EU’s New Maritime Strategy is a Failure

by Felix F. Seidler. Felix is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany and runs the site Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik”. This article was published there at first.

Since June 24, the EU has a new Maritime Security Strategy (EMSS). However, due to the haggling for posts in Brussels, there has not been much fanfare about it. In January, this blog has outlined what should have been in EU’s new Maritime Security Strategy. Hence, we should have a look how far the EMSS meets the strategic needs. To set the record straight: EMSS is a failure – and here is why.

FGS Hessen (Top), USNS Pecos (Middle) and FS Siroco (Bottom).

FGS Hessen (Top), USNS Pecos (Middle) and FS Siroco (Bottom).

Where is America?
The US Navy will remain the world’s most powerful navy for the decades to come. Its vessels dominate all oceans. Any maritime security policies will not work without taking Washington’s positions into account. Hence, any country’s or organization’s maritime strategy must at least address one’s relationship to the United States. However, EMSS does not address the US at any time (sic!).

EMSS repeats general knowledge by saying that the “EU depends on open, protected and secure seas and oceans” (“European Union Maritime Security Strategy“, Council of the European Union, 24.07.2014, p. 1). Due to the massive decline of Europe’s navies, this job is largely done by the United States. Moreover, EMSS defines maritime security “as a state of affairs of the global maritime domain, in which international law and national law are enforced, freedom of navigation is guaranteed and citizens, infrastructure, transport, the environment and maritime resources are protected” (p. 3). In the maritime choke points (e.g. Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca) most of these tasks are done by the US Navy and in the North Atlantic area also by NATO’s Standing Maritime Groups.

In consequence, a maritime strategy worth the term would have outlined what maritime relationship EU seeks with the United States. However, the EMSS does not clarify in any way how the triangle between EU, NATO and the US should work.

EU is now officially a regional power
Relevant theaters for the EU are the Arctic, the Mediterranean, the Indo-Pacific and meanwhile the Gulf of Guinea. In the EMSS, the EU says its strategy “covers the global maritime domain” (p. 4), while priorities are the North, Baltic and Black Seas, the Mediterranean, the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean (p. 4). The Indian Ocean was only briefly addressed concerning the Horn of Africa and the Pacific Ocean was not addressed at all. EU has missed the two most relevant oceans, not to mention that the Indo-Pacific as a geopolitical concept was also overlooked. Hence it is clear that in reality EMSS does not cover the global maritime domain.

Moreover, it is very questionable how relevant the theaters of EMSS priority really are. Of course, the Mediterranean and Arctic are go great concern. Due the Ukraine Crisis, the Black Sea has gained increased relevance. Instead, the Atlantic Ocean, the North and Baltic Sea are not areas of major security concerns. The only relevant issues going on there are Russian warship transits and air force flights. However, France could change this situation with the delivery of the Mistrals, because we may find these LHDs one day in front of Norway’s or the Baltic State’s coasts for unfriendly visits.

It is clear that while Europe is talking about interests and ambitions in the global maritime domain, it has effectively made itself a regional power. On the one hand, this does not reflect current strategic trends in the maritime domain, but on the other hand, the regional power approach is a realistic assumption.

The Landing Helicopter Dock Dixmude (L9015) in Jounieh bay, Lebanon (mMrch 2012). It is the third French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship.

The Landing Helicopter Dock Dixmude (L9015) in Jounieh bay, Lebanon (mMrch 2012). It is the third French Mistral-class amphibious assault ship.

Maritime good governance is fantasy
Frequently, the EMSS is using the term of “rules-based good governance at sea”, which the EU aims to promote in the international order. Perhaps, somebody from Brussels should have talked to our friends from Vietnam or the Philippines. What is emerging in the Indo-Pacific is the Chinese way of maritime governance, which means that by a salami-slicing tactic more and more of Asia’s water turn under Beijing’s control.

Much closer to Europe, Russia’s multiple show-of-force operations in the Eastern Mediterranean make clear, too, that Moscow will also not promote “rule-based good governance at sea”. In fact, in an international system, which becomes much more anarchic due to increased armament, nobody except Brussels is talking about good governance. The EMSS completely ignores that fact that maritime great power competition is growing and that new non-European expeditionary navies are emerging, which are likely to affect areas of concern for Europe.

Instead, Europe extensively debates security challenges, which are well known (p. 7f.). After more than 20 years of speeches, political documents and research, everybody is aware that organized crime, piracy, terrorism, proliferation and environmental issues are security challenges. Agreeing on this is not worth a new maritime strategy.

An aircraft elevator on the Chinese aircraft carrier "Liaoning". The carrier has two elevators, which lift the aircraft between the flight deck and the aircraft hangar (Source: "Liaoning (Varyag) Aircraft Carrier", SinoDefence, December 2013).

An aircraft elevator on the Chinese aircraft carrier “Liaoning”. The carrier has two elevators, which lift the aircraft between the flight deck and the aircraft hangar (Source: “Liaoning (Varyag) Aircraft Carrier“, SinoDefence, December 2013).

Brussels’ wishful thinking
While we see an emerging maritime great power competition across the global, the EU has managed to agree on a maritime strategy, which completely ignores the role of the US Navies and the rise of other navies, in particular China and India. While talking about “illegal archaeological research” as a threat (p. 8), EMSS pays no attention to shifting maritime balance of power, although Europe’s most pressing strategic-maritime challenge is how it will adapt to these shifts.

By canting phrases like “good governance”, the EU does only one thing: It sends a message all across the world that Brussels lives in a world of wishful thinking. China, India, Russia, Brazil and even America have no interest at all in playing by the rules that EU adores to put in place. While Brussels enjoys its self-percepted moral superiority, the world has moved on.

BRICS’ New Development Bank has no maritime relevance. However, it sends one relevant signal. The BRICS, who all are working on expeditionary navies, have no interested anymore in playing by Western rules, but rather try to overcome them in the long-term future. This applies on EU’s rule-based good governance, too.

EU will not become a serious player in maritime security
My argument in January was that it is most that EU says what it does and does what it says. Good governance in maritime security is promise Brussels cannot keep. Therefore, globally the EU will not become a serious maritime player. There is no talk in the EMSS about maritime crisis management or expeditionary missions. Instead, most of the issues addressed are trivial, self-evident and already well known. Hence, the EMSS is a failure.

Finally, there is also some good news. The stated ambitions of a regional power focusing on well-known security challenges is something that EU can actually do – but not more.

This entry was posted in English, Felix F. Seidler, International, Sea Powers, Security Policy.

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