The Bear's Lair

(The following post was contributed by Tobias Felix Franke. Tobias holds a Bachelor’s degree in European Studies from the University of Maastricht and Masters’ degrees in Contemporary European Studies: Politics, Polity and Society from the University of Bath and in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies from the College of Europe, Bruges. He currently works for the German embassy in Brussels. The views represented are his own.)

The force generation process and utility of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) bridging mission EUFOR Chad/CAR (EUFOR) has received considerable academic attention. However, relatively sparse consideration has been been given to the member states’ motives to participate in this mission, which lasted from January 28th 2008 to March 15th 2009 (before transferral to the UN’s MINURCAT mission). Austria’s desire to join the mission came as a particular surprise as the small, neutral country, with limited military resources, has in the past frequently abstained from engaging in ‘adventures in Africa’. So what lay behind Austria’s decision to participate in EUFOR Chad/CAR and supply the maximum 186 troops (the fifth largest contingent)?

Officially at least, Vienna followed a rhetoric similar to that of the EU. However, a more cannier analysis demonstrates that this rhetoric was underpinned by a distinct national agenda, which diverged from Brussels’ official line. In fact, self-interest played an important role in Austria’s decision to join the mission and hence it becomes clear that realist calculations of relative power, relative gains, and influence remain important factors in this category of political decisions.

Official convergence – EU and Austrian motives

The EU had four principal motivations to engage in Chad/CAR which can be broadly aligned with the three main parts of their 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS).

Firstly, Brussels sought to respond to a regional conflict in the Darfur-Chad-Central African Republic (CAR) triangle one of the five key threats identified in part 1 of the ESS. According to the Council, it did so by “protecting civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons”.

Secondly, as set out under the global challenges of the ESS, humanitarian assistance was a prime motive for the EU’s mission in Chad/CAR and continued its logic of a security-development nexus. Concretely, EUFOR was to “facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and the free movement of humanitarian personnel by helping to improve security in the area of operations”.

Thirdly, and mirroring part II of the ESS, Brussels desired to contribute to an international order based on effective multilateralism by responding to a UN request for a bridging mission. In the field, EUFOR was tasked to “protect[] UN personnel, facilities installations and equipment and to ensur[e] the security and freedom of movement of its own staff, UN staff and associated personnel”.

In sum, as Sven Biscop has previously pointed out, Brussels’ overarching motive can be understood as a drive to improve its international actorness by mounting a large autonomous mission in Africa, which was intended to be a testimony to the EU’s capability to use an integrated comprehensive security approach. Part III of the ESS particularly stresses this orientation and the “need to be more active”. Hence, the EU’s motives can be seen as in line with, and as arising from, the ESS.

On 9 November 2007, the Austrian grand coalition of conservatives (ÖVP) and social democrats (SPÖ) voted in favour of participating in EUFOR – while all three opposition parties cast negative votes. Nonetheless, the preceding general discussion reflected a rather coherent debate around the first three EU motives discussed above – which constituted the backbone of official Austrian motives. Government and coalition parliamentarians particularly emphasized the humanitarian side of the mission and stressed that as a neutral country, Austria was well-placed to help refugees and to protect displaced persons. Knowing that in 2008 Chad hosted 234.000 refugees from Darfur, 41.000 from CAR and about 180.000 internally displaced persons, the Austrian reference to humanitarian crisis management gave its motivations an altruistic, post-modern orientation, much in line with EU rhetoric. This impression is substantiated by interviews with EU and Austrian officials who stressed that “European solidarity” with the EU’s (and France’s) requests for troops was another non-negligible motivation for Vienna.

Thus official EU and Austrian motivations were largely in tune; with Vienna particularly emphasising a more altruistic humanitarian assistance motive in order to easier amalgamate EU rhetoric with Austrian neutrality.

Subtle divergences – Austria’s national agenda

However, upon closer inspection, one can discover four points of an underlying Austrian agenda, which diverged somewhat from the abovementioned official motivations. Firstly, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA) Nick Witney reminded Austria in 2007/2008 that a ‘pioneer group’ of member states in European security and defence policy would currently exclude Vienna as it figured among the laggards of troop deployment. Similarly, Reiter and Frank had already pointed out in 2004 that Austria needed to “intensify its efforts in the field of security policy in order to maintain its influence”. Subsequently, in an interview with an Austrian officer it was highlighted that participation in EUFOR served “a clear Austrian national interest: gaining influence and enhancing troop experience” vis-à-vis other countries. According to Brettner-Messler, such relative power considerations are understandable as Austria’s “active neutrality policy” rests on two pillars: neutrality and participation in international peace operations. These pillars serve to prevent the international community confusing Austrian neutrality with isolation. Without membership in any alliance, Vienna uses peace operations to foster international prestige and influence.

Secondly, one can question what motivated this drive for influence and what Austria intended to use it for? Authors like Linke point to Austria’s bid for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for which it desperately needed African votes. Indeed African leaders welcomed Vienna’s EUFOR engagement and as a result, threw their weight behind Austria bid. On October 17th 2008, Austria received 132 votes in the assembly, sweeping aside Iceland (87 votes) and obtaining one of two, European, Security Council seats.

Thirdly and in light of the above, Vienna’s allusion to European solidarity can be seen in a different light. Austria was aware that acquiescing to France’s demand for troops would ensure Paris’ support and lobbying of African leaders for Vienna’s non-permanent seat. Consequently, European ‘solidarity’ was not necessarily altruistic and displayed signs of national interest calculations. Moreover, documents of the Austrian ministry of defence demonstrate that France assisted Austrian troops at home and instructed Vienna’s officers in the hexagon before the mission was launched. Thus, a certain trade-off for Austria’s participation is noticeable.

Finally, to illustrate further that national self-interest played a considerable role, we must come to grips with the Austrian government’s role in the decision-making process, where it presented itself as a ‘black box’ rather than a transparent actor. Despite over-stretched resources and a traditional unfavourable public opinion to overseas deployments – in November 2007 59% deemed the mission in violation of Austria’s neutrality and 64% rejected it outright – the government doggedly pursued its course of action. In so doing, the government ‘unintentionally’ failed to provide an important intelligence document (Militärstrategische Weisung No. 2) to the responsible parliamentary committee before the EUFOR vote on 9 November 2007. The document highlighted that the situation in Chad was unstable, dangerous for Austrian troops and that France’s involvement was not impartial. Bearing in mind the intense discussions at the time, it can be inferred that this information could have put the parliamentary majority at risk.

Looking forward

Hence we can conclude that Austria followed a rather clear underlying national agenda, which displayed signs of traditional governmental self-interest that diverged from official Austrian and EU motivations. This leads us to two more general conclusions.

On a practical level, we can discern that it is not a prerequisite that EU interests and national interests completely converge in order to launch a mission, as long as national interests can be satisfied alongside the official European interest. This tendency will be the more pronounced, the more distant the mission scenarios will be. Argumentum e contrario, engagement in Europe’s vicinity finds more support and common interest than missions far away – as the cumbersome force generation process and difficult financing of EUFOR further underlines. Nonetheless, in the future the EU could be more pro-active and cater to member states interests by presenting more clearly the possible beneficial effects of a mission for national agendas. Talking openly about the gains for governments would not only be more transparent but could help overcome the continuous reference to ‘European solidarity’, which alone is not enough anymore to muster contingents for distant CSDP missions.

On a theoretical level, it is imperative to go beyond mere discourse analysis and empirically scrutinize parallel political agendas. While Europeanization and constructivist approaches offer attractive tools to analyse European military operations, a more complete assessment with the help of traditional realist variables helps us to solve the puzzle of member states’ motivations.

This does not mean that above, realist explanations of self-interest (influence on the international scene, relative-power considerations vis-à-vis other states, cooperation with trade-offs and rational ‘black box’ government behaviour) are the only or most prominent motives. On the contrary, in the hybrid and fluctuating character of the EU’s CSDP, several facets and motivations materialize. While they might fit together awkwardly at first sight, a mutual co-existence of self-interested and more altruistic motivations is not to be ruled out. Ultimately altruism does not mean that self-interests must be sidelined, and vice-versa.

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