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A European maritime protection operation in the Gulf. In 'section 44' format?

(B2) The announcement by the United Kingdom of the launch of a 'European-led' maritime protection force in the Strait of Hormuz makes you think in more ways than one: why the British are so enthusiastic about the Europa? In what format will they carry this information? With what means?

What irony!

We had known Britons who were much more Atlantic and less European. Also when Jérémy Hunt, a dyed-in-the-wool Tory minister, announced before the House of Commons on Monday (July 22) a " European-led maritime force ", carried out in " coalition » (1) we almost pinch ourselves to tell ourselves that we are not dreaming. Even the most daring European would never have imagined a situation where London is crying out for a 'European' operation. Ironically enough, it took Brexit — and Donald Trump's pressure on Iran — for the British to remember that having a European force can be as good as a Euro-Atlantic force.

The need for soft power

This choice is first and foremost a matter of high international politics. This is for the British to distinguish themselves from the ongoing American efforts against Iran. British diplomats, like the former head of the Foreign Office Jérémy Hunt before the House of Commons, have repeated it many times: this force will be quite distinct from the American effort. Placing this force under NATO command would have been an immediate sign of hostility. Placing it under European command is a gesture of 'soft power'.

The European experience

The other European interest is the experience gained in protecting ships against Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. An action in which Iranian ships also participated – without however joining the international coordination mechanism Shade set up by the Europeans in particular. In the United Kingdom, the European anti-piracy force (commanded by the British from Northwood) is now labeled as a " real success “, as a British MP recalled during the debate.

A 'section 44' format

The format of the operation remains to be found exactly. If the British want to place the operation under cover of the European Union, they apparently do not intend, according to our information, to place this operation under that of the Common European Security and Defense Policy alias CSDP (read: Towards a combined Franco-German-British maritime operation in the Strait of Hormuz. Discussions continue) (2). But it is quite possible to have a coalition operation, mandated by the European Union. It is even a provision provided for in the Treaties. This is called the size 'article 44' with reference to the relevant article of the Treaty (3). An article that has never been able to be used so far. The various Member States have not really succeeded in agreeing on its terms of use or on its advisability.

What means?

The question of the means now remains posed in a concrete way. There are several methods of ensuring the safety of ships: from ship-by-ship escort — almost impossible to ensure because it is very expensive in terms of resources —, to the formation of escorted convoys — rather complex to implement with merchant ships which have specific time requirements — including protection teams on board ships — the most flexible and easy-to-implement solution. But one of the first things to do is to have a common understanding of the situation. This was indicated by the French Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, in an interview withEast Republican this Thursday. There is no shortage of area sensors, whether American, British or French, by sea, air or satellite. It is still necessary to have a unique analysis of the situation.

A dangerous showdown

Whatever the method, placing ships without ensuring that the Iranians will not retaliate presents certain risks. That of being caught in its own trap, of having what is called 'a hole in the nacelle', and of not being able to face a breakthrough by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who are not neophytes. Another risk would be having to fire on Iranian forces. This would be the opposite of the desired objective: de-escalation, and would lead to falling into the trap of extremes.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. read: London is launching a 'European' maritime protection force in the Gulf. The French are responding
  2. It was customary across the Channel to designate the operations of the European Union to mention 'a European multinational operation'. Which adds to the confusion.
  3. “the Council may entrust the implementation of a mission to a group of Member States which so wish and have the necessary capabilities for such a mission. »

NB: this article from the commentary of the previous article has been reformatted and completed

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).