“The challenges of the European Armies and the cooperative security opportunities to overcome them”

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General (ret.) Mikhail Kostarakos
Former Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff
Former Chairman of the European Union Military Committee

7th Forum of the Commanders of the European Land Forces

Is the creation of the European Army a necessity?
Athens, 11 November 2021
Dear Gentlemen, Chiefs of the European Armies,
Dear General Lalousis,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank you for your kind invitation to participate in
your Forum. I hope that you enjoy your staying in Greece because
I am more the certain that General Lalousis and his staff did their
best for that. I enjoy it personally. We thank them.
The well known saying goes like “A direct question request a direct
answer” and therefore my reply to the question of this panel “Is the
creation of a European Army a necessity?” is a strong, bold and
loud “Yes, it is”.
And then the obvious follow on question pops up: What kind of an
Army does Europe need? Is the European Army a possible reality
or a deliberate delusion?
Let’s take things from the beginning.
First and foremost, for the EU MS, national defence and security are
national responsibility. The MS have to be able to defend their own
territory and their sovereignty. In order to be able to do so, against a
stronger or more capable threat, they participate in Alliances like
NATO, which take responsibility of the Collective Defense of their
members. Collective Defence of Europe therefore is a NATO
responsibility. This has not changed and will not change in the
foreseeable future.
This was the situation when in 2016 the EU launched the EU Global
Strategy (EUGS). With the adoption of this Strategy, the EU has
launched an ambitious and substantial two-fold effort. First line of
effort was to upgrade itself to a credible global geopolitical player,
providing security and stability to the Member States in their territory
and protecting their interests. Second line of effort was to define new
strategic tasks representing its practical level of ambition, setting thus
the foundation for Strategic Autonomy, although nowhere in the
EUGS, was this clearly stated. In the EUGS, the main strategic
tasks for the EU were described as follows: Crisis Management,
Support to Partners and Protection of Europe.
Following the Joint EU-NATO Declarations, task deconfliction with
NATO is now clear, at least in the mind of the average European
citizen. NATO should concentrate on collective defence, while the EU
should be in the lead for all crisis management, human security and
human rights related issues. The key words that best describe and
govern EU-NATO relationship are mutual reinforcement and burden
This was the situation until recently, with EU politicians making from
time-to-time statements to the media on the necessity of a European
Army. Unfortunately, there was no actual follow-up or clear actions
towards that target.
The latest events in Afghanistan have rekindled the ever-creeping
discussions about a possible European Army. The EU leadership
mentioned a 5.000-strong force (essentially a Brigade) to be set up,
while in other discussions Helsinki’s 1999 “Primary Goal” of a force
of 50-60.000 troops reappeared. Last month in Brussels, at the
EUMC at CHODs level, discussions and staff procedures were
initiated for an “EU Rapid Response Toolbox” and a new EU
Battlegroup (EUBG) concept, based on current geopolitical
requirements and EU needs. But is really the creation of a credible
force within the EU’s intentions and capabilities or will the effort end
ingloriously, without result?
During the Global Strategy Implementation Phase, EU MS and the
EU institutions realized that the new GS tools that were initiated
(CARD, PESCO, EDF, EPF), are overwhelmingly focused on either
• The Industrial / technical development of some defense
capabilities or on
• The development of the defense industry.
But something was missing.
As important as these two factors remain, in order to restore hard
military power, there is a third factor that must also be included. This
third factor is the potential for:
• Real, dynamic military involvement with troops on the ground,
in the face of an unfolding international crisis.
In the meantime, at the strategic level, the EU as well as the MS
realized that if the EU was seeking for a more important global role
and a higher security profile, three strategic/political factors were
• Political credibility in decision-making,
• “Strategic Autonomy”, the new EU requirement and the more
practical requirement ,
• Real dynamic troop deployment capabilities in time and the
necessary for the situation organization of forces and
configuration of weapons, based on the existence and
availability (at national or European level) of the necessary
military capabilities required to implement dynamic operational
What happened in Kabul last August must never be forgotten. The
EU should not continue pretending that it is possible to play a role in
the geopolitical arena without having concrete dynamic action
Having explained that, I hope that it is now clear to all of us that a
military force is a necessity for the EU. We could call it “European
Army” or better “European Military Force”, although it really does not
make any difference”. As I mentioned before, there is no provision
for a European Army anywhere in the Treaties or in any other
capstone EU document. The three EU Operations and the four
Training Missions that are currently active, they are all set up in an
ad-hoc manner, tailored to fulfil a specific purpose and portraying
unique organization and forces set up. The same applies to the
system of the multinational EU Battlegroups, created since 2007 to
become (unsuccessfully to date) the European Immediate Reaction
In a non-paper earlier this year, 14 EU MS made a specific proposal.
They supported the creation of a “First Entry Force” of 5.000 troops,
which would be organized around an Army brigade, reinforced with
air and naval elements. As I mentioned before, last month in
Brussels at the EUMC at CHODs level, discussions took place and
staff procedures were initiated for the creation of a “Rapid Response
Toolbox” and a new EU BG concept based on current geopolitical
requirements and EU needs.
At this point and since there are no other open sources information
and the Staffs have already began working in high gear, I would like
to share with you some personal thoughts on this issue.
The ability to deploy a Brigade, which now sounds like the most
obvious solution, would indeed provide the EU with a wider range of
options in a short time. But this is the “nominal value”. Not enough.
The underlying danger is that the MS, as usually is the case, will
interpret even this lowest common denominator proposal in a
minimalistic way, that is, as a call for the creation of a single
multinational brigade for EU operations. This could provide a
political alibi and be hailed as a success or a breakthrough, creating
the usual euphoria and igniting a round of applauses. Unfortunately,
it would be too little for the following reasons:
• A single Brigade can obviously deal with only one crisis at a
time, and possibly, not any crisis. The EU should be able to deal
with more than one in its periphery at any given moment. A Brigade
does not split.
• There are many types of brigades. Any given brigade will never
be suitable to deploy in every theatre, against all possible
adversaries. A number of brigades, of different composition,
organization and training are required to cover a wider range of
• More than a single “First Entry Force” is required, for the simple
reason that “Follow on Forces”, which are replacement forces from
the EU MS, should also be provided to continue the operation. A
Brigade can be deployed, according to international standards, only
for 4-6 months and its personnel cannot remain in readiness status
or in deployment forever. Therefore, the deployment of one Brigade,
requires the existence of at least two additional Brigades as Follow
on Forces (three Brigades in total) for the same mission, where one
will be undergoing pre-deployment training, the second will be
deployed and the third, having returned, will be reorganizing and
recovering. And the rotation would repeat.
What is needed, in my opinion, is a multinational formation at the
size of an Army Corps, comprising of a number of national Brigades
(preferably a multiple of three), that will form the basic building
blocks of this multinational force. National brigades must not
alternate. They must be permanently assigned to the Multinational
Corps and participate in annual multinational exercises. Some
countries have the tendency to assign to standing multinational
units, different units every time, in the hope that they will all benefit
from the experience and the multinational training. This is
unfortunately far from the truth and actually, as experience has
proved, quite counter-productive. Training and experience are as a
consequence lost, together with the millions of euros spent, while it
hampers the overall performance of the multinational unit as a
whole. This unfortunately is the case with the Battlegroups.
Therefore, the new proposal of the 5.000-strong force, Brigade size,
is incomplete and obviously based on political aspirations or
expediencies without taking into account the views of military
advisers. As mentioned, they are a “nominal value”. Therefore,
although this idea is a good start, much more than 5.000 troops are
needed for the so called “European Military Force”.
It may sound strange, but the model for such a scheme already
exists. It is being developed as one of the Permanent Structured
Cooperation (PESCO) programs, under the name CROC (Crisis
Response Operational Core). CROC is designed to decisively
contribute to the creation of a coherent full spectrum force package,
which could accelerate the provision of forces for dealing with crises.
The “European Military Force” could be designed in such a way as
to finally create a European military tool but also to achieve the
“Headline Goal”. We should not forget that this, despite reservations
and amendments, remains the final official EU level of ambition. In
reality this is the minimum level of ambition required in the
contemporary strategic environment. Europeans can easily
implement it since they actually have very large armed forces and
they collectively spend annually well above 200 billion euros on
defense, being second only to the US.
Our experience from the Battlegroups indicates that MS are not
eager to shoulder the cost of their troops participating in EU
missions. This was one of the reasons (the other being the lack of
political will) the Battlegroups were never deployed. To give you an
idea of the cost, a Battlegroup costs around 100 million euros for a 6
month deployment. MS are surprisingly not ready to pay this amount
of money for an EU mission. I strongly believe that the NATO
principle “cost lays where it falls” should not apply for the EU, since
it appears to be a game-stopper. It should change and I believe it
will. For the first time in EU’s history, the EU Budget, aka MFF
(Multiannual Financial Framework) 2021-27 features a section on
defence and security. This was a real breakthrough, a ground
breaking decision. Many problems of a future European military
force will be solved, if the MS agree that this force will enjoy the
benefits of common funding and a separate EU budget.
It is certain that some MS, each for its own reasons will raise serious
objections, under the fear that this development would affect
NATO’s capabilities. In reality, this “European Military Force”, like
any other EU military force, could affect NATO, in a positive way. It
could join, for instance, a NATO Rapid Reaction Force as one of the
Army Corps provided for NATO defense planning, under certain
conditions and only if Article 5 is invoked. Non-NATO and unwilling
MS could automatically withdraw their forces. The “European Army”,
instead of an obstacle would become a way (perhaps the only way)
to fulfill at the same time the goals of EU and NATO, should the EU
MS agree.
Concluding, EU MS need military forces not to defend but to protect
their citizens, to preserve the European way of life, to support their
diplomacy and to manage and stabilize crises outside Europe.
These will be the tasks of the European Military Force or European
I stop here and I am ready for your questions. Thank you for your



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