Guide for action
As the name rightly suggests, the Compass is a guide for action. It sets out an ambitious way forward for our security and defence policy for the next decade. It will help us face our security responsibilities, in front of our citizens and the rest of the world. If not now, then when? Passivity would expose Europe to the risk of strategic shrinkage or, worse, irrelevance. Therefore, the Compass not only sets a shared ambition, but also presents concrete means and timelines to make this ambition a reality.
The Compass fits into a wider effort of Member States and EU institutions to boost defence cooperation and strengthen Europe’s collective military clout, in complementarity with NATO. To be successful, we must connect and integrate the defence efforts of Member States, avoid duplications and gaps in our critical capabilities, and become more efficient and interoperable in joint EU missions and operations abroad, which are crucial because our security starts away from our borders. Therefore, Europe needs to be able to project its economic, political and military clout in the world, promoting security in our neighbourhood and with our partners.
Also, we need to develop a common strategic culture. Because of history and geography, we Europeans do not always see the world in the same way, and a necessary first step was to come up with a shared threat assessment, which we did in November 2020.
A new world of threats
The starting point was to recognise that Europe faces new threats. Threats that are not just military or territorial. We are seeing the return of power politics and zero-sum conflicts with competition between states intensifying. Interdependence is becoming increasingly conflictual and soft power is weaponised. The world is full of hybrid situations where we face intermediate dynamics of competition, intimidation and coercion. The tools of power are not only soldiers, tanks and planes, but also disinformation, cyber-attacks, the instrumentalisation of migrants, the privatisation of armies and the political control of sensitive technologies or rare earths. The defence of Europe will require a new, comprehensive concept of security, with emerging technologies having a profound impact on future warfare and European defence.
The geopolitical stage is also becoming more complex. More and more states are behaving as partners on certain issues and competitors or rivals on others. International relations are increasingly organised on a transactional basis. This goes combined with dynamics such as the collapse of states, the retreat of democratic freedoms, violations of international and humanitarian law, plus the attacks on the ‘global commons’ - cyber space, the high seas and outer space.
Learning the language of power
Europe will always continue to favour dialogue over confrontation, diplomacy over force, and multilateralism over unilateralism. But if you want dialogue, diplomacy and multilateralism to succeed, you need to put power behind it. You need to ‘learn the language of power’. Equally, we should be result-oriented and avoid going for conceptual or institutional discussions, thus side-stepping the harder task of enhancing our capacity to act. It is often easier to talk - and disagree - in abstract terms, than it is to act and agree on how to do things in concrete terms. To prevent the risk of ‘strategic shrinking’, the Strategic Compass proposes ways and means for the EU to handle the challenges it faces. This will require political will, without which nothing is possible and operational efficiency, without which everything is weak. Taken together, these two ingredients will enhance our credibility and capacity to fulfil our aims.