A Sight on European Defence

Surf on the Web is really pleasant, mainly when you can grab out of some particularly serious and renowned website a thorough study on the EU battle groups. Then you start reading it, in order to get a better view of this concept sometimes presented as a showcase of European Defence, and may be of a future European Army.

As a sign of respect for the website which published this study I am speaking about, I will not quote anybody, however the source is available to anybody who would request it directly by e-mail.

The guideline of this study is that the EU battlegroups have been a political success. However, from a military perspective, they have not proven their efficiency yet and they have contributed to accelerate the transformation process of European armed forces to adapt them to the new geopolitical framework. Nevertheless, the authors are not without reservation on the military efficiency of some of the battlegroups. Nonetheless, I would add that their reservation is really mild, quite too mild, with regards to the real usability of almost all the battlegroups.

In order to give flesh to my words, I will know further explore the reality of battlegroups.

-To say that a political success can turn into a military failure is a non-sense, at least referring to this issue. Indeed the EU battlegroup is a political creation. As well the armed forces of our democracies are a political creation, in the sense that their existence, organization, assets and budgets are under strict democratic control. This means that, if the head of state is displeased by the military failure, he can fire the chief of defence, or reorient the money towards the EU battlegroup. At my knowledge the only country having really put money on the EU BG issue is Sweden, with the HQ they built in Enköping.

-To say that the EU BG have driven the reform of European armed forces is an extreme mistake. The only thing driving the restructuring of armed forces are the operations, current and future, and the money. Currently, the only argument used by the governments to express their support to European Defence is not the EU BG, it is merely the financial crisis. Furthermore, a defence organization is base on vehicles, armament, weapon systems which lifetime is about 25 years, in some cases 40. The EU BG has no major influence on procurement in a so short period of time. Currently the beginning and the end of investments are near to be the short term, concretely Afghanistan. This is the danger that the financial crises make our countries renounce to long-term procurement and innovation.

-To express some reservation on the military efficiency of some EU battlegroups is positive. However, this is too nice: usability of most of the EU battlegroups is close to nil. May be some could think that I exaggerate. However, some of the countries have earmarked forces for which they do not own the strategic transport assets, neither by sea, nor by air. Then, are the different contingents trained together and interoperable? With the exception some units, this is doubtful. Do their countries own the full set of impedimenta necessary for the daily life in a tropical country? Who is in charge of the certification of the EU BG? Many questions have not been addressed yet, simply because nobody really wants those to be addressed.

-One before last, what is really the level of the political will regarding EU BG? Let us look at NRF, which year after year has failed to achieve its force generation. Let us look as well at Eufor Chad, which had been approved by the EU Council. There are so many areas to which our Nations do not wan to be pulled into against their will. As long as the countries participating to the EU BG will not have publicly committed themselves to lift all the caveats for the commitment of their troops put at disposal of the EU, I will not believe in the EU BG. But that day will never happen: our nations, for a while, will still decide what they do out of their troops. Until further notice, this is still a matter of sovereignty.

-The Last but not the least: who pays? At the moment you pay you decide. Until now, EU member states have not agreed on the financing of EU operations, and mainly on the costs supported by the participating countries, which have to finance about 90% of the expense for the operation. In the present situation of our budgets, who is crazy enough to pay for an operation in a country where it has no interest, direct or indirect (the solicitation by a powerful ally becoming of course an indirect interest).

Therefore, I do not see a brilliant future for the EU BG as long as the Common Foreign and Defence Policy will not have found the appropriate way for development.

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