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A new impetus for ESDP

01 July 2004

Among the clouds of abstention, apathy and doubts about the European integration project, the area of security and defence has seen indisputable progress in the last couple of years. The year 2003 witnessed a crucial agreement on EUNATO relations, the EU's first police missions in the Balkans and first autonomous military operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most importantly, a European Security Strategy document was endorsed last December. All of this would have been unthinkable just five years ago. Yet, the capabilities aspect of ESDP is still lagging behind. The original objective set at Helsinki - up to 60,000 troops deployable within 60 days - has not been met. This postponement is damaging, since demands for security are increasing, both internally, as the Madrid bombings demonstrated, and externally, as crises deepen in Sudan or Congo. The recent flare-up in Kosovo suggests that stability in the Balkans, too, is still tentative. Moreover, with the recent enlargement, remote theatres like Moldova or the Caucasus have become Europe's direct neighbourhood.
Lessons learnt so far. Several problems plagued the Helsinki Headline Goal. First, it was merely a quantitative target designed after the Bosnian experience, and therefore ill-suited to today's new strategic imperatives. Second, it was just a catalogue of forces, only ten per cent of which were actually rapidly deployable. Third, if deficiencies were identified, there were no real incentives to remedy them. Briefly put, efforts on capabilities have to shift from the quantitative to the qualitative. Several recent developments took this necessity into account.
First, building on the success of Operation Artemis in RDC, EU defence ministers have endorsed the concept of `battle groups'. Battle groups of 1,500 troops, including support elements, represent a more flexible force package capable of higher-intensity operations. Deployable within 15 days, they will be fully manned, equipped and trained, and have sufficient strategic lift assets. The aim is to establish 2-3 battle groups by next year, and 7-9 by 2007.
Second, it was decided to establish a European Defence Agency to `support the Member States in their effort to improve European defence capabilities in the field of crisis management'. The Agency will thus promote equipment collaborations, research and technology projects and procurement. All this should bring invaluable synergies and economies of scale to the way Europeans spend scare resources on defence. In particular, the Agency should be able to coordinate efforts to fill the gaps identified by the European Capabilities Action Plan. In order to have a real impact, the Agency must be properly funded.
Third, the principle of permanent structured cooperation for defence is now recognized by the EU Constitution. The criteria governing this cooperation are stringent, at least on paper: among other things, member states must have an adequate level of defence expenditure, take concrete measures to enhance the availability, interoperability, flexibility and deployability of their armed forces and commit resources to address shortfalls identified by the ECAP mechanism. The real novelty lies in the encouragement to coordinate the identification of military needs, to specialise national defence and to pool capabilities. Given the weakness of defence budgets and the chronic under-investment in R&T, collective procurement and multinational forces are obvious solutions. If implemented, permanent structured cooperation could offer a precious framework in which to change the dynamics of European defence.
More Europe, not less. Europe has developed a comprehensive approach to security, from police missions to crisis management. Fulfilling the less demanding aspects of peacekeeping operations, like the future Bosnia mission, cannot slow down the necessary transformation of European forces. In a report published by the Institute, an independent task force of security and defence experts has recommended ways to achieve a more capable Europe. [1]
Noting that its capacity for autonomous action is currently severely limited by deficiencies in deployability and sustainability, and following the objectives spelled out by the European Security Strategy, the task force has recommended, inter alia, that 50 per cent of European forces must become deployable, that EU projection capability should be enlarged with new force packaging, that a permanent force headquarters and a mobile deployable operation headquarters should be set up, and that a European fund and a European concept for force transformation should be envisaged. The overall aim is to better allocate and coordinate scare resources. To achieve that, more Europe, not less, is needed. To act now is to be prepared for the future. The credibility of the Union as an international security actor is at stake.
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[1] European Defence. A proposal for a White Paper, Report of an Independent Task Force (Paris: EU Institute for Security Studies, May 2004)