The independent resource on global security

3. The military dimension of the European Union



I. Introduction

II. From 1998 to 2000

III. Towards operational capabilities

IV. Challenges to politico-military integration

V. Conclusions


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Ihe ESDP ‘Headline Goal’—to be able by 2003 to rapidly deploy a corps level force, for crisis management tasks—has been pursued since the 1999 Helsinki European Council meeting. Efforts have also been made to better meet security threats by implementing the full range of crisis management missions: the ‘Petersberg tasks’. Events in 2001 served as a mid-course test for the success of these efforts. The EU is confronted with several major questions: what the ultimate goal and shape of the ESDP will be; how best to pursue the Headline Goal in terms of both institutions and capabilities; and the challenge of politico-military integration.


The 11 September attacks brought home to the EU the reality of its role in the transatlantic relationship. This will influence the division of labour and complementarity between Europe and the USA and increase the pressure on Europe to improve its military capabilities in both the EU and NATO. Building up the ESDP should allow it to shoulder a larger share of the burden of European security, thus rebalancing the transatlantic security relationship. The new military capabilities provided by the ESDP have the potential to help redefine this relationship.


Some EU capability shortcomings were addressed wholly or in part in 2001, but the EU plans concerning the most critical aspects of its European Rapid Reaction Force are either still encountering political and financial obstacles or will need a much longer implementation period than the target date of 2003. Although the ESDP has been declared operational and able to perform the less demanding Petersberg tasks, the crucial issue of EU access to NATO’s assets and capabilities remained unresolved. The reasons why the Headline Goal schedule has not been met are complex. While the EU has avoided falling into the trap of Europeanism-versus-Atlanticism, the scope of the ERRF has not yet been clearly defined. The issue of unavoidable but rational duplication of efforts by the EU and NATO has not been sufficiently addressed.


Defining the ESDP and building public support for increased spending will be challenging issues in the years ahead. Before the 11 September terrorist attacks the EU governments did not perceive an urgent need for military-related spending increases. Now their tax payers must be persuaded of the need to spend more. The European states have been slow to increase their military budgets, demonstrate flexibility and inventiveness in rationalizing procurement policies, and embark on regulation and restructuring of the defence industry. There is a need for a synergistic and rational approach to defence spending, and the creation of a single arms-procurement organization would make a positive contribution in this respect. The negative outcome of the Irish referendum on the Nice Treaty in June 2001 underscored the gap and the need for dialogue between the public and government.


The lack of leadership within the EU, its cumbersome decision-making bodies and the propensity of the major EU governments to act alone in a crisis (as demonstrated during the November 2001 campaign in Afghanistan) illustrate the difficulty of forging a common foreign, security and defence policy. The future enlargement of the EU and NATO also pose challenges which may temporarily weaken the ESDP.



Dr Zdzislaw Lachowski (Poland) is Leader of the SIPRI Project on Conventional Arms Control. He formerly worked at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw. He has published extensively on the problems of European military security and arms control as well as issues concerning European political integration. He is the author of chapters in the SIPRI volume A Future Arms Control Agenda: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 118, 1999 (2001) and in Between the Balance of Forces and Cooperative Security in Europe: Adapting the CFE Regime to the New Security Environment (1999, in Polish) and has contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook since 1992.