Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Rapid Reaction Capability of the European Union: Taking That Last Big Step

Academic journal article Connections : The Quarterly Journal

Rapid Reaction Capability of the European Union: Taking That Last Big Step

Article excerpt

... 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 St. Malo Declaration, Bilateral statement of French President and the British Prime Minister, 1998


The formation of an Army of Europe has been discussed almost since the end of World War II, but has yet to be realized. After reading through the numerous and varied proposals over the past sixty years, the observer invariably arrives at the conclusion that all concerned parties agree: the European Union (EU) should have its own military. The Union today, taken as a whole, is an economic and cultural superpower. Its leading nations seem to be willing to pursue the status of a humanitarian superpower and leader in conflict prevention, as well as to defend the Europe's perceived collective interests in the world.1

Instability is rampant around the fringes of the EU; and situations abound that could require a quick and decisive application of military force. The outcomes of the Arab Spring are not yet clear, but its effects will reverberate for years to come. Al-Qaida affiliates are growing in strength in Central Africa. Ethnic enclaves and unresolved territorial disputes still remain across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, while the effects of the Syrian civil war have already spread into neighboring countries. With the impending conclusion of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Europe is determined to put the unpleasant specter of the Balkan wars firmly in the past. Most recently, Europe has been made keenly aware of the limits of soft power by Russia's seizure of Crimea and its continuing threat to eastern Ukraine.

The larger nations of the EU have shown that they are willing to lead military operations where they believe the Union's interests are threatened. Deployments to Libya and Mali are two recent examples, but these actions were ad hoc efforts. The forces were gathered over weeks, if not months, and required extensive American support to deploy.2 Additionally, EU Member States are facing budget shortfalls and defense spending has become unpopular. For example, the Netherlands recently announced the complete elimination of its armored forces, without consulting either the EU or NATO.3 In addition, while the sum of Europe's military forces is greater than the number of troops possessed by either Russia or the United States, most are non-deployable, equipment is obsolete or incompatible, and wasteful redundancy is rife.4

Nonetheless, within EU Member States, there are a multitude of varied, competent, and effective military units. Given time for proper planning and preparation (as was the case with protracted deployments such as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and the various EU-led missions in the former Yugoslavia), these units can cooperate with one another and deal with low-intensity conflict reasonably well. The EU has engineered a number of systems with which to generate combat power on short notice and has constructed a large military command and control (C2) apparatus.5 However, these systems are based on ad hoc and temporary designs and have yet to be tested. As such, they carry a degree of risk to both the lives of service members and to the EU's image abroad. Although Europe has successfully conducted several military operations in the past decade, success was never directly attributable to EU leadership and the Union's own limited military capabilities were never used on a rapid-response basis. Planning, leadership, logistics, strategic support assets and the expeditionary "spearhead" of each operation fell to the contributing countries with the deepest pockets.6

Speaking solely on the basis of logistics, an effective rapid reaction force (RRF) is very feasible and would offer great benefits to the EU. Indeed, if such a force had been readily available to deploy at the time, it would have been of great value in situations such as Rwanda in 1994 or in Srebrenica the following year. …

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