Analysis: The changing role of EU military

By CLAUDE SALHANI, UPI Contributing Editor  |  Nov. 10, 2008 at 9:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- The role of Europe's military has changed greatly since the end of World War II. The armies of the Old Continent, which for centuries trained to defend against neighbors or regional empires, have been transforming and adapting to a new environment of peace within the European Union.

Indeed, the idea behind the creation of the European Union was to bind the economies of Europe in such a way that war would become impossible.

As Europe matured politically and war between former foes became unthinkable, Europe's military began looking into deploying its forces in support of peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, peace-making, stabilization and reconstruction, conflict prevention missions and humanitarian operations.

In recent years Europe's armies have been engaged in operations with the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and the African Union and at other times have taken part in larger coalitions, as was the case during the first Gulf War in 1990-91 or, more recently, in Afghanistan.

In the past 12 months, all the member countries of the European Union were engaged in no less than four missions each. Fourteen of those countries engaged in 10 or more operations simultaneously. France, for example, deployed its forces to no less than 20 peacekeeping missions, many of them to former colonies in Africa.

In the latest edition of the Adelphi Paper, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Bastian Giegerich reports there has been a "dramatic growth in such missions over the past 20 years; almost 80 percent of the operations authorized by the United Nations since 1948 were launched between 1988 and 2007."

However, a large number of the EU's deployments consist of either symbolic or observer forces comprising fewer than 100 men.

Says Giegerich: "The majority of EU member states appear unable to deploy formations of even battalion size (500-800 troops) on a single mission." Of the EU's 27 nations, only Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom were capable of contributing a battalion-sized or larger contingent to any one mission.

The problem, however, as Giegerich reports, is that the number of missions assigned to European armies continues to grow while the number of troops continues to diminish. One reason is that the majority of Europe's armies have done away with conscription.

Last year alone, 160,000 troops were deployed as part of various peacekeeping missions and crisis management forces around the world. The author of the IISS report estimates that in order to maintain current levels of deployment, the United Nations alone would need more than 200,000 troops.

A prime example of shortage of troops needed is Afghanistan, where, in addition to the 32,500 U.S. forces (of which 17,790 serve with the International Security Assistance Force), Great Britain contributes 8,308 troops, France 2,260, Canada 2,500, Italy 1,350, the Netherlands 1,770, Poland 1,600, Turkey 1,150, Australia about 1,000, and Spain, Denmark and Romania just over 700 each. As of October, ISAF was made up of around 15,700 personnel from 41 countries.

The Adelphi Paper report states that there will be growing demands for such missions in the future and governments contributing troops to serve in international and multinational peacekeeping operations need to increase their force projection and intervention capabilities.

The changing geopolitical map of the world is placing increasing pressure on Europe's democracies, which enjoy relative wealth and military competence and which remain committed to supporting human rights around the world. They "bear a particular responsibility for expanding the international community's capacity for action," said Giegerich.

The European Union in 2007 deployed about 63,000 troops as part of crisis management operations, or roughly 4 percent of the total number of active forces in the Union. "This is hardly an impressive percentage, given the EU's condition," said Giegerich.

The abolishment of conscription has affected troop levels between 1995 and 2007.

Bulgaria reduced its percentage of active forces conscripted from 50.34 percent to 0; the Czech Republic, 46.76 percent to 0; Estonia, 75.71 percent to 33.41 percent; France went from 46.26 percent to nil; Germany from 40.39 percent to 23.04 percent; Greece, 66.55 percent to 32.26 percent; Italy, 53.15 percent to 0; The Netherlands, 37.23 to 0; Portugal, 32.47 percent to 20.36 percent; Romania, 48.16 percent to 0; Spain, 61.17 percent to 0; Sweden went from 49.38 percent to 32.5 percent.

For other countries, such as Cyprus, Greece and Finland, territorial defense remains a primary concern. Cyprus has maintained an 87 percent conscripted force, while Finland decreased slightly, 76.85 percent to 65.53 percent. Austria, which long has covered Western Europe's eastern flank, has increased its conscription from 44.84 percent to 52.02 percent.

The largest contributing country from the EU member states in 2007 was the United Kingdom with almost 15,000 troops deployed, a reduction of about 3,000 since 2003. France has remained steady, contributing between 11,000 in 2003 to almost 11,500 troops in 2007. Italy reduced its contribution from 9,500 to about 7,700.

The author of the report concludes that serious thought must be given to the structure of Europe's armies in the future if the EU is to expand its peacekeeping capabilities, "and to start to close the gap between ambitions and reality."

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(Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.)

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