Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

Politico-military dynamics of European crisis response

by Nic Watkins

Politico-military dynamics of European crisis response was the topic of conversation as Dr Alexander Mattelaer launched his new book (of the same name) at the Institute for European Studies (IES) in Brussels. The panel included Dr Alexander Mattelaer himself, Assistant Director of the Institute for European Studies,  Yves De Kermabon, Special Counsellor to the Executive Secretary General, EEAS,  Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges  at NATO all chaired by Prof Sven Biscop, Director of the Europe in the World Programme, Egmont Institute

Dr Mattelaer introduced the key themes of the book, explaining that since the end of the Cold War, Europeans have had two decades of experience in crisis response, becoming quite competent and developing a useable template.  The European approach consisted of emphasis in two areas

  •  Deterrence- creating a credible threat of force to communicate warnings and incentives for cooperation
  • Capacity Building – To raise the capacity of local authorities to assume their own security responsibilities.

This approach has taken many years to master and faced many difficulties along the way.  The EU operation in Chad, despite bad PR, was in fact a very successful mission. Chad went from the brink of collapse in 2008 to becoming a leading nation in the region, playing an important role in the intervention in Mali.

More recently the exponential growth seen in operations in the 1990s is dropping off, as countries budgets are constrained and operational fatigue in political circles is setting in.  This has led to more selectivity in approach to operations. There is now a preference for quick ‘in and out’ small scale training missions.   This has seen some success but international security conditions are chaining and European militaries need to be reequipped for a modern age.  Dr Mattelaer suggested there was a need to engage with new ways of planning military operations with greater emphasis on complimenting military components with non military approaches; utilizing a ‘comprehensive approach.’ With military budgets being cut there has to be a focus on improving the capability and depoloyabilty of smaller armed forces.  As soldiers are asked to carry out more tasks, the role of reservists and the civilian specialties they bring become more important.

Running missions through international organisations is relegating governments to the role of strategic sponsors. Politicians begin to lose an understanding of the military that they wield.  There is a distinct risk that intergovernmental political constraints placed on military campaigns will endanger their effectiveness and translate to practice problems for soldiers on the ground.  The political military relationship has deteriorated over recent years, as shown by several prominent Generals across Europe openly criticising their respective governance.  Military leaders have “lost trust in government policy” but it is important to remember that militaries are a function of policy and that, in democratic societies; civilians must make the political decisions.  Europeans have been existing in a US maintained protective bubble, but with a US strategic shift away from Europe, Europeans will have to assume the mantle of responsibility for their own security and engage in strategic thinking.

Yves De Kermabon spoke about the difference between soldiers and politicians and the differing worlds they inhabit, highlighting that for improved strategy; these two institutions need to work together with mutual respect.  Improvements in planning must contain more focus on an end state, including clear and precise exit strategies that are realistic and achievable.  This will help to establish the necessary military means to achieve the ends.  A full account of the results of operations must be available from the beginning including the political and economic risks, rewards and consequences.  These issues should be articulated as part of the strategy by the military but it must always be up to the politicians to have the final say.  Multinational operations make these goals harder to achieve but the EU has no other choice but to confront strategy issues.  All strategy must be comprehensive in nature; no operations should be purely military.

Jamie Shea spoke next, explaining that the current mainstream thinking regarding interventions included intellectual laziness; interventions are seen as too complex and often unsuccessful.  This mindset, based on the Afghanistan experience should not be allowed to dominate, as there had been countless success, citing the right to protect, the International Criminal Court, the end of absolute sovereignty and robust peacekeeping as successful legacies of European crisis response.  He believed interventionism would return as a mainstream position and that now was the time to improve the comprehensive approach, by setting realistic ambitions from the beginning.  The lessons we have learned about multinational operations in Afghanistan need to be continued after soldiers return home through shared planning and training.   Mr Shea believed strongly that if political constraints meant Europeans decided they did not want to become directly involved in operations, then they must at least support those who did with technical, logistical and financial assistance.  Smart intervention was seen as a growing area of interest for Europeans, utilising smaller operational packages more selectively as well as tying the use of force to diplomatic efforts, all whilst thinking carefully about cost and benefits of any operations.

In conclusion strategic affairs need to reenter the mainstream.  We have been practically involved in strategy but now is the time to be more focused and think more critically.  Dr Matter stated he had written his book “to take stock” and he hoped “the intellectual lessons learned would not be wasted”.  The end of the mission in Afghanistan will free up European resources, resources that are more likely to be utilized if Europe understands its strategic interests and the areas where it can be operationally successful.  Europe now enters a period in which it can take stock, institutionalise lessons learnt and begin planning for future operations.  Any attempts to support this process must be congratulated.


One comment on “Politico-military dynamics of European crisis response

  1. enricoiacovizzi

    Europe is quite good in wasting lessons about S&D policy. I totally agree with Yves De Kermabon: lack of understanding between grand strategy and operational thinking is the main problem hindering the EU to unleash the 1st class potential we have. Namely, poor strategy and lack of long term vision is the main political fault of European leaders, while resource wasting and missing cooperation led to a suboptimal stock of military assets, with huge gaps in essential areas. And in no way those claiming that the EDA is recovering these gaps are right. EDA is doing a good job, but too slowly, lacking the necessary resources to fully implement the necessary steps.

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