13 October 2016 /


The European Union’s geopolitical environment is axiomatically complex. Strategic surprise and fundamental uncertainty have become common denominators in the EU’s neighbourhood. Strategic anticipation is of utmost importance to a forward-looking external action. This article aims at shading light on a paramount actor in this respect, the European Union Military Staff. It is a nodal structure which contributes to general situation awareness of EU institutions and to crisis management operations planning. Located at the crossroads of decision-shaping and of all levels of engagement, it constitutes a fully integrated EU military structure, which built its own relevance gradually and concretely.

A few contextual elements to start with. European integration for the last 15 years has generated a true European epistemic military community. In January 2001, the European Council set up three main entities. An ambassadorial level “Political and Security Committee” for strategic decision shaping; a Chiefs-of-Defence level “EU Military Committee” for military advice and recommendations to the Political and Security Committee; and the fully integrated “EU Military staff”, modelling military decisions at all levels of engagement and providing support at strategic, operational and tactical levels. This format has created a European network of high ranking officers shaping EU military decisions.

“We, militaries, cannot live in a vacuum”, declared Finnish army Lieutenant General Esa Pulkkinen while taking command over the EU Military Staff last May for a three-year term. Lt Gen Pulkkinen is an experienced Finnish cavalry officer. He has been Director for Defence Policy at the Finnish Ministry of Defence for the past years. Chairman of Finland’s defence working group for the 2007 Finnish EU presidency and Director for Operations at the EUMS in 2008-2010, he is now in command of a nearly 200-officers strong staff.

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The military component of situational awareness

Lt Gen Pulkkinen explained Eyes on Europe that the main objective for his time of command was to further assert the EUMS in its military expertise domain. It is the pursuit of the gradual consolidation of the EUMS since its creation in 2001. The EU Military Staff is a nucleus of European military integration. It is the only standing and fully integrated military structure within the EU. Its five directorates cover the full spectrum of military expertise. The relevance of the EUMS lies precisely in its joint nature. The EUMS is more than the sum of its parts: it generates solutions and unique situational assessments through synergy as a working habit. Situational assessments and strategic options are subject to a collaborative process which is modelling a truly integrated output.

The EUMS is a central part of the EU’s global intelligence assessment process. Its Intelligence Directorate works in constant collaboration with the EU Intelligence Centre (EU IntCent), the EU civilian intelligence agency. The two entities concluded in 2007 a functional arrangement, known as the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC), which formalizes the fusion of their respective outputs. All intelligence assessments provided to the EU institutions result from this cooperation.

Apart from its participation to the SIAC, the EUMS provides timely military analyses to EU institutions. Its standing nature as well as its position at the crossroads between tactical, operational and strategic echelons, make it an indispensable adjuvant to foreign and security policy decision-making. As Lt Gen Pulkkinen further noted, military considerations are present in a number of non-military related topics of external action.

Military crisis management operations: setting precedents and using experience

The EUMS constitutes the military side of the EU’s crisis management architecture. The EU’s crisis management concept advocates a permanent nexus between civilian and military actors. The European Security Strategy, published in 2003 and revised in 2008, states very clearly, in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War, that military success alone will not avoid civilian chaos. In this respect, the EU’s added value in crisis management lies in a dialogue between military and civilian structures. As the military component of crisis management planning, the EUMS works in constant cooperation with the civilian component. Their respective outputs are merged within the Crisis Management Planning Directorate of the European External Action Service.

As of July 2016, there were 6 on-going military operations and 11 civilian missions. Most of the military operations are located in Africa, with two major naval deployments, Atalanta in the Horn of Africa, and Sophia in the southern Mediterranean; three non-executive operations (i.e. training and security capacity-building) in Mali, the Central African Republic and Somalia. The EU is also engaged since 2004 in Bosnia, with the support of NATO.

EU interventions are the main drivers of their own improvement. Lt Gen Pulkkinen was EUMS Operations Director during the planning of Operation Atalanta, the sole truly strategic operation the EU has conducted to date. As Operations director, Lt Gen Pulkkinen was involved in the first planning phases of this major naval deployment. It was a founding moment since it was the first time that a major headquarters was dedicated to a large-scale EU-led operation. Since 2008, it reached full success in the protection of the World Food Program cargo ships and led to a dramatic decrease of the success rate of pirates attack in the area, notably through intelligence-led operations. Capacity building of endogenous security forces was conducted in parallel by EUCAP Nestor, a civilian EU mission. The success of Atalanta’s configuration and experience led to the extension of the operation to coastal areas of Somalia, in order to target pirates’ mother ships and logistical bases in 2014. Lt Gen Pulkkinen pointed that the lessons learnt from Atalanta paved the way for the rapid deployment of anti-smuggler Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean in 2015. Operation Atalanta truly set a precedent and Sophia gave an opportunity for the EU Naval Force to apply lessons learnt and perfect a doctrine built on experience.

Pragmatism and concrete relevance as working methods

EU military operations are not under the aegis of a single permanent headquarters. Military operations are deployed under an Operations Headquarters (OHQ), in charge of the political and strategic aspects of the operation; assisted by a Force Headquarters (FHQ), in charge of the operational and tactical aspects. There are three options for OHQs: a parent headquarters – i.e. provided by a Member State; NATO infrastructures under the EU-NATO 2003 Berlin+ Agreement; or an activated and autonomous EU Operations Centre, directly in Brussels. FHQs are provided and deployed by Member States.

Lt Gen Pulkkinen is a pragmatist. He does not consider that this situation constitute an obstacle to the successful completion of operations. He rather exposed Eyes on Europe that setting up a single point of entry for non-executive missions (i.e. training missions) in Africa would have further relevance. Capacity-building is currently stepping up, requiring trainees and EU instructors to get out of secure perimeters and go further afield, thus being more vulnerable. Rather than establishing a full HQ for all operations, a unique support entity would have more concrete relevance to force commanders. The degree of variety of current operations rather requires indeed a subsidiary point of entry, which would respond to concrete needs and create relevance on a tangible matter.

Building on the experience and expertise of the EUMS, an important part of Lt Gen Pulkkinen’s mandate will be devoted to translating into operational terms the newly published EU Global Strategy. Staff Cooperation with NATO will also form a considerable aspect of the next years, notably with joint exercises and operations.

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