A Sight on European Defence

Sun Tzu said:

Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:

1. Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law?

2. Which of the two generals has most ability?

3. With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth?

4. On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?

5. Which army is stronger?

6. On which side are officers and men more highly trained?

7. In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.

In order to determine who to select to wage war against the enemy, Sun Tzu establishes very clear and objective criteria. Are they realistic? May be in the Chinese army of past centuries. Anyway not in today’s European armed forces and even less in a multinational framework.

The two World Wars of 20th century have shown that the different services of armed forces, or even the different branches of a single service always strive to orient the decisions the political leader, so that they can either get more money or assets and drive the conduct of operations towards their own centre of interests.

Currently, the situation is even worse. European countries are decreasing drastically their defence budgets, and every branch, and beyond, every service, are struggling for life. A sort of soft and urbane backstabbing has become a vital need for service staffs, so that they can draw money towards their own programs. This behaviour is encouraged by industries and their relays in the parliaments. Not to speak about Europe, but the numerous up and downs of the US tanker program show perfectly that sound and reasonable arguments do not always lead towards the same direction.

Therefore, even at national level, the choice of the army and of the general is not purely a matter of capabilities. At multinational level, this subjective approach will weigh much more. In such a situation, political commitment, compensations for the support in another issue, balance of forces or key enablers that will be offered to the force will drive the negotiations during the force generation conferences. The intrinsic value of such or such commanding officer, or such or such unit, will not debated. The hardest discussions are closely linked to the famous “flag to post” operations.

The flag to post consists in the skilful and somehow esoteric distribution or repartition of key posts between the participating countries. Usually a small country, focusing on a niche capability can have more influence than a country just present in the operation, but without a clear strategic objective. For instance, if a government wants to improve its image among its pacifist population, it will focus on support to the population tasks. On the other side, if your industry needs to export some armament, you could focus on combat troops, in order to have your new tank ‘combat proven’. In some cases, the support you intend to provide is purely symbolic and does not offer any real added value to the operation. However, giving legitimacy to the operation with your flag, you will get a job out of proportion with your effective role. In some other cases, providing the transport helicopters (the most common shortfall in EU operations) will make out of your country one of the main stakeholders of the operation. And so forth and so on.

Then, Sun Tzu’s arguments are to be pursued, but are more to be regarded as an ideal to reach, rather than a reality of European business or simply, coalition business, as World’s History is rich of such comparable situations.

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