Blog AnalysisMissions OperationsStabilization - Peace

War or peace (2). Has Europe lost its ambition to maintain peace? What could she do?

© NGV/B2

(B2) The Common European Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was developed in the 1990s with one objective: “ have the means to act militarily when circumstances dictate (1), as part of the desire of the leaders of the time to set up a common foreign policy and in particular to ensure " maintaining peace and strengthening international security (2). High ambition. Is this still a reality today? We can, legitimately, doubt it, looking at the reality.

NB: this article is the second in the back-to-school series on War or Peace and the EU. Read also: War or peace (1). The pacifying virtue of Europe: true or false?

An ambition meeting several objectives

The initial European ambition met three main objectives: firstly, to stabilize the immediate neighborhood or the other countries which have an interest for Europe, at the economic, political or quite simply moral level (political objective); second, not depending on other powers to act (the famous strategic autonomy); thirdly, to prevent Europe from remaining at arms length while massacres or genocides are being committed elsewhere, with the feeling of helplessness (notably in public opinion or vis-à-vis other partners). At the time, the bloody civil wars of the former Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide were on everyone's mind. And everyone felt a certain powerlessness and a kind of collective responsibility requiring action. The principle was: never again.

This ambition also responded to two other, more pragmatic imperatives: creating habits of working together and developing a European spirit; and ensure a “more balanced sharing of the burden of stability and peace in Europe”, with the United States (3).

Is peacekeeping still a priority today?

Officially, yes. The oft-repeated political assertion proves it. And most European leaders, headed by the High Representative of the Union, are convinced of this and include it in their political speeches. In fact, it is clear that the balance sheet is much more nuanced.

Over the past three years, a few missions have indeed been launched under the CSDP. But these are above all training missions, or even simple technical advice or assistance (of the EUTM, EUAM or EUCAP type). The maritime operation launched off Libya in the central Mediterranean (against trafficking (EUNAVFOR Med / Sophia) has another priority: that of ensuring the maritime police of the Union (as the maritime operation also did in the Indian Ocean, against pirates).

Would such missions be possible?

Yes fully. Very clearly, the European Treaty thus authorizes joint action and sets a typology of missions/operations based on five or six objectives (4):

  1. joint actions in disarmament,
  2. humanitarian and evacuation missions,
  3. military advisory and assistance missions,
  4. conflict prevention and peacekeeping missions,
  5. combat force missions for crisis management, including peace-making missions and post-conflict stabilization operations.
  6. NB: All these missions can contribute to the fight against terrorism, including through the support provided to third countries to fight terrorism on their territory

What European missions today meet these objectives?

Generally speaking, if we compare all the existing missions with the theoretical objectives of the treaty, we see that most of the missions deployed on the ground: EUAM (advice), EUPOL (police), EUTM (training), EULEX (state of law), EUCAP (capabilities) primarily respond to objectives 3 (assistance) or even 6 (terrorism).

Almost none respond to objective 4 (peacekeeping), with the exception of the small observation mission (EUMM) present in Georgia since the Russian intervention of 2008 and EUFOR Althea launched in 2004 – which is currently much more in "standby" mode than in "operation" mode.

None of them responds to objectives 2 (evacuation) and 5 (combat). More worryingly, no mission is in the cards to meet these objectives. And no one wonders...

It is a paradox. We have never talked so much about security and defense between the different European countries, about threats in the surrounding area. And Europe now has more efficient institutional instruments than it had ten or twenty years ago. But the initial ambition seems to have crumbled as if the Europeans had, little by little, given up.

Why did the Europeans give up?

There are many reasons for this sluggishness from which Europeans suffer. Four main ones can be identified.

Firstly, the intensity of the financial and budgetary crisis, sometimes transformed into a political crisis, has led Europeans to turn to themselves as a priority. Every effort is carefully measured.

Secondly, the feedback from the major military operation in Afghanistan (under the aegis of NATO and American request) is still fresh. All Europeans have committed themselves to it, sometimes at the cost of loss of life and a non-negligible cost, for a poor result. We can even speak of a notable failure. This dampened expeditionary ardor somewhat.

Third, under cover of a certain unit, the tactical objectives differ. And the States reserve their forces on missions of direct interest to them (Russia for the countries of the East, the Mediterranean for the countries of the South).

Finally, the fear of losing men in combat is a risk that certain political leaders no longer want to assume. There is a change of generation, symptomatic; most of Europe's current leaders are of the post-Cold War generation.

So what could we do today?

This is the question we can ask ourselves. Without looking for areas of operation at all costs, nor beyond the reach of the Europeans, there are certain needs that could be met in common, where the Europeans could intervene, with a measured risk and commitment.

Here are some leads, 'reasonable' and 'useful' directly:

1st track: Ensure the logistical and medical support platform for Operation Barkhane deployed in the Sahel. Involving more Europeans directly in Barkhane's military operations would be too complicated and, on the French side, we do not really want it. On the other hand, all that arises from the logistical and medical aspect could very well be ensured in the form of a support mission (a bit like the support mission in Sudan deployed in 2007). This would relieve the French troops by the same amount and would be a tangible sign of solidarity. The Germans already have a small co-located mission in the French camp in Niamey. It could be used to build this mission.

2nd track: Provide full contingents to the UN forces deployed in certain countries, for example in Mali. Several countries are now providing troops, but in a dispersed manner. Providing them in a grouped way would be a political marker of will. It would also make it possible to provide determined support to blue helmets and not let other countries provide for it.

3rd track: Ensure the joint training of future Kurdish or Iraqi troops. This work is already carried out, for a good part by the Europeans, but individually and under the aegis of the international coalition formed by the Americans. Result: dispersed, the Europeans can hardly impose their will, and their effort appears minor. However, with the EUTM-type missions in Africa, the Europeans now have know-how and a recognized methodology which could be further exploited.


(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) “The Challenges of Europe”, Javier Solana, speech delivered in Brussels on November 9, 1999.

(2) In the Treaty of Maastricht, the common foreign and security policy is assigned five objectives: 1) safeguarding the common values, fundamental interests and independence of the Union; 2) strengthening the security of the Union and its Member States in all its forms; 3) the maintenance of peace and the strengthening of international security, in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the principles of the Final Act of Helsinki and the objectives of the Charter of Paris; 4) promotion of international cooperation; 5) the development and strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

(3) “Europe's Challenges”, cited above.

(4) Traditionally, a distinction was made between (military) operations and (civilian) missions. From now on, the term "operations" is reserved for military operations with an executive mandate. We note that the Treaty uses another distinction between "missions" and "actions" and does not mention the term "operations".

(5) Missions that could somehow very well be carried out by reinforced EU Delegations (rather than CSDP missions)

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).

2 thoughts on “War or peace (2). Has Europe lost its ambition to maintain peace? What could she do?"

  • Jean Paul Perruche

    In my opinion, a few major reasons can explain this apparent renunciation by the Europeans of peacekeeping operations.
    1. The risk taking of EU member countries in any multinational operations will always be proportional to the interests of these countries in these operations and to the support (or not) of their public opinion. Moreover, the current (insufficient) level of solidarity of EU countries and the prevalence of national interests lead most countries (especially small ones) to make a minimum effort, knowing that they will always be considered as complementary or even subsidiary.
    2. The weakness of European leadership (structural and operational) does not inspire the same confidence as that of NATO where the American commitment is an assurance of superiority and non-defeat (for lack of victory)
    3. As you note, the results of numerous operations of a certain military intensity
    launched in the 90s/2000s (Balkans, Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, etc.) are not very convincing if one
    consider the political situations they have led to!! We therefore prefer today to work more upstream of crises and act on the causes (economic, political, security, etc.)

    Finally, the effectiveness of the CSDP can only be proportional to the political reality of the EU and to its perception by our fellow citizens in the various Member States. We must develop a European consciousness!

    • A very useful additional explanation to understand the various reasons for this 'sluggishness'

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