25th Sep 2023


EU lags behind on 'military ambition'

  • Will European soldiers ever fight together under an EU flag? (Photo:
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Indecision on what kind of EU military forces would fight in what kind of conflicts is holding back EU ambition on "strategic autonomy", according to an internal document.

"The EU military level of ambition (Mil LoA) is not achievable for the moment" and there were "no new ... products" in terms of the EU's "headline" military goals in the past year, according to a 'Progress Report on the Development of EU Military Capabilities', seen by EUobserver.

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"The potential for jeopardising the achievement of the EU ... Mil LoA remains high," it added.

Covid had slowed progress, the report, drafted by military attachés in the EU foreign service and dated 14 October, said.

But lack of clarity on fundamental issues was also holding things back, the report indicated.

These included what kind of assets member states might use to create an EU "full spectrum force package".

The military attachés suggested "those MS [member states] which are also Nato members consider declaring the same pool of capabilities potentially available in both frameworks".

Commitment to real "operations" was "the centrepiece" of a joint EU capability, and states who wanted to take part should be "making their strategically deployable formations available in the same way they are doing for Nato", the report said.

Another question was what a joint EU force would do.

Looking ahead to the 'Strategic Compass (SC)', an EU policy paper to be adopted next year, the report said: "It is of paramount importance to have a clear identification of the number and types of IS [illustrative scenarios] the EU is willing to face".

"The overarching achievement of the SC ... is to clarify which aspects and in which kind of scenarios the military is expected to contribute," the report added.

Other questions concerned who would foot the bill.

The EU needed a "definition of the 'fair share' principle, regarding ... contributions to the respective operational aspects" of future military missions, the report also said.

It spoke of multiple talks between the EU and Nato on the subject, indicating a high level of cooperation.

Meanwhile, a separate report, dated 12 October, and also seen by this website, took stock of an EU military exercise called EU Integrated Resolve 2020 from last year.

This war-gamed "how to manage a crisis affecting EU assets abroad, such as a military operation and a civilian mission deployed in a fictitious country".

And the 12 October report noted that EU officials did a good job of commanding fictional assets.

It noted that, "for the first time" an EU HQ, the EU foreign service's 'Military Planning and Conduct Capability' in Brussels, "was exercised not only in planning but also in conducting of [the] ... operation".

But it said "future exercises should also include a more prominent role for the [EU] political decision-making level, more specifically PSC," referring to the Political and Security Committee in the EU Council, where EU states' ambassadors meet.

En vogue

The idea of EU autonomy became newly fashionable after the US and UK recently turned their back on Europe in a landmark naval deal with Australia.

Some staunch US allies in Europe, such as Poland, are wary of relying more on France and Germany than on America to keep them safe from Russia.

But for one commentator, Jamie Shea, a former senior Nato official, there was little to worry about.

"All EU states agree Nato is the organisation to guarantee collective defence vis-à-vis Russia because of the vital US contribution. So what we're talking about here is the development of an EU capacity to act in regional crises where the US isn't engaged or where EU states have specific interests of their own to defend," he told EUobserver.

EU countries had already fought together in "coalitions of the willing" in Iraq and the Sahel, he noted, while an EU anti-piracy naval mission in the Gulf of Aden had been "highly successful," Shea, who now works for UK think-tank Chatham House, added.

The EU's main challenges were to get Germany to "significantly modernise its armed forces and be more willing ... to deploy larger numbers of them outside Europe, especially in Africa" and for France to "persuade EU states in eastern Europe" that it had their back.

For its part, Russia and its EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, have also voiced backing for EU military independence from the US, according to EU diplomats.

"The Russian ambassador, who has been in Brussels long enough to know the EU very well, is clearly hoping that European strategic autonomy will be weak enough to stop the EU from becoming a significant military power on the global stage, but strong enough to alienate the US," Shea said.

"This is precisely the situation that Europeans have every interest in avoiding," he added.

The Russian EU embassy declined to comment.

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