A Sight on European Defence

This is a reviewed and updated article, initially titled ‘the UK could move towards European Army through the mutualisation of military assets’.

The two traditional nations at the avant-garde of European Defence, France and Germany seem to be supported by a third nation that nobody would have expected on that field. I mean the UK.

Some weeks ago I already published a post (here), on the political gap between Liberal-Democrats and Conservatives about European Defence, the LibDems being rather supportive, while the conservative, extremely sceptical. But the impossible budgetary equation of the UK has reminded the coalition government that the lyrics of Rule Britannia were more a remnant of a glorious past, and that Europeanization of their defence policy could be more affordable than running after the old chimeras.

This fundamental strategic inflexion in the British defence policy is to be found in two documents, one published in February by the previous labour government, titled: ‘Adaptibility and Partnership: issues for the Strategic Defence Review’, or Green Paper on Defence. The paragraph that I would quote is the following one:

“The Review will need to determine where there is scope to increase the effectiveness of those relationships in delivering our security or to rebalance our investments across the organisations. In particular:

(…)

-How we increase equitable burden- sharing within NATO and the EU, particularly with respect to operational deployments;

-Whether there is scope for increased role specialisation or capability-pooling within NATO and the EU in order to create a more coherent and capable output.”

The change of French defence policy, decided in 2007, lets us think that France could be regarded as a major partner: “In Europe, the return of France to NATO’s integrated military structures offers an opportunity for even greater co-operation with a key partner across a range of defence activity”.

What makes out of this document a major paper on British defence policy, is that the new coalition government did not simply leave it for the shredder. Even if the new policy is somewhat more elliptic, conclusions are not that different as expressed in

In the document named “strategic security and defence review” handed over to the Members of the Parliament on 15th June, the coalition sets the scene.

Firstly, time has come to the usual and rhetorical expression of the distance taken with the predecessors: “there were areas of that paper which the Conservative Party, while in opposition, disagreed with. Most notably was the assumption that the UK would always operate as part of a coalition or an alliance. What the Conservative Party did not disagree with, however, was the fundamental argument that the forward defence programme is simply unaffordable against likely future resources and that significant changes therefore need to be implemented”.

Then, swiftly comes the time to say that the government will look for the same effects than the Labour: “The Armed Forces must be structured first to deter and second to deliver the use of force in support of the UK’s national interest and to protect national security. This does not mean that the UK must be able to do all things at all times. The UK will need to be smarter about when and how it deploys power, which tasks can be done in alliance with others and what capabilities will the UK require as a result”. I let you appreciate the two last sentences.

And even the EU deserves some attention: “it will be necessary to ‘step up bilateral co-operation with France and other partners, and revitalise a broad programme of defence diplomacy’. The UK must use every lever at its disposal including the Commonwealth, UN, EU and other regional organisations to protect national security “.

Even if more careful and not so strong and firm than the French and German statements on the issue, the UK wonders whether it is worth going on operating all the necessary assets to conduct an operation by itself.

This will to co-operate more deeply with France has been reiterated on 21st June at the House of Commons, when the British Prime Minister declared: “there are some real opportunities, because when we look at the defence needs of Britain and France, we see that we both have effective armed forces, we both have a nuclear deterrent and we both have important naval forces. There is room for more collaboration and co-operation. This has fallen down in the past because we have often talked a big game, but nothing has happened. What we should do is start with some smaller projects, where we begin to collaborate and work together and show this makes sense, and then we can take the work forward “.

In fact, even if mutualisation has disappeared from the British lexicon, France has initiated staff work on this basis, obviously in close cooperation with the UK MOD, as Mr Morin declared lately: “My British counterpart and I have decided to launch a quite ambitious operation. The new British government wishes that we analyse very thoroughly what competences and assets that each country should keep as an asset to exert full sovereignty, those which can be mutualised and those for which interdependence can be envisaged.”

Result could be a mutualisation of some assets, which leads to an obvious renouncement to stand-alone operations, approximately at the same level than pooling, as it will require a thorough and extensive coordination along the years to make it work and be efficient. To go further in details, the domains currently explored are: satcom, missiles, strategic logistics, unmanned aerial vehicles, A400M maintenance, mine warfare, sonar, counter-IED, teaching, and even non-combatant evacuation operations (here). I would add that some analysts have assessed that some talks on nuclear weapons had started as well.

If French and British combat units are not involved for the time being in this pooling and mutualisation process, their modus operandi could be anyway strongly influenced by this pooling and mutualisation of the support. When you speak of pooling or mutualisation of strategic assets like UAV, satcom or logistics in defence forces which primary task is expeditionary warfare, you create such links of interdependency that those forces can operate only if they have firstly closely coordoned their action.

Is this that different from the embryo of a European Army?

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