The 27 defense ministers discussed the creation of a force of at least 5,000 soldiers in order to end the complete dependence on the USA.
“We Europeans found ourselves in a situation in which we were dependent on American decisions,” wrote the EU foreign policy representative, Josep Borrell, in a guest article for the “New York Times” this week. After the “Afghanistan debacle” (quote Borrell), in which European citizens could only be brought out of the country with international aid, calls were also made at the meeting of EU defense ministers on Thursday in Brdo, Slovenia, to finally set up their own reaction force in order to be able to do so in the future to deal with such challenges independently.
“The situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Sahel shows that it is time to act,” appealed to the ministers, General Claudio Graziano, head of the EU military committee. Together with the EU Commission, he called for the plan to set up a reaction force to be finally revived. It’s been in the drawer for years. A unit with a capacity of 5,000 soldiers is currently under discussion, which should be ready for action in a crisis situation within a few days. The Slovenian Presidency even spoke of up to 20,000 soldiers. In the previous resolutions of the EU governments, which go back to 1999, such a reaction force was planned with up to 60,000 soldiers.
The German Defense Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, emphasized in Brdo that it was not about an “alternative to NATO and the Americans”, but rather about strengthening the West together. Slovenia’s defense minister, Matej Tonin, proposed a “coalition of willing” to set up such a force as a first step.
So far the EU has been divided
The EU member states have already made several attempts to create such a joint military capacity. The “Military Planning and Conduct Center” was set up in Brussels, a small staff unit that has so far only coordinated peace operations. Because a large reaction force was considered unrealistic for a long time due to the lack of commitment on the part of the member states and there was no common command center, the only compromise that was created was “battlegroups”, each headed by an EU country and in which several national armies can participate for six months . However, they have never been activated. Their use had been discussed several times – for example at French insistence for the pacification of Mali. But this failed due to resistance from some countries. The principle of unanimity still applies in the EU on foreign and security issues.
For years France has been in favor of establishing a European force independent of the USA. It is therefore not surprising that the French EU Commissioner, Thierry Breton, was a driving force behind such efforts this week. In a conversation with our “press” correspondent in Brussels and other journalists, he called for the establishment of a rapid reaction force, a command center and the establishment of a security doctrine. It is intended to clarify which threats the troops could be used for. This activation framework is intended to facilitate a joint decision by the EU governments to send the soldiers out if necessary.
In recent years, criticism of plans for a joint EU force has mostly come from Eastern European countries. They feared the erosion of NATO and, as a result, less protection on its eastern border. Latvia’s Defense Minister, Artis Pabriks, questioned the willingness of some EU partners to really participate actively in such a force during the current debate with his counterparts.
(“Die Presse”, print edition, September 3rd, 2021)