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JCMS 2010 Volume 48. Number 2. pp.


Power is Always in Fashion: State-Centric

Realism and the European Security and
Defence Policy jcms_2057 397..416

University of Florida

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is in large part a product of the
institutional development of the EU and the consolidation of its authority over
internal issues. This parallels the development of the United States as a global actor
shortly after the federal government consolidated power over domestic affairs in the

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is evolving into a con-
crete structure with a significantly improved means of projecting influence in
the international environment. Under the framework of ESDP, Europe has not
only developed new military structures and capabilities; it is using them in
small but significant missions. Much has been written on the intricacies of
those developments, their effects on the relations between members of the
European Union (EU) and on the transatlantic relationship (Howorth, 2004;
Menon, 2004; Geigerich and Wallace, 2004; Deighton, 2002). The purpose of
this article, however, is to return to a more fundamental question: why is the
EU developing a capability to project power in the distinct absence of any
significant military threat to Europe?
International relations theory for the most part does not offer a good
answer to this question. Those in the offensive realist camp argue that states

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148,

develop military power and the capability to influence international affairs

through its use to balance the power of other states regardless of whether
or not they pose a threat (Mearshimer, 2001). In this view, states seek
to ensure their security by expanding their influence whenever they can
(Waltz, 1979; Gilpin, 1981). They do not act reflexively, but rather exploit
the opportunities presented by the international environment to their
maximum advantage (Labs, 1997). Others in the defensive realist camp
claim that states engage in expansive behaviour to counter specific threats
(Walt, 1987). When states perceive a threat to their security, they seek to
expand their capability to influence events beyond their borders. Within this
framework, states are seen as expanding their power only when necessary
rather than whenever they can.
But neither of those paradigms fully explains the development of ESDP.
The EU clearly has no intention of trying to balance against the military
power of the United States in a traditional sense. Even assuming all of the
goals of ESDP were fulfilled, the deployable military power of the EU would
be a fraction of that of the US Marine Corps, the smallest of the US Armed
Forces. The development of ESDP also fails to fit the defensive realist
paradigm. In fact, the EU began to develop ESDP in earnest just after the
Soviet Union – the one state that could pose a significant threat to Europe –
Offensive realism, however, does offer a starting point: the EU is devel-
oping its power to influence international events because it can. The post-cold
war international environment provides a unique opportunity in which there
is no military threat to Europe and the one remaining superpower is officially
encouraging (with some ambivalence) the development of an independent
European military capability. But such developments take more than an
opening in the international environment to bring them to fruition; they also
require that the entity in question has the institutional ability to project power
and influence. This combination of realist international relations theory
and domestic institutional development is known as state-centric realism
(Zakaria, 1998).
State-centric realism provides a more complete answer to the puzzle of
why the EU is developing its capabilities to influence international events,
including deployable military force, at this particular juncture. Considerable
governing authority and bureaucratic capacity has shifted to the EU from the
Member States, particularly since the Single European Act (SEA) of 1987.
This occurred contemporaneously with the end of the cold war and the
restrictions it placed on the development of a foreign and security policy
independent from that of the United States. Thus, the European Union’s
development of a greater capacity to influence events beyond its borders is the
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

product of a permissive environment, but more importantly, it is also a

product of its institutional development.
Since the end of the cold war, the EU has progressively assumed powers
delegated by the national governments of its Member States that are tradi-
tionally associated with sovereign states such as control over borders and the
ability to mint currency. It increasingly sets the regulations that govern the
everyday life of European citizens over a range of health, safety and other
issues. After achieving a degree of authority over significant internal issues, it
is now developing the means, including military power, to have a greater
influence over the international environment.
This is actually a familiar pattern in the development of states, and in some
ways it parallels the history of the United States as the federal government
became a more powerful institution relative to the individual states. Fareed
Zakaria charts this development in detail in From Wealth to Power, seeking to
explain why the United States experienced an approximate 40-year time lag
between becoming a major economic power and becoming a military and
political power capable of pursuing the federal government’s interests abroad.
Until the end of the 19th century, the United states featured relatively weak
federal institutions, including a presidency that was usually outmatched on
foreign policy issues by the representatives of the states, particularly in the
Senate (Zakaria, 1998, p. 55). Despite its formidable economic power and
size, the United States of the mid-19th century lacked the ability to project
power and influence, in part because the individual states had little interest in
creating a stronger federal authority at their own expense. But following a
series of changes that shifted increasingly more power to the federal govern-
ment and the presidency in the 1890s, the United States rapidly began to
develop the bureaucratic capability to govern effectively from the centre and,
in turn, developed its military and other capabilities to influence the interna-
tional environment in the distinct absence of any significant territorial threat
(Zakaria, 1998, p. 126).
In short, the United States became a significant power because it could.
The lack of a threat in the late 19th century provided an opportunity, but
the state had to develop institutions capable of channelling resources to the
expanding interests of the federal government. It was the process of transfer-
ring power from the individual states to the central government that allowed
the US to go from global weakling to global power in a short period of time
at the end of the 19th century.
But can we use a similar framework to think about the current European
effort to become a global player in its own right? Clearly direct comparisons
to the US can be misleading, but there is no denying that the power amassed
by the EU over the past two decades puts its capacity to govern well beyond
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

the reach of any international organization. It may not be evolving into a state
in the Westphalian sense, but it is certainly acquiring many of the powers and
attributes traditionally associated with statehood.
This article begins with an examination of the rise of the United States
based on Zakaria’s study that demonstrates the importance of institutional
capacity in the development of power projection capabilities. Second, it
argues that state-centric realism can be applied to the EU because it has
adopted many of the characteristics and powers traditionally associated with
states. Third, it details the growth of ESDP and other tools of power projec-
tion, arguing that the timing of this development is consistent with the
predictions of state-centric realism.

I. State-Centric Realism and the Rise of the United States

The United States experienced a massive transition in the 30 years after the
end of the Civil War. In both relative and absolute terms, the United States
economy boomed in that period, several depressions notwithstanding.
Between 1865 and 1898, agricultural production grew by more than 200 per
cent, coal production by 800 per cent and railway track construction by close
to 600 per cent (Kennedy, 1987, pp. 242–4). The population doubled between
1865 and 1900 as wave after wave of European immigrants moved to the
United States. By 1885, the US had passed the UK as the single largest
manufacturer. In relative terms, the annual GDP growth of the United States
during this period is even more striking, growing at a rate of approximately 5
per cent per year compared to 1.5 per cent for Great Britain (Zakaria, 1998,
p. 45).
Yet, despite this extraordinary growth relative to other countries, the US
remained a minor player in international affairs. The Department of State
was miniscule and diplomatic representation was generally limited to honor-
ary consuls and a handful of true diplomatic postings (Sterner, 1982). Other
countries limited their representation to the United States, sometimes shutting
embassies in what was regarded as the diplomatic backwater of Washington,
DC. Most did not bother to send their best diplomats; in fact until 1892 there
were no foreign representatives of ambassadorial rank in the United States
(May, 1961, p. 4).
The US military was similarly limited in the 30 years following the Civil
War. The navy, the main tool of power projection at the time, was a fraction
of the size of the fleets of European powers with much smaller economies
(Kennedy, 1987, p. 203). The US Army was even less significant with an
authorized end strength of 27,000 that was in practice considerably fewer.

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Enlisted men were poorly paid and desertion rates were high: nearly one-third
of the Army deserted in 1871 (Weigley, 1984, p. 270). Much of the military
strength of the United States was in the hands of the individual states, which
provided militias of generally poor quality and training to national efforts.
Yet, by the first decade of the 20th century, the situation was radically
different. The United States had defeated Spain in the Spanish–American
war, taking possession of strategic islands and coaling stations from the
Pacific to the Caribbean in rapid succession. The United States Navy had been
transformed from a small and ageing fleet to being one of the most modern
and potent in the world. The United States was no longer a bit player in
international affairs as demonstrated by the role it played in ending the
Russo–Japanese war, and this was only a precursor to the decisive role
the United States would play in ending World War I and shaping the subse-
quent map of Europe. In a span of less than 40 years, the United States was
transformed from a minor player outside of its immediate region into a
significant global actor.
This transformation took place in part because of the massive expansion of
the American economy following the Civil War. Based on that alone, many
observers at the time expected that the United States would become a major
power in global affairs in the 1870s. Benjamin Disraeli predicted that the
outcome of the American Civil War would be, ‘a different America from that
which was known to our fathers and even from that which this generation has
had so much experience. It will be an America of armies, of diplomacy [. . .]
and probably of frequent wars’ (Disraeli, quoted in Sideman and Friedman,
1960, p. 233). Although Britain was most concerned about the emergence of
a potential rival and a new naval power, other European states also believed
that they could expect the United States to play a significantly larger role in
international affairs (Zakaria, 1998, p. 52).
Yet, it took nearly 30 additional years for the United States to begin to
fulfil those predictions. Disraeli was correct in his analysis; the United States
had the material power to become a major player in international affairs in the
1870s and 1880s. But it failed to live up to its predicted role because it lacked
the institutional capacity in the federal government to harness the nation’s
strength for expanding its interests in global affairs until the end of the
century. A series of changes between 1865 and 1900, however, gradually
shifted power away from the individual states to the federal government. At
the same time power also shifted within Washington from the legislative to
the executive branch. This combination of events created a central govern-
ment that was not only more capable of extracting resources, but more
importantly, capable of using them in the interests of the national government
(Zakaria, 1998, p. 92).
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

II. The Centralization of Power in the United States

It is often assumed that the United States of the 20th and 21st century is
simply an expanded version of what existed previously, but the strength of
the federal government and the presidency is a relatively new phenomenon
in the history of the nation (Bensel, 1990). Throughout most of the 19th
century it was clear that the bulk of power rested in the individual states
and their representatives in the Congress. The federal government was one
with only, ‘a token administrative presence in most of the nation [. . .]
whose sovereignty was interpreted by the central administration as contin-
gent on the consent of the individual states’ (Bensel, 1990, p. ix). The
Senate, which had a particularly powerful influence over foreign policy, was
designed to give equal representation to the individual states. Until 1913
senators were elected by the individual state legislatures, which made them
very much the representatives of their state’s interests. The Senate used its
prerogatives to the full extent, leading Henry Adams to quip that the United
States had a government, ‘of the people, by the people, for the Senate’
(Adams, quoted in Beisner, 1986, p. 6).
Throughout the 19th century the Congress was far more powerful than the
executive branch, which lacked the staff, funding and administrative capacity
to govern effectively. The individual states also had considerably more
authority and autonomy in the 1870s and 1880s than they would have at the
turn of the century. States controlled much of the regulatory structure that
existed and the federal government did not gain control over immigration
until 1882 (Zakaria, 1998, p. 101). The Congress was dominant in most areas
and the individual bureaucracies of the federal government were in practice
responsible to the Congressional committees rather than the president. This
extended into foreign affairs to the point that British diplomats in the 1870s
were convinced that the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
was the director of foreign policy in the United States, not the Secretary of
State (Zakaria, 1998, p. 70). Given the state of affairs, this was a reasonable
The states through their representatives in the Senate were able to frustrate
most plans of the executive to use the material power of the United States to
play a larger role in international affairs in the 1870s and 1880s. Throughout
the period immediately following the Civil War, the Senate simply refused to
take under consideration treaties that would have expanded the reach and
influence of the United States such as the treaty for the annexation of the
Danish West Indies. The Senate rejected outright the Reciprocation Treaty
with Hawaii, which was seen as a first step towards annexation. Many other
accords, treaties and trade agreements that would have extended the influence

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

of the United States died in the Senate or were never submitted for approval
because of the certainty of a Senate rejection (Beisner, 1986, p. 6).
Part of this was owed to the reluctance of the Congress to assume the
expense of expansion, but much of it was tied to the ongoing battles between
the states and the executive for authority over domestic affairs. Greater
involvement in foreign affairs would necessarily increase the power of the
federal government relative to that of the individual states. Becoming
embroiled in world affairs was consistently opposed by many in the United
States because it was feared that this would necessitate a large standing
military and, in turn, increased taxes and demands on the citizens and indi-
vidual states (Selden, 2004, p. 32; Kupchan, 2002). This concern, first articu-
lated by Thomas Jefferson in the earliest days of the republic, was a constant
in American political discourse and it was particularly salient in the aftermath
of the Civil War and the subsequent military occupation of the south.
The balance of power, however, between the states and Congress on the
one hand, and the federal government and the executive branch on the other,
began to shift rapidly with a series of reforms that began in the 1880s
(Zakaria, 1998, p. 92). Those changes occurred in response to the rapid
industrialization of the country. In particular, the rapid growth of the railways
created a continental market for goods that required national-level regulation.
The expansion of the rail system was subsidized by the federal government,
and with subsidization came government regulation (Angevine, 2004). The
Supreme Court strengthened the idea of federal supremacy over interstate
commerce and the railroads when it ruled repeatedly in this period that
the federal government had responsibility for the regulation of interstate
Rapid industrialization also led to the birth of federal agencies such as the
Civil Service Commission in 1883, the Bureau of Labor in 1884 and the
Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. At the same time, the rapid growth
in cities required new forms of regulation over the new technologies provid-
ing public services over large areas such as gas, electricity and telecom-
munications (Zakaria, 1998, p. 95). Reformers of the time successfully
campaigned to expand the power of the federal government to regulate an
increasingly large number of issues such as health and safety standards that
had previously been in the hands of the individual states or local authorities
(Sproat, 1968). This led to the creation of new bureaucracies under the control
of the federal government that gradually gained the expertise and competency
to expand its powers at the expense of the sovereignty of the individual states.
This power was centralized in the executive branch because most reformers at
the time saw the Congress as too parochial to cope effectively with such
challenges (Keller, 1977).
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

This broad centralization of authority built up new bureaucracies that

made the executive the head of a growing, and more powerful, administrative
apparatus. A need for efficient central control less oriented around the patron-
age politics that dominated Congressional appointments to the bureaucracy
led to a series of reforms designed to create more professional institutions. In
turn, institutions such as the Civil Service Commission and the Presidential
Commission on Economy and Efficiency became, ‘visible symbols not only
of a transfer of initiative for administrative reform from the legislative to the
executive branch, but also of the tipping of the constitutional balance from
Congress to the president’ (White, 1958, p. 364).
Civil service reform was a particularly significant development. The drive
to create more efficient institutions led to competitive exams and other pro-
cesses that resulted in increasing numbers of competent civil servants filling
positions that were previously occupied by individuals whose main qualifi-
cations were close ties to a political party or Member of Congress. All of this
started as a means to cope with the domestic challenges of industrialization,
but it soon spilled over into international affairs as successful reforms of
domestic bureaucratic institutions prompted a re-evaluation of the State
Department and the military.
The American diplomatic corps in the 19th century was a source of more
embarrassment than diplomatic achievement. In the 1870s the American
minister to Ecuador attempted to kill the British ambassador, while the
American representative in Tokyo amused himself by careening through the
streets in a carriage and terrifying pedestrians with cracks of his bullwhip
(Beisner, 1986, p. 29). But starting in the 1880s, the State Department began
to become an increasingly more professional organization whose consuls and
secretaries were the product of exams and merit-based promotions. Although
many top-level postings remained political appointments, the most important
officers just below them were now competent professionals whose number
doubled in the last two decades of the 19th century (Werking, 1977).
The civil service reform process also drove some reformers to consider
how the military could be managed more efficiently. The militia-based system
was increasingly seen as chaotic and inefficient in the late 19th century. There
were few clear lines of responsibility and the chiefs of the separate army and
navy bureaus had independent relationships with Congress that bypassed the
president (Skowronek, 1982). Sweeping reforms proved impossible to imple-
ment because the states were determined to retain their control over the
militias, but a professional military education system and naval intelligence
office were established in the 1880s. Competitive examinations for the
promotion of officers introduced in the same period helped to establish a
professional officer corps, and the bureaucracy expanded to include new
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Assistant Secretary positions in the Department of War and the Department of

the Navy.
Thus, the process of centralizing authority to cope better with domestic
challenges ultimately gave the executive branch the authority and bureau-
cratic resources to develop improved tools of exerting more influence over
international affairs as well. The central state could extract more resources,
and the federal budget more than doubled between 1877 and 1900 (Kendrick,
1955). More importantly, however, it could use those resources to expand the
international influence of the United States because the more centralized and
capable administrative structure allowed it to respond more effectively to
international opportunities and pressures.
Once this process of centralizing power in the federal government and in
the executive was firmly ensconced, the United States began to develop a
power projection capability that reflected its economic strength. The navy was
expanded dramatically at the end of the 19th century. What was a low-to-
middling power projection force at best during the 1880s became the third
largest in the world at the start of the 20th century (Kennedy, 1987, p. 247).
It is important to note that this took place in the distinct absence of any serious
threat to the United States. Relations with Britain were significantly better
than they had been in recent memory, and no other European power, with the
exception of Spain, held significant overseas territory close to the United
As the state became more centralized and the tools of power projection
were developed, that power was used in a variety of ways to expand American
influence in the international environment. American foreign policy became
much more assertive over the course of the 1890s, seizing three times as many
opportunities to expand its influence between 1889 and 1908 compared to
the 1865–89 period (Zakaria, 1998, p. 130). The expansion of American
influence did not rely solely, or even primarily, on military interventions; the
United States began to play a larger role in diplomacy, international confer-
ences and treaties, a role that was previously hampered by a strong Congress
that reflected the more restricted interests of the individual states. The same
United States that was absent from international negotiations in the 1870s was
now playing a central role in ending border disputes between Britain and
Venezuela, securing a route for the Panama Canal, negotiating with the
European powers in naval conferences and guaranteeing western trading
interests in Asia by the end of the century.
Presidents and Secretaries of State attempted to expand the reach of the
United States in the decades following the Civil War, and the massive expan-
sion of the navy in the 1890s was preceded by several attempts to give the
United States a navy that reflected its economic and territorial strength. Yet,
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

those previous attempts to do so failed when blocked by the representatives of

the individual states in the Congress. It took the emergence of a more potent
federal government and a strengthened executive relative to the legislature to
allow the United States to pursue a broader conception of its interests abroad.
But that strengthened central authority emerged in response to the need to
develop better regulatory structures for the increasingly interconnected
continent-wide market of the United States, not in response to an external
threat. In broad strokes this pattern should be familiar to students of the
European Union.

III. Applying State-Centric Realism to the European Union

A number of parallels can be drawn between the current state of the devel-
opment of the EU and the emergence of the United States as a more signifi-
cant actor in the international arena. The United States in the late 19th century
was a massive economic power but lacked the tools of power projection, in
large part because the federal government was a weak entity and the indi-
vidual states did not want to authorize activities that would lead to a stronger
central government at the expense of their autonomy. But the economic need
to regulate markets and standardize regulations across the American continent
led to an accretion of power at the level of the federal government, particu-
larly the executive branch and its administrative agencies. This in turn drove
the creation of more efficient administrative structures for domestic affairs
that soon spilled into the State Department and the military, making them
more capable as well. The federal government used this new-found institu-
tional capacity to expand its influence in the international environment, in part
through the acquisition of the tools of power projection. What started as
essentially an economically driven intergovernmental process between rep-
resentatives of the individual states in Congress led to a transfer of authority
from the states to the federal government and the creation of institutions in the
federal government that allowed it to pursue a more active role in interna-
tional affairs.
In a similar manner, the EU is often portrayed as an economic giant with
a disproportionately small degree of influence in international affairs. Like
the US, Europe’s process of integration was driven in large part by the
demands of continent-wide common economic space and, particularly since
the Single European Act of 1987, the EU has developed new institutions and
more effective decision-making structures. The Maastricht, Amsterdam and
Nice summits have all created new bureaucratic structures and expanded the
breath and depth of expertise within the EU bureaucracy. The result is an EU

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

that has far more authority and competency over core issues in domestic
affairs such as fiscal policy and regulatory policy. This leads to the final but
incomplete parallel between the two cases: shortly following its consolidation
of authority over internal affairs, the EU is now expanding its capacity to
influence international events.
Despite the parallels, can we apply a theory of state-centric realism to the
EU, which, of course, is not a state in the traditional sense? But before
addressing that question it is worthwhile to reconsider what constitutes a state
in the current international environment. It is a simple matter to demonstrate
that the EU is not a state in the Westphalian sense, but there are different types
of state, and sovereignty is rarely absolute (Caporaso, 1996; Krasner, 2004).
The EU has also been described as a ‘normative’ power whose influence and
actions are ‘civilizing’ international relations (Hill, 1990; Nicolaidis and
Howse, 2002; Sjursen, 2006). This normative power allows it to have state-
like influence in a variety of ways, most notably in international environmen-
tal regulation where the EU has played a leading role (Vogler, 2005; Vogler
and Bretherton, 2006). Nonetheless, the lack of sovereign state institutions
poses a challenge for realist analysis of the EU given the state-centric nature
of realism (Hyde-Price, 2006).
It is true that the EU lacks powers associated with sovereign states, but this
critique also could be applied to the United States in the 19th century. The EU
has no direct power to tax the citizenry, for example, but neither did the
United States federal government until World War I. The EU does not control
immigration policy, but as noted above, the United States federal government
did not gain control of this issue until 1882. The EU does not control an
independent military, but for much of its history the US Army was heavily
dependent on state militias for its manpower (Weigley, 1984). What the EU
increasingly provides, however, is a common regulatory structure across
Europe that has a direct impact on matters that were previously the exclusive
competency of the Member States. If not a state in the traditional sense, then
the EU is an institution that has taken on many of the characteristics of a state.
But if state-centric realism is an appropriate means of explaining the
development of ESDP, we would expect to see a certain chain of events. First,
an increased consolidation of EU authority over internal affairs that had been
previously under the sovereign control of the Member States, as well as an
expansion of the bureaucratic capacity to exercise that authority. In the case
of the EU, we would expect that authority and capacity to increase primarily
in the Commission, which can be likened to an executive and a federal
administration, rather than the Council, where the Member States have indi-
vidual representation. To some extent, the analogy can be made between the
Council and the US Senate in the 19th century when it was a potent chamber
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

for the representation of the interests of the Member States. Second, follow-
ing this consolidation, we would expect to see the development of institu-
tional and power projection capabilities that allow the EU to expand its
influence in international affairs.
There is little doubt that the EU has increased its authority over domestic
affairs, particularly since the Single European Act (SEA) of 1987. The SEA
was built around the idea of creating a single economic space across the EU,
but doing so pushed greater authority to the Commission. In a burst of activity
following the SEA, the Commission initiated more than 300 new pieces of
legislation covering common environmental, health and safety standards
(Hix, 2005, p. 33). The Treaty on European Union (TEU), which entered into
force in 1993, further consolidated the authority of the Commission to initiate
legislation over internal affairs to include transportation regulation and con-
sumer protection (Sandholtz, 1993). The Amsterdam Treaty of 1999 pushed
more power toward the Commission by allowing it to initiate legislation on
matters of justice and home affairs, an area which had been previously the
exclusive domain of the Member States acting within the framework of the
Council. The basic pattern since 1987, therefore, has been an upward ratch-
eting of the authority of the EU over domestic affairs. In particular, the
authority and competency of the Commission has increased to meet the
demands placed on it by the Member States. Meeting the self-imposed dead-
lines for economic and monetary union, for example, pushed the Member
States to delegate more agenda-setting authority to the Commission in the
early 1990s (Hix, 2005, p. 34).
Thus, the Member States have increasingly delegated authority to the EU
over a range of domestic affairs from health and safety regulation to fiscal and
monetary policy. Those who approach the study of the EU from an intergov-
ernmental perspective argue that it is one thing for the EU to assume greater
authority over the ‘low’ politics of economic affairs, but quite another to be
delegated greater authority over the ‘high’ politics of defence and security
issues (Moravcsik, 1998). Yet, the Schengen Agreement that allows for free
movement across borders represents a significant delegation of authority from
the Member States to the European Union that affects their national security,
despite the fact that it was conceived to facilitate the movement of goods
across the common economic space. As the European Security Strategy
states, the main threats to Europe today are generally seen to be emanating
from trans-national terrorist organizations and criminal syndicates.1 Unlike
the cold war, the current security threats do not mass on the border with

The European Security Strategy, A Secure Europe in a Better World, December 2003. Available at:

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

armoured divisions; instead they enter stealthily in small numbers. Determin-

ing who and what enters the national territory is a vital component of guard-
ing against current security threats, but Schengen considerably limits the
ability of national authorities to do so in favour of a community-wide
The implications of this shift regarding border control are far-reaching. It
is not too far a step to imagine, for example, a common customs and border
patrol force at some point in the future. In fact, there is already some move-
ment in this direction with the creation of FRONTEX in 2004, an EU body
that co-ordinates border security among the members and promotes the devel-
opment of integrated border security. FRONTEX also has an operational
aspect and manages the European Patrol Network that monitors the southern
maritime frontier. In addition, it is responsible for establishing agreements
and memorandums of understanding with third party countries on controlling
illegal immigration.2 Although it is still a nascent institution, the growth of
FRONTEX could be a significant step forward in the EU’s growing power
over issues that blur the line between high and low politics.
Thus, an aspect of integration driven by economic factors has led to
further integration on a core security issue. Such ‘spillover’ was envisioned
to some extent by the original neofunctionalists who argued that agreement
on relatively small and technical issues would lead to ever deeper integration
on larger issues (Deutsch et al., 1957; Haas, 1958; Schmitter, 2005). The
neofunctionalist approach has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years,
focusing on spillover into specific aspects of integration such as health
policy and financial assistance programmes (Green, 2006; Niemann, 1998) as
well as studies of why defence and security policy prove resistant to ‘comu-
nitarization’ (Risse, 2005; Koenig-Archibugi, 2004; Biersteker, 2002). Such
approaches, however, have not yet taken into account the potential for spill-
over between high and low politics. But the end of the cold war and the shift
in emphasis to new and non-traditional security concerns has led to a blurring
of the boundaries between the two, which increases the potential for spillover
from economic into security issues. As the Schengen example illustrates,
integration undertaken for economic reasons can create a need for greater
integration on issues that are central to security and defence policy, thus
spurring the creation of new institutions that can exercise the power delegated
to them by the Member States. The process is undoubtedly intergovernmental
at first, but the unintended consequences of economic integration can create
a logic of integration that drives Member States to delegate authority to the
EU over issues that extend into security and defence.
See «».

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Spillover from low to high politics can also be seen in the de facto
diplomatic role played by Commission delegations abroad. As the economic
power of the EU increases, third parties seek a consistent point of contact who
can ‘speak for Europe’. Yet, the lack of an EU diplomatic service means that
the state holding the Presidency shoulders much of the burden of representing
EU policy in the rest of the world through its embassies. That is both awkward
for third parties as the Presidency rotates every six months and difficult for
smaller EU Member States with limited diplomatic representation around the
world. The Commission delegations, therefore, act as, ‘quasi-diplomatic ser-
vices, represent[ing] the Commission but primarily for Community tasks’
(Duke, 2002, p. 855). Third party states may prefer to work with Commission
delegations, which they see as an, ‘element of constancy compared to the
complicated rotating presidency system’ (Duke, 2002, p. 855). As the EU
enlarges and adds more small states with limited diplomatic representation,
complementary pressures build to push more competency toward the Com-
mission delegations as representatives of the EU abroad. Most EU Member
States have diplomatic representation in less than 90 countries, and only four
have representation in more than 100 of the nearly 200 countries that
compose the international community. For most Member States of the EU, a
more centralized diplomatic representation in the form of the Commission
delegations represents a way to stretch limited resources (Holland, 1997,
p. 10).
Thus, economic integration has not only dramatically increased the
authority of the EU relative to the Member States over internal affairs, it also
appears to be driving more authority toward the EU on international affairs.
If the parallel with the United States holds, state-centric realism predicts that
the EU would develop institutional and power projection capabilities to have
greater influence in the international arena shortly following the consolidation
of power over internal affairs in the central authority. Although the EU’s
capabilities in this regard are still in the formative stages, the rapid develop-
ment of new structures and capabilities demonstrates considerable movement
in this direction. Above all, the timing of those developments following close
on the heels of the EU’s growth in authority over internal affairs fits with the
predictions of state-centric realism.
The development of ESDP from raw idea to burgeoning institution in a
very brief period is impressive given the weight of the issues and the generally
slow pace of developments in the EU. ESDP became a concrete issue at the
Maastricht summit in 1993, but in the intervening years, and particularly
since 1998, ESDP began to crystallize with increasing speed. It now has a
permanent bureaucracy in the form of the EU military committee and military
staff, a framework for conducting operations and securing force goals from
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

the Member States, the beginnings of an agency for defence and armaments
co-operation, and a security strategy that puts forth the political mechanisms
and conceptual reasons for how and when this force would be used.
The EU, however, is not just developing the institutional mechanisms; it
is using them in small but significant operations in the Balkans and Africa.
The EU has conducted approximately 20 missions since 2003 (Keohane and
Valasek, 2008. p. 1). From an initial mission in 2003 in Macedonia, the list of
missions has grown to include peace-keeping, border monitoring, rule of law
assistance and humanitarian relief. There is reason to be sceptical about some
of those operations which are short-lived and are of dubious effectiveness
(Haine and Giegerich, 2006). But at the same time, the general trend in EU
operations has been toward larger and longer missions, which demonstrates
an increased logistical capability and willingness to engage.
What is apparent from this experience is that European military resources
are stretched to provide the forces and logistical support for limited opera-
tions. Yet, there are signs that European militaries are developing the ability
to deploy and sustain small military forces in challenging environments. The
stark contrast between the inability of European militaries to cope with
the demands of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and their ability to operate in the
distant and unforgiving environment of Afghanistan is a clear illustration of
this trend. But ongoing progress in strategic air and sea lift could give
European militaries the ability to move their forces with progressively less
direct support from the US over the next decade. European countries are also
investing considerable amounts into Command, Control, Communications,
Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems
(Flournoy et al., 2005; Shimkus, 2005). If properly leveraged, those devel-
opments could allow European states as individuals, or the EU as a collective,
to project a larger amount of sustainable military force in the near future.
In addition, the Member States have formed a network of asset sharing
arrangements and co-ordination mechanisms within an EU framework to
wring more effectiveness out of their existing strategic lift assets. The Sealift
Co-ordination Centre at Windhaven, the Netherlands, which arranges for
ships that would otherwise be travelling empty or only partially loaded on
return trips to carry the material of other partner countries, is one such
co-ordination cell (Shimkus, 2005). Another co-operative project that is
showing some signs of success is the European Airlift Co-ordination Centre
in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. This centre co-ordinates the airlift and refu-
elling assets of Germany, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and the
Netherlands. Its initial success has led to a combined approach for air and
sealift operations that could maximize the utility of all strategic transportation
© 2010 The Author(s)
Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Although many analysts have focused on the top-line numbers of Euro-

pean defence budgets and concluded that little has changed in recent years, a
more detailed look shows that there is some progress in using available
resources in a more cost-effective and militarily efficient manner. It is true
that many countries in Europe spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on defence,
but there is a mild trend in shifting expenditures to equipment procurement
from other budget accounts. After falling to an average of 13 per cent of the
defence budget for much of the post-cold war period, the percentage of
defence spending devoted to equipment purchases in EU Member States has
rebounded to just over 16 per cent, comparable to the 1985–89 average of
15.5 per cent.3
The developments outlined above should not be interpreted as an attempt
to build a ‘European army’ as they are still national militaries under the
control of national authorities. But the EU is developing the institutional
mechanisms to co-ordinate better those assets for missions under an EU flag.
Those co-ordination and planning cells represent an adaptive response to
demonstrated shortfalls within realistic budgetary constraints, but they also
put in place the mechanisms to allow the EU to project power and influence
in the international environment. The timing of those developments is sig-
nificant: all of this has occurred in a relatively brief period following the EU’s
growth in authority over domestic affairs and the development of the institu-
tional means to exercise it since the SEA.
Sceptics of the potential for integration on issues of high politics argue that
there are distinct limits as to the degree of integration that is likely to occur
through an intergovernmental process (Moravcsik, 1998). But the post-cold
war security environment is one in which the line between high and low
politics is increasingly blurred. This allows for functional spillover between
integration related to the economic issues that comprise low politics and the
security and defence issues that comprise high politics. Opening the borders
between the Member States was done for economic reasons, but the impli-
cations for security and national defence are significant in the current inter-
national environment. The end result has been to push more authority over a
critical security issue toward the EU. We should not, therefore, dismiss the
direction and progress of European integration on defence and security
matters as something doomed to founder on the immutable rocks of national

Calculated from the Nato–Russia Comependium of Financial and Economic Data Relating to Defence,
NATO Press Release (2007) 141, 20 December 2007. Available at: «

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

State-centric realism predicts that states develop their capabilities to exert
greater influence in the international environment when the state itself devel-
ops the institutional capability to channel national resources in that direction.
In a federal system such as the United States, this meant that the federal
government first needed to consolidate authority over internal affairs, which
gave it the bureaucratic capability and authority to expand its influence in the
international environment. The individual states were reluctant to allow the
federal government to amass power at the expense of their autonomy, but
the process was driven by economic necessity and the demands of a
continent-wide market.
To a large extent, this parallels the EU’s development of ESDP in the wake
of its increased authority over internal affairs. It is important to note, however,
why the EU is moving in this direction in the absence of a significant threat
to Europe. It is the result of an organic process related to how federal systems
evolve as they consolidate power across their Member States and then seek to
have greater influence beyond their borders. It is not a product of balancing
against a specific threat or against power in general: those basic paradigms of
international relations do not offer a satisfactory explanation because they fail
to consider the effect of institutional development. From a realist perspective,
states want to have as much power and influence in the international envi-
ronment as they can, but that is conditioned by their institutional capability.
The development of ESDP may have reflexive effects on the EU itself. If
interests expand with capabilities, then it is likely that the EU’s interests will
grow to take on progressively larger and more difficult missions under ESDP.
Some of those will inevitably require rapid decisions, which could be a driver
for more streamlined decision-making structures in the EU. It is possible to
have a complex process of consultation between Member States and the EU
institutions on a range of issues that, while significant, are not immediate
crises. But adding a harder security dimension to the EU means that some
matters may need rapid and firm action requiring a more centralized decision-
making process (Howorth, 2001). Thus, there could be a self-reinforcing
cycle in which the increased authority of the EU leads to more international
engagement, which in turn drives even more decision-making power toward
Regardless of the implications for the future, the relatively rapid progress
of ESDP in the absence of a military threat to Europe begs the question, ‘why
now?’ The short answer is that the EU has the ability to do so now because
of a permissive international environment and internal developments that
render it more capable of projecting power to gain greater influence over

© 2010 The Author(s)

Journal compilation © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

international events. The parallels with the US in the late 19th century are
striking as it went through a similar developmental pattern that transformed
it from a minor player in international affairs to a significant actor in a span
of approximately 40 years. What we are witnessing today in the development
of the EU as an international actor may be a product of the interna-
tional environment, but more important, the product of its own institutional

Zachary Selden
University of Florida
Tel +32 2 513 2865

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