Gender and race in the European security strategy: Europe as a ‘force for good’?

Abstract

Taking Robert Kagan's imagery of US-Mars and Europe-Venus as a point of departure, this article probes into how the naturalised reproduction of Europe in the text of the European Security Strategy (ESS) discursively occurs through intermeshing gendered and racialised discourses. The article therefore offers a narrative that has been largely silenced in conversations about the EU as a global security actor. By paying attention to embedded ‘sticky’ gendered and racialised signs in the text of the ESS, the article argues that the delineations drawn to secure Europe in the text of the ESS also engender ‘Europe’ as multiply masculine by dividing the world into sharp spatio-temporal distinctions. Echoing Europe's colonial past, the ESS represents its ‘Others’ as both feminised and subordinate. In this sense, the article argues that the European project of security-development as written in the ESS is both civilising (normative) and violently exclusionary — in contradistinction to many contemporary depictions of Europe as a normative power and a harbour of tolerance. The gendered and colonial grammar of these spatial and temporal distinctions work to naturalise a certain (re)production of ‘Europe’, yet haunt the secure Europe and the better world promised in the strategy.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The ESS outlines, for the first time in the history of the EU, the union's common international security strategy and acts as a central building block of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). The ESS was drafted under the responsibilities of the EU High Representative Javier Solana. The 2008 report (reviewing the 2003 ESS) re-affirms its substance (EC 2008). It reads: ‘For the first time, it [the ESS)] established principles and set clear objectives for advancing the EU's security interests based on our core values. It is comprehensive in its approach and remains fully relevant. This report does not replace the ESS, but reinforces it. It gives an opportunity to examine how we have fared in practice, and what can be done to improve implementation’ (EC 2008: 3). The 2008 review underscores the need for mechanisms for implementation as well highlights ascertain aspects which were less prominent in the 2003 document (such as, for instance, the emergent focus on the so-called ‘security and development nexus’) (EC 2008).

  2. 2.

    The five key threats identified in the 2003 strategy are terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), regional conflicts, state failure, criminal activity, organised crime. Mechanisms of implementation include battle groups and peace operations.

  3. 3.

    Questions (and answers) abound as to who/what/where/when/how is the Europe that this strategy aims to protect? For example, scholars and policy makers alike have discussed the supposed differences between the United States’ (US) National Security Strategy (NSS) (White House 2002/2005) and the ESS. They have explored the nature of the ‘transatlantic relationship’, perhaps most fervently addressing rifts between (and within) Europe and the US regarding differences over approach to the International Criminal Court and to the Kyoto protocol, the US invasion of Iraq, and ultimately about their different roles in the global security landscape.

  4. 4.

    The transatlantic relationship figures centrally in such queries, and is often reflected in the media.

  5. 5.

    Critical voices have also called attention to the concealment of Europe's lingering violent history as a Colonial power in its (self) representations as a model for universal humanity and peace (e.g., Hansen 2002: 487). I will develop this point below. Additionally, and in light of questions such as these, others inquire: how can Europe maintain its (potentially?) normative ‘identity’, while still developing its military capabilities (e.g., Hyde-Price 2006, 2008)?

  6. 6.

    President Obama's diplomatic tone has since spurred conjectures that the US has become ‘softer’ — a claim that Kagan has refuted in reference to the ‘basic goals and premises of US policy’ (Kagan 2009). Such conjectures invite inquiry into what role Europe can play in the new global security landscape, now that the Obama presidency in the US promises a new US security posture which includes many attributes (such as diplomacy and ‘soft power’) perhaps stereotypically reserved for Europe. This line of analysis, although highly relevant, is beyond the scope of this article.

  7. 7.

    Interviews I have conducted (in December 2007) with people working at the EU on security issues have underscored that there are indeed many different understanding of security (and security-development) among those working in the different bodies of the EU. Additionally, the ESS emerged out of a highly specific political process, which arguably, was intimately connected to different processes of European integration. See also Nicolaïdis and Howse (2002).

  8. 8.

    See Pin-Fat and Stern (2005), Stern and Nystrand (2006) for an overview of this literature.

  9. 9.

    It should be noted that UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security and UNSCR 1820 on sexual violence was highlighted in the 2008 review (EC 2008), but not gender as a relation of power as evoked in the text.

  10. 10.

    Ahmed states: ‘We could argue that signs become sticky through repetition; if a word is used in a certain way, again and again, then that “use” becomes intrinsic; it becomes a form of signing. … the “binding” effect of the word is also a “blockage”: it stops the word moving or acquiring new value. The sign is a sticky sign as an effect of a history of articulation, which allows a sign to accumulate value. The stickiness of the sign is also about the relations or contact between signs … to use a sticky sign is to evoke other words, which have become intrinsic to the sign through past forms of association … the word “paki” might then stick to other words that are not spoken: immigrant, outsider, dirty and so on. The association between words that generates meanings is concealed: it is this concealment of such associations that allows such signs to accumulate value’ (Ahmed 2004: 90–92). Further, citing Butler (1990), she reminds us: ‘a performative utterance can only “succeed” if it repeats a coded or iterable utterance; it works precisely by citing norms and conventions that already exist’ (Ahmed 2004: 93).

  11. 11.

    Europe's central role in the Algerian war provides just one glaring example of this silencing (Hansen 2004).

  12. 12.

    Nor do I intend to claim that Europe is a coherent actor, instead of, for example, of a set of multiple legal, economic and political linkages between member states.

  13. 13.

    I draw upon literature which takes the connection between security and identity as inherent in my analysis. See also, for example, Burke (2006), Campbell (1992), Dillon (1996), Krause and Williams (1997), Stern (2005), Weldes et al. (1999).

  14. 14.

    I am grateful to the editors of JIRD and to an anonymous reviewer for helping me clarify this point.

  15. 15.

    See, for example, Balibar (2003), Chakrabarty (2007), Eder (2006), Outhwaite (2009); Walker (2006).

  16. 16.

    For example: do the borders which surround ‘Europe’ mark the geopolitics of ‘member states’ from non-members states and are they therefore drawn with the formal acceptance of EU membership? Do they instead mark a more amorphous quality of ‘European-ness’ and are therefore shifting, and open for interpretation (Derrida and Habermas 2003)? Balibar states for example ‘The term border is extremely rich in significations. One of my hypotheses is that it is undergoing a profound change in meaning. The borders of new sociopolitical entities, in which an attempt is being made to preserve all the functions of the sovereignty of the state, are no longer entirely situated at the outer limit of territories; they are dispersed a little everywhere, wherever the movement of information, people, and things is happening and is controlled — for example, in cosmopolitan cities’ (Balibar 2003: 2). See also Chakrabarty (2007); Eder (2006); Hansen (2004); Walker (2006).

  17. 17.

    As Ali explains, ‘given these complexities it is unsurprising to see how hard it is to align the two fields unless through a methodological commitment to feminism … the important feature of this work that would mark it as both feminist and postcolonial would be an engagement with the centrality of gender matters, in conjunction with a specified neo-, post-, anti-colonial stance. Despite the discomfort with both feminism and postcolonialism as simple collective nouns, there is a way of using these terms productively’ (Ali 2007: 204–5). See also Bhambra (2009).

  18. 18.

    See also Bhambra (2007, 2009).

  19. 19.

    For a brief overview of this literature in relation to the construction of Europe, see Diez (2005).

  20. 20.

    The strategy reads: ‘The European Union has made progress towards a coherent foreign policy and effective crisis management. We have instruments in place that can be used effectively, as we have demonstrated in the Balkans and beyond. But if we are to make a contribution that matches our potential, we need to be more active, more coherent and more capable. And we need to work with others’ (EC 2003: 11).

  21. 21.

    Under a section on key threats, the Strategy reads: ‘Large-scale aggression against any Member State is now improbable. Instead, Europe faces new threats which are more diverse, less visible and less predictable … Terrorism puts lives at risk; it imposes large costs; it seeks to undermine the openness and tolerance of our societies, and it poses a growing strategic threat to the whole of Europe. Increasingly, terrorist movements are well-resourced, connected by electronic networks, and are willing to use unlimited violence to cause massive casualties’ (EC 2003: 3).

  22. 22.

    The claim that Europe is bound together by common values is a familiar argument. See for example German chancellor Andrea Merkel's European Policy Statement in the German Bundestag, 11 May, 2006; Bicchi (2006: 289) as well as Habermas (2001), Lerch and Schwellnus (2006), Manners (2008), Sassatelli (2002). The question of whether or not these values are intrinsic to Europe's nature, or that Europe has somehow a particular propensity for upholding ‘universal’ values, remains debated in these conversations.

  23. 23.

    See Berenskoetter (2005) for an excellent detailed comparison of the US and European security strategies.

  24. 24.

    The contentious history of Turkey's acceptance into the EU complicates this story. See also Aggestam and Hill (2008); Aggestam (2008).

  25. 25.

    See Delanty (2009), Eder (2004), and Eder in Eder and Spohn (2005) for a discussion of collective memory and European identity. See also Agathangelou and Ling (2008), Balibar (2003), Bhabha (1994), Brown (2001), Chakrabarty (2007), Derrida (1992), Dooley and Kavanagh (2007), Grosz (1999), Hansen (2002, 2004), Hutchings (2007), Inayatullah and Blaney (2004), Walker (2000), Weston (2002).

  26. 26.

    See Aggestam and Hill (2008), Sassatelli (2002). See also Brown (2006) and Derrida (2003) for a critical reading of discourses of tolerance.

  27. 27.

    For a discussion on the ‘hypocrisy’ or the ‘window-dressing’ function of Europe as a harbour of universal human values, see discussion in Journal of European Public Policy (2006, 13(2)). See also Eder (2005), Kelstrup and Williams (2000), Manners (2002), Matlary (2008).

  28. 28.

    Although barbarianism certainly has ‘masculine’ connotations of violence and brutality, it also implies lowliness, backwardness, and emotions, thus arguably rendering it an inferior kind of masculinity in the hierarchy of masculinities — even marking it as feminine (Hunt and Rygiel 2006).

  29. 29.

    Read differently, however, we can see a Europe which has been emancipated from its violent nationalistic past and has developed into a more feminised space where cooperation and empathy flourish — values that have been traditionally associated with femininity, which is in line with Kagan's argumentation. However, this article aims to question the common belief that Europe is harmless feminine force for good. By taking many different forms of masculinities into account, the power relationships involved in the different competing readings of Europe can be exposed. I am grateful to Lisbeth Aggestam for helping me clarify this point. See also Eder's discussion of the myth of Europe as a ‘woman’ who took on different forms in different ‘times’ in Europe (Eder 2004: 102).

  30. 30.

    The increasing development of Europe's military capabilities is the subject of much debate. See, for example, Hyde-Price (2006, 2008). See also Berenskoetter (2005).

  31. 31.

    For instance: ‘Our own experience in Europe demonstrates that security can be increased through confidence building and arms control regimes’ (EC 2003: 15).

  32. 32.

    The ‘dark history’ that Europe recognises, significantly, does not include the Algerian war (and the deaths of 1 million people); this event is written out of Europe's ‘peaceful’ narrative (Hansen 2004). See also Delanty (2009). I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for helping me clarify this point.

  33. 33.

    See Stern (2006) for further discussion of this point.

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Acknowledgements

Many people have given me insightful comments on drafts of this article in its numerous guises. In particular I would like to thank Maria Eriksson Baaz, Stephan Davidshofer, Linus Hagström, Björn Hettne, Pertti Joenniemi, Svante Karlsson, Jan Arte Scholte, Fredrik Söderbaum, Jonas Tallberg, and Marysia Zalewski. I am also extremely grateful to three anonymous reviewers and the editors at JIRD, who offered excellent, detailed and highly constructive comments. Finally, I would also like to extend particular thanks to Claes Wrangel and Ingrid Bragée, who were invaluable to the process of writing this article. Ingrid Bragée provided assistance with the ground research, and Claes Wrangel helped at a later stage with substantive as well as editorial assistance.

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Stern, M. Gender and race in the European security strategy: Europe as a ‘force for good’?. J Int Relat Dev 14, 28–59 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2010.7

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Keywords

  • European identity
  • European security
  • gender
  • postcolonialism
  • race