Select Committee on European Union Fifteenth Report


40. The Helsinki declaration talks of the creation of a rapid reaction force "capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks". These tasks have been defined in paragraph 29 of Part 2 of this report. The EU does not wish to assume responsibility for the territorial defence. That remains the task of NATO. It is less clear where the division of responsibilities between other defence and security tasks lies, and in particular where the boundary lies between the Petersberg tasks and other missions. Moreover, there is also no definition of where the geographical limits to the tasks lie.

Geography and history

41. In evidence to the Committee, the Secretary of State for Defence acknowledged that the Petersberg tasks "are not precisely defined and quite deliberately so; that would give a great deal of flexibility…we would simply have to make a judgement according to the particular circumstances." (Q360). However, this absence of clarity concerning the tasks for an EU-led force raise serious issues about the type of force requirements for elaborating the headline goal and for making the European capability credible.

42. Few witnesses ventured to define possible future scenarios for Petersberg-style missions, but there are several examples from the past decade of defence missions which might fall within the technical remit and definition of an EU-led mission using all or part of the 50-60,000 strong force. Bosnia and Kosovo are the most obvious, but one could also consider the Italian-led operation in Albania in 1998 and, further afield, the UN-led missions in Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, East Timor and Sierra Leone. Surprisingly, a scenario like Rwanda was seen as particularly appropriate for EU involvement by Mr Richard Hatfield, Policy Director of the Ministry of Defence. He told us that "Were that situation to come up again, it could be done under European Union auspices but it would not be done under NATO auspices because NATO has no security role in relation to Central Africa." (Q360) A UN mandate for this type of operation would be important in shaping the character of such deployments both inside and outside Europe. The list of possible defence missions demonstrates not only the range of potential tasks, but also the distances which may be involved.

43. The list also demonstrates the seriousness of the tasks involved: they extend well beyond gendarmerie functions and involve active peacemaking, and in many cases could involve loss of life. They may demand extremely sophisticated and expensive command, control, communication and logistical support over considerable distances. These elements will only be available if further expenditure is made in developing the necessary capabilities.

44. In theory, geographical limits have not been set for the Petersberg tasks. This was defended by General Naumann, who told us "that we should not try to identify … areas of potential intervention for either NATO or the European Union, we should leave it to a case by case decision"; but he accepted that in practice limits will apply: "Of course, we will see limitations with regard to our capability since much is being determined by transport capabilities, by logistics." (Q309).

45. There is however, no agreement as to where practical limits lie[20]. Lord Wallace speculated that "an operation in Rwanda or, heaven knows, Congo or in the further Gulf is about as far as we are talking about" (Q50), although Dr Malcolm Chalmers of the University of Bradford believed that "It is clear, however, that the "in-area" does not include sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia. It is still difficult to see either NATO or the EU playing a significant role in organising collective military operations in these "out-of-area" regions." (p149)

46. Geographical diversity creates differences of priorities. Those Member States on the eastern border of the EU share concerns about and with central European neighbours. For southern Member States, the Mediterranean is an important concern, especially in respect of political and economic issues in the eastern Aegean and in the (former French) North African states.[21] The accession of Finland and Sweden has strengthened a northern perspective and raised the profiles of issues in the Baltic and Barents Seas region, not least relations with Russia. Moreover, different interests in different geographical regions have often made it difficult to agree on a common EU approach. French and Belgian engagement in Zaire and Rwanda embarrassed some Member States, and, as pointed out by Dr Chalmers, any future EU action in Africa "would first have to overcome the continuing commitment of some European states (especially France and the United Kingdom) to national spheres of influence in the continent." (p.150). Furthermore, Greek interests in the southern Balkans hindered collective EU recognition of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.[22]

47. Whatever the definition of the geographical limits, it seems likely that the European Union will be most concerned with tasks in its neighbouring areas. Even here it may be difficult to reach agreement on such tasks when they arise, since global as well as regional interests may be involved. For example, just as Greek sympathy towards Serbia made it difficult for the EU to act with common accord in the Balkans, so, in one scenario, the historic sympathies of the Turks towards the Azeris and their enmity with the Armenians might affect any EU involvement in the southern Caucasus[23]. Russian interests in states which were part of the former Soviet Union may in practice further limit where the EU governments feel willing and able to act.

The dividing line between NATO and the EU

48. As well as defining when it will be suitable for an EU-led operation, it will also be necessary to define who will lead such an operation. The Helsinki Declaration's aim is that the EU should develop the capability to undertake the full range of Petersberg tasks, but it is clear that some of the Petersberg tasks will be best left to NATO. Mr Jones Parry told us that "If one looks at how we would have responded to Kosovo, I find it deeply unattractive to imagine the European Union taking on that exercise. For anything on that scale it must be a NATO exercise." (Q6) On some occasions the non-EU members of NATO (and in particular, the US) will wish to participate in certain EU-led missions: according to the United States Embassy, "It is overwhelmingly likely that in any situation where anyone's military involvement on a significant scale is justified, and where there is a consensus in Europe to undertake a military operation, the United States would be part of the operation." (p213)

49. As is the case with the multinational Eurocorps[24] currently deployed in Kosovo, the EU's rapid reaction force may often be part of a NATO-led operation. As pointed out by Lord Wallace, "A large part of the purpose of this initiative is of course to provide a better European contribution to such an American-led exercise" (Q39). At the moment, the EU is not suited to managing the full range of Petersberg tasks, and nor is it clear that the EU will ever lead the full range of Petersberg tasks. It is therefore unrealistic to divide the lines of responsibility in such a way as simply to delegate territorial defence to NATO and Petersberg tasks to the EU. This is reinforced by the fact that an EU-led capability will as a matter of course need to ensure NATO—and especially US—backing when it becomes involved in any situation where conflict may escalate.

50. The EU lacks key capabilities that both NATO and more specifically the US have, and this will be discussed in the next chapter. Evidence suggests that it is inconceivable that the EU would undertake missions without US consent, but such missions could be undertaken without US participation. This appears to be generally accepted: for example, Rear Admiral[25] Pierre Sabatié-Garat, the Defence Attaché at the French Embassy, told us that "we do not see any situation, any scenario, where we will act against the US interests, that would be a nonsense." (Q192) For the successful conduct of EU-led operations it is reasonable to assume that NATO would be given the first right of refusal to lead an operation[26]. It is, however, important to note that this particular sequencing of events is not accepted by some EU Member States. This is a sensitive issue for the French Government which opposes explicitly offering NATO first right of refusal on all missions. Nevertheless, as Lord Robertson has made clear, in practice the US Government effectively holds a veto over any EU operations because of its position in NATO and because of its manifestly superior capabilities.

51. There are many risks for the EU in getting involved in the full range of Petersberg tasks. This term covers a broad range of activities from active peacekeeping to crisis management. There is an important distinction between "peacekeeping" where agreement between warring parties exists for an intervention force, and "peacemaking" which could amount to war. This latter task is currently unsuitable for the EU. Moreover, the EU will need to demonstrate restraint in involving itself in situations that have the potential to escalate. At the very least, the EU must only involve itself in such missions when it can either manage escalation with its own resources (in the case of small operations) or when it can expect assistance from the United States (for larger operations). The Secretary of State for Defence acknowledged this when he told us that "I cannot foresee a situation in which, for a major commitment of the kinds in the Balkans, we could take such a decision without the active support of the United States." (Q384) What is absolutely imperative is that the EU must not lead an operation before it has achieved the full range of necessary capabilities or can rely on the assistance of NATO. There may be a temptation, if the political need for an operation arises, to conduct an EU-led mission for symbolic purposes before the EU is ready to do so. This must not happen. We should accept that this means that no action may take place in circumstances when the EU would be reluctant to embark on an operation when the US was not prepared to be involved, but where the EU feared that the situation might escalate to a point where US involvement became vital. The next chapter makes clear that it may be some time—and after considerable investment in particular areas—before the EU has the range of necessary capabilities.

20   Although in the case of missions outside the EU's surrounding regions, such missions would be performed under the authority of the United Nations. Back

21   See, for example, Menon, QQ 447-449. Back

22   A number of EU governments have given full diplomatic recognition to the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Back

23   See for example Park, Q400. In such a scenario, the consensus of Russia and Iran would also be important. Back

24   The Eurocorps was established in May 1992 at a Franco-German Summit. The 50,000 strong corps initially comprised French and German troops and now includes forces from Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain. Its remit is to operate within article V of the WEU and article 5 of NATO. For further details, see Andreani (Q83). Back

25   Now Vice-Admiral. Back

26   For more consideration of why NATO should have first right of refusal, see paragraphs 72-73. Back

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