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The Challenge of European Military Interoperability for a Stronger European Defence



The idea of a common defence for the European Member States was born in 1992 through the Treaty on European Union and was implemented when the Saint-Malo Declaration was signed in 1998. Therefore, the legitimacy of European defence is officially recognised and the European Union (EU) is allowed to act independently on issues related to security and defence. Nonetheless, the 27 member State-Union faces a number of challenges today that query the European defence of tomorrow.


The European Defence of Today


Over the years, numerous projects have been launched and much progress made in the area of European defence in terms of hierarchical structures, means of operation, policy, and funding. Indeed, European defence challenges have continuously been defined and attempts made to overcome them. First, in 1999, the European Council of Helsinki implemented a military capability of 60.000 men for a rapid reaction force that can be deployed within 60 days for a duration up to one year. Then, in 2001, the Treaty of Nice created the Political and Security Committee (PSC) – composed of national representatives who follow the developments of the international arena, define policies and monitor their implementation. The Treaty of Nice further designed the European Union Military Committee – composed of Chiefs of Staff of armies who provide military advice to the PSC – and the European Union Military Staff – which accomplishes rapid reaction tasks, elaborates strategies and evaluates operations. In 2004 the European Defence Agency was created to launch the European armament industry. Afterwards, when the Treaty of Lisbon was signed in 2009, the Union introduced the Common Security and Defence Policy. The latter is part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and was divided into three areas: (1) military crisis management, (2) civil crisis management and (3) conflict prevention. Recently, through the European Security Pact submitted in 2003 to reinforce the EU military capabilities, the ‘European Defence Fund’ (EDF) was introduced and adopted in 2021 with a budget of €7.9 billion for the period of 2021-2027. Accordingly, the EDF “supports collaborative defence research and development, and to foster an innovative and competitive defence industrial base”.


All the aforementioned instruments enable the European Union to intervene in world affairs through peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions - namely EUFOR Concordia (2003) present in today’s North Macedonia, Artemis (2003) and EUFOR RD (2006) which both took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and EULEX Kosovo (2008). Moreover, these instruments allow the Union to monitor elections and political stabilisation – as it did with EUMM in Georgia (2008) and EUBAM to Rafah (2005); to fight against piracy – such as with the Operation Atalanta launched in 2008; and to prevent conflict or the escalation of conflict – observed with EUTM in Mali (2013), and EUCAP in the Sahel (2015). Therefore, the European Union is undoubtedly establishing its presence on the international scene by implementing a variety of joint security and defence operations. However, a discrepancy can be still identified regarding the ‘shared’ opinion of its member States. According to their political, economic, social and cultural interests, some States are more prone than others to be involved in some missions – since the latter do not establish a fixed participation rate for every mission. Indeed, acting and intervening under the EU flag with one voice is a challenge, but one that could be faced and overcome by stronger interoperability between EU member States.


The challenge of interoperability


‘Interoperability’ implies the development of a common cultural strategy shared by all European member States. It can be defined as the ability to operate together coherently, effectively, productively and efficiently to achieve tactical, operational and strategic objectives. The sharing of a common doctrine, procedures and infrastructures allow member States to communicate, avoid repetitive actions and put forth common resources. Today, defence partnerships are elaborated according to a differentiated logic across voluntary and capable European countries. Those partnerships support initiatives that reinforce European strategy and gather States with common security objectives. Yet, these alliances are mostly bilateral or composed of European powers with concrete means of action. As a result, interventions that are supposed to be on behalf of the entire European community represent the opinion and interests of a small fragment of the European Union – thus creating the feeling of a ‘two-speed’ Europe. This is why closer cooperation between each member State should be considered by increasing the cultural, practical, technical and technological interoperability.


Military interoperability has a cultural aspect. Indeed, the 27 member States have different histories, cultures, education, and these differences can be seen in the vision of the European Defence and in the interests they will protect. Nonetheless, by reinforcing the European identity, the feeling of belonging to a shared community and the promotion of common interests, the European Union would be more likely to act with a single voice. This requires teaching European history and its multidisciplinary challenges at school, maintaining school exchange programs and facilitating European citizens’ travel within Europe. In addition to refining national identity, this will increase interest in Europe’s functioning and security, and create a further willingness to participate in strengthening its independent influence on the international scene from a military point of view.


In order to create this willingness, the learning of a common language is essential. Due to its linguistic diversity, there are 24 official languages spoken in Europe today, and more than 60 minority and regional ones. A common language should be mandatory and should be the only language spoken during the planning, the organisation and the deployment of a mission. This will increase efficiency, strengthen European identity and create a strong cohesive force. It should be noted that this does not mean abolishing national and regional languages, but rather choosing one of the 24 official languages as the common language of the European military and defence sector.


Consequently, the establishment of several European military bases, and the use of European military equipment and numerous training bases for European soldiers would have a productive impact on the formation of a military intervention platoon. To this extent, interoperability will be encouraged by the improved interconnectedness of forces, the harmonisation of the training exercises, and the simplification of testing and demonstration of equipment. This would shorten, simplify and facilitate the data and intelligence exchange process, and even contribute to the enhancement of an intelligent defence.


The European Defence of Tomorrow


The challenge of European military interoperability is primordial to the development of a stronger European defence. Its reinforcement would provide necessary and more effective support to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) missions and would also strengthen the European identity and voice on international security and defence issues. In a world where security challenges continue to grow, diversify and intensify, bilateral partnerships are running out of steam. It is now time for Europe to impose itself as a major player on the international scene in the maintenance of international security. This challenge can only be responded to by strengthening European defence. To this end and in the longer term, Europe could detach itself from NATO, from the influence of the United States and consider the creation of a fully functional European army.


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