Central Southern AfricaBlog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

The Central African Republic, symbol of a non-existent European defense

(B2) The intervention in the Central African Republic led by France could have been carried out by the European rapid reaction force. The question barely arose

Heads of State and Government meet on Thursday (December 19) with European security and defense on their agenda. The situation in the Central African Republic shows the limits of a European defense policy which remains subject to the priorities of the Member States and their budgetary constraints. If the European Union has a rapid and effective humanitarian, political and financial response, the situation is much more contrasted, in military matters. The EU has never succeeded in implementing the rapid reaction force of 2000 men, which has been operational since 2007. Each state takes it in turn to ensure its permanence.

European assets

The seriousness of the crisis in this Central African country is nevertheless common knowledge in European circles.

“A genocide scenario is not purely hypothetical was alarmed a few days ago by the commissioner in charge of humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, who made two successive visits to the country in a few months. Faced with this " forgotten crisis as she describes it herself, Europe has not remained inactive.

It has just released an additional 18,5 million to finance humanitarian aid, in addition to the 20 million euros already paid during the year. European states also showed a united front at the UN Security Council to draft and pass two resolutions allowing both the use of force and the reinforcement of the African force.

The European Union has also released 50 million euros to finance this African force. A funding " essential as a European diplomat reminds us. Without it, MISCA would have had very difficult to deploy ».

The soldier, poor relation

From the military point of view, the situation is more contrasted. The sending of the European rapid reaction force (battlegroup) was aborted. The United Kingdom, which is ensuring the permanence of this force this semester, with the Netherlands and the Baltic States, has refused to commit its troops to the Central African Republic under the European flag. Eager to avoid any crisis with London on the eve of the European summit, the High Representative of the EU, who is also the British representative to the Commission, Catherine Ashton, preferred to stop everything dead (read: Battlegroup for the Central African Republic? How Cathy said stop!). Even the idea of ​​using the new design of battle groups in a modular way, using only aerial means for example, was rejected.

« We have not received a request from France » justifies a senior European diplomat. As a result, Paris preferred to ask individual countries for support. The United Kingdom responded “yes” to the French request, as did Germany, Belgium and Spain. And Poland could do it in the coming hours or days. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, indicated on Tuesday December 17 that Belgium and Poland were on the verge of providing concrete support for the operation.

bonsai armies

It is all the ambiguity of the Europe of defense which is thus revealed. The means depend closely on both the capacities and the financing of the Member States.

The Common European Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) meets on paper with almost unanimous support from the Member States; but in times of budgetary restraint, things get more complicated.

The latest figures from the European Defense Agency speak for themselves. In 2012, defense budgets lost 3% compared to 2011. Over a period of 5 years (2006 – 2011), defense budgets have shrunk by 10%!

And the slide is set to continue, according to Claudia Major and Christian Mölling of the German Institute for International Policy (SWP). European budgets could thus increase, in ten years, from 220 billion euros to 147 billion. And the authors denounce the tendency to have “bonsai armies”. That is to say, just good at doing extras...

A shared interest

It is this hiatus that the European Union is confronted with today. The “28” Heads of State and Government are well aware of this. There are shared interests. From " threat continue to exist in the neighborhood. " In an increasingly changing world, the European Union is called upon to assume increasing responsibilities in maintaining international peace and security. they should say, according to the draft conclusions that have been circulating among member states.

The necessity " to improve the availability of the necessary capacities » like that of having an industrial and technological base « integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive » should also be remembered. Doing more today in operational matters, however, seems very difficult.

Use it or lose it

However, several ideas should be submitted to the Summit… for the future. For example to make European peacekeeping missions more rapidly deployable (with a pool of experts and improved financial regulations). In military matters, no concrete proposal is currently planned, except for a French idea. President François Hollande wants, in fact, to propose to the “28” (*) the creation of a fund to finance the European Union's peacekeeping operations.

A revolutionary idea which, if accepted, would mark the beginning of a reflection. " This fund will not be created on Thursday warns a French diplomat. Corn " the objective is to generate debate and to have a mandate to study its creation”. By setting a deadline : “the end of the first half of 2014 for example ". Because the challenge for Europe is now to use its capacities. Or as the Dutch Defense Minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert summed it up in a shocking phrase: “ Use it or lose it!  (use them or delete them).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Review article published in Euractiv.fr for the Defense summit

(*) To be exact, these are the “27” Denmark not taking part in European military action.

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).