The EU’s maritime operations and the future of European Security: learning from operations Atalanta and Sophia

Peter Dombrowski, Simon Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of maritime operations has generally been neglected in a European Security and Defense Policy debate that often focuses on political will, bureaucratic incoherence, and military interoperability. Nonetheless, maritime operations have played an increasingly important role in the last decade and deserve deeper analysis. First, they provide a valuable optic for identifying a dynamic change in policy priorities over time. Second, they suggest the conditions under which the EU can and cannot fulfill the Brussels leadership’s avowed role as a “global player.” Finally, they also illustrate the EU’s presiding tensions when it comes to external challenges: between rhetoric and behavior, institutionally with NATO, and of the shifting political priorities among national governments. In this article, we compare the EU’s two major maritime operations. The first, Atalanta, is a counter-piracy multilateral operation in cooperation with NATO and non-EU states off the Somali coast. The second, Sophia, has evolved from search and rescue to thwarting migrant flows in the Mediterranean. Among several conclusions, we suggest that the evolution of maritime operations demonstrates an increasing gap—between the EU’s rhetoric of having a global strategy and its regional operational security focus.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)860-884
Number of pages25
JournalComparative European Politics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Common Security and Foreign Policy
  • Counter-piracy
  • European Security and Defense Policy
  • European Union
  • Global strategy
  • Immigration and refugee asylum
  • Maritime operations
  • Operation Atalanta
  • Operation Sophia
  • Regional strategy


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