December 15, 2011:
Poland has agreed to be the tenth nation to contribute troops, starting in 2016, to Eurocorps. A force of 60,000 troops that handles peacekeeping and other military operations for the European Union. The other contributors are Belgium (since 1993), France (1992), Germany (1992), Luxembourg (1996), Spain (1994), Austria (2002), Greece (2003), Italy (2009), and Turkey (2003). Eurocorps was organized in the early 1990s and became available for duty in 1995. Eurocorps troops have served as peacekeepers in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
The core unit of the Eurocorps is the Franco-German brigade which was set up at the end of the Cold War, in 1987, as a symbol of growing French-German unity and dedication to mutual defense. The Franco-German brigade (with 6,000 troops) was always one of the key components of Eurocorps. Until last year none of the German units were ever based in France. French units were often based in Germany, which was not unique. At the end of World War II in 1945 French units occupied part of Germany until 1955. Last year, for the first time since World War II (and over four years of German occupation) a German combat unit was stationed in France. This was the German 291st Infantry Battalion which is part of the Franco-German Brigade that moved into a base in eastern France.
What the Franco-German brigade represented was the beginning of more integrated defense organizations among the nations of the EU (European Union). Although we tend to think of EU nations as stinting on defense spending most spend as much or more on defense as does Japan by percentage of GDP, and some spend a good deal more. Annual EU defense outlays are about 1.63 percent of GDP ($260.4 billion), second only to US spending.
But the EU doesn’t really get the “bang for the buck” that its outlays would suggest. With a combined defense budget of about 40 percent that of the U.S. the EU has only one nuclear carrier (a relatively small one), plus a half dozen or so helicopter carriers, to the US’s eleven huge CVNs plus about as many amphibious ships capable of handling helicopters and vertical takeoff aircraft.
A primary reason for this is an inability to achieve economies of scale in organization and management, not to mention procurement. Each country has its own military bureaucracy. Despite decades of striving for “commonality” many items of equipment are unique to particular countries. Further confusing matters is that 23 of the 27 EU members are also members of NATO, which adds to the bureaucratic overhead. There is a small EU military staff, the European Defense Agency, but it has a microscopic ($40 million) budget and is little more than a planning cell.
The EU has set up some military commands which show promise. The largest of these is Eurocorps whose troops can be deployed on relatively short notice. Eurofor is a division-sized headquarters with personnel from France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, with troops earmarked by each country for rapid reaction operations. The European Air Group and the European Air Transport Command coordinates pooling of air assets. The European Gendarmerie Force is a headquarters of about 900 personnel, plus 2,300 additional personnel, for rapid intervention in peacekeeping/enforcement missions and humanitarian emergencies. The European Maritime Force is a paper agency that is supposed to be the start of a common naval force.
There are some political leaders, military officers, and pundits in Europe who are calling for greater integration with the idea of cutting overhead and investing the savings in a better common military establishment. At Lisbon on December 1, 2009 EU leaders signed an agreement to expand integration, cooperation, and interoperability.
Some genuine visionaries (or dreamers) look forward to the day when the EU will have a handful of nuclear carriers plus supporting naval force, along with more capable ground and air forces. To achieve this, lots of compromises will have to be made and much more integration achieved. A logical initial measure would be to have armed forces of EU countries specialize. This has already been partially achieved in the maritime area under NATO. The Belgian Navy, for example, has tended to be specialized in mine and inshore operations.
Progress is slow but steady. Meanwhile, German troops stationed in France is a big deal as France still has bad memories of German occupation in 1940-44, 1914-18, and 1870-71. Meanwhile, EU nations are becoming more aware of their military limitations and liabilities. When called on to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan many European states found that their armed forces were more uniformed civil servants than combat ready troops. The waste and duplication in the military is becoming more of a scandal and making multinational forces a more attractive way to go.