Security Integration in Europe: How Knowledge-based Networks Are Transforming the European Union

Security Integration in Europe: How Knowledge-based Networks Are Transforming the European Union

by Mai'a Cross

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At a time when many observers question the EU’s ability to achieve integration of any significance, and indeed Europeans themselves appear disillusioned, Mai’a K. Davis Cross argues that the EU has made remarkable advances in security integration, in both its external and internal dimensions. Moreover, internal security integration—such as dealing


At a time when many observers question the EU’s ability to achieve integration of any significance, and indeed Europeans themselves appear disillusioned, Mai’a K. Davis Cross argues that the EU has made remarkable advances in security integration, in both its external and internal dimensions. Moreover, internal security integration—such as dealing with terrorism, immigration, cross-border crime, and drug and human trafficking—has made even greater progress with dismantling certain barriers that previously stood at the core of traditional state sovereignty.

Such unprecedented collaboration has become possible thanks to knowledge-based transnational networks, or “epistemic communities,” of ambassadors, military generals, scientists, and other experts who supersede national governments in the diplomacy of security decision making and are making headway at remarkable speed by virtue of their shared expertise, common culture, professional norms, and frequent meetings. Cross brings together nearly 80 personal interviews and a host of recent government documents over the course of five separate case studies to provide a microsociological account of how governance really works in today’s EU and what future role it is likely to play in the international environment.

“This is an ambitious work which deals not only with European security and defense but also has much to say about the policy-making process of the EU in general.”
Ezra Suleiman, Princeton University

Editorial Reviews

EUSA Review - Yasemin Irepoglu

"This book, which draws on impressive first-hand research, is highly recommended to scholars, policy makers and all those interested in understanding how security integration has been unfolding in Europe."
—Yasemin Irepoglu, EUSA Review
H-Net Reviews - Jim Walsh

"Distinguishing the role of knowledge and expertise in political decision making is a long-standing challenge for scholars of international politics, including those who focus on arenas with dense networks of policy experts, such as the EU. Security Integration in Europe takes on this question, and provides a number of interesting insights into how and when epistemic communities matter for security policymaking, as well as documenting the surprising range of internal and external security issues that have been taken on by the EU in recent decades."
—Jim Walsh, H-Net Reviews
From the Publisher

Winner of University Association for Contemporary European Studies Best Book Prize in Contemporary European Studies

UACES - Best Book Prize

University Association for Contemporary European Studies Best Book Prize in Contemporary European Studies

JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies

"The author generates a fresh and well-timed outlook on security integration through the approach of 'knowledge-based networks' as transformers of the Union."
—Ramon Loik, JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies
Political Science Quarterly - Andrew T. Wolfe

"The author is to be commended for focusing on an often-overlooked aspect of EU policymaking: how groups of individuals who have specialized knowledge can impact the European integration process. ... [Security Integration in Europe] is valuable as a rare glimpse into the EU’s byzantine bureaucracy and technocratic operating culture."
Political Science Quarterly

University Association for Contemporary European Studies Best Book Prize in Contemporary European Studies

— Best Book Prize

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Security Integration in Europe

By Mai'a K. Davis Cross

The University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2011 University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11789-5

Chapter One

Why Do Epistemic Communities Matter?

A rich debate within EU studies focuses specifically on explaining integration and the nature of EU power. Scholars come at the question from many different angles, drawing on a variety of policy areas to craft nuanced arguments. But most agree that the social context of Europe has been an important variable in explaining nearly all aspects of integration since the EU's inception. Social context is defined as the processes of learning, persuasion, deliberation, and socialization that shape how actors assign meaning to things and form preferences. The process of ongoing enlargement of EU membership, for example, cannot simply be reduced to a calculation of the economic benefits that come with accession; it also reflects a history of social interaction shaped by the Cold War. Central and Eastern European countries have not only adopted EU rules to satisfy formal membership criteria (acquis communautaire) but have also willingly internalized existing EU norms and values. The same is true in the area of security policy. Actors' preferences are usually defined through lifelong processes of social interaction and filtered through frames of reference, perception, and interpretation. 6 Identity and interests change over time, making the social context of EU governance crucial to understanding how the EU is evolving and what it is becoming.

Research into the history and processes of EU integration has led scholars who take a more intergovernmental perspective to conclude that the EU has indeed achieved the status of a "quiet superpower." Andrew Moravcsik, who argues that integration is driven primarily by national economic incentives and interstate bargaining, nonetheless consistently reminds us that the EU is significantly ahead of China, India, and other "rising powers" in terms of economic, civilian, normative, and to some extent military power. Indeed, he argues that Europe's hard, soft, and civilian power is so significant that it has become a superpower to rival the United States. To be clear, contention arises regarding what drives processes of integration, and not everyone is optimistic about the EU's future. However, the research presented here supports the arguments that social interaction matters and that the EU has emerged as a quiet superpower on the world stage. The bipolarity of the international system results largely from the EU's vibrant and multidimensional social context, in which the pursuit of national interest is only one part.

In addition to contributing to this growing body of EU literature, I engage with broader international relations theories to develop an argument that might apply to other regions of the world. After all, similar though much more embryonic processes of regional integration are occurring in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. Moreover, globalization has created an environment rich with nonstate actors that often span the globe, influencing such areas as environmentalism, human rights, nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking, and so on. Within the academic field of international relations, several approaches contribute to a fuller understanding of integration, and transnationalism is chief among them. Transnationalism gained momentum in the literature in the 1970s. It added another dimension to the structural realist approach, which assumes that state behavior is exogenously given by the international system, and to rationalism, which assumes that all actors have fixed, profit-maximizing preferences. Like much of the EU literature, transnationalism recognizes that nonstate actors affect world politics and have evolving preferences. Transnationalism's contribution has been particularly important because these actors are involved in norm formation—the creation of implicit or explicit rules about what is appropriate behavior—at the systemic level as well as at the intersection between the systemic and domestic levels. As Jeffrey Checkel points out, too many questions remain unanswered unless we consider social norms as explanatory variables. Social norms can have just as much impact as formal rules or laws and carry social sanction if violated.

A variety of transnational actors seek to change state behavior, domestic preferences, and international norms. Transnational actors can be as broad as informal networks of people with shared ideas and identity or as narrow as specific international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), human rights advocacy networks, transgovernmental networks of legislators, and epistemic communities, among others. Much evidence suggests that in the context of Europe, transnational communities of communication are becoming increasingly robust. Before getting to a more detailed analysis of the scope of conditions surrounding security epistemic communities and the framework put forward in this book, it is helpful to specify what epistemic communities are not.

First, epistemic communities are distinct from informal networks, which are defined as webs of personal, social, or professional relationships among groups of people that enable them to share various kinds of information and resources. Epistemic communities are much more directed than informal networks in that they seek less to gain benefit for themselves and more to share a group policy goal. An example of an informal network is an old boys' network, in which businessmen keep up contacts with others in their profession to exchange favors and contacts. Closely related to this idea is the concept of issue network, which should also not be confused with an epistemic community. Issue networks comprise people who are in contact with one another to discuss or debate similar issues. People in an issue network may be from the same or different professions, but they do not share norms, causal beliefs, or validity tests. They simply possess some degree of overlapping knowledge. A casual observation of a group discussing a single policy issue should not lead to the assumption that it comprises an epistemic community.

International NGOs and transnational advocacy networks are a second category of transnational networks. They have more in common with epistemic communities than informal networks in that they have specific policy goals that are based on shared causal beliefs about what actions will result in the achievement of their aims. However, their goals typically derive from idealistic interests such as human rights, environmental protection, and social change. They tend to target causes that require external influence to change domestic patterns. NGOs are more centralized than advocacy networks, with those officially employed in the NGOs responsible for determining projects, actions, statements, and day-to-day operations. Transnational advocacy networks include NGOs but are also much broader. As Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink define them, "these networks are similar in several important respects: the centrality of values or principled ideas, the belief that individuals can make a difference, the creative use of information, and the employment of nongovernmental actors of sophisticated political strategies in targeting their campaigns." The key way in which they differ from epistemic communities is that professional norms and expertise are not a major part of their operation. They are values driven and thus seek to change both policy outcomes and the terms of the debate. Their emphasis is more on grassroots participation and persuasion than on elite discourses.

A third category of transnational actors includes transgovernmental networks. More broadly speaking, Robert Keohane and Joseph S. Nye define transgovernmental cooperation as the process through which subunits of governments engage in direct and autonomous interaction separate from nation-states. Possible configurations of this concept of cooperation include transgovernmental networks, coalitions, and committees. Although committees have a degree of autonomy, they are characterized as limited in membership with an official mandate to carry out the broader instructions of higher political bodies. Networks are typically more informal, while coalitions have more specific agendas that may even go against what national authorities had in mind. Epistemic communities may or may not be governmental, so the concept of transgovernmental community is too narrow to encompass them. It is also important to distinguish between an ordinary governmental committee and an epistemic community. Most committees will have a level of esprit de corps, regardless of their place in the hierarchy and level of expertise. However, an epistemic community is more than its formal label. Indeed, epistemic communities might not and often do not exist within structures of government. It is typically easier to identify and study nongovernmental epistemic communities, such as environmentalists, doctors, and economists. However, since epistemic communities exist regardless of whether they have a formal place in institutional structures, it is necessary to look broadly to find them, to peel back structures to find the real dynamics. Without this careful look at processes of influence and decision making, a big piece of the puzzle could be missing.

There are numerous ways in which it is possible to recognize an epistemic community even if it is part of a formal structure. Is a particular committee more than the sum of its parts? Does it produce outcomes that go beyond the expectations of its formal functions? Did the committee's members possess a high level of expertise before taking up their institutional positions? Did they perhaps even know each other or work with each other in previous settings? Might they, as a collective, wield influence by virtue of their expertise and high status even without the existence of the committee? A look into the emergence and historical development of the expert network is useful in this regard. Do the members of the committee often meet informally, outside of work? Do they share a particular culture and professional norms that are independent of the committee? These factors are helpful in distinguishing not only between strong and weak epistemic communities but also between weak epistemic communities and ordinary governmental committees.

A fourth category that should be distinguished from epistemic communities is the concept of security communities. In 1957, Karl W. Deutsch, Sidney A. Burrell, and Robert A. Kahn first discussed the idea that states that form an alliance often become a security community in that over time they begin to define their interests in common, share a social identity, and develop altruism, trust, and reciprocity toward each other. Scholars such as Emanuel Adler, Michael Barnett, Glynn Snyder, and to some extent Charles Tilly subsequently took the argument further, operationalizing the concept of security communities to test whether states develop a collective identity and begin to empathize with each other once they are part of an alliance. Research on security communities initially focused at the level of states in the international system rather than specific transnational communities of nonstate actors. Many studies started with the question of which systemic conditions trigger the rise of security communities and the accompanying process of state socialization. Subsequent contributions to this body of literature have acknowledged the internal dimension of security communities and the fact that they rest on the prior existence of communities of practice and epistemic communities at the individual and group levels of analysis. Security communities are thus broader than epistemic communities, and a focus on the latter helps to shed light on the former.

In sum, epistemic communities are not simply issue networks whose members use personal contacts in the community to exchange services and information or debate issues; rather, they have a much tighter membership. They are also not advocacy networks with idealistic goals for change. Instead, epistemic communities are driven by their expert knowledge, whether or not it lends itself to social or environmental advocacy. They may exist within transgovernmental structures such as institutional committees, but they would have to possess certain qualities beyond their formal structure to act as epistemic communities. Finally, the concept of security communities may seem similar to security epistemic communities, but the latter is more appropriately subsumed within the former. These similar and somewhat related concepts are easily confused with epistemic communities, but they play a different theoretical function. Epistemic communities may certainly overlap with these other concepts, but the key to their power and influence is their authoritative claim on knowledge.


The concept of epistemic communities traces its origins to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn's notion of scientific community stipulates that students of a particular discipline are bound together through a shared paradigm. This paradigm entails a set of common beliefs and methodological standards for the pursuit of scientific inquiry. Although Kuhn did not use the term epistemic to define these scientific communities, it is clear that they have much in common with our current understanding of epistemic communities. Kuhn also famously developed the idea of a paradigm as the set of norms, values, and processes shared and practiced within a particular community. His concept of a paradigm is directly applicable to the internal dynamics within epistemic communities.

Following on the earlier works of Kuhn and others, John Gerard Ruggie coined the term epistemic community in 1975, borrowing Michel Foucault's notion of episteme. The rapid growth of technological development, especially in the post–World War II era, prompted Ruggie to argue that international responses to technology would all but require a collective response on the part of states because "technological, ecological, political, economic, and social environments are becoming so globally enmeshed that changes taking place in one segment of international society will have consequential repercussions in all others." International collaboration among states would enable economies of scale and better management of the increasing complexity of science and technology. Thus, states would benefit more from working together on science and technology than from working separately. Deriving such material benefit would entail sacrificing a degree of control as a consequence of what Ruggie described as "the tension between the need of states to respond collectively to problems and opportunities such situations contain, and their desire to maintain national autonomy and flexibility in so doing." The collective response to this collective situation, as he described it, would take the form of institutionalization.

One type of relationship that would emerge from the need to represent national interests internationally, according to Ruggie, was that of epistemic communities. Although his initial analysis of the concept was somewhat limited, certain key properties emerge. Epistemic communities can arise from "bureaucratic position, technocratic training, similarities in scientific outlook and shared disciplinary paradigms." They share symbols, points of reference, behavioral rules, expectations, and intentions. The episteme, binding an epistemic community together, "delimits ... the proper construction of social reality" for its members and, if successful, for international society. He advanced two preliminary arguments: (1) epistemic communities are more likely to have an impact if the issue is of low political concern; and (2) in the case of several epistemic communities, each seems to find its own niche rather than competing with others over the same issue area.


Excerpted from Security Integration in Europe by Mai'a K. Davis Cross Copyright © 2011 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Mai’a K. Davis Cross is Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California.

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