Select Committee on European Union Fifteenth Report


52. The ability of the EU to act in a crisis, whether in conjunction with NATO or on its own, will be shaped by the type of political and economic policy instruments it can deploy. The European Council recognised at Helsinki that if the EU were to be able to lead or participate in the full range of Petersberg tasks, it would need to create a substantial capability.

The EU's present capabilities

53. At the moment, the EU already possesses a number of instruments that it can use in pursuit of common foreign policy objectives. The European Union institutions have the power, for example, to impose trade sanctions, embargoes and flight bans, and the Member States can take a range of diplomatic actions. Such actions were taken against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis. The EU can also encourage good behaviour with the incentive of development aid and trade preferences and, in some significant cases, by holding out the prospect of eventual EU membership[27].

54. However, without the possibility of the use of military force the EU's range of actions are inevitably limited. The decisions taken at the Helsinki European Council have the potential to improve the EU's ability to act through better integration of policy instruments and the addition of a military capability.

The headline goals

55. The headline goals outlined at Helsinki are at first sight quite modest. The EU does not seek to challenge the national sovereignty of its Member States by the creation of a European army, navy or air force, and it has been made clear that EU-led operations are to be undertaken with the voluntary co-operation of Member States acting on an inter-governmental basis. As for the size of the EU's military capability, it is restricted to the creation of a force of 50-60,000 personnel, which offers an effective corps-sized formation. In addition, the EU has since agreed at the meeting of the European Council at Feira in Portugal in June 2000 to establish a rapid reaction facility, consisting of 5,000 police officers, which could operate in a post-conflict situation, perhaps in the aftermath of a rapid-reaction force operation.

56. In reality a force of 50-60,000 persons is not at all modest. Evidence makes it clear that to sustain such a corps force for one year requires, with rotation, the availability of a force three times that size, amounting to 150-180,000 personnel[28]. Such forces will also rely on significant support from naval and air forces to ensure deployment within 60 days. In some circumstances, this may be relatively straight forward, but where long distances are involved, this will be a major operation.

57. In addition, there are certain identifiable capabilities that are essential to any EU action. Chief among these are intelligence gathering, heavy lift by sea and air, operational logistic support and communications. The US has 60 operational satellites, the EU has 10; the US can field 17 strategic airlift squadrons whilst the Europeans have no single wide-bodied aircraft; the US has 12 aircraft carriers, the Europeans have 6. Much attention focuses on the need for what the Americans call C4ISR: command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.[29] NATO has many of these capabilities, even though in some cases it is heavily dependent on US national capabilities. EU governments will need to develop these to create an effective capability. The point, as put succinctly by the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr Tarald Brautaset, is that "right now any operation that could be undertaken by the European Union Member States will have to rely on NATO assets in one way or another" (Q227).

58. The definition of the EU's headline goals should concentrate minds on the creation of the capabilities necessary to achieve them. Whether the policy is to succeed and the EU is to produce an effective fighting force will depend on the ability of Member States to produce a coherent force which has the full range of skills, capabilities and logistical support and which is backed up by a workable command and control structure. For this purpose, a capabilities commitment conference will be held in November this year. At this conference, Member States will pledge resources for the creation of the rapid reaction force, mainly by stating what troops and assets they can earmark for the purpose. The Secretary of State for Defence made clear in his evidence that, while Britain, France and Germany could meet the headline goal themselves, "part of the purpose of this is to involve smaller countries, countries which do not have the full range of military capability" (Q377).

Capability gaps and defence expenditure

59. Until the "pledging conference" has taken place it will be very difficult to state whether a rapid reaction force of the type and scale envisaged at the Helsinki European Council can be established. The conference will identify gaps in the necessary capabilities. The MoD and FCO saw the timetable as "realistic" (p12) and many Member States believe that a credible force can be put together by the deadline of 2003: the French Embassy believe that "the new arrangement cannot be seen as an overwhelming task for the European military planners" (p46). However, General Naumann expressed himself "very sceptical" (Q267.) He argued that the forces required for a European expeditionary force to a large degree do not currently exist. "You cannot talk of a donors conference, you have to start a force planning process to create capabilities which we do not have at this point in time" (Q267). He went on to suggest that "it would take us at least 10 years, provided we start force planning for that now". (Q274)

60. Achieving the headline goal objectives will require leadership, example and additional resources. The first cause for worry comes from recent experience. The Kosovo crisis confirmed the fact that the United States has capabilities that allow it to conduct operations that the European countries are currently unable to undertake. Even with US support in Kosovo European countries could only deploy the 40,000 troops—a mere 2 per cent of the forces available in Europe—that were necessary for the ancillary ground operations, and that only after five months had elapsed.

61. Secondly, the level of expenditure on defence in Europe has declined over the last decade and is in some countries nearly negligible. Table 1 sets out the defence expenditure of each country in NATO and the EU, and Figures 2 and 3 reformulate this data to compare the spending of the EU Member States and the United States, and of each EU member state based on the percentage of GDP that it spends on defence. From these figures the following conclusions are evident:

See Menon (p134). Back

28   See Naumann (Q275) and Rummel et al (p208). Back

29   See Naumann (Q273) and US Embassy (p215). Back

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