A Sight on European Defence

Might it be the NATO or EU, the countries taking part to multinational operations always meet the same problem, based on the motto: “the costs lie where they fall”. To the attention of newcomers, it means that a country, which sends troops upon request of an international organization, will pay twice for his contribution.

Firstly, his national defence budget will be charged with the supplementary costs caused by the deployment of troops abroad. For some countries, it can reach several hundreds of millions of Euros per year.

Secondly, if mission fails or situation worsens, the government of this contributing nation will run into political danger, as the casualties or some collateral damages could make the public opinion to reject the current foreign policy and lead to the loss of the next elections.

Therefore some countries have deliberately chosen to travel in Business Class while on operations: they select carefully the region in which they will operate, they implement such caveats or give such tasks to their forces deployed there that any casualty is avoided as far as possible, and if possible, you offer troops for the most media-friendly jobs. However, I will not put shame on any specific country: there is a sort of unofficial task sharing as, depending on the national interests having lead to the decision to deploy, one or the other country will be once very active, or the other time will just have a symbolic presence, the latter case being used when there is a need to give a token of solidarity.

Because of Afghanistan, far away from most of European countries’ areas of interest, source of daily casualties, countries are always more reluctant to contribute. The painful force generation process for EUFOR in Chad is still the worst example of an operation decided at the political level, without the political will to see it up and running.

Sooner or later, EU countries will have to think over the issue of cost sharing. I can only support the idea that the country, which pays, decides as well. Current Athena program, designed to share the costs that cannot be nationally identified is far from being sufficient to encourage Nations to contribute, mainly in areas of great danger or great logistical issues.

Some members of the EU Parliament have already worked on the topic. However, only very few countries are ready to go forward on the topic:

-A development of Athena principles to the whole operation would definitely reinforce the role of the EU Parliament and therefore would be regarded as an intrusion within national sovereign issues.

-If Europe proposes you to take over all the costs, it becomes much more difficult to refuse to commit national units. Another pretext is to be found.

Nevertheless, the latest financial crisis has left most of European countries is such a situation that their defence forces could be forced to gather their efforts and resources (or at least some of them) in order to face budgetary cuts imposed by their governments.

This could make a good opportunity for European Defence to wake up.

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