REGROUP) and Rethinking and Reshaping the EU’s Democracy Support in its Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood (SHAPEDEM-EU).