A Sight on European Defence

The main reference of this post will be fact sheet published by the Real Instituto Elcano (here), which has published on 23 March 2010 a paper written by Luis Simon, dealing with the EU operational headquarters. The paper can be found in Spanish on the Institute website. I really liked reading it, as it gives a good insight of the whole planning process, even if it does not deal with the issues of parallel planning, which permit to compress significantly the time needed for preparing an operation.

Like many other people more or less involved in European Defence, I think that this operational headquarters will be needed. Therefore, I am really happy seeing Luis Simon supporting the idea. However Mr Simon is realistic, when saying that neither Germany nor the UK ever supported the idea. As for the UK refers, nothing new. The fight against this supposed duplication between the NATO and the EU is an ancient issue, when everybody knows that the real duplication lies within the NATO itself. Germany could be more surprising. I am not. The best expression I could read is “destructive ambiguity” (‘ambigüedad destructive). L. Simon attributes this German ambiguity to their civilian perception of operations, in which they reject a pure military approach.

May be, this explanation is to simple, as the Germans do not reject, and in contrary fully support the NATO purely military headquarters. I would rather think that of course the Germans have expressed at this occasion some of their belief that being a nice and peaceful country would be enough to ban war and solve conflicts. One could think as well that the German intend was to copy in the EU their perception of operations (vernetzte Sicherheit) and therefore take an informal leadership, supported by their civilian experience in conflicts, knowing they would not be able to challenge countries like France or the UK on the expeditionary warfare, on which both are much more experienced than the Bundeswehr. In Afghanistan, when the Germans built up the Provincial Reconstruction Team Kunduz, they applied this integrated civ-mil way of operating while France and the UK were still on more conventional schemes.

Therefore I prefer thinking that they tried to capitalize on their know how (here for more info on PRT Kunduz), instead of being exclusively angelic.

Anyway, L. Simon assesses clearly and rightly that ‘the current planning system and the command and control of CFSP military operations do not fill the minimum quality standards’. Any operation supposed to deploy in a short time need several planning layers working in parallel. The fact is that the current structure in place in Brussels does not permit developing this modus operandi, as something is missing between the strategic (political) and tactical (military technical) levels. The recourse to national operational headquarters is not satisfactory in a EU context, as suspicion of national hidden agendas will always prevail. Furthermore, putting a national operational headquarters at disposal of the EU implies that you declare yourself ready. Who can still imagine that the German operational command in Potsdam could command and control a deployment in Africa, when one see what has happened for Chad, where Germany was politically supporting the operation and militarily refusing it?

Therefore military credibility needs a minimum of assets guaranteeing the possibility to deploy. In that field M. Simon is totally right. Nonetheless, when he proposes the EU situation centre in Brussels to be designated as the ‘preferred HQ’ for CFSP operations, I do not believe it realistic, at least yet, at least as long as every European country thinks that power and influence lie by their capacity to control an EU operation via their national operational headquarters.

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