The creation of a European Rapid Reaction Force by an avant-guard group of countries: a proposal(1/3)

, by Domenico Moro

The creation of a European Rapid Reaction Force by an avant-guard group of countries: a proposal(1/3)

The proposal contained in this document provides for the creation of a European Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) by an avant-guard group of European countries, as a first step towards a European policy of security controlled by a European Federal government. It is founded on the contents of the Reform Treaty (RT) recently approved in Lisbon. The words “Rapid Reaction Force” and “security”, instead of “army” and “defence”, are used in the conviction that a European security policy will be a structural pause compared to the pure policy of power which characterised each European country up to the first half of the twentieth century [1]. Thanks to the single currency the EU became a global actor on the monetary plane and now the Reform Treaty has created the conditions for the EU to make significant steps forward even in the sphere of security policy. The proposal here presented refers to the institutional innovations contained in the RT in which a qualified majority is scheduled for, and it presumes that they will form a legal base sufficient to allow an avant-guard group of countries of the Union to have a Rapid Reaction Force at the service of the European Council and, as set up in the RT, of the United Nations.

The innovations contained in the Reform Treaty (RT) relating to security and defence policy

Compared to the previous Treaties, the RT contemplates the clause of mutual solidarity in case of an external aggression to any of the European Union Countries and the overcoming of divisions within the Community: security and defence policies therefore become EU policies in all respects, setting down the foundation for a single European policy in this field. As a matter of fact in art. 28A, par. 1, the RT claims that: “The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.” The passage to a common defence though is subject to a unanimous decision of the Council (art. 28A, par. 2: “The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides [...]”). Therefore, on the basis of what is provided for in the RT, one must ascertain whether it is possible for a group of Countries to make such a decisive step towards a single security policy and deploy, as already happens partly today, even though amidst a great number of difficulties, independent military forces. In fact, art. 28A, par. 6 [2] , gives countries with sufficient military capabilities the opportunity to create a “structured cooperation” in the security sector. If the RRF decided for in Helsinki is based on a rotating voluntary contribution of all the EU Countries, the structured cooperation mentioned in the RT is on the contrary a permanent military force, formed only by those Countries able to “fulfil the highest criteria in terms of military capabilities” and without establishing a minimum number of participating States.

Furthermore, if in Helsinki it was expressly decided that the RRF would not have brought about the creation of a European army, in the RT this outcome is not formally excluded, even though the decision will have to be made unanimously. In order to achieve its creation, the States that decide to participate in the “permanent structured cooperation” shall notify their intentions to the Council and to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy: within three months of the notification, the Council will decide with a qualified majority [3] . Once the permanent structured cooperation has been established, the decisions that concern it will nevertheless be made unanimously [4] .

Some objections to the creation of a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF)

The objections to the setting up of a European RRF are numerous. The answers to three of them are given here. The first objection: it will be necessary first of all to implement fixed and mobile infrastructures indispensable to make such a Force operational and effective, as well as to standardise weaponry and training rules and procedures. The second objection refers to the future of national armies. The third one refers to the persistence of unanimity of the participating Countries. Notwithstanding the sound foundation of these objections, they are not however decisive. Now, as far as the first objection is concerned, in order to avoid being sucked into this vicious circle of a discussion on priorities, it is necessary to set great store by the experience of the European monetary union. At a certain point, it was decided to pool a determined amount of foreign exchange reserves belonging to the participating countries, thus setting the foundation for a European currency. Even in the case of the RRF, implemented with the formula of structured cooperation, there is reason to believe that the countries favourably inclined shall elect their own troops, currently deployed in military operations outside EU boundaries, to form the initial nucleus of the RRF. The information supplied by the European Defence Agency states that the number of soldiers deployed outside the EU in 2006 were 64,000 (excluding the 34,000 soldiers from the United Kingdom, since this document presumes that the UK will not take part in the implementation of the RRF) [5] . The number of soldiers is equal to the one established in Helsinki. What is lacking today is the political will to name these armed forces as part of the RRF. Subsequently the military high commands will have to make the RRF functional in time and reinforce it enough for it to be able to comply with the tasks described in Helsinki and in the RT.

As far as the future of national armies is concerned, a good precedent may be that of the American National Guard. The latter, for the best part of American history, from the Philadelphia Convention to the First World War, has been a far more important military structure, in numbers, than the US army under the command of the President of the United States. The Constitutions of the Federated States establish that the Head of the Armed Forces (of the National Guard) is the Governor of the State, at least until the President of the United States, because of American security, decides to use it. The same status could be established for the armies of the single member Countries of the Union, which would remain under the command of their respective Countries and Constitutions, until the European Council decides to use them to integrate the RRF. Moreover, with a role similar to that of the National Guard today, which is responsible for the internal and external security of the Federated States, the European national armies could be deployed for environmental and natural catastrophes, as the National Guard was after the Katrina hurricane.

The third objection concerns the fact that the participating countries in the structured cooperation decide unanimously. As a matter of fact, without this condition the structured cooperation would not take off. But this condition must not be seen exclusively as the price to pay to initiate the structured cooperation (even though the federalists shall demand its implementation without the right of veto). The issue must be seen at the moment of the implementation of the RRF when decisions concerning its use must be made, that is when a unity of purposes must reflect strong coherence and cohesion in assessing the need for intervention. Until there is a true and proper European government (and, probably, for a long time after it has been created) it is likely that this shall be the formula with which European States shall cooperate in the defence sector.


[1For a detailed discussion on European foreign policy and security, see: PALEA R. (edited by), The role of Europe in the world, Alpina, Turin, 2006, and the articles by PISTONE S., which were published in various editions of the journals Piemonteuropa and Il Federalista.

[2Art. 28A par. 6: “Those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework. Such cooperation shall be governed by Article 28 E. It shall not affect the provisions of Article 28 B.”

[3Art. 28E, par. 2: “Within three months following the notification referred to in paragraph 1 the Council shall adopt a decision establishing permanent structured cooperation and determining the list of participating Member States. The Council shall act by a qualified majority after consulting the High Representative.”

[4Art. 28E, par. 6: “The decisions and recommendations of the Council within the framework of permanent structured cooperation, other than those provided for in paragraphs 2 to 5, shall be adopted by unanimity. [underlining added] For the purposes of this paragraph, unanimity shall be constituted by the votes of the representatives of the participating Member States only.”

[5EDA, 2006 National Breakdowns of European Defence Expenditure, 2007. The amount does not include the military deployed in the Finul operation in the Lebanon and those who will be deployed in Chad as from February 2008.

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