European Armed Forces of Tomorrow:
A New Perspective
The security policy of the European Union has combined diplomatic, political, cultural, economic and -- in this context also -- military measures to foster international stability. The European Union should continue to develop this integrated approach.
The European Union, interested in internationally agreed restrictions of armed violence and in balanced multipolar relations, would be poorly served by a foreign policy dominated by military options and considerations. Accordingly, Europe's military forces should not be of global reach. There may have to be exceptions from this rule, such as the need to quickly react to an imminent threat of genocide on another continent. But normally -- apart from the routine commitment to world-wide disaster relief -- European defense policy should concentrate its resources on the protection of home territory and on a limited intervention capability dedicated to dealing with potential crises along the old continent's periphery.
A world characterized by a pattern of balanced multi-polarity does not allow for aspirations of hegemony -- not even European ones. It rather favors the development and consolidation of other regional security arrangements around the globe -- building, for instance, on already existing structures in South-east Asia, South and West Africa or South America, and by giving generous and "holistic" assistance adequate to the task of stabilizing the respective situation (not spurring local arms races.) In a long-term perspective this approach would tend to reduce both the opportunities for and the self-perceived need of the U.S. to intervene far from its shores. This, in turn, would gradually challenge the identity of the U.S. as the global policeman and provide an opening for more participatory international relations.
The EU countries supporting the creation of joint armed forces would form an open club, inviting all others to join on condition that decisions about the use of military power should require the ascent of a supermajority and that individual member states would not be tolerated going to war in an alliance with non-EU partners without the consent of all other members. The former requirement derives from the principle that the question of war or peace is of high relevance to all participants in such an integrated scheme, while the latter reflects an assessment that any acceptance of "free lance" engagements would undermine the viability of the joint forces and the self-esteem of its members. The notion of viability also implies that European Armed Forces should not -- even in the case of major operations -- be dependent on intelligence, command and control or logistics provided by NATO. Otherwise, the U.S. working through its dominant position in NATO could indirectly influence European security policy. To achieve such independence some new support capacities would undoubtedly have to be generated. In order to avoid too much duplication, however, national components that hitherto were earmarked for NATO exclusively should be reassigned for European purposes. This could be done on a contractual basis and in a manner ruling out NATO veto rights.
The more an integrated European security policy gains weight, and the more popular participation in the EU forces becomes, the greater will be the likelihood that NATO members on the old continent exercise their sovereignty in order to gradually distance themselves from the Treaty; a prospect reinforced by the increasingly common view that NATO is an outmoded security arrangement. Since the end of the cold war the United States have, more than ever before, demonstrated that they seek blind obedience rather than true partnership. NATO's newly adopted power-projection concept has failed to give the ordinary members, or the organization as such, more influence. While the faithful once preached: "Out of area or out of business", it is now likely to be: "Out of area and out of business."
Virtual independence from NATO is one side of the coin, unconditional support of the United Nations and the OSCE, its European subsystem, the other. If long-term stability in a multipolar world is the primary goal, there can be no viable alternative to strengthening the global community and international law, as it had been evolving prior to its recent breach by the United States.
As a long-range goal Europe might be tempted to seek military parity with the U.S. Following this impulse would be a mistake. Firstly, this would run counter to the notion that the EU is well advised not to rely on military power as a leading instrument of its foreign policy. And, secondly, with respect to armaments the United States are outspending their potential competitors in Europe by such a margin that any substantial attempt at closing the gap would involve very serious political risks; It could destroy what is left of the welfare state, one of "Old Europe's" significant comparative advantages over the U.S.
The gap in defense expenditures is extremely wide, indeed. For the fiscal year 2003 the Pentagon's budget was originally set to be twice as high as the respective spending of all EU countries combined. Official long-term planning on both sides of the Atlantic, not even taking into consideration the sudden flash in extra spending during the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and the expenses of the occupation, makes it very likely that this difference will grow. Admittedly, this discrepancy would appear somewhat less dramatic if one were to consider that average military manpower costs are lower in Europe than in the U.S. This factor of relative cost effectiveness of European personnel is at present outweighed by the fact that the United States constitute a unified (nation state) actor, and their forces are a comparatively integrated organization. With respect to the European Union neither characteristic applies.
The proposed model of European Armed Forces is intended to serve as a conceptual input toward promoting national role specialization and military integration -- which, of course, still has a long way to go. While this is a legitimate and sensible goal, defense spending, for the reasons given, should not be augmented. On the contrary! It is perfectly conceivable that future all-European forces could be maintained for only about one percent of the EU's total GDP, or even somewhat less: if modest achievements in organizational integration and the perspective of military constraint (no massive power projection of global reach) are taken into account. For comparison: the United States are currently (2003: regular budget) spending 3.5 percent of their GDP on the military, while the respective figure for the European Union is 1.7 percent.
The annual savings to be obtained by implementing all-European Armed Forces would likely be in the ballpark of 70-80 billion Euros (2003/4 price level). Even if we assume that the internal programs of modernizing the infrastructure of the newly incorporated EU members will consume half of this sum with only the remainder available for support of a conciliatory foreign policy, it would still make a tremendous difference. Even more so, as this would be in addition to the resources already earmarked for foreign, non-military aid, which amount to nearly 30 billion Euros per year altogether (or .25-.30 percent of the respective EU member states' GDPs).
This compares to only 11 billion Dollars for development and humanitarian assistance requested by the Bush administration in the most recent regular budget (fiscal year 2003). In other words, the European Union would very substantially increase its relative advantage over the United States when it comes to influencing and shaping the world through peaceful means.
What could the - additional - fiscal resources to support Europe's foreign policy be used for? Apart from humanitarian assistance and a contribution to economic development, there should be one main focus of attention: namely state-building. Helping to create well functioning administrative, educational and participatory political institutions, with a sound base of infrastructure, is a necessary precondition of generating inherently stable nations or societies. For obvious reasons, the related tasks are essentially non-military.
Military force should only be employed if there is an actual or imminent armed threat to a country or region, to civilian programs of reconstruction, or to the establishment of a legitimate new government. There should be a well-defined interface of civil-military cooperation along with a clear-cut division of labor. Except for in the hot phase of a crisis, civilian authority should be at the top of a stabilization program. This applies also to cases where it seems appropriate to make use of military reconstruction facilities (such as engineer elements.) Otherwise the sensibly civilian nature of an aid program would be compromised.
Given Europe's constraints and special mission as a force of regional stability and global reconciliation, what should be the functions to be assigned to the military element of its security policy? Firstly, any European security regime should ensure -- at the levels of institutional mechanisms and of military structure -- that the likelihood of armed clashes between member states is truly minimized. Secondly, and of equal importance, Europe's combined military forces should specialize on the defense -- in order not to provoke neighboring countries and regions. Furthermore, any military intervention on behalf of European authority would have to meet two basic criteria: not only -- as already indicated -- legitimation by the United Nations, but also providing an active contribution to regional stability.
The latter criterion rules out aggressive missions: military conquest and punishment. It rather suggests a catalogue of principal tasks as follows (which are to be dealt with in a holistic manner, putting the use of force under tight political control and in the context of other -- diplomatic, economic, etc. -- measures):
The military posture of the proposed all-European force should -- to a significant extent -- be specialized to fulfil these tasks or functions. In other words, defensive orientation and the commitment to peace support should be reflected in its very structure. In this context it appears noteworthy that some participating countries may want to reserve the right to maintain, in addition to their forces earmarked for European use, a strictly national intervention capability -- as parts of their territory are located abroad (former colonies now integrated with the homeland.) And others may cling to their nuclear status -- once so dearly acquired. Such exceptions from the rule could be interpreted as illegitimate privileges and may cause disturbances on the long road to integration. It may take decades to overcome these impediments: dark spots on an otherwise credible posture.
In any case, attempts to provide the EU with a nuclear capability of its own, or to give the French and British atomic arsenals a European connotation, are to be denied. Europe is not under nuclear threat. Maintaining nuclear weapons is politically useless and counterproductive, as it does not contribute to regional stability and sets a wrong example for the developing nations. European atom bombs would compromise an EU security policy geared to international reconciliation.
It is likely to take the proposed European Armed Forces a decade, or more, to grow into an all-embracing scheme. For the sake of a sound, databased calculus it was assumed, however, that a full-scale military organization would already be established by 2004, when the enlargement of the European Union is due to happen. A further assumption is that the vast majority of the member states would participate, making available roughly 100 billion Euros p.a. for European defense and basic national protection. This would amount to only about .9 percent of the EU's combined Gross Domestic Product to be expected in 2004.
Interestingly, a model calculation shows that this would be sufficient to man, equip and operate a standing force of one million uniformed personnel (about half of what the EU countries have today) -- provided that aspirations of massive, global power projection along with demanding high-tech fixations have been done away with. An overview of personnel-related figures looks as follows (costs in million Euros):
If 100 billion could be spent according to the 2004 model (eventual increases with GDP growth only), there would remain -- after covering all personnel-related expenses -- 44 billion for operations and maintenance as well as R&D and the procurement of new equipment.
A common calculus uses as reference a more narrowly defined defense budget: expenditures without retirement pay, etc. - which would in our case amount to 80.5 billion. In relation to this figure about 55 percent could be spent on purposes other than recruiting and supporting personnel. A plausible assumption would be to dedicate 25 percent to operations and 30 percent to force modernization (R&D/procurement). Such an operations bill is indicative of a military organization with fairly frequent out-of-area commitments. And the resources allocated to R&D/procurement (24 billion), if stabilized at the assumed level, would be sufficient for continuous, impressive modernization: provided, however, that capital-intensive elements of power projection -- in particular naval and air components -- do not dominate the forces. 3
The standing organization comprises 975,000 active personnel and 25,000 posts through which reservists are being rotated: to undergo refresher training, to serve as individual replacement or to fill up skeletonized units. All in all there is a pool of 450,000 trained reservists available for eventual service.
The standing organization consists of two main components:
The inter-service system of Support and Protection has 450,000 uniformed personnel along with 150,000 civilian administrators. Functions are as follows:
The Intervention Forces comprise 550,000 uniformed personnel, plus 50,000 civilian administrators, and consist of a ground element with 385,000 soldiers (or 70 percent) along with air and maritime components (100,000=18%, and 65,000=12% respectively).
The troops for Ground Commitment can count on 40 combat and 40 support brigades. Out of the 40 combat brigades 35 are fully active and 5 largely skeletonized. The pool of active combat brigades consists of:
The 5 cadre brigades are light motorized/mechanized and draw on the talents and skills of experienced reservists who -- on a voluntary basis -- join missions of peacekeeping and reconstruction.
A breakdown of the 40 support brigades, which are skeletonized to a limited degree, shows:
The overall structure is relatively light, with only about 1,000 (or one sixth) of the main battle tanks existing in the EU's inventory today. The headquarters organization is very flexible, rendering superfluous the traditional pattern of corps and divisional commands. Mission-oriented headquarters put together what they need for a particular assignment: choosing carefully from the matrix of combat and support elements.
Of course, at any given time only a fraction of this force could operate away from its home bases. Applying a -- plausible and empirically valid -- rotation factor of between 4 and 5, from 75,000 to 95,000 troops can be kept on foreign ground for extended periods (and this does not even take into consideration the possibility of mobilizing skeletonized brigades).
The Air Element consists exclusively of flying contingents, as the task of ground-based air defense has been allocated to the ground forces. It also has no helicopters, as these are likewise pooled -- for reasons of economy -- with the ground element (where they can be "booked" by the other services.) And since the model does not comprise a land-based naval aviation, the Air Element is also supposed to engage in maritime, long-range reconnaissance and, in exceptional cases, strike. A list of the Air Element's fixed-wing squadrons with primarily military applications contains:
For inflight-refueling there would be a modest provision of 1 tanker squadron. The transport capacity of the Air Element should be based on a mix of aircraft varying in range and payload (including machines of civilian origin): 1 squadron with heavy, intercontinental systems (over 100 t/ 5,000 km plus), 5 squadrons for intracontinental purposes (up to 20 t/5,000 km or less), and another 5 for operational/tactical use (5-10 t/up to 2,500 km).
The Air Element has considerable combat and airlift potential, but its overall strength remains modest. The fleet of tactical aircraft -- fighters, fighter bombers, reconnaissance -- is about a thousand strong (including material reserves). This amounts to somewhat over one third of the respective holdings in the EU countries today. The tanker fleet is suitable to provide operational flexibility and is insufficient for substantial power projection. Concerning the airlift capacity: it would be sufficient to support major disaster relief operations and to speedily move light mechanized contingents for initial stabilization of a crisis region, but insufficient for the rapid large-scale transport of heavier armored forces.
The Maritime Component comprises units not so much for bluewater presence and far-reaching operations, but rather for the continuous control of the coasts and seas along Europe's periphery -- especially the Mediterranean and adjacent areas. The list of vessels includes (ordered by basic categories):
In addition, and as a back-up, there are conceived to be 5 multi-functional ships for disaster relief and 5 large fleet auxiliaries (for underway replenishment.) The former measure is long overdue. The latter, which represents a rather limited allocation of ocean-going support ships, is intended to act as a brake on the strategic range of the proposed naval force.
The model does not envisage any assault landing craft for major operations of naval infantry against defended coasts. Platforms for STOVL planes and/or helicopters are considered optional. It is suggested, however, to restrict the use of such platforms to missions of surveillance and the non-aggressive sea-land transfer of goods and personnel. The allocation of sizeable contingents of ground troops over longer distances would, if not by air, normally be carried out by civilian roll-on-roll-off vessels (quickly available through standby rental agreements.) All in all we see the picture of a balanced, stability-oriented fleet: capable, yet modest. The envisaged number of destroyers and standard frigates, for example, amounts to only one fourth of what the EU countries currently have.
Making European Armed Forces a useful instrument of EU foreign and security policy requires a good measure of complementary role specialization, structural integration and continued efforts to further unify the organization. Elements of the home-based system of Support and Protection that lend themselves to full organizational integration -- including mixed staffing -- are: central headquarters, strategic intelligence and communication as well as the surveillance of the Union's air space with ground-based sensors. Partial, though increasing integration would make sense with respect to logistics and arms procurement.
As for the Intervention Forces, all operational commands should be multi-national, but there would not necessarily be a proportionate representation of all participating countries. With regard to the armed services the degree of organizational integration is likely to be different, as a result of experience gained in NATO and according to national traditions. On a mission or exercise "multi-nationality" in the Maritime Component would begin above the individual vessel, and in the Air Element above the squadron. And this would be complemented by programs of frequent rotation among bases. With respect to the troops for Ground Commitment, whose formations in many cases have, by tradition, relatively strong ties to their region or country, schemes of general integration below the level of brigade and base rotation are unrealistic in the near future. Ground forces will have to remain nationally homogeneous at the lower tactical level because of an insufficient standardization of basic procedures.
By and large integration seems to have relatively good chances in the realm of operational structure. But bringing people together and "mixing them" may have to wait a while: at least with regard to a sizeable part of the organization. And there is one aspect that makes us ask whether total integration is desirable at all. The member states of the EU are split over the issue of what is the best way of recruiting a modern army. It is quite likely that there will continue to be a co-existence of two different models: the all-volunteer system and a mixed structure with an element of conscription.
This may not do harm to the cause of joint European forces, however. The advocates of the former model could continue to point out the benefits of extended training, while the proponents of the latter might plausibly claim that conscription provides access to a "better brand of people" and to a larger pool of talents and skills from which persons could be invited to volunteer and eventually prove themselves on out-of-area missions as fine, ordinary soldiers or outstanding leaders.
It almost goes without saying that in an integrating structure there should be, with high priority, investments in the unification of telecommunications. Another area of concern is reconnaissance at the operational level. This is necessary as a basis for missions with regional scope (crisis reaction!), but has been gravely neglected in Europe: apparently because the development of an indigenous military satellite system seemed more promising in the status competition with the United States. Undoubtedly strategic, space-based reconnaissance is relatively important, but not that important.
Apart from putting special emphasis on reconnaissance at the operational (as well as the tactical level), procurement activities should concentrate on developing adequate materiel for capable light force elements: such as corvettes for the all-weather control of coastal waters, ground-mobile robots for reconnaissance, and low-weight, mechanized vehicles for various functions of peace support (whose survivability would rest on agility and compactness -- in other words: no more medium-weight armored buses with "too many eggs in the basket").5 All in all it can be said that most of the modern technology required by the model is of a fairly robust nature. Resource-demanding, high-tech components would only be integrated into the array where absolutely necessary and productive: such as in the cases of sensors for operational and tactical reconnaissance (or with respect to precision-guided weaponry in the lower-range bracket).
It would be a distinctly different ball game, however, if procurement policies were continuing to be driven by dreams of power projection with oversized air and naval forces and long-range strike capabilities which imply a near-total dependence on high technology. This may -- imperfectly though -- satisfy status aspirations of certain military leaders, but would never fit within a 30% share of military R&D and procurement in defense spending.
Time and again it has been claimed that a "Europeanization" of the arms industries is a necessary flank-supporting measure for the creation of a common security policy and -- possibly -- of joint armed forces on the old continent. And it has also been said that only an international merger of national capacities, plus radical rationalization, could save vital arms-production facilities for Europe. Only such concentrated facilities could guarantee a timely development and delivery of state-of-the art products at relatively low cost.
Most of this story is wrong. Attempts to Europeanize national branches of the arms industry have often induced grave political controversies with nationalistic character. This applies even more so to many concrete plans for the joint production and procurement of major weapon systems. Quite a few of them have had a built-in tendency to fail, because harmonization of national military requirements had not been achieved prior to the launch of the programs. And in those cases in which success has been claimed in the joint production of systems for two or more national forces in Europe, the outcome has - with bewildering regularity -- been rather disappointing. Products tend to be overpriced, come much too late, are often behind the state of the art, and only partially meet the customers' requirements. The four-nation Eurofighter and the Franco-German Tiger armed escort helicopter constitute particularly nightmarish examples. Such products are not competitive, mainly because there was no competition before or during development.
Not all products of the arms makers in Europe are below standard, however. Good quality still comes from national producers. Think, for example, of Italian naval guns or German tank and submarine development! No wonder that such quality has attracted American capital, which is about to get influence in some of the respective facilities -- with the perspective of exploiting relevant technologies. As a consequence there have been attempts at introducing or strengthening administrative regulations to prevent all-too-easy takeovers -- albeit with limited chances of success. The American capital appears so aggressive, indeed, that even a merger of national capacities may not always be able to secure the survival of indigenous technological potential.
A viable alternative would be to gradually create an integrated European doctrine (potentially at all levels of military action) as a basis for the evolution of a harmonized, joint procurement policy. This would give the Europeans tremendous buying power on the international arms markets. It should be as legitimate to procure in the Russian Federation or the United States as in Europe (regardless whether the supplier is "Europeanised" or not). This may stimulate the European arms industry to become more competitive -- or result in its (partial) demise. The latter case would not be a major disaster, however, since the contribution of military technology to the civilian economy's technological base borders on the negligible.
An EU policy of military restraint combined with a specialization in peace support makes it possible to create, at surprisingly low cost, an impressive force. European Armed Forces could maintain at Europe's periphery on long-term missions a comparable number of "grunts" on the ground as the mighty United States Army. This, however, is a tongue-in-cheek assessment: Status competition is not the motivation of this proposal. Rather, the model of integrated European Armed Forces offers a vital element of what has been called a productive vision of a world without military dominance. It suggests that a viable force for good, as a complement to a foreign policy of reconciliation, is a feasible option for Europe's future.
1. For greater specificity of military tasks see Lutz Unterseher, "Interventionism Reconsidered: Reconciling Military Action with Political Stability", Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, Project on Defense Alternatives, September 1999. http://www.comw.org/pda/9909interv.html.
2. Figures represent averages derived from a study of relevant defense budgets in Europe. Estimates were made on the premise that most of the countries that still have conscription would continue to do so.
3. This cost model excludes all expenses certain EU members incur for their purely national intervention capabilities or nuclear arsenals.
4. Lutz Unterseher, "Rotocraft for War: Descending on a Military Dilemma", Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, Project on Defense Alternatives, Briefing Memo #19, May 2001. http://www.comw.org/pda/0105rotowar.html.
5. For more on the design limitations and operational problems associated with medium-weight combat vehicles see: Lutz Unterseher, "Wheels or Tracks? On the 'Lightness' of Military Expeditions", Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #16, July 2000 (revised December 2001). http://www.comw.org/pda/0007wheels.html.
Charles Knight, "Bush Administration Policy Toward Europe: continuity and change", chapter in Hegemonie oder Stabilität: Alternativen zur Militarisierung der Politik, edited by Volker Krsning (MdB), Lutz Unterseher, and GYnter Verheugen (Hrsg.), Bremen: Edition Temmen, August 2002. http://www.comw.org/pda/0201eurobush.html.
Egon Matzner, "Conditional Co-operation: Coping With US Hegemony", 2002.
Lutz Unterseher, "Europe's Armed Forces at the Millennium: A Case Study of Change in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany", Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Report #11, November 1999.http://www.comw.org/pda/9911eur.html.
Citation: Carl Conetta, European Armed Forces of Tomorrow: A New Perspective, Project on Defense Alternatives Guest Publication. Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, 20 October 2003. http://www.comw.org/pda/0310unterseher.html
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