All for one? EU’s toothless mutual defence clause

von Niklas Helwig

The annexation of Crimea by Russia reminded EU-Europe that armed aggression as a means of politics has not gone out of style – not even in Europe’s closest neighbourhood. Especially in the Baltics and the EU’s Eastern member states, the military activities of Russia have sparked old fears. Lithuania’s President Dalia Gybauskaita used the occasion of the US Vice President’s visit on March 19 to express her worries: “We witness the use of brutal force to redraw the map of Europe […] this is happening near the borders of Lithuania and is a direct threat to our security.” Two weeks earlier she had, together with the Polish president, already called for an emergency consultation of NATO ambassadors under Article 4 of the NATO treaty. The clause is invoked if a member of the alliance feels threatened.

The current crisis has put the spotlight on a source of threat that already seemed forgotten in the European context: aggression against states on their own territory. The end of the Cold War appeared to make any interpretation of the European integration project as a traditional security alliance defending its own turf obsolete. Particularly since 9/11, the European Union and its member states have put emphasis on ‘new’ threat scenarios as spelled out in the European Security Strategy from 2003. The document deemed “large-scale aggression against any Member State” as “improbable” and defined terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, state failure and organized crime as Europe’s main threats. Correspondingly, the EU’s security and defence policy has concentrated on crisis management operations in the wider European neighbourhood. Now, fundamental questions about the cornerstones of national security and defence are again being asked, not least in non-NATO member states, such as Finland and Sweden.

The renewed securitization of EU territory proper underlines the importance of mutual assistance agreements ...

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