The EU Foreign Policy Governance As A Complex Adaptive System
Free University of Brussels (VUB)
Last modified: June 4, 2006
Systems Theory has already made inroads into International Relations (IR) literature through the seminal works of Morton Kaplan, Kenneth Waltz, George Modelski, Karl Deutsch, Martin Wight, and Hedley Bull. However, the hegemony of (neo-)positivistic conception of social science acting as a ‘scientific gatekeeper’ has long hampered the introduction and employment of Complexity Theory (CT) to IR. Only recently James Rosenau’s Turbulence in World Politics, William Thompson’s Evolutionary Interpretations of World Politics, Robert Axelrod’s The Complexity of Cooperation and Lars-Erik Cederman’s Emergent Actors in World Politics made ‘early attempts’ to claim the complex adaptive systems thinking for the study of macro-social phenomena in international relations. However, the mainstream ‘American’ IR theory still sticks to the now outdated Newtonian paradigm. This paper aims both to oppose the positivistic straitjacket in IR and to move those earlier attempts further. The main research question of the paper is: to what extend is the conceptual toolkit of Complexity Theory in general and of evolutionary biology in particular useful for the study of macro-social phenomena in international relations? In order to answer this question, the paper uses a case study: the emergence and evolution of collective foreign policy making system in Europe since 1970. European Political Cooperation (EPC) and its successor Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) have been a loose and informal framework to make and implement, if possible, common foreign policy positions and actions out of interrelated yet distinct foreign policy approaches of member states by using the regular exchange of information and meetings of foreign ministers and senior officials. In this way, it is argued, the weight of European Community (EC)/European Union (EU) in international relations can increase. In other words, the ‘whole’ supposedly becomes qualitatively different than ‘sum of its components’. Hence, this paper calls the EU Foreign Policy Governance a complex adaptive system (CAS). Interestingly, the former became more complex in an unpredicted and unintended manner, since more and more parts could be distinguished (e.g., increasing number of member states in the EU Foreign Policy Governance) plus more and more connections between them existed (e.g., growing body of norms, rules and institutions in the EU Foreign Policy Governance). These two kinds of processes (i.e., structural and functional complexifications in a CAS), as CT explains, are always the product of (at least) two mechanisms at work. The mechanism of variation/distinction/disintegration leads to entropy and corresponds to heterogeneity in the system, i.e., that different parts (read member states) behave differently and strategically. The mechanism of selection/connection/integration leads to internal order and corresponds to constraint, to redundancy, to the fact that different parts become less and less ‘independent’. Needless to say, a CAS, through simultaneous operation of these two mechanisms strives to respond to the challenge of internal and external perturbations and disturbances. Good examples of such internal and external perturbations in its history are German Ostpolitik or Thatcherite approach to Europe and the Oil Crisis or the start of ‘second Cold War’ with Reagan respectively. The questions whether and how a system copes with perturbations and disturbances to its internal order leads us to the concept of fitness, and hence to the (two) way(s) of measuring effectiveness of the EU Foreign Policy Governance. Fitness is ‘an assumed property of a system that determines the probability that that system will be selected, i.e., that it will survive, reproduce or be produced’. There are two types of fitness: Absolute fitness points to the capability to survive internal selection, i.e., intrinsic stability and capacity for (re)production, whereas relative fitness refers to the capability to survive external selection, i.e., to cope with specific environmental perturbations or make use of external sources. In other words, fitness of a CAS (or effectiveness of the EU Foreign Policy Governance in this case) depends on its capability to preserve its internal order through adaptation (i.e., moving to and stationing in of the system another punctuated equilibrium) whenever the system is threatened with exogenous and endogenous factors. Then, one can call a CAS ‘fit’ (or the EU Foreign Policy Governance effective in this case) if the variety of available counteractions it takes is (at least) as large as the set of disturbances that occur and can be corrected. In this way, the paper is very much in line with and closely follows the findings of CT in general, of evolutionary biology in particular. Having made the comparisons, the paper, in the last part, builds an iconic model of underlying mechanism(s) (i.e., two interwoven logics of integration and disintegration) and contextual factors (i.e., socio-economic and cultural-ideological conditions changing since late 1960s in European and global levels) responsible for the emergence and evolution of this complex adaptive system.