9/11 as a Critical Juncture

 By Casper Gelderblom

“Today,” a French newspaper announced on September 12, 2001, “we are all Americans.” The terror of the previous day had felt like an attack on everyone, everywhere. Indeed, the shockwaves of “9/11” hit Europe hard. The attacks’ immense political salience led to the rapid adoption of a record number of joint EU security policies. Thus, the immediate aftermath of 9/11 can be seen as a critical juncture in the development of EU security governance. The course of this critical juncture, however, can only be fully understood if antecedent conditions are considered.

Capoccia and Kelemen attribute two main characteristics to critical junctures: they expand the range of choices open to political actors and, in Pierson’s words, “place institutional arrangements on paths (…) difficult to alter.” In the context of EU security policy, these characteristics neatly apply to 9/11’s immediate aftermath. Den Boer describes how after 9/11 “all of a sudden, decisions were possible” in the area of EU security governance. Emergency summits were organised and effective decisions were taken. Within two weeks from 9/11, EU member states agreed on an Action Plan on Counter-Terrorism, which contained over sixty joint European security policy measures. Before the 9/11 critical juncture, member states’ insistence on national sovereignty rendered such measures impossible. This placed EU security governance on a self-reinforcing path of increasing cooperation; Argomaniz describes how this path eventually led to the European Security Strategy launched in 2003 and the expansion of Europol competences in 2005.

Decisions made during the 9/11 critical juncture cannot entirely explain this development of EU security governance, as they depended on what
Mahoney calls antecedent conditions, which define the range of options available to actors in critical junctures. After 9/11, European policy-makers could either strengthen national policies or reconsider joint European designs they had blocked in 1999. Pressured to take swift action, policymakers favoured these pre-existing designs. Without considering the antecedent condition of the availability of these designs, the course of the 9/11 critical juncture cannot fully be understood.