18 May 2020

Another piece of the security domino had fallen due to COVID-19

Ştefan Oprea

As people are normally surprised by crisis and they are always uncovered against the unknown, the security challenges show that the learned lessons are never enough to be better prepared ahead the unpredictable or improbable phenomena.

Image source: EUCOM

In April 20109, the American think-tank Atlantic Council was asking for an estimation of the necessary efforts to improve military mobility in Europe. The Centre for Strategy and Security – Scowcrft within the Atlantic Council, with a team led by general (r) Curtis M. Scaparrotti, former commander of the SACEUR and commander of EUCOM, along with ambassador Colleen Bell (r), former US ambassador in Hungary, have elaborated the report “MOVING OUT A Comprehensive Assessment of European Military Mobility”.

The result of a year of work, which involved a series of consultations of the operative group, developed with American and European officials, was materialized in a document which estimates the actions developed to consolidate the European military mobility, reveals the shortcomings which affect the effective defence training of allies and offers some recommendations for the improvement of personnel and military equipment’s mobility. The report addresses NATO, UE US and the member states of the two organizations.

The study defines the fields that need attention and investments, as well as the phases by which the capacity of the armed forces in Europe could be improved and eventually be reflected in the consolidation of European defence.

Regardless of how Europe’s future defensive structure will look, deterrence and defence will always remain the main elements of the security strategy and, from this point of view, mobility will be critical to accomplish the strategic objective.

The fairness of the strategic issue of military mobility

As a complex and multidimensional issue, the military mobility needs an “inter-governmental” approach, accordingly with the national sovereignty.

The European project on the consolidated integration of defence involves, undoubtedly, the re-evaluation of sovereignty. The political rhetoric and ideas on improving the EU defence system intensified lately and the results emerged immediately. The military planning and conduct capacity  (MPCC), the European defence fund (EDF) for the development of military capabilities and the Permanent Structured Cooperation Program (PESCO) allow the EU members to advance quickly in the defence cooperation field. Furthermore, the European Commission offers them the financial tools, developing the narrow accent of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of EU to a larger idea, the EU common defence.

However, so far, EU did not have role in the deterrence and defence as of protecting territories, the population and the political systems militarily speaking. If we take a look at the Global Strategy, EU admits that the collective defence stays the uppermost mission of NATO. In such a deadlock, the Europeans should agree on the tasks EU must accomplish. The persistence of nationalist reflexes, divergent strategic cultures, the lack of consensus in terms of EU’s defence ambition, the intense challenges near Europe and NATO and, not least, the different ambitions of some states will be challenges difficult to handle.

The main question we should answer to is: what stimulant can EU offer to its members to redefine its sovereignty – the capacity to decide and act autonomously – in mutual dependency?

If in terms of commonly building some European capabilities, to increase the readiness in managing and solving the current challenges in terms of security, the agreement is unanimous, when talking about redefining sovereignty for synchronizing the national defence planning courses things get complicated. Even if everyone is aware that if we are facing these security challenges alone we will be helpless and the effective approach of these can only be done through cooperation.

The military mobility in Europe – impact on defence and deterrence

Starting from the idea that mobility and logistics are essential elements for forces’ deployment and the capacity to fight, Europe’s defence mostly depends on the ability to build forces for the consolidation of the defence capacity and the dislocation speed of forces and their adequate support in imminent crisis areas.

Solving these issues involves surpassing the major shortcomings in terms of the lack of modern civilian and military infrastructure, especially in Europe’s eastern part, from Poland and the Baltic states, the hosts of the new NATO Enhanced Forward Presence – eFP, to the Black Sea.

The forward presence of four multinational fight groups in Poland and in the Baltic States and a series of specific activities in the Black Sea region led to the intensification of NATO’s presence on the Eastern flank, on land, sea and air, therefore it  increased  the possibility to operate along with the national forces.

Moreover, the “Four 30s” initiative will increase the NATO quick reaction capacity, be it for the consolidation of allies’ individual forces, or the quick intervention in military crisis situations. From this point of view, it is obvious that the training level of these forces must be completed with a quick decision capability, information collection and early-warning, contingency plans, training and, not least, the capacity to project and support the forces of NATO whenever needed.

Following the same direction, NATO is trying to remove all obstacles to the military movement in Europe and the North Atlantic to support forces in a theatre of operations. NATO also encourages allies to develop transport infrastructure to improve multinational and collective access in support of the forces involved in resolving crisis situations.

Previous NATO-EU steps, such as recognizing that military mobility is a key area for intensive cooperation and changing the Alliance's command structure, with field-specific structures, were signs of an in-depth analysis of the challenge. Innovative and actionable solutions have emerged for NATO, the EU and national governments, and the commitment to their implementation is strong enough.

Obstacles in developing the project

Despite the progresses, even if there were still some shortcomings in Europe’s capacity to face the mobility tasks to maintain the deterrence and defence posture, the pandemic intensifies the concerns that this project may turn into a failure.

The first reason is the financial one. The pandemic has destroyed the general feeling of urgency and permanence for the completion of the military mobility project. Therefore, one of the starting points of the EU's commitment to military mobility, which comes from the proposed Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, provided that, out of the amount for dual-use infrastructure projects (13 billion), 50% to be dedicated for military mobility. Although modest, the amount would have stimulated and encouraged European governments to make their own investments in such projects. It wasn't like that. A reduction of 60% in this amount, representing the compromise reached during the Finnish EU Presidency, which resulted in a delay in the project, is getting them closer and closer to the moment when funding could be cut due to the severe contraction of the European and national budgets.

The second reason is the impossibility of a political coordination within the decision-making level between the two organizations and the member states, although the effort to revitalize the program has gained tangible value lately.

A project started sixteen years ago, when the European Parliament and the Council adopted Decision no. 884/2004 / EC on Community guidelines for the development of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). They wanted to connect the regional transport corridors. Another initiative (Single European Sky), which aimed at ensuring a more efficient management of air traffic flow by reducing the fragmentation level, completes these concerns. The focus on military transport, through its specificity, is the basis of the EU military structure’s concerns (EUMS) which, through Document 10967/08, provided a basis for supporting movement and strategic transport for EU-led military operations.

Additionally, after the 2011 agreement on the European Air Transport Fleet (EATF) - a pooling and sharing agreement which provides for a single group of military transport aircraft to remove obstacles for the military aircraft registered in an EU member state to fly or land in the territory of another EU state. One year later, the European Defence Agency (EDA) initiated an action which resulted in the Diplomatic Clearances Technical Agreement (DICTA), aimed at putting together the procedures for the movement and landing of military flights between member states.

After Crimea’s annexation by Russia, in 2014, and its decision of place a forward presence by around 4 500 military men in the Baltic states and Poland, NATO was asking for a high cooperation level in the field.

In the same year, EDA elaborates another project to harmonize the national procedures to allow troops and military equipment to travel Europe with no obstacles ahead. It was the EU Multimodal Transport Hub - M2TH, signed by 14 EU member states and was dedicated to harmonizing the national regulations for the trans-border transit and the identification and promotion of dual-use military transport on the networks and infrastructure in Europe (Romania is not part of this Agreement).

Being under a political pressure, unanimously accepted by the EU and NATO member states, military mobility becomes a priority and can now be found on NATO-EU’s common agenda and in the Common Declaration from December 2017.

In 2018, it was elaborate a Plan of action which is still in a developing implementation.

Aiming at sovereignty without always taking into account the institutionalized relations subject to EU law, states preferring national autonomy to common power and aiming to have the last word will probably have harmful effects.

Some EU manifestations in relation to member countries, the most obvious example being the delayed reaction of the European institutions during the pandemic, as well as the situations where a NATO member decides to withdraw, cannot engage in an operation or choose not to participate at it make this dilemma continue.

Even in such circumstances, a complicated topic like the military mobility is seen as a vital necessity for the development of operations and will continue to provoke discussions.

Most likely, when, in a happy circumstance, the military will again be needed and states which will want to offer their help will not be able to get in time to their allies that need them, a solution like the “Military Schengen” will truly be acknowledged.

English version provided by Andreea Soare