EU-27 approve plan to create 5,000-strong rapid deployment force

If the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown anything, it is that the European Union needs to take a step forward to increase its capacity to act, its resilience and to ensure mutual assistance in the event of a crisis or conflict. These are objectives that the EU-27 aspire to make a reality with the so-called ‘strategic compass’, the common defense strategy adopted on Monday by EU foreign and defense ministers after two years of work, and which will be endorsed by EU heads of state and government at the summit at the end of the week. The plan includes conducting regular European military exercises from 2023 and developing a capability to rapidly deploy up to 5,000 troops by land, sea and air.

“The current hostile environment requires a quantum leap forward” and “the compass offers us an ambitious action plan for the next decade,” summarized the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, on the document advanced last November and which will guide the steps of the Twenty-seven in this area until 2030. “I don’t want to abuse the word historic but it is a turning point for the EU as a security provider,” he explained about an agreement that will be regularly updated. “It is not an answer to the war in Ukraine but it comes in time and at the right moment,” Borrell said after the double council.

The analysis starts by warning of the return of war to the European continent, at the hand of an “unjustified and unprovoked aggression of Russia against Ukraine” that has tested the “European capacity” to promote its vision and its interests. The EU-27’s diagnosis is clear: “we live in an era of strategic competition and complex security threats,” they note, pointing to “increased conflicts,” “military aggression” and “sources of instability,” both in the immediate environment and beyond, as well as growing hybrid threats and soft power, which weaponizes vaccines, data and technological standards. “Access to the high seas, outer space and the digital sphere is increasingly contested. We face increasing attempts at economic and energy coercion. In addition, conflicts and instability are often exacerbated by the threat-multiplying effect of climate change,” he continued.

The EU’s response is a strategic agenda that aims first and foremost to act. “We need to be able to act quickly and decisively when a crisis erupts, with partners if possible and alone when necessary,” he noted. To this end, we will strengthen civilian and military missions by providing them with more robust and flexible mandates, promoting a rapid and more flexible decision-making process and ensuring greater financial solidarity. The idea is to develop a rapid deployment capability, building on the battle groups created in 2007 and never used due to lack of agreement, which would allow up to 5,000 troops to be deployed “in non-permissive environments” for different types of crises as well as to strengthen command and control structures.

The plan also promises to provide more security by anticipating threats, boosting intelligence capabilities, and creating an EU hybrid toolbox that brings together different instruments to detect and respond to all kinds of hybrid threats, including foreign information manipulation and interference. In addition, cyber defense capabilities will be strengthened with the aim of responding to cyber-attacks and reinforcing the situation in the maritime, air and space domains, in particular by extending coordinated maritime presences to other areas, starting with the Indo-Pacific, and by developing an EU space strategy for security and defense.

Making the new roadmap a reality will require more investment in defense. “1.5% of GDP is not enough, we have to spend more and do it better and this means avoiding duplication and gaps,” explained Borrell about a current budget – of 200 billion – that is not enough. “We spend the same as China and all together we spend four times as much as even Russia but not with the same efficiency,” Borrell reminded. The strategy also makes it clear that all this work will be carried out in a complementary way to NATO, which will remain the foundation of the collective defense of its members.”

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