More Strategists, Less Strategy: The Case for a European Defense University

Tamir-LandscapeIn December 2003 the European Council took one of its most ambitious and important steps so far in transforming the European Union into a unified and global security actor – it adopted and issued the European Security Strategy (ESS). To mark its tenth anniversary and reflect on its achievements, shortcomings and way ahead, the journal Studia Diplomatica devoted a special issue, edited by Professor Sven Biscop, to the ESS. Among the articles there is one by the current author which focused on a less well known aspect of the ESS, the call it entails to develop a European Strategic Culture as a way to further develop and institutionalize the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. The article makes two arguments: first, that the EU does not need to construct a wholly new or common EU strategic culture; instead, a cohort of high-ranking security-related civilian and military officials must communicate and build upon existing shared threads of strategic culture, to form the basis for a European security-oriented worldview. Second, the best way to achieve this goal is through the establishment of a European Defense University designed to educate personnel to help promote the culture.

What is strategic culture? It is generally accepted that the study of strategic culture evolved in three consequent waves or generations. The first generation appeared in the late 1970s and focused on interlinks between national political and military cultures, and the strategic choices made by states. Scholars argued that a nation is formed by a deeply rooted set of beliefs and historical experiences, which form its distinctive character of strategic thinking and its approach to security issues. The idea that different polities may have distinctive ways of thinking about the same strategic issues began to gain credibility. The second generation is commonly dated to the early 1990s, and presents strategic culture as an independent determinant of security policy patterns. A variety of case studies was presented to support the suggestion that strategic culture is a milieu within which strategy is discussed, and, if national security policy is not driven by the parameters of strategic culture, then it is at the very least deeply rooted in culture. Researchers belonging to that generation aimed to develop a research methodology and improve the ambiguous and simplistic analytical models of their day.

In spite of this prolonged stalemate in theorization of strategic culture, international relations scholars have recently begun to accept the need for a more dynamic explanation and socially layered analysis of strategic culture. Indeed some explore the idea of strategic culture as a competition between ‘worldviews’ or ‘foreign policy paradigms’. Among the recent breakthroughs in developing more dynamic models, special attention should be paid to the work of Alan Bloomfield. In a recent groundbreaking work he presented a model which is based on the assumption that every strategic culture contains several ‘subcultures’ competing on influencing strategic decision-making. The suggested model of competing, co-existing subcultures predicts that different groups within a given state – such as political parties, ethnic groups or institutions – promote their favorite subculture. The core of each subculture consists of certain cultural interpretations as to who are the friends and foes of that given state. Therefore each subculture is seen by its supporters as the best way to define and solve the strategic challenges and opportunities facing the state. However, these subcultures are limited to a certain spectrum of policy options regarded as culturally acceptable within the overall orientation of the state.

This emerging line of reasoning provides a useful way of thinking how to proactively construct a strategic culture. Since the aim is to instill a distinctive set of attitudes, values and world views, i.e. a subculture in a distinctive group involved in strategic affairs, what is needed is a way to shape the culture of a specific group of officials. The article argues that military education institutions are means by which the hegemonic sub-culture embeds strategies in the social-constructing strategic culture.

Such a deliberate effort in social construction of strategic culture through military education has actually been done successfully. The Baltic Defence College at Tartu, Estonia is an excellent example of this conscious effort to construct a common strategic culture. Since 1998 the three Baltic States have been pursuing national security ends together for two reasons: continuous concerns about potential Russian aggression; and their shared belief that their application prospects for NATO membership would increase if they were to cooperate on military issues.  The establishment of a tri-national Baltic Defence College to meet staff training needs resulted from this decision. The establishment and activity of the college was supported by a significant and sustained international sponsorship. The sponsors pursued the promotion of an international cooperation policy with the Baltic States, which led to their incorporation of a post-Cold War security arrangement, as well as to a partnership paving the way to NATO and EU membership. The two leading supporters were Sweden and Finland. The Baltic Defence College serves as a hub of security thinking, doctrinal development, and multi-national training, promoting democratic control of armed forces, civil-military decision-making and professionalization of officer corps. Junior officers are educated on a national basis at three military academies that meet the standards set by the Baltic Defence College.

As argued in the article, the main issue the EU faces with regard to strategy is not a lack of institutional apparatus or policy documents, but rather the lack of a cohesive cohort of strategists who share a common worldview on the Union’s foreign and security perspectives. There is therefore a need to establish the Western European equivalent of the Baltic Defence College – a true European Defence University. The new institution would focus on developing a shared strategic culture around the de-facto common strategic concept of most European nations – ‘crisis management’ – and instill it in its students as the hegemonic subculture of the EU. This is not a new idea. The European Security and Defence College was established in 2005 to develop a shared security culture among a variety of professionals – including military officers – at the European level. Only a university of this type could provide the EU with the required corps of strategists to promote and institutionalize European strategic culture. Without actively embedding a strategic culture that works through its worldview, expertise, values and attitudes to develop real life solutions for the EU’s foreign and defense policy, the ESS and CSDP cannot truly realize their potential.

The paper on which this blog post is based can be read here: Studia Diplomatica LXVI-2 (2013)

Dr. Tamir Libel is a  Non- Resident Fellow at the Centre for War Studies at University College Dublin. The research that led to this article was conducted in the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin, and was funded by Marie Curie FP7-PEOPLE-2010-IEF grant N°: 275456.

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