A Sight on European Defence

Sun Tzu said:

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.

These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth; (4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline.

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.

Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.

The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness.

By method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.

In order to perform well at war, a nation and its army need to meet all those features. Let us compare Sun Tzu’s ideal with the harsh reality:

The moral law depends strongly on the ruler. Currently the ruling bodies of the EU, I mean the Commission and the Parliament do not own the charisma and leadership they would need to conduct European Nations to war. And Europe is intended so as Defence remains an intergovernmental issue. Moral law is therefore in the hands of our state heads and Prime Ministers.

Heaven could be linked to the capabilities of our assets and forces: as the European countries have very different levels of land, sea and air assets and their subsequent capabilities, no unity of action and operation can be reached or at least guaranteed in a multinational framework. For instance, air assets of some our countries suffer heavy restrictions in Afghanistan, while the ally’s ones will still be efficient. To look at it more positively, the different assets could help bypassing most of the obstacles left by the Heaven, if there were less caveats in their use by an ally.

Earth: our conception of earth is so different, that for some, the end of the world is at the border (or now in Afghanistan), whereas for some others this is located in Congo. Then our expeditionary capabilities are calculated depending on this perception of the Earth, which make very complex a common action in areas where your perception of the world is different. This consideration is as well valid for the ideas of danger, life and death as countries’ capabilities to accept danger vary extremely from one country to the other, as this is a non-rational parameter of our public opinions.

I would add one point: as the Europeans are still wasting the 200 milliard Euros of military expenses a year, they are unable to dominate their environment; I mean the Earth and the Air as the strategic movement capabilities are very limited, despite the effort to alleviate those shortfalls and the offensive assets are as well deficient to make sure of European supremacy over the Air and the Earth.

The commander should be chosen for its personal competence. In a multinational environment, and especially in Europe, where balancing the national visibility is paramount, the most important is not the virtue of the chief, but the flag he wears on his shoulder.

Method and discipline: there is no multinational discipline. Every soldier refers at the end of the day, exclusively to his national chain of command.

There is a NATO doctrine, but apply it only the countries who want to. Regarding the NATO standards, this works a little bit better, especially in the Air Forces and Navies. However, there is no unified military doctrine or method centre at European level. Such an organisation could be suggested, so that the EU can produce documents of reference Nations would only have to apply. But who would take the risk to add to the European Doctrine College a sort of doctrine centre, able to generate the legal framework for a unified European doctrine, while the NATO is already producing all we need, even if not always applicable and not applied by the USA? Time is rather at the reduction of such multinational instances.

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  1. Very interesting analysis using Sun Tzu. Compare this to how the European Community would organize its defence in the European Defence Community of early 1950s. The Commission would be composed of the people of highest moral standing. (At the moment they are chosen among parties in secret by the Council). (see comments on other failings at http://www.schuman.info/schoolreport.htm ) They would have the backing of a thoroughly democratic set of institutions rather than just an intergovernmental Council. They would be able to re-organize according to the most efficient principles each of the national fighting units in a European framework. They could draw on wide expertise of different geographic contexts for defence, rather than making this an obstacle. The commander would follow from these democratic foundations and the people would expect him to have shown and exercise great attributes of wisdom. The method and discipline depends on defending the high moral values of human rights and fundamental freedoms as essential for civilized society of both the Community and means to analyse the weaknesses of its foes. The curious thing is that five nations have already ratified the EDC.
    David http://www.schuman.info

  2. Your description expresses the ideal of EU founding fathers, but they have been afterwards overwhelmed by the reality of daily business.

  3. Hi,

    Let’s not forget a fuller explanation of “commander”: wisdom, credibility, benevolence, courage, and discipline. Do the leaders of the EU have these attributes, for I believe Sun Tzu would consider the leader as not only the center of effectiveness but also the driver of results.


  4. Dear Thomas,
    I fully support your view on this topic.
    This is what I mean when writing about the leadership of EU Commissioners. I intend to elaborate soon on the education and staff culture of the Armed Forces to highlight the lack of ‘trans-national’ military leaders able to drive the results.
    Thanks for your comment.

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