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Back to Operation Artemis. The original model of battlegroups, a myth?

(B2) Licensed researcher, good connoisseur of CSDP missions, Laurent Borzillo discusses Operation Artemis, the EU's first autonomous military operation. An atypical operation which is not at the origin of battlegroups, contrary to European imagery

Arrival of forces in Bunia (TV report - INA)
Postdoctoral fellow (DGRIS ambassador program), Laurent Borzilo is attached to the CNRS (Cepel) and the strategic analysis network (UQAM). His words are his own. But they seemed interesting to us to make them available to our readers to exercise their critical eye.

A noticeable lack of use of battlegroups

When we come to the case of EU Battlegroups (EUWGs or battle group in English), we can unfortunately only note their lack of use so far. This, while the first alert EUWGs are now more than 16 years old. Several authors (researchers or practitioners) have for several years written on the reasons explaining, according to them, this absence of employment or on the reforms necessary to modify this situation considered by many as distressing. For some, this is all the more regrettable because of the success of what was the Artemis operation launched in 2003 in Ituri (Democratic Republic of Congo), a few months before the decision relating to the creation of the EUWGs.

The EU's first autonomous operation

Considered as the first autonomous operation of the European Union, although having been carried out before the setting up of the EUWGs, by some of its characteristics (projected numbers, speed of deployment, limited duration of the operation, achievement of the objectives , etc.), Artémis became in a certain way not the first mission of the GTUEs, but what one could call "mission 0", preceding the creation of the GTUEs, but having the same characteristics of what would be supposed to be an operation with the GTUEs. In doing so, the proof would thus be made of the validity of the concept of EUWGs, the absence of political will being the sole responsible for their non-use up to now.

Mission 0 of battlegroups: a myth?

However, the analysis of decisions taken in 2003 (launch of Operation Artémis, discussions on the creation of EUWGs) tends to show that this strong relationship between Artémis and EUWGs is a myth. Admittedly, several of the interlocutors interviewed for our research, as well as numerous primary and secondary written sources refer to this operation when the subject of EUWGs is broached. The most emblematic primary source is precisely the joint declaration resulting from the Franco-British summit in London in 2003 announcing the creation of battle groups : " Continuing the momentum of the success of Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we are proposing a new initiative for the European Union to focus on developing its rapid reaction capabilities in order to strengthen its ability to respond to requests of the UN in short-term crisis management situations »2. Does Artémis constitute the model from which the EUWGs were imagined and created?

Close objectives

The nature of Artémis' mission fits, it is true, with the objectives assigned to the EUWGs. This consisted of quickly putting an end to the fighting and abuses taking place in the province of Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This, the time that the UN can set up a new military force of blue helmets called "Brigade Ituri", responsible for ensuring long-term peace in this province. The composition of the troops of Operation Artemis, however, undermines the thesis of the model for the GTUE. Indeed, the EUWG is above all a multinational unit.

... But a one-color composition

Admittedly, there are no official thresholds as to the percentage that the military of the framework nation must represent within the battle group. If, however, we refer to the battle groups successive alerts since 2005, the average is between one and two thirds of all the forces. But Artémis was made up of nearly 80% French soldiers. This therefore means that if Artemis had really been used as a model, in general 80% of the composition of an EUWG should come from the framework nation. The practice of forming alert groups is very far from this.

Above all, a French operation benefiting from a rapid "European dressing"

This pedestal of Operation Artemis as a model for the GTUEs, in fact serves to hide a much less enchanting reality, namely that Artemis was above all a French operation benefiting from a rapid "European dressing" by incorporating soldiers from various Member States, but serving only in secondary staff or logistics posts. To our question on the hypothetical filiation between the operation in Ituri and the battle groups, one of our interlocutors gave us precisely this clear-cut answer.

The reality: far from the myth

“It is a complete myth wanted by the politicians. [Chief of the Army Staff] triggered [at the time] cheetah alert, [then] suggested General Thonier [as Operation Commander] to the Chief of the Defense Staff. In eight to ten days the 3rd RIMA was dispatched. Quickly it was necessary to make a European dressing. The Belgians as usual provided one to two C-130s. The Swedes accepted and sent their special forces of a level equal to or even lower than a regiment of conscripts in France. [...] I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, because it's good for France not to be alone, but let's not kid ourselves: it was a French operation 3».

An ardent French will

Several other French soldiers occupying key positions at that time confirmed this version to us, as well as a German soldier then stationed at the German military representation to NATO and the EU Military Committee: “ On Artémis, the French had warned us that they would do it no matter what, but that it was better with a European display 4».

The symbol of a positive dynamic

French operation although presented as European both at the time and still today, Artémis was unfortunately not the model at the base of the creation of the GTUE. It cannot be denied, however, that it fostered a positive dynamic in favor of the development of European military capabilities between autumn 2003 and spring 2004.

Originally a Franco-British proposal

One of the possible reasons for this lack of link may be to be found in the origin of the proposal to create EUWGs. Indeed the project relating to the creation of these units was proposed by the government of Tony Blair to the French during the Franco-British summit in London in 2003, as attested by several of our interlocutors. This did not, however, prevent British officials from subsequently adopting unfavorable policies towards the EUWGs once they were set up.

(by Laurent Borzillo)

  • This paper is based on research carried out as part of a thesis1 conducted in joint supervision between the University of Montreal and the University of Montpellier. A thesis on the battle groups of the European Union (GTUE) and the Franco-German brigade using a comparison between France and Germany.
  1. Borzillo Laurent, Bi/multinational expeditionary forces in Europe: comparative analysis of the alliance policies of France and Germany (1991-2016), Universities of Montpellier and Montreal, 2020.
  2. Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair, Joint press release, Franco-British summit in London Lancaster House, November 24, 2003.
  3. Interview with a French military member of the EMA management in 2003, conducted on June 8, 2017.
  4. Interview with a German soldier who was a member of the German military representation to NATO and the EU in 2003, conducted on August 9, 2017.

Read also: Operation Artemis: ten lessons for history

See this report

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).

One thought on “Back to Operation Artemis. The original model of battlegroups, a myth?"

  • Having been primarily responsible for implementing the Battle Group 1500 concept, as DGEMUE, I observed from the first discussions within the EU Military Committee that we had never seen a crisis adapt to the format of the reaction force supposed to manage it!! History has taught us many times that we do not prepare future wars with patterns from the past.
    Sensitive to the interest of providing the EU with a rapid reaction capability, I then pointed out that it was essential to introduce flexibility by having rather modules of forces on alert with different capacities, at the image of the French GUÉPARD system, allowing the force to be adapted to the specificities of each crisis.
    But that was precisely what our British friends did not want, whose objective was to clip the wings of an ESDP likely to overshadow NATO. By introducing a ceiling of 1500 men for these GTUEs and fixing their composition before any information on the specific characteristics of each crisis, they knew that the concept would only be a smokescreen.
    GCA(2S) Jean Paul PERRUCHE, former DGEMUE (2004-2007)

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