Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from Daniel Keohane

What is EU defence policy?

  The Balkan crises in the 1990s showed that Europe, and the EU specifically, was incapable of dealing with security problems in its backyard (or indeed elsewhere). Following a Franco-British agreement at St. Malo in November 1998, the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was born at the Cologne summit of EU heads-of-government in June 1999. From the beginning ESDP has been about implementing the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)—that is to say it is a strictly inter-governmental policy, decided unanimously by EU governments, and neither the European Commission nor European Parliament play any role.

  Furthermore, ESDP is not an EU version of NATO, because the EU is not a military alliance. There is no mutual defence commitment in the current EU treaties similar to NATO's Article V, and EU defence is not about territorial defence. In essence, EU defence is an extra-EU crisis management policy, helping prevent conflict and re-build societies emerging from war. As a result, the EU approach to international security is broad, with the intention to use a wide range of tools from diplomats and development workers to judges and police, and—where necessary—soldiers. This is because today's threats, such as terrorism or collapsing states, cannot be addressed using only, or even predominantly, military means. NATO's approach, in contrast, is much narrower since it mainly uses military resources.

ESDP missions

  Since 2003, the EU has completed or is carrying out 19 ESDP missions. Although they have been relatively small in size—the largest was a 7,000 strong peacekeeping operation in Bosnia, which now numbers 2,500—for the most part they have achieved their goals. Most ESDP missions have not been primarily military operations (although military personnel have helped plan most missions). More interesting has been their complexity and range, such as quelling civil unrest in Macedonia; reforming the Congolese army and the Georgian judicial system; training Iraqi police, judges and prisons officers; training Palestinian and Afghan police forces; and monitoring the border between Ukraine and Moldova.

  In addition, the EU is increasingly the only international organisation that can help provide security in certain situations, as has been the case in Indonesia and Israel. From 2005-06 the EU successfully oversaw the implementation of a peace agreement in Aceh, and since 2005 it has monitored the Rafah crossing point in Gaza. And demand is growing. In September the UN Security Council mandated the EU to send a peacekeeping force to Eastern Chad. It is due to begin its deployment in early 2008, and will comprise of 4,000 soldiers. Plus EU governments have agreed to send 1,800 police, judges and customs officials to Kosovo, who will operate alongside 16,000 NATO peacekeepers, to help prevent a return to war-fighting in that region.

  Demand for EU action is likely to continue growing in the future. The enlargement of the EU to 27 members brought it closer to the arc of instability that runs around its eastern, south-eastern and southern flanks. Plus, Turkey and other countries of the western Balkans may enter in the coming decades. The EU will therefore have many weak and malfunctioning states on its borders. It is bound to become more involved in countries such as Georgia and Algeria. Across the Atlantic US priorities will likely remain focused on countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea, and potential conflicts such as China-Taiwan and India-Pakistan. Washington will probably be reluctant to become too involved in conflicts around the EU's eastern and southern flanks.

  The EU will need to develop a more effective set of policies for stabilising North Africa, the Balkans and the countries that lie between it and Russia. Many of these policies will involve trade, aid and political dialogue. But EU strategy towards its near-abroad will also have to include a military component. Europeans should not expect the US to put out fires in their own backyard. After all, the principal rationale for creating the EU's defence policy was to improve on the EU's poor performance in coping with the Balkan crises of the 1990s. Plus, the EU's efforts to tackle conflicts in its neighbourhood may require more than "mere" peacekeeping and state-building, as it has been doing in Bosnia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Military capabilities

  To meet their growing demands, EU governments will need access to adequate military resources. The 27 EU governments collectively spend close to €200 billion on defence. This means that, collectively, EU governments are the world's second biggest defence spenders after the US. That amount of money should be enough to cover Europe's defence needs. But despite these hefty financial resources, Europeans do not have nearly enough soldiers they can use. The EU-27 governments have close to two million personnel in their armed forces, but they can barely deploy and sustain 100,000 soldiers around the globe. This amounts to a measly 5% of EU armed forces. Plus some member-state armed forces are already over-stretched because of non-EU commitments in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

  Part of the reason for a lack of deployable soldiers is that there are roughly 370,000 conscript troops in the EU. Conscripts—a legacy of Cold War military planning—are useless for foreign deployments. Another reason for Europe's lack of military muscle is a shortage of useful equipment, such as transport planes and communications technology. Inefficiency abounds in European spending on defence equipment, with too many small procurement programmes for essentially the same capability. To illustrate: the EU-27 currently spend roughly €30 billion a year on some 89 equipment programmes; the US spends much more (roughly $100 billion annually) on only 27 projects.

  European governments have been slowly reforming their armies since the end of the Cold War—some with more success than others—shifting from a focus on territorial defence to an emphasis on international deployments. The good news is that military reform is now widely recognised at the EU level as absolutely necessary if the EU is to fulfil its security aims. Member-states have agreed on a "headline goal"—a list of military capabilities EU governments have agreed to acquire—commitments they are supposed to meet by 2010. Although the EU, like NATO, has not yet managed to convince European governments to rapidly improve their military capabilities, the process of military reform in Europe will continue. Plus a number of major equipment investments started by EU defence ministries should enter into service in the coming years. These capabilities include A400M transport planes; A330 air tankers; Eurofighter, Rafale and Joint-Strike-Fighter jets; and three new Franco-British aircraft carriers.

The European Defence Agency

  The European Defence Agency (EDA) was set up in 2004 to help EU governments improve their military capabilities. The EDA has achieved a lot in its first three years. In particular three achievements should be mentioned: the Long-Term Vision, the R&T Joint Investment Programme and the Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement. The Long-Term Vision project—which investigated what military skills EU governments will need over the next twenty years—is important because defence technology can take a decade or more to develop. Therefore, if EU governments want to have the right types of missiles or aircraft in 2020, they should start thinking now about what types of equipment they would need. In a similar vein, R&T spending indicates what new kinds of capabilities defence ministries should have in the future. Given that EU governments collectively spend only €9 billion on research and development (and only a little over €2 billion on research and technology), it is crucial that they eliminate duplication and collaborate as much as possible.

  The Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement deserves special attention. Some 175 government contracts worth roughly €10 billion are currently posted on the Electronic Bulletin Board, which is an impressive result in such a short time. But the importance of the code lies as much in its principle as its practice. The idea of more open European defence markets has been around for decades, but with little or no progress until the code. Never before have so many European governments agreed that they should open up their defence markets to each other.

Battle groups

  Fifteen battle groups have or are being set up, mostly multinational units of 1,500 troops, and the first of these became operational at the start of 2007. Each battle group should be able to draw on extensive air and naval assets, including transport and logistical support, for early and rapid responses to crises. The rationale for these EU combat units is to give the UN the rapid reaction capability that it currently lacks. This is why the EU sent a small UN-mandated intervention force to Bunia in Congo in June 2003, and a deterrent force to Kinshasa in 2006.

The Lisbon treaty

  Europe's lack of military muscle formed a major part of the discussion of the defence parts of the Lisbon treaty. EU leaders will formally sign the Lisbon treaty in December 2007, and if ratified by all 27 members during 2008, the treaty should improve the way EU defence policy works and is resourced. During 2008, EU defence ministries will start fleshing out what the Lisbon treaty means for EU defence policy in practice. The most important change is that the treaty would make it easier for a subset of EU countries to work together more closely on military matters, using a procedure known as "structured co-operation". Those member-states which meet a set of capability-based entry criteria can choose to co-operate more closely after securing a majority vote. This clause makes a lot of sense. Military capabilities and ambitions vary widely among the member-states. So the EU could rely on a smaller group of the most willing and best-prepared countries to run its more demanding military missions.

  At first glance, the defence group would seem, in some respects, to resemble the eurozone: some countries may stay outside because they choose to and some because they do not fulfil the entry criteria. During 2008, EU defence ministries will discuss what precisely the entry criteria should be, and some governments worry that they might be left out depending on the stringency of the criteria. That said, the wording of the treaty suggests an easy-to-meet set of capabilities thresholds for participation in the defence vanguard. For example, the draft says that one of the criteria that EU member-states should meet is to supply a combat unit—a national unit or as part of a multinational formation—that can be deployed between five and thirty days. In fact, 25 out of 27 EU member-states already supply these combat units as part of a "battle groups" plan that EU defence ministers approved in April 2004.

  Another innovation for defence policy in the Lisbon treaty is that member-states can sign up to a "mutual assistance" clause: if a member-state is attacked it can ask for help—military or otherwise—from other EU member-states in accordance with the UN charter. But the six neutral countries for example would not be willing to give such an outright commitment, as it would imply the EU is a military alliance. Thus, another clause explains that this article "shall not prejudice the specific character and defence policy of certain Member States"—meaning the neutrals. In addition, to allay fears of Atlanticist governments such as the UK, Poland, and the Netherlands, that EU defence could undermine NATO, the treaty says that this EU commitment should be "consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation".

  The so-called "Petersberg tasks" set the parameters for EU military missions, which range from humanitarian relief to ending regional conflicts—essentially peace-support missions. The treaty adds some new types of military missions to this list, but they are things the EU has already been doing, like disarmament operations (such as de-mining), security-sector-reform (reforming armies and police) and military advice. Each EU government currently has a veto over every single EU military operation, and that veto power is enshrined in the Lisbon treaty. Although unlikely, if a member-state government vehemently opposed a particular EU military operation it could prevent it from happening. The treaty also says that governments are requested to provide the EU with military and civilian capabilities that would help the Union to deal with international crises—but purely on a voluntary basis. In other words, there is no obligation on a member-state to participate in any EU mission if it does not want to. In addition, the treaty does not establish a standing EU force, never mind a "European army".


  EU defence policy has come a long way since 1999. In early 2008, the EU is due to take on its twentieth mission in Chad, only five years after the first. Although EU governments still lack adequate amounts of useful military equipment, there is at least widespread agreement amongst defence ministries on what is needed. Plus, the EU is working hard to improve its mix of military and non-military resources—such as police, judges, aid workers—for coping with crises. This holistic approach to international security is what differentiates EU defence from NATO, which is primarily a military organisation founded on territorial defence. The hope is that the EU and NATO can find more effective ways of working together in the future, given that much of their security agendas overlap, for instance on counter-terrorism.

Research Fellow, EU Institute for Security Services

17 December 2007

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