Kees Kalkman – VD AMOK (Netherlands)
Lecture for ENAAT Meeting May 2010
Is there a European army?
Is there a European army? In my view there is not, at least not at the moment. What is an army? In the broadest sense of the word it is a military organisation that is entitled to use force and weapons against foreign or internal forces. An army is next to taxation and currency one of the crucial attributes of the modern state.It is important which instance is authorized to deploy the army. In the classic situation this is the sovereign state, represented by its prince or government. In modern times this can be restricted by law or parliamentary custom. The situation differs from country to country. In the Netherlands for instance, in some cases the government has to ask parliament beforehand to deploy troops, in other cases, that is not necessary. In some countries you need to adopt a law in parliament or the government can deploy armed forces abroad for a certain time and after that has to go back to parliament to ask for extension (this has of course much to do with the budget right of the parliament).
On a European level there are of course military operations, quite a lot of them in fact (more than 20 since 1999). Some are rather big like in Bosnia, some are very small. Some have the character of a police or paramilitary mission, others are more purely military. The point is that these operations always come into being on an ad hoc basis. There is no European government that can deploy troops at will or under some control of the European parliament or whatever. All the time you need a unanimous decision of the European Council in which all the member states are represented to start a military mission. After that, troops have to be assembled in a complicated process by the countries that are willing to put them at disposal.
In the military usage it is said that the member nations keep full command over their troops. They only yield operational command to a European field commander, who is assigned for that specific mission. At all times the member nations can withdraw their troops from a European operation at the moment they wish or make so called caveats (reservations). Of course there will be a political prize to pay for that kind of behaviour, but that is another matter. By the way NATO also has this problem, see Afghanistan. This even applies to the so-called European battle groups, the forces that can be deployed on short notice. For them to be sent you also need a unanimous Council decision and the members keep full command over them.
So in this respect the situation in Europe at the moment is more like that in feudal times. If the European ‘king’ wants to go to war, he has no standing army, but he has to assemble that from wide spread forces that are under the authority of local ‘lords’. Or compare it with Athens in classical times, they had to assemble the fleet from the allies first before they could wage their expeditionary warfare. Europe is thus not like imperial Rome, where the emperor could send the legions more or less at will.
History of CSDP
If there is no European army as such, what is there? We have the so-called CSDP, the Common (formerly: European) Security and Defence Policy. It is a bureaucratic structure to develop and coordinate defence and military policy on a European level. I will now shortly go into the history of this CSDP, how it came into existence, and than concentrate on the Lisbon Treaty and the changes the treaty can bring forth in this field.
The European defence policy came about at the end of the nineties of the last century and this was the result of the Yugoslav Succession Wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. In those years the EU was confronted with a particular violent civil war in the Balkans right on its doorstep and handled it very badly. The common view is that the big European powers, Britain, Germany and France had quite different approaches that were not coordinated and needed in the end the help of the military power of the United States to unravel the situation.
Now we know that this it not quite the truth. We know that quite early in the conflict European and US diplomacy had negotiated a compromise about Bosnia that was supported by all the parties in the war and was quite like the final outcome. But this compromise was thereafter sabotaged by the US who put pressure on their Bosnian allies to withdraw their support after which the war went on and on. And we know that after that the US only offered their airpower to the Europeans, no ‘boots on the ground’ and sabotaged the arms embargo against the warring parties. So a little bit of military power by NATO forces was only used in the endgame in Bosnia, when all the parties were tired of the war and the result was the new compromise of the Dayton accords but at the cost of mass slaughter in Srebrenica.
I will not go into details on the Kosovo war but observe that in this case military enforcement by NATO air power was not sufficient to win the war and that in the end the Russians had to be asked to help NATO out and reach a final settlement.
St Malo breakthrough
Anyway, the conclusion of the mainstream of the European elites was that the EU needed a military instrument of their own, to confront this kind of situation in the future. The treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam had already prepared the ground for a common European defence policy but the final breakthrough came in the autumn of 1998. That was still before the Kosovo war but at a moment that the break-out of this war was fairly certain. Until that moment the British had always vetoed a European military policy because they were afraid that it would undermine NATO and their so-called special relationship with the US. But in 1998 French president Chirac and British prime minister Blair came together in the French place of St. Malo and declared solemnly that:“the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises”.
The following year, in Helsinki, the EU decided a so called Headline Goal, meaning that it should be able in 2003:“To deploy rapidly and then sustain forces of 60,000 persons to be capable of intervening in any crisis that could occur in an area where European interests are affected.” The aim was to make those forces self-reliant, deployable within 60 days and over 4,000 km, and sustainable in the field for a year. As a comparison, the European participation in the Kosovo war was around 30.000 military.
For the European rapid reaction force it meant the force would actually have to number around 180,000 of front-line troops so as to provide rotating replacements for the initial forces. Another remark could be that if you count all ongoing operations overseas of European countries (NATO, UN, EU, coalitions of the willing) and military bases abroad, the EU nowadays already deploys far more than 60.000 soldiers, only not as an EU force. The mentioned distance of 4000 km reaches roughly to the northern part of Africa, part of the Middle East, the Caucasus and the western part of Central Asia.
In due time this Headline Goal turned out to be mostly a paper exercise, military units all over Europe were assigned to the force and lots of projects to fill shortcomings were formulated without much practical consequences. In 2004 the EU defence ministers approved a new Headline Goal 2010 to extend the timelines for the projects. In some fields such as strategic air transport some progress is booked.
An important item of the new Headline Goal in 2004 was the formation of so-called EU Battle Groups, a more modest proposal than the 60.000 strong force. A battle group is a military force consisting of at least 1500 combat soldiers, comparable with a reinforced battalion. There were fifteen multinational battle groups established, each of them with a lead nation. Two of them are ready for deployment at all times on a rotating basis for half a year. The battle groups reached full operational capacity on 1 January 2007. You might see them as embryos for a future European army.
Now the strange thing about these battle groups is that until now, they never have been used. Although there now are around 15 European military and civil operations, no battle groups ever have been deployed. For some periods in the next years the schedule for the battle groups that have to be ready for action is even “still to be decided”. The lack of enthusiasm for these battle groups can partly be explained by the fact that they are not used, but also by financial reasons. As there is no collective financial arrangement for defence expenditures on a European level, except for a relatively small fund for things like headquarters the costs have to be paid by the members who field the battle groups. The organization of a battle group can easily cost 100 million euro (the amount the Swedish for instance paid for the Northern battle group). The rival employments of the units in NATO uniform, for instance in Afghanistan, has also played a role.
From this short overview you may conclude that after an enthusiastic start there has been not much dynamic in the European defence project, except of course that lots of money is spent. What progress there is, is mainly industrially driven. I think the main reason for that is, that the post 9-11 development of the inter-European and Atlantic relations has mitigated the original drive. The initial reaction after the attacks in the US York drove American and European elites together, more favourable for NATO then for an independent European military force. And after 2003 and the Iraq war, there developed a serious split inside Europe about how to handle the situation, a split that put countries like Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark (the last not taking part in the European defence structures at all) opposite to countries like Germany, France, Spain and Italy. You find this contradiction between the Europeans themselves again in the NATO-campaign in Afghanistan.
A second reason could be the fiasco of the European Constitution. It may be surprising to see how little has changed in the EU since the acceptation of the Lisbon Treaty, the Constitution under another name. But it is irrefutable that the defence issues in the Constitution were of considerable importance and the fact that this has delayed the whole project for years is one of the big successes of the movement against the Constitution.
Now I will walk you through some provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, stressing issues that can bring change in comparison with the present situation. The crucial article is Article 42. But first something that was already there. The EU will continue with “the progressive framing of a common union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decide.” And this common defence, if it comes at all, “shall respect the obligations of certain Member States which see their common defence realised in the [NATO]”
So in practice as long as NATO exists, the military capacities of the EU will not be used for defence of the EU territory against an external enemy – I add – at least in as far as it is protected by NATO. This provision in Article 42 is a kind of insurance policy in case NATO vanishes or fails. So the military capacities of the EU are mainly meant for external military intervention and potentially for internal use inside the EU. I can come back on that last point in the discussion.
But now the really important part of Article 42: “Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities.”
What does this mean? Not necessarily that the defence budgets will be raised. It might also mean that the capability for expeditionary warfare or the technological level of the army must be enhanced by reorganization or more investment in weaponry than in personnel.
“The Council may entrust the execution of a task, within the Union framework, to a group of Member States in order to protect the Union’s values and serve its interests.” This can be read – but not necessarily so – in combination with the following provision:“Those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework.”
The “higher criteria” can mean a certain level of military expenditure or investment or military research. All those criteria have been mentioned in discussions about this provision.
The “most demanding missions”, sounds like large scale warfare and special operations.
The “permanent structured cooperation” is in fact the forming of a military vanguard. It is worked out in a special protocol with the treaty, Protocol No. 10. Participation in combat units or in armaments projects could be used as criteria to get entrance in this group.
I agree with a remark that has been made in the debate around the consequences of the Lisbon Treaty that this permanent structured cooperation stand to a European army as the European Monetary System (EMS 1979-1998) stood to the Euro currency.
In Article 46 there are further regulations about this permanent military cooperation of a special group of members. It reads:
“Within three months following the notification [of the members who want to start with this cooperation] the Council shall adopt a decision establishing permanent structured cooperation and determining the list of participating Member States. The Council shall act by a qualified majority”. That’s quite exceptional. Almost all important Council decisions on defence and security policy must be taken with unanimity. And it continues for the case that a member state wishes to participate in the permanent military cooperation: “The Council shall act by a qualified majority [..]. only members of the council representing the participating Member states shall take part in the vote.”
And the same in case a member can no longer fulfil its military obligations. Such a member can be suspended from the cooperation by a qualified majority with only the participating members voting with the exception of the defaulting member state. So that’s a very closed society indeed! If this Council decision is taken, an exclusive club of the bigger military nations of Europe can be formed. Often mentioned in this respect are Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden.
Now it is often said that the permanent cooperation only has to do with capacity building, army reorganizations and armament projects. I am not so sure of that. We have seen that in combination with another article from the Treaty operations can be so to speak subcontracted by the Council to this group of countries. Such a decision by the Council can be written in very general terms and just at the beginning of an international conflict. After that the vanguard group can than run the operation and the ensuing war. To put this a bit in a perspective, in 2008 the UK and France together accounted for 45% of the total EU defence expenditure of 201 billion euro, Germany and Italy together a further 28%. As to equipment expenditure, the UK, France and Germany together account for 60% and on research and development the UK and France 80% with Germany at 11%.
Permanent military cooperation
So will the permanent military cooperation come into being and will it be strong and not watered down? We cannot say that yet. The fact that the decision has not been made thus far (it is expected in the second half of this year) can point to hesitations or waiting till a right moment comes to launch the initiative, an international crisis maybe. The current situation of economic crisis seems in the short term not so favourable for heavy investment in the military sector, but on the other hand it can be an incentive for more efficient cooperation and fusions between parts of national armies.
And the current stress on supply of energy and raw material as international security problems for Europe could be an important factor. As we speak, there is in the Gulf of Aden the greatest concentration of naval forces since the Second World War, deployed against piracy that is precisely a menace for that energy supply. It is surprising that there is so little critical debate on that. NATO and the EU both have their fleets of sometimes the same ships deployed there, rather irrational, unless you see it as a stepping stone to a more permanent European navy.
Anyway the process seems me to be of some importance for the groups gathering here, because impulses in the European military sector have consequences for the European arms industry. The main liberal daily in the Netherlands, the NRC Handelsblad, quoted yesterday the director-general of the EU military staff in Brussels, a Dutch general Van Osch. He said that military cooperation can help in the struggle against the economic crisis because countries can save money by the common acquisition of military equipment.
If such an approach is combined with the push for a more competitive European arms industry, that no longer can be dependent of national protection but must earn the money on the world market it could lead to more arms export, also outside the EU.