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Austria’s Security and Defence Policy


This is a valuable and timely opportunity to discuss Austria’s security environment. We are coming close to the end of a year of anniversaries and commemorations, many of which are particularly linked to questions of security: 60th anniversary of the Second Republic, 50th anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty, 50th anniversary of the Austrian Armed Forces, 50th anniversary of Austria’s membership in the United Nations, 10th anniversary of EU membership, and 10th anniversary of participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace programme.

At the same time, we are finding ourselves on the eve of our second presidency of the European Council. Taken together, all these elements describe well the key strands of Austria’s security and defence policy.

This contribution describes the current situation of Austria’s security and defence policy. (The following article in this issue deals with the strategic goals of the Austrian Armed Forces in international operations and is based on an outline of key documents on Austria’s security and defence policy. These documents served as key references for this presentation.) Setting the scene for Austria’s security and defence policy, based on the current set of objectives, will open a perspective roughly covering the period until 2010, perhaps some years beyond that time. It fits well into the timeframe of the ongoing transformation process of the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF), which is also dealt with in the following article. Moreover, the year 2010 represents the current time limit for the planning of the military capabilities of the European Union (Headline Goal 2010).

It is tempting to try to look beyond 2010. This undertaking is given full attention in the relevant EU institutions, particularly in the EUMC (European Union Military Committee) and the EDA (European Defence Agency). The scope and the main strands of this "vision beyond" will have an impact on the analysis here in Austria.

The larger the timeframe we set for an analysis, the greater the risks of error. This contribution will therefore limit its aim to raising a set of questions about the long-term future of Austria’s security and defence policy, rather than giving a forecast of what could be Austria’s future place in the European security system.

The scope of this reflexion will be focused on the development of the military, taking into account the growing complexity of military actions in crisis management, in particular the interdependence between the civilian and military aspects of security.

A series of questions will be raised in this context, including those regarding the institutional environment which will determine the range of actions of Austria’s security and defence policy in the future. In this sense, this article can be a contribution to the setting of transformation goals beyond 2010.

The formulation of security policies can be based on different approaches. The analysis can be rather threat-driven or it can be determined by a set of interests. In both methodologies, the relationship between threats/risks and interests is a common basis for the definition of a security policy and the shaping of the instruments related to this policy. In principle, institutional frameworks constitute the main political and legal conclusions drawn from the analysis of threats and interests for the purpose of responding effectively to threats/risks and safeguarding a political entity’s interests to the greatest extent possible.

The combination of threats/risks, interests, institutional and international aspects of security, and the shaping of adequate instruments is condensed in national security policies. In the case of the European Union, security policy perspectives are expressed in the European Security Strategy (ESS). Military and, increasingly, civilian capabilities are to meet as closely as possible the requirements set by security policy considerations over a defined time frame.

Key elements of Austria’s security and defence policy

The introductory remarks have set the scene for the description of the current Austrian security environment. This part of the presentation will therefore give an overview of threats/risks, interests, institutional and international connexion, and (military) instruments.

As for threats and risks, a number of guiding documents are relevant. (The summary of threats and risks is based on the analysis part of Austria’s Security and Defence Doctrine, the recommendations of the AAF Reform Commission, and the draft defence policy sub-strategy - "Teilstrategie Verteidigungspolitik"). The key conditions can be summarized as follows: - There is no immediate military threat against Austria’s territory and sovereignty in the foreseeable future.

- Austria’s immediate neighbourhood is fully embedded in the same security framework as Austria itself. Five of our neighbours are members of NATO and EU, all of them are members of OSCE and UN. Like Austria, neutral Switzerland is a NATO/PfP participant.

- The security of the European Union is a key reference point for Austria’s security. The peripheries of Europe are, to different degrees, in a process of political transformation. These developments have a large impact on the stability and prosperity of these regions. Some areas have reached a situation of relative stability, others are still in a state of internal conflict. The ESS contains a broad range of relevant threats/risks which remain fully valid for the analysis in Austria. At this point it seems worth while mentioning the key threats as described in the ESS: - Terrorism; - Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; - Regional conflicts; - State failure; - Organised crime.

- For the time being, Austria is not considered a priority objective for terrorist attacks. However, this relatively fortunate situation can change, and there is a risk of a spill over of consequences of terrorist attacks to Austria’s territory and its population. As well, there is a growing need for solidarity with countries that have fallen victims to attacks.

- There is a growing risk of major natural disasters worldwide.

The list of threats/risks given above is far from being exhaustive, and one could go into greater detail. What flows from it is an obvious paradigm shift which has strongly influenced the shaping of security strategies over the past years. National and territorial defence are increasingly focused on a protective role, in many cases having a subsidiary role supporting other state actors. In the meantime, the real use of military forces lies in their contributions to international crisis management.

This first conclusion will be confirmed by the following brief overview of security interests (The following list of "vital interests" is drawn from the analysis which laid the groundwork for the Austrian Security and Defence Doctrine. The list fully corresponds to that of the draft national overall strategy - "Gesamtstrategie"): - Guaranteeing the Republic of Austria’s territorial integrity, self-determination and freedom of action.

- Protecting the constitutional order based on the rule of law and democracy.

- Providing internal security and protecting national borders.

- Protecting the economic and social bases of the state and preserving a healthy environment.

- Upholding a stable political, economic and military environment, and furthering European stability.

- Upholding Austrian interests in the EU and promoting EU interests in a global framework.

- Protecting and enhancing fundamental values.

The set of interests outlined above shows the strength of the bonds between Europe’s and Austria’s security. Notwithstanding the degree of political integration that the EU offers today and can offer in the future, Austria’s security and defence policy will always have to be contemplated in the larger context of Europe.

In 2003, the Council of the European Union reached an agreement on the European Security Strategy (ESS). Despite the imperfections linked to the fact that the ESS is the result of political compromises in a period where serious rifts appeared among EU member states and between the US and the EU, the strategy represents a major step forward in defining common ground as regards threats/risks and interests on the European level. In early 2003, the ESS had a strong impact on the work of the Austrian Armed Forces Reform Commission.

The ESS in itself does not define a set of interests, but three groups of strategic goals that will be briefly discussed later. One year later, in the text for a European Constitution, the objectives of the Union were presented. In particular, Article III-292/2 offers the most direct link to the ideas of the ESS: "The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to - safeguard its values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity, - consolidate and support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law, - preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter …, - assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters …”.

The "strategic objectives” of the ESS are to - address the threats, - aim at building security in our neighbourhood, and - envisage an international order based on effective multilateralism.

The ESS underlines that none of the key threats can be addressed by military means alone. This observation will have a strong impact on the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) as well as on national policies. The combination of threats/risks and interests supports the conclusion that a shift of focus in military matters from national and territorial tasks towards international tasks is taking place. Logically, the recognition of this shift was the starting point for the reform of the Austrian Armed Forces.

A comprehensive picture of institutional linkages and frameworks is proposed by the parliamentary resolution as a new security and defence doctrine. Here again, the strongest reference is made to the European Union. At that time in 2001, NATO was more visible in the political debate in Austria than today. However, NATO/PfP and the EAPC (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council) remain key elements of Austria’s security. The United Nations, OSCE, the Council of Europe and other institutions, too, are crucial pillars of the institutional security framework in which Austria is embedded. The broad range of international connexions mirrors the role Austria has defined for itself in international affairs. The position of Austria in the above-mentioned institutions, particularly in the EU, UN and OSCE, goes far beyond security aspects. The presence of Austria in all these fora is a core instrument to maintain and develop a place in international affairs, by far more important than the physical and economic size of the country suggests.

A description of the international security connexions would remain incomplete without deeper consideration of some particular aspects.

Also the transatlantic dimension of security has an important bearing on Austria. Since the creation of ESDP, the relationships between NATO and EU, and between the EU and the US have become determining factors for the definition of role and scope of the military dimension of EU crisis management. As all three actors in this context, EU, US and NATO, continue to develop their ambitions, and the delineation of tasks remains on the political agenda. The cooperation is defined in the "Berlin Plus” Agreement, which has proved to be very efficient. EUFOR-Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very positive and explicit example of the cooperation between NATO and EU.

The discussion between these two organisations on how to coordinate their political efforts in international crisis management is more of an ad hoc nature. All main actors in this discussion converge in stressing the need for cooperation and regular confirmation of a necessary and possible sharing of work load among them. Both look at it through different prisms. There is a strong tendency to attribute to the EU a role that covers a broad field of "soft security” but remains very limited in terms of autonomous military action on the global scene. The positions and the potential of the US, NATO and EU in this context will determine to a large extent the future shape of the global ambitions of the EU as expressed in the ESS.

For Austria, there is no doubt that the transatlantic dimension of security is and will remain a key factor. NATO/PfP and EAPC are the appropriate instruments to ensure Austria’s presence in the transatlantic context. The large variety of international and institutional connexions as a basis for the definition of a security and defence policy is a phenomenon common to European countries. With the exception of NATO membership, nearly all European states and particularly EU member states show the same pattern of membership. This observation facilitates the security-related dialogue in Europe and creates a large set of relationships.

Another area where Austria shows a different pattern of priorities in security matters is the regional context. Austria has a strong strategic interest in the stability of South Eastern Europe, and, more precisely, in the Western Balkans. To a large extent, this factor determines the allocation of resources to international military contributions but also the medium-term perspectives of the development of the AAF. The ambition to provide a brigade-size unit for crisis management operations (CMO), as expressed in the recommendations of the Reform Commission, is mainly derived from the observation that only a contribution at brigade level offers full visibility and integration into international decision-making processes.

There are a number of countries in Austria’s close neighbourhood that have similar security interests and institutional connexions, as well as comparable resources available for international military contributions. This offers room for cooperation, common analysis and coordinated action. Austria’s participation and active role in the context of Central European Nations’ Co-operation in Peace Support (CENCOOP), particularly its political dimensions, are an example of regional cooperation that deserves additional attention. There is a potential which can be used in the future to share not only analysis, but also part of the burden related to European security. (In this context, a study on "strategic convergence” that is being carried out under the guidance of the Directorate for Security Policy - Federal Ministry of Defence, Vienna - deserves attention.) Whereas the regional dimension of security is mainly dealt with in the context of ESDP, NATO (including PfP) and OSCE, the global aspects are still dominated by the UN with an increasing contribution provided by the EU.

Africa is a factor of growing importance in global security. Europe has a strong interest in maintaining and improving stability on the African continent and in helping creating conditions for an acceptable livelihood for the populations concerned. Austria is engaged in a multinational and UN-related effort to provide support to regional organisations on that continent. The focus is put on the improvement of capabilities of African countries and organisations, in order for them to be able to cope with local and regional crises. The framework for Austria’s contribution is the Stand-by Forces High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG) with its HQ in Copenhagen. The large group of countries which contribute to this form of cooperation tend to shift the focus of SHIRBRIG towards the kind of support for African institutions as mentioned above.

Europe plays a rapidly increasing role in Africa. A number of EU operations and actions to support the African Union are fully in line with the provisions of the ESS on Africa. In addition, some EU member states try to transform their image of former colonial powers and therefore tend to contribute to African peace efforts (peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding) increasingly in an EU framework. As regards these multinational efforts, the French example of RECAMP (Renforcement des Capacités Africaines de Maintien de la Paix: Reinforcement of African Peacekeeping Capacities) ranks prominently. The United Kingdom makes extensive use of the G8 potential in order to effectively enhance African resources for crisis management.

All ESDP operations, including police operations, show that there is a close and growing relationship between military and civilian aspects. Security Sector Reform (SSR), Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), or Civil Military Co-ordination (CMCO) are current key terms describing a tendency towards a comprehensive security approach. Existing attempts of the EU aiming at more and better coherence in the context of EU crisis management are actively discussed under the guidance of the UK presidency of the European Council. Austria and Finland, as the two incoming presidencies, have already expressed their preparedness to ensure continuity of this effort. The issue is complex and multifaceted, and therefore will require coordinated efforts by a number of successive presidencies. This issue will be a priority on Austria’s ESDP-related agenda during the presidency of the European Council.

The recommendations of the AAF Reform Commission give a pertinent view of the planning goals for the Austrian Armed Forces. The recommendations reiterate the focus laid on the EU, in more precise terms the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and ESDP. At this stage it is appropriate to have a closer look at some of the key conclusions on defence policy. The following list of key points does not consist of quotations, but is drawn from the essence of the original text.

(For a better understanding of the conclusions related to defence policy it seems appropriate to give a summary of general political recommendations contained in the introduction of the Commissions recommendations: - new security policy conditions and strong reference to CFSP and ESDP as appropriate answers to address these changes; - emphasis on national defence as a factor guaranteeing full national sovereignty; - inclusion of assistance in case of a terrorist attack; - solidarity and participation within the framework of the ESDP … in accordance with principles of the United Nations … and the Neutrality Act; - full respect of the rights of the parliament in matters and strengthening the overall national coordination in areas; - flexibility as an aim of the further development of the AAF in order to create an appropriate tool for international crisis management; - close cooperation in the NATO/PfP framework, both in terms of interoperability and of access to information.)

Considerations on the development of the AAF

- Increasingly demanding operations in the EU framework as defined by the entire spectrum of the Petersberg tasks. The more technical expression of the will to participate in the fulfilment of these tasks is an adequate contribution to the EU’s Headline Goal.

- To create and to broaden the possibilities of participating in European armament projects.

- To cooperate closely with European partners for the purpose of coordinating multinational units, such as those proposed by the EU Battlegroups Concept. In these partnerships, priority is to be given to regional cooperation and cooperation with partners.

- Contribution to the international/multinational command structures relevant to achieving the mentioned goals and contributions.

- The exposure of the AAF to threats and risks abroad is becoming the key factor for the development of the forces.

A more detailed view of the objectives of Austria’s force planning is given in the following article. The set of core considerations presented above shows the strong tendency to shift the political focus and resources considerably towards international activities. Despite this general move, a prominent reference is maintained to the role of armed forces in the protection of national sovereignty and the population.

The purpose of this article up to this point has been to describe the system of Austria’s security and defence policy from which the future development of the AAF is to be derived. The room of action, however limited by the availability of resources, seems sufficient to achieve a real shift towards a stronger international engagement in crisis management.

In the foreseeable future, all key factors of the analysis will converge towards an essential influence of CFSP/ESDP on Austria’s security, with a complementary role played by NATO (from the specific Austrian perspective). The political importance of a strong transatlantic relationship remains an over-arching principle.

Given the high priority of Europe and the EU for Austria’s security and defence policy, it seems appropriate to start searching for future options with a closer look on Europe. Current opinion polls show a mixed and in most cases rather pessimistic picture about issues such as political cohesion, acceptance in the general public or room for future ambitions of the EU.

The failure of two important referenda on the European Constitution adds to this impression. A large number of analyses converge in saying that European leaders and institutions went too far in accepting a gap between their policies and the perception of the latter amongst the European public. It will take time to convince the Europeans of the benefits Europe can bring to them and to their children.

Against this background, it seems more promising to achieve medium term results rather in the context of ESDP than in that of social or financial policies. ESDP has, so far, suffered relatively little damage from the outcome of the constitutional process. However, ESDP, more precisely the military part of it, is not an independent or autonomous area of European policies. ESDP, to be developed further, needs common goals embedded in the consensus on CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy). The ESS sets a common framework but it neither indicates a set of European interests, nor does it give clear guidance on how the EU is to achieve the proposed objectives. (For further information about the question what the ESS is and what it is not, see: Die Sicherheitsstrategien Europas und der USA - Transatlantische Entwürfe für eine Weltordnungspolitik; NOMOS 2005. A very interesting discussion on the scope of ESDP also in: A European Defence Strategy; by Julian Lindley Frech and Franco Algieri, Bertelsmann Foundation, 2004.) Even without a clear answer about interests, the ESS offers a broad range of possible key lines of action, probably more than the EU can and its member states are willing to accomplish in the medium term. Yet, according to the text of the Amsterdam Treaty, the EU is supposed to keep the perspective of a common defence on her political agenda. The political circumstances of 2003 offered no room for discussion of this issue in the context of the formulation of the ESS. Such a discussion would have put at risk the delicate consensus on the more pressing themes of the strategy.

In the current circumstances, the key question is what can be the scope of a common European defence in the EU-US-NATO triangle. It is related to the role and position of Europe between the US and Russia as well. These considerations raise questions which go far beyond possible forecasts of the political will in Europe.

A most recent and very detailed study on the relationship between EU and NATO notes that the strategic "discussion on a specific division of labour between the two organisations would be politically so charged that the two institutions appear to leave that question off the table ...”. (European Defence Integration; Bridging the Gap between Strategy and Capabilities; CSIS, October 2005, p.67.) For the coming years, there is a great likelihood that the US will continue to further develop its global strategies already known. NATO intensifies its attempts to develop a stronger political and global role in international security.

It is hard to tell to what extent Europe will be able and politically willing to develop an autonomous security approach in this context. A concurrence of negative factors, including demographic ones, could even reduce the range of long-term ambitions. The question about a common European defence, as one possible ambition, should be discussed against this complex backdrop.

In this light, debates about the degree of commonality of European defence efforts appear rather theoretical in the short term. What matters in the immediate future is to develop and maintain key capabilities, particularly at the strategic level. If Europe is not able to keep and possibly expand its presence in key military areas such as space, strategic airlift, and weapons technology, the question of assuming a stronger defence role at a later stage will be vain. In this sense, all efforts in this direction, particularly those of the EDA, must be warmly commended. The division of labour as proposed in the CSIS study mentioned above can contribute efficiently to one European effort.

Maintaining the technological capabilities for strategic key areas would be a strong contribution to the position of the EU in the future strategic context. Only an EU whose economic impact is matched by the ability to safeguard interests related to its prosperity would be a fully respected partner on the world stage.

The Austrian efforts to strengthen its contribution to the EU and, at the same time, to improve its military capabilities reaching a level that facilitates the participation in a future and more demanding European defence context, are part of the broader logic outlined above.

___________________________________ __________________________________ By: Brigadier Wolfgang Wosolsobe, Director of Military Policy Division (All views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Austrian MOD, particularly the final remarks of the article)

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