01 May 2011

Book review: The Rise of European Security Cooperation



Seth G. Jones, The Rise of European Security Cooperation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Pp.301. £55.00. Hb. ISBN 9780521869744. £19.99. Pb. ISBN 9780521689854.

by Iraklis Oikonomou
Book review published in (2011), Intelligence and National Security, 26: 2, pp. 431-436
The study of security policy and intelligence, two realms where the state de facto occupies a privileged position as a policy actor, necessitates an understanding of the relations between states and the factors that influence them. Such an understanding has been traditionally facilitated by the discipline of international relations (IR). Realism, conventionally divided between a classical realist and a structural realist (or neorealist) variant, is a central paradigm of IR theory. Shaped by theorists such as Hans Morgenthau (classical realism) and Kenneth Waltz (neorealism), realism identifies states as the key actors and the constitutive units of the international system. These units seek to maximize their power and security, usually defined in military terms. While classical realists attribute this tendency primarily to human nature, neorealists locate it in the anarchic nature of the international system. Waltz identified the absence of an overarching power, i.e. a sovereign body that may protect states from each other, as the essence of anarchy and the criterion that separates the national from the international sphere. Neorealism treats states as functionally undifferentiated units, whose actual difference exists in terms of capabilities, not in terms of function. Thus, anarchy is presented as the most important factor that accounts for state behaviour towards other states. Due to anarchy, states live with the imminent threat of military action undertaken against them. Therefore, they seek to guarantee their own survival, security and protection from every potential aggressor. Their relative position vis-a` – vis other states is more important than their absolute power potential. For neorealist IR theory, the prospects of international cooperation and integration are vastly limited, due to the structure of international politics. Inter-state cooperation does take place, but mostly within the context of a balance-of-power logic against common enemies.[1]
Until recently, neorealism had not produced any significant theoretical output on European security and defence integration. John Mearsheimer articulated much of the neorealist position on the European security order after the Cold War.[2] European security was to unfold within a multipolar context, given the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of other big powers, a fact that threatened the peaceful European order. Mearsheimer reduced security cooperation in Europe to the continent’s patterns of deployment and distribution of nuclear weapons and military force in general. In an attempt to control the process of nuclear proliferation, European powers would supposedly demonstrate patterns of inter-state competition and conflict. The collapse of the Soviet Union and a potential US military withdrawal from Europe would lead to a resurgence of fear, suspicion and conflict among European states. If theorized through such lenses, the project of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is flawed and not viable. However, the European state of conflict and military competition that neorealists predicted did not arise. Meanwhile, any representative of this school of thought did not predict the burst of integrative tendencies and initiatives that did arise.
Seth G. Jones sets to take neorealism out of its obvious incapacity to interpret European military integration. He does so by taking security and military cooperation seriously, i.e. by putting empirical evidence before neorealist predictions and dogmas, and by accepting that the process of cooperation is real. Jones examines four areas of security cooperation: security institutions, economic sanctions, arms production and military forces. He concludes that there has been a significant increase in intergovernmental security cooperation among EU member states since the end of the Cold War (pp.4–5). For Jones, the changing structure of the international system and its shift from bipolarity to unipolarity forced EU member states to cooperate in security affairs. This change in state behaviour is attributed to the willingness of European states to increase their power projection capabilities and their autonomy from the United States. In addition, this change was underpinned by structural changes in the regional European system, namely the unification of Germany and the decrease of US presence in Europe, which caused European states to adopt a cooperative strategy in order to ensure peace between Germany and the rest of Europe (p.11).
Jones’ analysis is a step forward from the pessimistic predictions made by Mearsheimer, providing elements of a neorealist theory of European security cooperation, as opposed to a neorealist theory of European security elimination and conflict. The book is well written, clearly structured and easy to follow, while being based on a wealth of evidence and information. It documents the empirical background of some extremely complex phenomena, such as arms–industrial cooperation and the missions of ESDP, without being descriptive. Furthermore, it engages with several levels of analysis, including the member states, the EU and the transatlantic dimension of cooperation. The book benefits from the methodological choice of multiple case studies, which allows for a detailed yet analytically rich treatment of the topic under examination. By selecting case studies that encompass political, military, institutional and economic characteristics, Jones provides a comprehensive overview of European security cooperation, not limiting its scope to the military dimension.
Nevertheless, Jones’ theoretical scheme is somewhat problematic. To begin with, he only discusses EU security cooperation at the intergovernmental level, while evidence points to the existence of EU security integration at both the intergovernmental and the supranational level. Emphasis on intergovernmentalism is a constant feature of neorealism. Such an emphasis was probably legitimate back at the times of European Political Cooperation, but is definitely not legitimate today. The European Commission has been heavily involved in shaping the security policy of the EU. It is funding security research as part of the 7th Framework Programme. It is a member of the Board of the European Defence Agency, in charge of much of EU armaments affairs. It has generated important legal outcomes in the military equipment market. It has been funding security-related space projects, such as Galileo and the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security. It is in charge of the European Neighbourhood Policy, a policy with profound security implications for the EU. Last but not least, it has been extremely active in issues concerning the internal security of the EU, in the policy realm termed as ‘Freedom, Justice and Security’. Therefore, the neorealist claim to the primacy of intergovernmentalism obscures a wealth of supranational initiatives that are at the heart of European security cooperation and that point to the existence of integration, parallel to cooperation.
Economic integration and the merging of separate national economic interests are ignored altogether, even when discussing phenomena that are profoundly economic in nature, such as the imposition of economic sanctions and the collaboration in arms production. The impact of domestic and transnational economic policy actors is not studied in any detail; therefore, Jones’ conclusion that ‘domestic actors had remarkably little impact and influence on European states’ (p.225) seems unfounded. Transnational actors with national linkages are left outside the analysis. How can one interpret the emergence of EU armaments cooperation without reviewing the central role of, say, the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe and other policy agencies in pushing it forward? In addition, certain developments in the realm of political economy are misread. For example, the major boost in intra-EU armaments collaboration did not occur only after the end of the Cold War (p.10), but also during the 1980s and the privatization and concentration boom in the UK and Germany. More generally, the political implications of the consolidation of the European arms industry exceed the neorealist emphasis on the role of governments. Arms–industrial internationalization occurring outside the control of the nation-state introduced policy actors at the EU level, whose impact is not necessarily mediated by state authority.
The account of the US factor is also contradictory here. On the one hand, EU member states supposedly sought to decrease reliance from the United States by increasing cooperation (p.18). On the other hand, when an instance of such decreasing reliance did occur, namely the decline of US presence in Europe, member states were alarmed by it and enhanced their cooperation (p.11). Why should these states care about US commitment in Europe, if their prime concern is their autonomy vis-a` -vis the United States? Jones does not clarify whether European states sought to balance the United States or to actually ensure the continuation of its dominance in the European continent. Therefore, he fails to account for instances of US–European cooperation that obviously impact negatively on European autonomy, such as the continuation of NATO, the participation of key arms-producing states in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter, and plans to install a missile defence system in some EU member states.
Lack of comparative analysis leaves its marks on the book. The European experience of security cooperation is presented as a unique case, although one would expect that changes in the international system would similarly affect other regions such as Latin America and South-Eastern Asia. The same stands true for the question of ‘learning’. Jones claims that the leaders of Germany, France and the UK internalized the lessons of past conflicts in Europe and promoted security cooperation as a means to secure peace (pp.11, 15). However, he does not account for the lack of such learning by leaders elsewhere. What went wrong there and they were not able to learn from the mistakes of the past? Jones’ scheme is tautological, since he claims that security cooperation in other regions has been obstructed by the existence of regional hegemonic powers (p.16). Still, this claim does not explain why these hegemons do not agree to cooperate, in the same way that France or Germany did after the Cold War. There must be some other reasons why leaders in the Middle East or Africa or South-Eastern Asia did not learn from the past the way EU leaders did. These reasons are structural, but not in the meaning that neorealists assign to structure. They are linked to the politico-economic structures and integrative forces of European capitalism, rather than to the structure of systemic polarity.
The treatment of ideas by Jones leads to a greater problem, the notion of ‘rationality’ in which the book is embedded. For the neorealist author, policymakers seek to secure their populations from threats, EU states seek to balance US power, and states in general strive to project power abroad. How and why do they do that? The power-projectionist turn in EU security cooperation is viewed by Jones as an almost natural, self-evident move. In fact, this turn to power projection is what the book should explain in the first place. There is nothing inherently ‘rational’ in power projection. According to Jones, states project power in order to increase their security and influence others (p.25). Comparative analysis would help clarify this claim. Why do some states project power abroad while others refrain from doing so? More importantly, Jones should explain why the trend towards collective power projection hit Europe at the end of the 1990s, rather than in the 1960s or 1980s. What appears ‘rational’ to Jones is basically a historical, politico-economic and social outcome that needs to be interpreted, rather than reified through reference to a supposedly self-evident, a-social and a-historical rationality.
The reader might wonder what this critique would consider a better alternative to neorealism, as a framework of analysis of European security cooperation. Let us indicate some broad lines of argumentation. European security cooperation is a politico-economic, rather than simply strategic phenomenon, and should be treated as such. Since the late 1980s, economic internationalization produced significant institutionalized outcomes, as exemplified in the creation of the Single Market, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Lisbon Strategy and other initiatives. This led to the emergence of a relatively integrated capitalist economic space in the EU and facilitated the formation of EU cooperative arrangements, such as the ESDP. Power projection is at the heart of these arrangements, reflecting the historically particular tendency of European capitalism to expand, not necessarily in a territorial sense. At the same time, security cooperation fulfils the needs of an internationalized arms industry eager to secure its global competitive status. In this context, US–EU competition is not a simple by-product of the end of the Cold War and the condition of unipolarity, but rather an expression of inter-capitalist contradictions and rivalry.
Two factors that are either missing from or fitting uncomfortably with neorealist thinking are ideas and class agency. Far from being the outcomes of rational thinking, dominant ideas about, say, what European security cooperation is and should be about, are produced socially and reflect particular collective interests. Ideas about cooperation have informed the practice of cooperation and have themselves been shaped by pre-existing interests that necessitated and allowed cooperation in the first place. In addition, cooperation is a profoundly politicized process, influenced by the conscious action of class agency. Far from being closed, homogeneous units, states are fields where diverse social forces exercise power and promote their interests, formed primarily by their position in the social system of production. The direction and purpose of European security cooperation has occurred within a context of politico-economic and institutional power, largely reproduced by the hegemonic class actors at the national and transnational level.
One would not expect neorealism to resemble dialectical thinking but to, at least, modify its own long-standing, mechanistic emphasis on systemic structures and polarity. By taking European integration seriously and by engaging with some crucial historical and politico-economic aspects of security cooperation in Europe, Jones succeeds in overcoming many of the shortcomings of neorealist thinking, while unavoidably reflecting others. One way or another, The Rise of European Security Cooperation is an original, insightful and solidly argued work that must be read by everyone interested in European security and military affairs as well as in European integration in general.


[1] The core text of neorealist theory is Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill 1979). For critiques of neorealism, see Robert O. Keohane, Neorealism & Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press 1986). For a recent succinct summary of the theoretical assumptions made by adherents of neorealism, see Joao Resende-Santos, Neorealism, States, and the Modern Mass Army: A Neorealist Theory of the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2007) esp. pp. 4, 5, 48–9, 19, 35, 52, 53–60, 310.

[2] John J. Mearsheimer, ‘Back to the Future: Instability in Europe after the Cold War’, International Security 15/ 1 (1990) pp.5–56.