Australian Outlook

In this section

Enhanced EU–Australia Security Cooperation through Crisis Management

13 Aug 2018
By Dr Margherita Matera

On 8 August, Australia announced that it will deploy civilian expertise to EU-led crisis response and capacity building missions in third countries of common interest under the Framework Partnership Agreement. The challenge is to ensure it does not remain a paper commitment with little substance.

Since January 2003, the European Union (EU) has launched over 30 civilian and military crisis management missions and operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Their mandates have covered such tasks as peacekeeping, monitoring and mentoring, security sector reform, rule of law, counter-piracy and capacity-building. These missions and operations have seen the participation of both EU member states and third states. In order to help facilitate the participation of third states in these missions and operations, the EU established the Framework Partnership Agreements (FPA) on crisis management in 2004, setting out the legal framework for third-state participation. In April 2015, Australia became the seventeenth country to sign an FPA with the EU.

The signing of the FPA represents an important step in deepening security cooperation between the EU and Australia, and illustrates the extent to which the relationship has evolved and deepened since the start of diplomatic relations in 1962. Initially focused on economic issues, the expanding competences of the EU and the increased interaction between the EU and Australia have allowed the relationship to become more comprehensive in nature. Recognition of shared common interests and values in contributing to global peace and stability has helped facilitate this. In assessing the FPA, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade report acknowledged that: “The proposed Agreement would be an important element in the Australia–EU bilateral relationship, strengthening the already broad-based cooperation on security and development matters.” It also builds on Australia’s long-standing commitment to crisis management through its involvement in peacekeeping and post-conflict stabilisation missions in the Asia-Pacific and Africa.

Within the area of crisis management, this includes a shared commitment to ‘cooperating in promoting international peace and stability’. Other key security areas in which the EU and Australia seek to build on existing engagement include countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; addressing the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons; working together to prevent and fight against terrorism and facilitate cooperation; and the exchange of views in the field of international security and cyberspace.

The EU–Australia FPA and Australia’s participation in EUCAP Nestor

Maritime security has become a major aspect of Australia’s engagement with the EU, as reflected in 2014 when Australia participated in its first CSDP mission, European Union Mission on Regional Maritime Capacity Building in the Horn of Africa (EUCAP Nestor). EUCAP Nestor was launched in July 2012 as a civilian mission across five states in the Horn of Africa and the western Indian Ocean (Djibouti, Somalia, Seychelles, Kenya and Tanzania). Its aim is to assist these countries to develop self-sustaining capacity for continued enhancement of maritime security, including counter-piracy and maritime governance. It is an unarmed capacity-building mission with no executive powers. Its activities are geared to reinforcing coastguard functions and supporting the rule of law and the judiciary.

Through Australia’s involvement in maritime security within the region via its participation in the Combined Maritime Force, Australia was invited to participate in EUCAP Nestor. Australia participated for 12 months (August 2014—August 2015). Its participation consisted of a single legal drafting expert attached to EUCAP Nestor in the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic of Seychelles. According to DFAT, the mission reflected “Australia’s long-standing interest in supporting the development of maritime security in countries of the Indian Ocean region, including in counter-piracy and maritime governance.” EUCAP Nestor provided an avenue through which Australia could contribute to addressing the root causes behind the rise in piracy within the region and assist in facilitating capacity-building for greater regional engagement.

EUCAP Nestor marked the first opportunity for Australia to experience working with the EU within the framework of the CSDP on a very small scale (limited in terms of both personnel and duration). As the mission itself was low risk, it allowed Australia to show its willingness to collaborate with the EU without placing Australian personnel in danger. In addition, it exposed Australia to the inner workings of the EU’s crisis management mechanisms.

The future of EU–Australia crisis management collaboration

So, what does the FPA mean for Australia and its potential engagement in further CSDP missions? The EU currently has 16 missions in operation (6 military and 10 civilian). They vary in terms of their mandate, size and duration. According to Minard, Australia’s interests and activities in preserving free and safe passage along vital sea routes ‘would seem to be the area where Europeans could benefit the most from the partnership’. Thus, Australia’s involvement with international and regional efforts to counter piracy could open the way for Australia to play some role in the EU’s naval force operation off the coast of Somalia or with those missions within Africa aimed at dealing with the root causes of piracy within the region. The challenge for the EU and Australia, however, is to identify where Australia can make the most of its contributions, especially as both the EU and Australia have their attention focused on other issues and hot spots. It will be important for Australia to identify where and how it can contribute to CSDP operations and communicate its preferences to the EU. This will demonstrate to the EU Australia’s commitment to collaborate in this area.

Within the Asia-Pacific, the EU has made it clear that it wishes to work with its Asian partners in dealing with security issues, specifically within the area of training and monitoring. Such activities could open the door for greater cooperation between the EU and Australia within the region. The EU and Australia have a history of discussing ‘common approaches to developments in the Asia-Pacific region, including security in East Asia’, which continues through their ministerial meetings and participation in such regional bodies as the ASEAN Regional Forum and Asia–Europe Meeting. The Framework Agreement has identified capacity-building as an area where Australia and the EU can better collaborate.

Since the EU launched the CSDP Aceh monitoring mission in 2005–6, the EU has not deployed further CSDP missions within the region. Although the EU’s ‘Global Strategy’ made no specific reference to the CSDP’s deployment within the region, it did mention the EU developing ‘a more politically rounded approach to Asia, seeking to make greater practical contributions to Asian security’. The form that this practical contribution to Asian security will take is yet to be determined, but it could build on the EU’s mediating role in Mindanao. The ongoing instability within the EU’s immediate region, the ramifications from the UK’s Brexit referendum in June 2016 and the uncertainty surrounding the role that the Trump administration will play within Europe and the Asia-Pacific will all have a bearing on the EU’s engagement in the region. If this engagement were to entail a CSDP mission, it would, based on the pronouncements by the EU and Australia, be an ideal opportunity for the EU to invite Australia to participate.

Dr Margherita Matera is a lecturer and Honorary Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

This article is an extract of an article in Volume 72, Issue 3 of the Australian Journal of International Affairs titled ‘Enhanced European Union–Australia security cooperation through crisis management‘. It is republished with permission.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.