Europe and its common defence policy in light of events in Libya and Ivory Coast

, by Andrea Petkoviae

Europe and its common defence policy in light of events in Libya and Ivory Coast
Group photo of the EU Defence Ministers in the presence of Csaba Hende and Catherine Ashton Date : 25/02/2011
Credit © European Union, 2011

Current developments in Libya and Ivory Coast have again raised the issue of common defence policy in order to send a European intervention forces to these troubled areas if necessary. However, particularly in the case of Libya, the developments have only demonstrated that Europe lacks the joint capacity to do much in response.

In 1990s, as an alternative to the United States old-fashioned obsession with military force, the Europeans spoke about the rise of Europe’s “civilian power” which was also considered to be a more useful tool for the forthcoming 21st century challenges.

The Independent European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was launched during the Cologne European Council on 3-4 June 1999 as a distinctive part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Its aim was to complete and strengthen the EU’s external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities for international conflict prevention and crisis management. Following the Treaty of Lisbon the ESDP became the Common Security and Defence Policy (CDSP). The CDSP is a major element of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and its aim of the CDSP is to provide military and civilian assets for international conflict prevention and crisis management. In addition, it seeks to strengthen and consolidate the EU’s alliance with the US and Canada within the framework of NATO, and it aims to heed the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Nonetheless, the ESDP’s purpose is not to replace but to complement NATO.

As part of the CDSP, the EU can decide to launch civilian and military missions to ensure peace and security in troubled regions. Today, there are some 20 missions on 3 continents the EU’s role as a security player is rapidly expanding. Nonetheless, the EU is promoting non-violent settlement of conflicts and also aims to emphasize the development of civilian capabilities.

No Joint Agreement on Intervention in Libya . However, this current Libyan crisis reminds us that this type of common security and defence policy, which includes civilian power, is almost useless against well-armed opponents who are willing to use force. Therefore, France and Great Britain have taken a firmer stand and implement a joint operation to enforce UN Resolution 1973 authorizing all necessary measures to protect civilians from Gaddafi and his forces regardless of the strong opposition of some of the EU’s member states, particularly Germany, against military action fearing that it might be counter-productive.

No Joint EU Military Intervention in Ivory Coast . Another issue that definitely requires more attention by the European member states, but has been recently overshadowed by the developments in Libya is the crisis in Ivory Coast. The situation in this West African country continues to deteriorate after November’s disputed election between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and his rival, Alassane Outtara and there have been reports of massive human rights violations.

Many reports claim that it seems likely that there will be a military intervention of some kind soon, but only two Western countries have been mentioned in this context and there are the US and France. The intervention is being prepared to justify such action in terms of a defence of human rights. However, it is not clear yet what form such an intervention will take clear. Nonetheless, it is more than evident that that neither the US nor France can claim to be defenders of the Ivorian people.

In the meantime, on 17 March, EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva held a press conference trying to raise awareness of the refugee problem in this country. She said: “This crisis deserves equal attention because the numbers of people affected actually exceeds those that have been affected so far in Libya. We are at the brink of civil war ... fighting in the country is creating fear and pushing people to the edge of their capacity to cope.” Georgieva also announced that the EU will increase its aid budget from €5 million to €30 million to help international charities buy food, shelter and medical supplies. So far there have been no talks about the official EU military intervention in this country.

Your comments

  • On 25 April 2011 at 00:07, by Nico Segers Replying to: Europe and its common defence policy in light of events in Libya and Ivory Coast

    Andrea, thanks for this nice contribution, and it’s a pitty how far the 27 still are from finding common ground on foreign military action alltogether. Either to increase, harmonise and consolidate ’hard’ military means (progress remains piecemeal since the inception of the EDA) or to ’test’ mixed civ-mil missions for high-demanding crises like in Libya and Ivory Coast (and likely Yemen, since this country could easily slide into violent catastrophy).

    Nevertheless, I also wish to correct a factual error in your article: it’s 13 active CFSP-missions. I believe you got around the number 20 because there’s been in total 24 missions having been initiated under a EU banner since 2003 (11 have been completed). Only 3 of them are purely military. The current state of assets does not allow larger contingencies to be set out in Libya or Ivory Coast really.

    It’s a sad thing that, even though the EU Member States had agreed upon a European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) in 2003, a year later this joint contingent still appeared to be purely notional, even condemned to ‘paper tiger’ status. The idea of EU Battle Groups (the experience of Operation Artemis forged the operational ’template’) emerged shortly after, as a means to compensate the loss to put words into action. Yet again, the reluctance of some Member States to actually activate a Battle Group has to do with operational (training, accreditatin, deployment), decisionmaking challenges. Not to mention the costs of sustainability.

    Many resources are being locked into Operation Althea (running at approximately 2000 military personnel, coming from 20 member states plus 5 contributing countries) and NAVFOR Atalanta (about 1700 military involved). Those are particularly strong commitments, but there’s a need to find solid solutions for the increase of crisis situations in the EU ’strategic neighborhood’. James Rogers (Egmont Paper 42) advocates an inclusion of a broad area of Northern Africa and the Gulf States into the broader ’new geography’ of European power, yet only a few European nations have the audacity to make additional investments and commitments. Failing a mission because of operational ’overstretch’ results in collective face-loss, and thus the EU is quite ’picky’ on the type of missions it wishes to engage in. Hubris is a poor guide, and the EU is still in a sort of training mode, learning to cope with very complex operational theaters requiring adaptive and tailored strategies at each mission.

    The unfortunate effect, is that (belated or lame-duck) statements seem to make up the frontline of what the EU is prepared to do in the face of the groundbreaking political and societal shockwaves happening in the Maghreb, the Arab Peninsula and Syria.

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