The Armed Forces of the European Union 2012-2013 by Charlie Heyman

Something that doesn’t seem to appear on many strategits or analysts radars if the growth of the European Union as a military infrastructure and a regional power. Since the end of the Second World War, NATO dominated military planning in western and central Europe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, however, NATO has found itself at something of a loose end.

The EU, on the other hand, appears to be a rising presence on the world stage. The 27 members have a joint population of 498 million people, a joint defence budget of 182bn Euros, and a total of 934,600 soldiers, 223,770 sailors and 331,450 airmen. 5,325 tanks, 7 aircraft carriers, 69 submarines, and 140 Frigates and Destroyers. A mammoth 2,088 combat aircraft, 603 transporters, and 77 air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

It would be wrong to assume that the EU is the same as NATO. Although many members are the same, there are exceptions. Ireland, Sweden, Finland,  Austria and Cyprus are members of the EU only; while Iceland, Norway, Slovenia, Albania and Turkey are members of NATO but not the EU. Denmark is a member of both, but has an op-out clause where EU defence policy is concerned.

The co-ordination and integration of European militaries could be seen by some as a move towards European federalism – after all, one of the hallmarks of a ‘state’ is a military, and with a permanent European military staff, it does herald integration like never before. But what an EU military does reflect, is a Europe endeavouring to work together without needing a cross-Atlantic input. NATO is still important as an underpin to the western hemisphere’s unity.

The EU military commitee is nominally made up of the CDS of each nation, but in practice is formed by a representative seconded from each respective armed forces. The chairmanship rotates every three years and is a 4-star post. The current commander is a Swedish General, and I think it is very important that the Committee is not necessarily always commanded by those with the most muscle. There is an EU ops centre in Brussels, that can command a relatively small force of about 2,000 troops. Other national operational centres have been placed at the EU’s disposal, including PJHQ at Northwood, and its equivalent in Paris, Potsdam, Rome and Greece.

There are a number of non-NATO, EU based multilateral structures:

  • Eurpean Air Group (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK)
  • European Airlift Centre (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK)
  • Sealift Co-ordination Centre (Netherlands and UK)
  • European Amphibious Initiative (France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, UK)
  • Standby High Readiness Brigade (AU, DK, SU, IRL, I, LIT, N, NOR, PL, P, SLOVENIA, E, SV)
  • SE Europe Brigade (Greece, Italy, Slovenia)
  • Nordic Co-Ordinated Arrangement for Military Peace support (Finland, Sweden, Denmark)
  • EUROCORPS – Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, France, Luxembourg
  • EUROFOR – France, Italy, Portugal, Spain
  • EUROMARFOR – France, Italy, Portugal, Spain

EUROCORPS in particular is a credible structure, with a Franco-German Brigade and a Multinational Command Brigade permanently attached, and up to 9 other Brigades earmarked. Other national, multinational or international units could be made available – the British led ARRC, for example.

The most interesting development, for me, is that of the EU battlegroup. Whilst European nations between them have a sum total military that appears formidable, at present it is limited in its deployability. The reliance on national forces and ad-hoc arrangements every time a threat emerges does not tend to engender long-term planning. In my opinion, officers, staffs and forces are bound to work better together in a crisis if they work together when there isn’t one too. And whilst it might seem like an excuse for cost-cutting – much the same as ‘jointery’ does in the UK – there is no doubt much duplication among 27 militaries that could be avoided.

On paper, the national forces of the EU have 120 Brigades that are deployable. However, many smaller countries do not even have forces of that level. Even if, for example countries like the Baltic states – have one or two Brigades, deploying them would repesent a herculean effort. Why not, therefore, combine and send a battalion each? In terms of ships also, whilst Britain, for example, might have one Albion class LPD available, if more were needed for an appropriate task, why not add-in a Rotterdam or Galicia class ship? Some countries have plenty of escort ships but no carrier, in which case integrated battle groups could work dividends. Many smaller nations have no transporter aircraft, but others do. Another example, for me, is in sealift. Obviously, countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic have no sealift capabilty. Fine, drive to Rotterdam or south to a Med port and load up on a borrowed ro-ro there instead!

There are a total of 17 EU battlegroups available. Many are comprised solely of national Brigades (including the UK battlegroup), but others are a combined group. Some are based on geography (Spain and Italy’s amphibious battlegroup, France and Belgium, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia) while others are a little strange (Germany, Netherlands and Finland; and Ireland teaming up with Nordic and Baltic countries). The aim is to have two battlegroups on high readiness at any given time.

Of course, such close intergration only works if countries are genuinely prepared to do their share when the prverbial hits the fan. But all the time countries are working together, they’re less likely to be fighting each other, and more likely to be more effective when called on to fight alongside each other.

Suffice to say, I found this book very thought provoking indeed!

The Armed Forces of the European Union 2012-2013 is published by Pen and Sword



Filed under Book of the Week, politics, Uncategorized

24 responses to “The Armed Forces of the European Union 2012-2013 by Charlie Heyman

  1. johncerickson

    Sounds interesting. It might have some problems on contribution percentages. After all, Holland’s not a very large country, but they have great harbours – how do you value a port versus a certain number of men or ships? France and Spain have both Atlantic and Mediterranean interests – do they contribute more, or are they limited because of domestic desire to keep forces close? What about Germany’s constitution forbidding overseas deployments? And over it all, what about financial problems – Greece is almost bankrupt and Portugal and Spain aren’t doing well, but Germany and France are recovering nicely, so how do you allocate costs?
    I ask these, less for whatever answers the book might have (I’d love a copy, but I’m broke 😦 ), more for what our resident experts X and WEBF might think. (And to save poor Mr. Daly from doing TOO much work as he establishes his new, luxurious home. 😀 )

  2. James Daly

    There are a few problems inherent with building an integrated EU military. In terms of contributions, some countries – Holland, Belgium, for example – have always contributed well above their size, whilst others I won’t name haven’t. Then also you have the consideration that some countries can offer more in terms of facilties – eg German training areas, Dutch seaports – than in raw manpower or materiel.

    I can see some interesting gems here though – Med countries perhaps should collaborate more at sea, for example, and the UK-Netherlands Amphib co-operation is common sense, as the island nation and the one with Rotterdam and the Rhine. I also forgot to mention about the Baltic air co-operation – I think one of the Baltic states has no air force, but by a reciprocal arrangement the others cover is airspace.

    • johncerickson

      At the risk of showing ignorance, has there been any discussion about the inclusion of nations working on admittance (thinking the “southern Warsaw Pact” nations like Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the ever-messy Serbia/Croatia/Bosnia group)? I know I’m biased, but Romania has worked their collective butts off in Afghanistan. It would be valuable to an EU force if they could be included. (Yeah, I know, I should study more. Sorry, my brain is suing for divorce from my head – and winning.)

      • James Daly

        Hungary and Romania are included in EU military structures, I’m sure of that. Not sure about the rest, but it’s ony a matter of time. Even in my lifetime you would never have imagined Polish troops joining NATO…

      • johncerickson

        Once I got into the WW2 German re-enacting, I hit a lot of garage sales looking for old tools with “Made in Germany” stamped on them. Figured they would not only add to my authenticity, but would always be collectors’ items, since you’d never see anything made in plain old Germany anymore. Fast forward to 1989. That flushing sound was my belief Germany would never re-unite, going right down the old loo! (Yeah, the tools do still have some collector value, but now any idiot can buy stuff marked made in Germany. Just shows you, you can never trust a Commie! 😀 )

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