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The State of European Defence Integration

European defence integration is little discussed, chiefly because it does not really show progress. The last major news was a dust-up a few years ago over the question of having an independent headquarters from NATO in Brussels, between the USA and UK on one side, and a batch of continental countries led by France on the other side (Sarkozy has recently won over the USA, the UK still has to be wood). Or, if you have really been paying close attention, the recent missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chad. For those who are interested why there has been so little progress, Nick Whitley has written a very useful policy paper for the European Council on Foreign Relations on Europe's security and defence policy.

As Pat Patterson wrote in a previous post, the report is long and not always readable if you are not familiar with the lingo. So here's a short overview.

In the 1990s, the EU agreed to form what the media called a 'rapid reaction force'. This was a plan to have a force of up to 60,000 troops capable of deploying within sixty days. These troops would be drawn from national armies. Little has come of this capability, and the EU has since shifted its policy towards developing 'battlegroups'. These are units of around 1500 troops to be deployed on very short notice. Whitney estimates that two are now actually operational.

Whitney's policy paper is marked by a post-cold war strain of thought that sees current security threats mainly in failed, failing or recovering states, in which intervention has to take place. It is odd to place this in the context of a struggle against Russia, as Simon Tisdall does in the Guardian, since Whitney specifically lambasts Europe's excessive capacities to fight war in Central Europe, and questions expensive projects like aircraft carriers. Europe's current manpower is too large, in Whitney's view, and at the same time not enough of it can be deployed abroad.

The reason for the failure of EU defence policies is that some Member States are simply unwilling to put in any effort, according to Whitney, and the solution to this would be to form a 'pioneer group', which allows those Member States who are willing to move forward to do so without being held back. Legally speaking, his move would however be very difficult if the Lisbon Treaty is not implemented.

Whitney has a certain level of bias towards the EU as the locus of European defence integration as a former head of the European Defence Agency. If there are no legal means for some Member States to move ahead without the others, it might however be opportune to think about doing this in a new context, or in the old extra-EU context of the Western European Union.

The policy paper also includes an excellent overview of the current military capacities and commitments of the Member States, although some of its composite statistics have to be approached with caution, as accounting and defence spending are still structured differently in the EU.

Capabilities is one area in which the EU is in for harsh criticism. Whitney also criticises the lack of a common, coherent strategy, inability to learn from past missions, poor interoperability, and fragmented command and control. He favours centralisation of planning, through a headquarters in Brussels and incorporation of civilian elements in the procedure, to ensure better coordination with civilian reconstruction and aid efforts.

I've raised the issues of the lack of a coherent strategy and the politicised nature of current and past missions on my blog in the post 'European Geopolitics'

European defence integration will become more of a topic during the current French presidency of the EU. It is quite possible that some bold moves towards further integration will be announced. Whether they will actually be implemented is more questionable.

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Zyme on :

This will certainly be played down and play little role until the Irish Yes (one way or another) to the Lisbon Treaty is passed - until then Brussels will continue to fear the populistical movement in favor of Ireland's neutrality and the wrath of the Irish women who do not want to see their sons sent into harm's way.

Pat Patterson on :

Thanks, Nanne. Here's the link to an abridged commentary on the report by Peter Witney and posted on the ECFR website. http://www.ecfr.eu/content/entry/commentary_witney_european_defence_cooperation/

Marie-Claude on :

I believe that if we want to really assure our defense we'll have to quit the actual EU stances !!! There are too many "ego" that prevent us from forecasting a pragmatic agreement. UK and France can already assure their Atlantic guard

E.J on :

Sarkozy and Merkel have their own ambition. EU 's further integration should not exclude US 's active involvements in that geopolitical area. US's interests does not restrict on mainland US, it's on the whole world. US will not tolerate Russia and China's possible challenge worldwide。US will also not let Sarkozy & Merkel steer EU Titanic to serve their own purpose. US cooperate and Compete with German and France as well. from my point of view , NATO works well for US ,actually US leads the NATO union. there is no urgent and convincing points to support German and France's position except they want to exclude US interfence in the name of EU solidarity. IT's a pity US had make preparation for that . US sponsor some eastern states as its agent. Sarkozy will not accomplish any substantial goals there. Mediterranean Union or Europe Union will not become a tool to fulfil France's dream.

Nanne on :

There has been a considerable amount of rapprochement between France and the USA, as Sarkozy has brought France fully back into NATO and has done away with the talk about multipolarity that his predecessor indulged in. So I think the US has shifted away from trying to obstruct further defence integration in Europe, as Whitney also details in his paper. Another part of the calculation behind that is that European countries have no real force projection capabilities out of area, which the US is asking for in the context of NATO reforms, and are unlikely to develop such capabilities when they do not cooperate a lot more.

joe on :

Gee seems the EU Defense Force suffers from the same things which has made NATO little more than a gentleman's club. NATO has been working at solving these issues for over 60 years and they are all still there. Of course, this is the fault of the US, the state of NATO. Thankfully the euro's will show the yanks just how it is done at some future date. I look forward to Europe defending Europe. A novel concept one has to admit. This will even more reason to formally fold the NATO flag. With the really possiblity of The Chose One becoming POTUS, Europe might want to press along with this effort. I can easily see a new message to Europe - Lead on we (The US) are right behind you.

Marie-Claude on :

Joe, we'll rely on onkel Vlad, he has something to exchange with us : oil, gas, vodka and most of all, beautiful women... something that might regenerate of bellicous spirit ! lol

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