Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

mali. A certain failure of the concept of battlegroups (Maj)

(credit: Irish Ministry of Defence)

(BRUSSELS2) If the European reaction can be welcomed, the French operation “Serval” will have caused an indirect victim… the European battlegroups. On paper, everything pointed to a European “battlegroup” to be able to intervene, at least secondarily.

All the legal and political elements were brought together – an international framework, a certain European consensus, a request from the legitimate State, etc. -. Most of the doctrinal elements are also present: crisis, outside a European territory, less than 6000 km from Brussels, where rapid intervention is necessary before handing over to another force...

Finally, the operational concept provides for this type of mission. " Battlegroups can be used for the full range of tasks listed in Article 43(1) of the Treaty on European Union and those set out in the European Security Strategy. These actions include: “combat force missions for crisis management, including peace-making missions ..." as the objective of " contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries to fight terrorism on their territory ". We therefore understand that we are “right” in a “Serval” or rather EUFOR Mali type operation.

Let us add that the soldiers composing these battlegroups are formed and trained for this. According to an expert from the European seraglio, consulted by B2, who describes the official doctrine of the Battlegroup: “ They are trained for combat and the best way to take advantage of the full extent of their capabilities would be to use them for combat force missions in crisis management, given their limited size. »

Ultimately, we can add that the permanent battlegroup for the next six months is formed by three countries which are at the heart of European defense, and have well-seasoned armed forces: Poland which is a framework nation, Germany and France in support. Three countries who wrote a letter together to use battlegroups... The finger is placed on the wound of the problem: why nothing today in Mali?

A lack of appetite

We can accuse whoever we want in Brussels. The problem is not there today. He is in the capitals. Warsaw, like Berlin, has neither the impetuosity of France, nor the same speed to act, nor the same will. you have to be clear. And the lack of will disappears the further east we go… The Poles are not “hot” at all to go to Mali! It's clear and clear.

The two ministers T. Siemoniak and R Sikorski confirmed this directly to us (at B2) during the “Weimar” meeting in Paris. And there is no sign to deny this lack of appetite. In Warsaw, we still see Mali as a somewhat French affair. And above all we do not want for the moment – ​​while a profound restructuring of the army is underway (professionalization, reduction of format, closures of barracks) – to commit too far overseas. This is especially true as Polish soldiers are starting to return from Afghanistan; which concludes a cycle of 10 years (with Iraq) of strong commitment beyond the borders, which Poland has never experienced in its history (Vienna is not Bamako).

A design error?

Let's not hide behind a concept. They cannot be used in Mali. But they were not yesterday in Congo and the day before yesterday in Chad. The only place they would be usable… would be in the Balkans (region they thought about and designed for). There is therefore a conceptual error in these battlegroups or, rather, the international, European and economic situation has evolved which today requires us to think about a new positioning. They are either too heavy (for a small training operation such as EUTM Mali), or too light (for a “Serval” type operation), or too military (for an observation operation such as EUMM Georgia), or not enough. Etc… They are therefore not modular enough. Even if we have sought to gain flexibility recently. Above all, they are too dependent on totally divergent calendars in the capitals and which will not converge any time soon. If Germany agrees to provide discreet support to the French “Serval” operation, it would perhaps refuse to do so more visibly with a battlegroup. And vice versa. Finally, there is no convergence on the use of these groupings. For some, the essential effect is training. But there is no question of hiring them. This would cost too much or break the commitment – ​​rest – training cycle.

The deployment time according to the concept of battlegroups

A new positioning

This concept could therefore be usefully revised on several levels. Some tracks…

1° We must find a way to free it from national political contingencies. For countries where authorization is necessary, this would require a vote by the national Parliament authorizing their use by a European authority by in fact delegating part of the control of the men (even if it means establishing some restrictions or caveat). With simple information during actual use.

2° It is necessary to set aside a budget, allowing not only to finance the first weeks of the action (*) but a part of the commitment. As we do for EU civilian missions.

3° You must have the capacity and the possibility of having a modular engagement of the battlegroup. If for the French operation “Serval” we had been able to detach the “transport”, “medical”, “intelligence” capabilities, for example… the debate in the countries concerned (Germany, Poland) would be easier than the commitment of troops of fight.

4° We must have a completely civil-military approach to engagements. The European Union engages in areas that are sometimes military, but often mixed. Europe should thus be able to send police officers as gendarmes or judges into the field very quickly. Even in Mali. Because the problem that will arise tomorrow: these are the prisoners. As Gilles de Kerchove recently pointed out during a question and answer session with MEPs, “ we're going to arrest a whole bunch of people, terrorists or not. We will have to manage these arrests in number. It is not certain that the authorities in Mali are today capable of managing a package of detainees for terrorism. We must therefore reinvigorate justice. » And quickly…

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(*) Maj. Clarification: there is already possible pre-financing for EU rapid reaction operations, with European funds available to finance it from the first moment). But this does not seem sufficient to allow a State with the will and the means, but without significant budgetary means, to commit.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

3 thoughts on “mali. A certain failure of the concept of battlegroups (Maj)"

  • Very interesting article, however I don't understand the very first sentence of the article: “the European reaction can be welcomed”…?! The French reaction can be welcomed but absolutely not the European reaction which is limited to say the least! I fully understand that D.Cohn-Bendit questioned C.Ashton in Parliament because while the other Member States promise us hypothetical and rather symbolic support, it is our men who are fighting and dying in Mali!

  • Jean-Claude WILLAME

    I'm not sure the title of this article is appropriate. In fact, as it is written many times, it is the lack of political will that dominates. This was the case when there was talk of deploying a rapid intervention force in 2008 in Kivu at the request of the head of UN peacekeeping operations Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet highlighted the fact that "we weren't going to shoot black people after all" (sic). As for the GB, it returned the ball to an African country, Angola.

    JC Willame
    UCL Emeritus Professor

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