A Sight on European Defence

Surfing on the Web provides good opportunity to reach and read pieces of information rich in ideas, thoughts on Europe and proposing a way ahead for European Defence. One of those sites is the Egmont institute, based in Belgium. In June 2010 this institute published an opinion paper, written by Mr Biscop and Coelmont, titled “permanent structured cooperation: in defence of the obvious”. You can reach the text here or there.

Really, this paper is worth being read. Firstly, it provides the reader with an attractive and simple explanation of the permanent structured cooperation, as foreseen by the Treaty of Lisbon. Secondly, it draws in broad lines what could be the result of a fruitful development of this permanent structured cooperation, which is, for the time being, still stuck in the sand. However, there are some points that I do not fully support. The cooperation that they describe is an ideal one that, in my opinion, has only a very thin probability to exist within the next years, because of the bad will, or opposing policies, of some of the Member States, although I would rather be happy if their idea could come true.

I will now go further in details to explain my doubts on the project they depict in their article. By the way, I hope I am wrong. Their basic hypothesis is that “if the European Union (should) be ready to share in the responsibility for global security and building a better world, as the European Security Strategy states, it is evident that the Common Security and Defence Policy must be strengthened”.

Of course, all current political products would like us to believe that we can improve the world. Such a goal must be praised. However, this would please NGOs and other fans of this feeling that White Man should bring peace all over the world, but you cannot start working seriously with such a statement, mainly shaped for the media. Therefore I would make the difference between the wishes and what we effectively want to reach.

Most of the European countries have very limited geopolitical ambitions, and do not see very far beyond their borders. This is not disregarding them. It is just taking into account their history, the political and economic weight, and the usual inertia when you want to reform a defence policy and its legal and military tools. Diversity of EU is such, that it is almost impossible to decide a strong and concrete guideline driving the EU institutions in shaping a better world throughout the years.

It might sound cynical but I do not believe that in a future still undetermined, the world will be in peace and everybody happy. The best we can do is to try and fix what we can, so that we avoid as much as possible major disorders. More would sound as a utopia.

For instance, both authors mention the EU operation in Chad and precise that “as EU-operations have shown, e.g. in Chad, the contributions of all Member States are indeed welcome and necessary”. If some countries made a positive and impressive effort, like Ireland or Poland, I would have preferred some offers to be simply rejected or at least not to be done, as useless: Germany: 4 people, UK: 4 people, Bulgaria: 2, Slovenia: 15, Hungary: 2. Those figures sound much more the number of points at Eurovision song contest than a military operation and do not contribute to the military efficiency, they only give an impression of legitimacy, by adding more flags on the poles. Of course, there are some good explanations for such a level of non-commitment. Afghanistan is the more convenient one, as some forces (UK) are effectively overstretched there. Some other explanations were based on the feeling that France wanted to confiscate the operation to its own purpose, or on the uselessness of an operation in such a vast and unstable area.

In fact, Eufor Chad has been a failure as for support by the member states refers, as the numerous force generation conferences reached the summits of incoherence between the political decision and the level of military commitment. At that time, the nations sitting at the European Council had decided to launch an operation, and then decided not to take part, ready to risk a failure. Therefore, I would rather express support to the current developments of European Defence; I mean mutualisation and pooling between some countries that want to go forward, instead of still waiting for partners, which have not decided yet whether they should get onboard of European Defence.

The project of both authors to have a “PSCD that is not to punish or exclude, but to encourage all to do more; the best PSCD is that at 27”, hides an additional risk, at least under the current political orientations. The soft consensus that would be reach could be to legitimate, within some Member States, the absence of any significant effort in the field of defence expenditures, or the difficulty to adapt their structures to the new challenges, the petrified different legal frameworks and the opposing cultures regarding operations that I have already expressed in this blog. In some countries, any casualty in operation drives the government into difficulties. The commitment of troops being at the core of the national prerogatives, those governments, which opinion is very reluctant to risky military actions, will remain extremely sensitive and careful before making any promise.

Therefore, a too large consensus, with the obligation of solidarity (all together or nobody), could lead the weakest country would to fix the pace of the permanent structured cooperation.

I definitely prefer a selective, but efficient, cooperation, at least in the current circumstances, although, I say again, I would personally prefer the European Defence develop in the way proposed by both authors.

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