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Peace and Security in the World Today: What difference is Europe making and how can we make its impact even bigger?

Peace and Security in the World Today

Written by Tania Latici with Mathilde Betant Rasmussen.

Achieving peace and security in the world is an increasingly complex task that relies on managing a number of changing and compounding threats, ranging from violent conflict and terrorism to global pandemics and climate change. The 2021 Peace and Security Outlook maps these threats in a global context and assesses the EU’s contribution to addressing a constantly changing global security landscape. To mark the 2021 edition of this publication, the EPRS organised an expert roundtable on Thursday 17 June 2021, entitled ‘Peace and security in the world today: what difference is Europe making and how can we make its impact even bigger?’ chaired by Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service at EPRS. Following an introduction to the topic and context for the event by Anthony Teasdale, Director-General of EPRS, David McAllister, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, opened the event with a keynote speech highlighting the need for the EU to speak with one voice on foreign policy issues. To increase the EU’s impact on peace and security globally, Mr McAllister emphasised the importance of aligning EU foreign policy goals with other policy areas, including trade, development and the environment. He also recommended wielding the EU’s human rights sanctions powers, as well as conducting thorough threat assessments. Finally, Mr McAllister outlined key foreign policy priorities for the EU, such as boosting the transatlantic partnership, strengthening security in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods, upgrading relations with Taiwan and implementing a new EU-China strategy.

Isabelle Arradon, Director of Research at International Crisis Group, launched the discussion that followed, by analysing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on peace and security in the world. The Crisis Group report ‘COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch’ published in March 2020 warned of the potential effects the pandemic could have on fragile states and conflict areas. Over the past year, its predictions proved prescient as armed actors strengthened their grip over territories, particularly in Latin America; governments used Covid-19 as an excuse to restrict freedoms and rights; and it strained diplomatic relations, for example between China and the USA. Despite these trends, Ms Arradon emphasised that the pandemic has had little effect on the world’s major conflicts, such as in Yemen and Somalia, and that ceasefire commitments have not lasted. She concluded that foreign policy priorities should focus on humanitarian assistance including Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, tackling root causes of conflict, and international cooperation to address the continuing needs of conflict-affected populations.

René Van Nes, Head of Division for Conflict Prevention and Mediation Support at the European External Action Service reaffirmed that conflicts across the world have indeed been resilient to the pandemic. He outlined worrying trends arising from the crisis, namely the increase in online disinformation and gender-based violence globally. He then outlined the EU’s peace and security toolbox, including the new Global Europe Instrument, strong partnerships, and the EU’s strength in the peace and security sector as a widely recognised conflict mediator.

Deputy Leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and author of The EU as a small power: After the Cold War (2010), Dr Asle Toje, took a more historical perspective on the EU’s role in peace and security, stating that EU involvement in the security sector has become involuntary due to the pressing nature of ongoing conflicts at its borders. Evaporating trust in powerful neighbouring states such as Russia and Turkey, as well as increasing migration from neighbourhood, were seen as central issues for the EU’s foreign policy agenda. Dr Toje also stressed the importance of a unified EU voice on foreign policy matters, adding that timely reaction to external developments is greatly needed.

Finally, Elena Lazarou, Acting Head of the External Policies Unit at EPRS and co-author of the Peace and Security Outlook, discussed the lessons learnt on peace and security in the past year and ways forward to improve the EU’s impact as a security actor. She highlighted the increasingly complex and multidimensional nature of the peace and security landscape, including rising threats such as energy insecurity, disinformation and climate security. She also noted that the most vulnerable regions of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Central Asia, are those where most of these threats coincide. As responses to such threats, she highlighted the role of the new Global Europe Instrument, the EU’s human right sanctions regime, as well as the forthcoming Strategic Compass, while emphasising the need for foresight and anticipation, particularly in light of the pandemic, to address current threats while increasing resilience against future risks.

Tania Latici, Policy Analyst at the External Policies Unit of EPRS and co-author of the Peace and Security Outlook, opened the Q&A session by reflecting on the concept of resilience as an increasing part of security and defence policy and its implications for conflict resolution efforts. She introduced the new European Peace Facility into the debate and asked how it might contribute to the EU’s conflict mediation efforts. In light of a week of multiple international summits, she asked Elena Lazarou to weigh the implications of this renewed multilateralism on peace and security and then raised the concept of strategic autonomy in the context of peace promotion, asking Dr Asle Toje for his views.

The event can be viewed online on the EPRS YouTube channel.

David McAllister, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament
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