Europe’s military drift: from a soft power union to ‘security provider’

On 24 May 2021, YPFP Brussels hosted an event in partnership with the Quaker Council for European Affairs titled “Europe’s military drift: from a soft power union to ‘security provider’”. YPFP Brussels Security and Defence Officer, Raquel Sequeira moderated the panel, with two speakers: Laëtitia Sédou, EU Programme Officer, European Network against the Arms Trade and Helewise Elfferich, Policy Officer, European Peace Facility, EEAS.

The event opened with a general discussion on whether the EU could simultaneously be a peace actor and a military actor on the world stage. Ms Sédou argued that the EU could not be at the same time a peace and a military power, as this was a contradiction. Military spending fuels insecurity and can encourage a military arms race if countries find themselves stuck in a security dilemma and a vicious circle of ever-increasing armament. Ms Elfferich presented the point of view that sometimes the help of weapons can be needed to enable one to establish a situation that would be conducive to peace negotiations and other peace work. She also touched upon the workings of the EU Peace Facility (EPF) and mentioned that its use is a last resort in case of intra state conflict in which other options have been exhausted. 

This more general opening of the event was followed by more specific questions on Europe’s militarism, such as regarding the repercussions the EU’s transformation into a hard power would have on EU policy. The panelists discussed to what extent the EU’s role in purchasing and delivering weapons could be contributing to the global arms race and changing EU’s priorities at the same time. Since the EU’s resources are limited, there is a risk that the EU could lose its focus on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, putting its credibility as a mediator in conflicts at risk.

Nevertheless, there is also a case to be made that regardless of what the EU does, countries such as Russia and China will continue to increase their military power. Therefore, weapons will continue to be needed if only to increase deterrence capabilities.

During the Q&A session, the participants were particularly interested in questions related to good examples of non-violent peace forces, as well as some lessons learned from past and current EU military operations. Finally, the role of finance and economic development in conflict resolution and peace building was mentioned, touching on the effects that sanctions and overall economic development can have on conflict resolution.

Written by Raquel Sequeira, Security & Defence Officer, YPFP Brussels