The Global
06 May 2022

The War in Ukraine and Institutional Complexity in European Security: Situating the EU’s New Strategic Compass

The EU’s new security strategy, the Strategic Compass aims to expedite security and defence cooperation in Europe. To do so, it embraces a variable geometry of cooperation and a pragmatic approach to institutional overlap. But can the EU deliver on these ambitious goals? Connected to broader debates on multilateral decision-making, modalities of international cooperation, and institutional complexity, this blog post assesses the potential merits and pitfalls of the Strategic Compass.

By Ueli Staeger, Research and Teaching Fellow (Maître-Assistant) in International Relations and Security at the University of Geneva and Research Associate at the Global Governance Centre and Moritz Neubert, Research Associate at the Global Governance Centre, from the University of Manheim. 

Global governance is, among others, increasingly characterized by three trends: first, consensus is required for major decisions but is becoming harder to achieve; second, institutional complexity is increasing, as policy areas tend to be governed by two or more international organizations; third, cooperation takes place within different institutional forms, be they formal or informal and institutionalized or ad-hoc. Taken together, these trends raise a number of questions regarding global governance dynamics, namely: Do different forms and structures of cooperation complement each other or compete with one another? What is the role of informality for inter-institutional cooperation in issue areas where formal avenues are often blocked?

One policy area particularly marked by these questions is European security. Whereas many observers describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a turning point, actual change in international security cooperation will still be hard to come by. Though already in the making since 2020, the European Union’s (EU) new strategic document, the Strategic Compass, is now widely perceived as a response to this changing security environment in Europe, where many considered overt interstate war to be a phenomenon of the past.  

Similar to the response against the Russian invasion, the Strategic Compass proposes a more pragmatic and solution-oriented approach to institutional complexity in European security whereby actors no longer insist on the primacy of one multilateral IO over another. Until now, both academic and policy thinking has largely emphasized the challenges arising from institutional overlap for the coherent and effective governance of security.



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