A Sight on European Defence

Recently I have run my eye over the program of the Spanish presidency. The program is available on different languages on presidency’s website (here).

The Spanish ambition in that field, during those six months is the following one: realize a qualitative jump in promoting more efficient and flexible EU battle groups, consolidating the association between the EU and the NATO and going forward in the civil-military cooperation. That’s it.

Frankly a presidency, modest in its goals but remaining in the field of the possible is preferable to an ambitious one in which nobody will believe. Usually those presidencies end up with a declaration aiming at expressing the historical progress made during the last 6 months.

Anyway, even if a great country like Spain focuses on 1,500 man strong units, I do not assess this to be a great success in June. The EU battle groups suffer many weaknesses, already from their conception.

They are intended to provide the EU a quick military response to contingencies, in order to defuse a situation before it worsens. From a military point of view, what is hidden behind the idea of “quick response”?

Usually, when you need such a unit, it has to be:

-Air transportable,

-Multi-faceted, in order to face and overcome any unexpected worsening of the situation.

-Usable, which is the basis, therefore interoperable, trained and able to operate with the same rules of engagement.

-Sustainable. I mean that a battle group is not a one shot tool. Logistics must follow and if necessary reinforcement or replacement.

Le’s now have a closest look at the planning for the battle groups and let us take two examples. May be my data are not up to date. Any contribution will be welcome. I will not focus on the political side of the usability, but only on the military one. The examples I will take are from the second semester 2010 and first semester 2011. One of the battlegroups designated for 2010/2 is composed with Italian, Romanian and Turkish units. From a purely technical point of view, they are alike any other ad hoc coalition. They do not own the same equipment, their command and information systems have limited compatibility and their logistic organizations are independent. Despite the best will of the soldiers engaged in those battlegroups, it couldn’t be otherwise.

-The procurement of equipment is not European, but national, with national budgets. Due to the legitimate preservation of national industry, special partnership with one or the other country, due to the 40 years cycle needed to change the full equipment of an army, the equipment of this battlegroup cannot be homogeneous. Therefore, the planner has to organize the logistic not for one battlegroup, but for three independent units. Going further in details, the various national regulations usually demand a national certification for any equipment or spare part. That means that even if a weapon or any other system is supposed to be compatible with the incoming spare part, we are not certain of having the right to make use of those same foreign parts or ammunition.

-The command and information systems are usually built up as well on national criteria and because of national sovereignty, the cryptology remains purely national. In NATO operations, NATO will provide all the CIS assets down to headquarters level below the lowest NATO command level, in order they can communicate with the higher echelon. As the EU does not own such agencies able to equip headquarters, one must rely on the assets of one of the framework nations. During the operation in Chad, the EU could apply the same policy than NATO. However, the EU had more than one-year time between the decision to deploy and the effective presence there. In case of quick deployment, I do not know who would guarantee the CIS.

From a more political point of view, some battlegroups are simply not credible. Looking at the Helbroc (Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot battlegroup, what are their projection and logistic capacities? Those are armies have never deployed abroad in a single national operation. The Nordic battlegroup is for sure the most powerful and best trained. However, who would believe that countries like Sweden or Ireland would commit themselves in robust operations, while they claim neutrality and refuse, like Ireland, any binding alliance?

Therefore I fear that the Spanish presidency ambition as for defence refers will remain an ambition and not a realization, despite all efforts: as long as the issues of interoperability and political intention to go forward will not have been addressed, nothing will really happen.

Author :