Ideas, Interests and the Limits of Collective Foreign Policy Output: The Case of the European Union Non-Proliferation Policy

    Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


    The foreign and security policy outputs of the European Union (EU) vary substantially depending on the issue at stake. This has been particularly clear in the field of non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). For example, in the case of the Iranian nuclear crisis, the EU shows the characteristics of a fairly coherent and forceful actor in its own right, whereas during the 2003 Iraq standoff the EU is merely a deeply divided international organization incapable of independent action. The dissertation argues that the principal independent variables that can explain this phenomenon are not 'national interests' but ideas in the form of normative and causal beliefs, which underpin the construction of interests, the choice of instruments and, ultimately, collective foreign policy outputs. Hence, the central research question is: How do ideas affect collective foreign policy output, in particular by the EU in the field of non-proliferation?
    In the first part, the dissertation develops a theoretical framework to understand better the relation between ideas and the different degrees of collective action by groups of states in matters of 'high politics.' Based on a concrete model outlining the role of ideas in international cooperation, it continues examining theoretically how ideas work in the specific case of the European foreign and security policy. In this regard, it identifies four dominant sets of ideas ('idea complexes') that influence common European policy output: 'national Europe,' 'integrationist Europe,' 'cosmopolitan Europe' and 'multilateral Europe.' In these idea complexes, causal and normative beliefs about security, the use of means and state relations are particularly important. The key argument is that the limited number of relatively malleable foreign policy idea complexes makes consensus for relatively forceful policy output likely, in particular taking into consideration the high degree of institutionalization of groups of states such as the EU. The competition between idea complexes leaves, however, substantial room for disagreement. Therefore, idea complexes can explain the EU's strong output variation between different fields of activity.
    The second part of the dissertation analyzes empirically the EU's policy in the field of non-proliferation of WMD. Three specific case studies have been chosen: (a) a comparison between the EU policies during the Iranian nuclear crisis and the US led invasion of Iraq; (b) the EU's uneven non-proliferation efforts in the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood; and (c) EU policies towards international non-proliferation institutions in light of the concept of 'effective multilateralism.' The aim is to demonstrate how ideas influence in practice the uneven EU foreign policy output in different situations. Three major conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of the case studies: First, consensus in the EU on collective action is only possible, if certain limits regarding security perception, use of means and relations with other states are not crossed; secondly, the need for striking a balance between competing idea complexes explains the frequently moderate policy output by the EU ('ideational balancing'); and, finally, ideas such as 'effective multilateralism' can be used to a limited extent as focal points to foster cohesion, coherence and legitimacy of the EU in international affairs.
    Date of Award8 Mar 2010
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorM Ester Barbe Izuel (Director)


    • Non-Proliferation
    • European Union
    • International politics

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