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Multinationality – Enhancing Europe’s Military Capabilities

The Treaty of Lisbon is a chance, but EU Security and Defence need more innovation. This timely paper was written by Major General Georg Nachtsheim,(*) and published in the last issue of The European Security and Defence Union, Vol. 11, dated November 2011. This excellent magazine dedicated to European Security and Defense issues is run by Hartmut Buehl and belongs to the Behoerdenspiegel Group. Major General Nachtsheim took part to the 10th Congress on European Security and Defence last November 8 and 9 in Berlin, which gathered more than 800 specialists from more than 40 countries, where he discussed the EU and NATO Response Forces – Concepts – Equipment – Procurement issue. Courtesy © The European Security and Defence Union

Major General Nachtsheim at the 10th Congress on European Security and Defence in Berlin -- Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Major General Nachtsheim at the 10th Congress on European Security and Defence in Berlin

Since December 2009 the EU Treaty of Lisbon represents the latest progress in the process of the development of a European Security and Defence cooperation, However, what was started so promisingly encountered a stunning disenchantment of the political establishments and publics all over Europe, triggered most notably by the world financial crisis. This is all the more frustrating at a moment, in which not less but more European and international solutions and cooperation seem to be the only realistic way out of the imminent danger of a marginalization of the traditional pillars of national power, particularly of the military in Europe.

Lt Gen Markus Bentler, Colonel Hartmut Buehl and Maj Gen Nachtsheim -- Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Lt Gen Markus Bentler, Colonel Hartmut Buehl and Maj Gen Nachtsheim

  • EU’s security and defence needs more innovative ideas

The soaring costs of modern defence procurement programmes, the high operational tempo and associated costs of civil-military crisis management, the urgent requirement to invest in additional and new capabilities needed to counter new threats and challenges, result in the imminent need to take innovative decisions. Also, the tooth-to-tail ratio of most of the Armed Forces should further encourage planners, to come up with new concepts and solutions. This is even the more true, as the budget consolidation of most of the European governments are also aming the sector of security and defence.

  • To draw on NATO’s experience

In doing so, Europe is certainly well advised to draw on the broad, long standing and mostly positive experience of NATO, such as its integrated military command structure, common funded capabilities or the well proven expertise of its agencies. However, some shortcomings of its military, such as the lack of commonality of equipment, of standardization and or at least of real true interoperability are to be recognized as well.

  • To end with disparate national solutions

But even the European members in NATO do not seem to be challenged sufficiently yet. Instead of producing capabilities, commensurate with Europe’s ambitions, economical weight and cumulated defence budgets, hesitations can be observed when looking at administrative overheads, disparate organization of defence research, technology, and industry. And, often even worse, when confronted with the results of an increasingly inadequate organization of the expression of military operational requirements and resulting logistics and procurement, then one would have to expect a widespread call for a comprehensive need to act.

  • The Lisbon Treaty is a chance for Europe’s security and defence

Now, the Lisbon Treaty offers a wide variety of formulas, providing EU members with different possible frameworks for audacious and effective arrangements to frame cooperation, promote synergies, increase efficiency and savings, whilst enhancing the European Union members’ crisis management and reaction capabilities. The possibility, offered by the Lisbon Treaty, to also allow for “coalitions of the willing”, “reinforced cooperation” and “structured permanent cooperation” follow the idea of “variable geometry”. Hence progress in the a.m. sense is possible, even in case that only a part of the EU members wishes or is able to do so.

  • A flood of proposals and different models

Also, the European Parliament has repeatedly expressed its political will to see more cooperation, commonality and integrated capabilities on the way to a Common Defence of Europe. In this sense, several national governments have recently presented either individually or multilaterally several proposals. May be the most important ones were forwarded by the Weimar Triangle Nations to the EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, and could re-launch the process as well as allow for a fresh momentum for a Common Security and Defence Policy.

  • The integrated model is effective, but...

NATO has already opted early on, for its collective key enablers, for the integrated model. It is certainly the most effective model in terms of manning and common funding, applying a commonly agreed sharing formula. It provides for the best possible transparency and, in principle, also allows access by all members.

  • … probably the most critical

Probably the most critical aspect of integrated structures and capabilities lies in the possibility that one or several nations can hamper incremental funding requirements or participation, e.g. as it has occurred recently, even though the more general political decisions authorizing NATO´s engagement had all been passed unanimously without indicating any of the difficulties. Neither have the NATO Response Force (NRF) nor EU Battle Group (EU BG) been deployed and used thus far and continue to be resourced with difficulties only.

  • Pooling – opportunities and disadvantages

Another form of cooperation in a key domain could be pooling. The recent establishment of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) by four EU members is a good example, of how the nations contributing strategic and tactical air lift as well as air to-air refuelling can enjoy assets, logistics, training and other synergies, on an assured basis, even in case their operational requirements exceed their respective contribution. Pooling offers both opportunities but also disadvantages, if different and non standardized assets are being made available for one common structure. More serious limitations could arise though, if a main contributor would not only withdraw in a given operation its personnel, but also its capabilities or the resources needed for the common functioning of the respective organization.

  • Role specialisation and role sharing

Role specialisation and role sharing would imply that not all nations would dispose anymore of full spectrum capable armed forces but would rather share high value assets between two or several nations on a commonly resourced basis. On a permanent basis, such solutions could be imagined regarding the use of satellites, military laboratories and training, and research & development (such as the Franco-German technological research institute St. Louis), or in the domain of procurement by a more systematic use of NAMSA, European Defence Agency (EDA) or OCCAR.

  •  The limits of pooling and sharing

In a more ambitious area, pooling or sharing arrangements regarding still existing capabilities such as strategic sealift, amphibious landing and support vessels, or maritime surveillance could allow to maintain or even develop capabilities which otherwise would exceed nations´ increasingly overstretched individual capabilities.

Notably, land forces units were initially not deemed of being appropriate for multinational or common structures below the brigade level. Indeed, particularly the continued lack of common or fully standardized and interoperable equipment represents a serious limitation, at a moment where multinationality became increasingly a constituent characteristic of NATO and EU led operations.

Hence, all those who have closely observed permanent structures, such as the Franco-German Brigade or ad hoc structures such as the NRF and EU BGs can easily recognize that significant efforts in terms of more commonality are necessary.Commonality efforts – non flyers for the moment

  • Commonality efforts – non flyers ... for the moment

Commonality of equipment, tactics and procedures clearly are key. Intergovernmental efforts have proven to be ineffective to achieve these, even NATO was not too successful over its long history of respective efforts. A permanent EU C2 structure from the political level down to the tactical level, including related specialized agencies, in conjunction with a limited transfer of authority, responsibilities and funds to the EU might in the end be the only viable solution to overcome the a.m. difficulties and to fully exploit the potential of the Lisbon Treaty.

  • Synchronized Armed Forces Model

Last but not least, more attention will have to be paid to the need of a common statutory framework for the national soldiers to be deployed under the auspices of the EU or in permanent multinational structures. To this end, the Gert Pöttering´s opt-in model of the Synchronized Armed Forces for Europe, might serve as a starting point and thus merit some more attention.[1]

  • The Athena EU funding mechanism- a model to improve

In the future, some of the critical and expensive key capabilities, are likely to be provided by a limited number of members only. This will continue to require funding arrangements which allow common funding of their incremental costs, if deployed for an operation led by the EU, NATO or the UN. Otherwise, the nations concerned might be reluctant to offer in particular mission essential enablers and the EU would have to outsource them to other nations, or to civil and private military contractors. Therefore, the EU funding mechanism, the so-called Athena mechanism may have to be further developed, to complement the long standing principle of “the costs lie where they fall”.

  • EU Common Security and Defence needs solidarity

Finally, the most important requirement might be the readiness of EU members, or of at least some of them, to go ahead. Going ahead may require the preparedness to transfer some sovereign rights, in exchange for a more transparent and effective use of resources, for more streamlined national military and related administration. This is even more true for new and additional capabilities, which otherwise would not be affordable, as well as for a competitive European defence and technological basis, which nationally might no longer be viable. At a minimum, solidarity continuous to be key, if Europe´s common security and defence is the agreed aspiration and to enjoy relevance and credibility.

  • Still, progress is in sight

Despite the aforementioned considerations and difficulties, progress may be in sight already. Based on the various initiatives by nations and a comprehensive report by the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, numerous seminars, colloques and high level meetings allowed for consultation and coordination under the Polish EU Presidency in 2/2011. As a consequence, the advantages of the various proposals may well be considered to outweigh the disadvantages. And as so often, the result may not be a ‘big bang’ but still be another important step forward.

Georg Nachtsheim

(*) Major General Nachtsheim, is at present Deputy Commander of the Rapid Reaction Corps France in Lille. He has held all command responsabilities up to the level of the Franco-German Brigade, multinational and national staff assignments such as at MOD Germany, SHAPE (Mons), and as Chief of Staff Eurocorps. He has been deployed several times on the Balkans, to include as Chief of Staff MNDSE (Mostar) and HQ-SFOR (Sarajevo). He is a graduate from the Bundeswehr University, Hamburg, the German and French General Staff College as well as from the Royal College Defense Studies in London.

[1] At the 7th Congress on European Security and Defence – the Berlin Security Conference, Mr Pöttering proposed a “transitional solution:” … “SAFE, or Synchronized Armed Forces Europe ... on a one-off basis” … “as a voluntary project”, leaving “the EU member states sufficient margin for manoeuvre” and also called “for common preparation and training at European level in the run-up to joint operations” suggesting “the establishment of European rules on the model of those already applied to the EU-Battlegroups and the Eurocorps.”

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).