European Affairs

The EU Must Field Stronger Military Forces to Fight Terrorism     Print Email

Member, European Parliament

As we near the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States, it is time to look at Europe's response to international terrorism. Judging by the conclusions of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union following the recent meeting of EU leaders in Seville, military means play only a minor role.

Instead, the European Union has "decided to step up the action of the Union against terrorism through a coordinated and interdisciplinary approach." This approach, embracing all EU policies, including the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), aims to "strengthen the international coalition and to prevent and contain regional con§icts."

The focus is on political dialogue with third countries, to promote human rights, non-proliferation and arms control, and on enhancing their capacity to respond effectively to international terrorism.

The EU leaders also want to include anti-terrorism clauses in EU agreements with third countries, and to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, which in turn implies taking a number of measures, including financial ones. As for coercive action, the European Union envisages "re-evaluating relations with third countries in light of their attitude towards terrorism."

This is hardly likely to shake the leaders of international terrorism or those who harbor them. The European Union, it seems, does not at this stage have the political clout to acknowledge that the threat posed by international terrorism is of such immense magnitude that it requires and justifies recourse to military force. And that should include preventive military action.

It would be extremely imprudent to believe that, while the United States seems to be the prime target of terrorist action, Europe will be spared and can therefore afford to forego an immediate response and focus on long-term prevention. International terrorists have global strategic ambitions. They aspire to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Whilst the search for a political solution to terrorism should be maintained and supported by economic, social and judicial policies, democratic states have both the right and the duty to protect their citizens by all appropriate means, including military operations, for which the relevant capabilities should be maintained and exercised.

As a national parliamentarian who votes on defense budgets and scrutinizes government decisions on troop deployment, I believe that the direction of any military response by a democratic country, individually or in coalition with other countries, must be subjected to effective political control and parliamentary scrutiny.

In the EU context this means that national parliamentarians should be able to conduct a collective dialogue with governments at EU level in order to obtain the information they need to scrutinize their governments effectively at home. Only the national parliaments can provide governments with the necessary financial resources to develop the ESDP.

Furthermore, defense ministers are mostly drawn from the ranks of national parliaments and are directly answerable to national parliaments and their defense committees.

Unfortunately, despite the excellent individual potential of some states, particularly with respect to special forces, Europe in general suffers from many shortfalls in military capability. Most of these have already been acknowledged and addressed both by the European Union and by NATO. The European Capabilities Action Plan has established 18 working groups of varying national compositions to find ways of remedying the identified shortfalls.

Indeed, Europe must overcome them if it is to play a full role in international affairs and become a credible partner in the fight against international terrorism. Furthermore, it is important to put the purely institutional debate behind us and to give proper substance to the ESDP structures built so far.

The European Union recently established a comprehensive institutional structure for crisis management that was declared operational at the December 2001 summit meeting in Laeken, Belgium. It consists of a Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit tasked with identifying the European Union's strategic interests and drawing up policy options in the event of a crisis.

A Political and Security Committee at ambassadorial level provides political guidance and strategic direction. It is advised on military questions by the Military Committee, which in turn draws on the strategic planning and defense intelligence capabilities of the EU Military Staff.

A Situation Center analyzes current events in real time. That structure is completed by a Satellite Center and, finally, by an intelligence section under the responsibility of the EU High Representative, Javier Solana.

Nevertheless, we still lack an agreement between the European Union and NATO on assured access to NATO capabilities. Furthermore, despite having struggled for many years with the concept of a European Security and Defense Identity within NATO, we still do not have a complete European chain of command at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE) that could guide an EU-led operation.

And what is the value of a Satellite Center's output when its analysts are relying essentially on commercially available satellite data? In addition, the Laeken Declaration, while self-congratulatory, does not constitute a credible policy position. It needs to be underpinned by convincing military capabilities and the political will to act.

There are a number of areas in which military means can be used to combat terrorism: intelligence procurement, territorial surveillance and the protection of the most sensitive sites; participation in an emergency response to radiological, chemical or biological attacks; the deployment of forces to seek out and eliminate terrorist command and training structures worldwide and the protection of our soldiers during missions. For the crucial tasks, not only European special forces, but also reservists will have to be deployed.

As for intelligence and the upstream evaluation of the terrorist threat, exchanges among European states continue to be bilateral or

involve only those countries that perceive an immediate threat. Coordination of European intelligence services' efforts to combat terrorism takes place through a series of loose arrangements.

While this may provide an opportunity for exchanges if the traditionally jealous and suspicious intelligence services so wish, it does not provide any common assessment for the benefit of the European crisis-management structures. For forces protection and the surveillance of important sites abroad, one must rely on local intelligence. Again, there is a need for coordination among the different national intelligence units operating abroad.

At Seville, the EU leaders called for strengthening "arrangements for sharing intelligence and developing the production of situation assessments and early warning reports." And while the European Union now has some structures to analyze strategic intelligence for the purpose of the ESDP, it needs to be supplied with the raw data by member states.

Since the European Union has no intelligence-gathering capabilities of its own, its structures depend entirely on information provided by member states, including in the vital fields of satellite imagery and signal intelligence.

To strengthen both strategic airlift capabilities and the European aerospace industry, a number of EU members have agreed to procure the Airbus A 400 M military transport aircraft. Since this is a totally new aircraft that will not be ready for service before 2008, we need more extensive pooling of existing air transport capacities.

Moreover, we should consider procuring a few of the aircraft that are currently available on the market to overcome our transport deficiencies pending the delivery of the military Airbus.

Europeans face a serious problem when it comes to deploying strike aircraft to a crisis zone. The recent operation in Afghanistan showed how delicate an operation it is to station combat aircraft in a country neighboring the con§ict area. French aircraft, for instance, had to wait five months after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom before starting §ights from a base in Kyrgyzstan. It is essential that Europeans expand their carrier-based naval aviation, notwithstanding the major investment that this represents. In addition, helicopter forces should be developed for the support of special forces and for the insertion and extraction of European troops deep in hostile territory.

Europeans should also improve their communications equipment to enhance interoperability. European commanders - like their U.S. counterparts - should know at any time where their forces are and what they are doing.

The protection of sensitive sites that are potential terrorist targets is essentially a national responsibility. The reaction to an airborne threat needs to be coordinated within NATO using the air defense network. The criteria for the decision to shoot down a hijacked commercial airplane should be harmonized at European level, although the provision of interceptor aircraft will remain a national responsibility.

Preparation for dealing with the consequences of a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction is first and foremost a civilian task. Here too, the responsibility lies, above all, at national level.

European coordination is essential however, as problems can spill beyond national borders, as in the case, for instance, of an in§ux of contagious refugees. From a practical point of view it is most likely that the military would be asked to provide additional decontamination equipment and transport and to maintain law and order.

Protection for the armed forces and the potential contribution to protecting civilian populations against the effects of terrorist attacks were the sole military tasks that the European Union decided to explore at Seville. The summit meeting missed an opportunity to issue a clear signal that the fight against terrorism using military means is part and parcel of the ESDP.

As the current Danish EU Presidency refuses to chair meetings with defense implications - following the opt-out clause negotiated by the Danish government in Edinburgh in 1992 - the European Union has asked Greece to assume the Presidency for those matters.

There are serious doubts as to whether such a divided presidency can develop the ESDP very much further, as the ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey on EU access to NATO planning capabilities and assets illustrates. The ten member states of Western European Union within the EU must therefore make a concerted effort to keep the ESDP on track.

A number of EU member states consider that it would have been possible to organize coordinated European military intervention alongside the United States in Afghanistan. But no consensus was reached and the matter was not put to the EU crisis-management bodies.

If the political will were to be found, would a coalition of European states be capable of conducting a military anti-terrorist operation? The answer depends on three crucial factors: diplomatic in§uence, economic in§uence and military capabilities, including intelligence.

In an area close to its borders, the European Union is capable of combining all three. But beyond that, at least one factor will probably be painfully absent. At present, the gap can only be filled with the help of the United States or that of other regional powers close to the con§ict area.

Faced with the threat of international terrorism, Europe needs to pursue a threefold strategy. Firstly, it should seek to defuse the political tensions and material grievances that arouse the resentment and hatred that incite radical groups to engage in terrorism.

Secondly, Europe must deter terrorists and those who harbor them by demonstrating, exercising and perfecting the capabilities needed to engage and retaliate. Thirdly, European nations must have the will to project force in order to eliminate terrorist networks wherever they pose a threat to European interests and to international security.

If we improve our capabilities in a gradual but determined fashion, we can meet the conditions that will allow European states to conduct more than just limited military action close to their borders or loosely coordinated individual military anti-terrorist operations. As things now stand, the European Union has not yet found the necessary political consensus to execute more than humanitarian or policing missions.

If the EU countries prefer to focus on humanitarian issues, then let us not forget our responsibility to our soldiers: operations in crisis areas require adequate medical back-up and well-equipped field hospitals, which not all European countries are capable of deploying.

Defense medical services have so far been one of the more regrettable targets for cost savings. That process must be reversed, given the risks of biological, chemical or radiological attacks our soldiers face during missions.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number III in the Summer of 2002.

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