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EUFOR Crisis Response Operation Core: Enhancing Resilience through Interoperability

Following the Juncker’s Commission White Paper Scenario “Who Wants to Do More, Does More”, the Permanent Structured Cooperation’s (PESCO) 25 members are currently developing 47 projects covering the areas of training, land, maritime, air, cyber, and space. Among land initiatives, EUFOR stands out in fostering a coherent full spectrum force package as envisaged by PESCO’s core aim.

Crisis Response Operation Core (CROC) has the potential to improve the crisis management capabilities of the EU by enhancing the force generation preparedness, willingness, and commitment of European member states (MS) to act and engage in operations and missions. Sufficient increase of the readiness of land forces may be achievable through a multinational brigade in a CROC framework. In what seems to be a century of everlasting crisis, strengthening resilience is crucial at all levels. The degree of concreteness realised through the interoperability effectiveness to crisis response offered by EUFOR CROC is potentially more solid than any other initiative of the sort.

The very nature of PESCO allows for ‘positive differentiation’ among European MS in the area of defence (Blockmans, 2019). Such a special protocol enables multi-layered integration in the security domain, which overlaps with central functions of the state (De Neve, 2007). Whilst several states are reticent in delegating such functions towards a supranational approach, which may threaten their sovereignty, others recognise it as an asset to strengthen overall defence, especially in unexpected circumstances. This implies that MS that have adhered to PESCO share the willingness to jointly develop a coherent full spectrum of defence capabilities, which are available for both national and multinational missions. Despite the large number of projects launched since its mise en place in 2017, many EU priorities have still not been fully addressed. This was particularly evident as implementation began, when governance issues were still in the process of being solved (Zandee, 2018). This made commitments futile in some projects as they require a more integrative defence effort, which depends on the establishment of multinational force packages (Biscop, 2020) whose effectiveness is also determined by their degree of interoperability.

As a forerunner in the PESCO projects, EUFOR CROC is not sufficiently acknowledged as a central tool to concretise MS’ objectives. Being a capability initiative, PESCO requires a clear definition of its capabilities or coherent and effective action cannot be delivered (Biscop, 2020). In this regard, CROC specifically targets the core objective in defence as its aim is to “decisively contribute to the creation of a coherent full spectrum force package, which could accelerate the provision of forces. […] It should fill in progressively the gap between the EU Battlegroups and the highest level of ambition within the EU Global Strategy.”[1] This vision stems from the Franco-German proposal that illustrated CROC’s formation, seeking to obtain one division, or three brigades, comprised of strategic enablers in a first stage of the process to get in line with the headline goal (Biscop, 2019). These would later on call for a corps headquarters, three divisions, and nine to 12 brigades, highlighting the need for a corps to stand as the core.

As aforementioned, the main feature of multi-layered differentiation is the possibility of starting operations without the support and approval of all MS, allowing the most ambitious to move forward independently. This grants the five MS that are currently participating in CROC, which are Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the chance to begin an implementation study. The latter can trace out potential crisis scenarios that must be responded to by a Contingency Operations Plan, which generates a Force Element List specifying military capability needs (Biscop, 2019). The innovation lays in such pre-identification of capabilities, which implies an accelerated degree of readiness that does not require a stand-by force.

On paper, the efforts towards the development of such a multinational brigade appear to be exceptional on the European military level. Moreover, CROC is truly representative of engagement towards interoperability enhancement among European MS. In particular, both general and targeted interoperability can be addressed. A general approach is supported by the overall PESCO framework, where a wide range of different countries share a common purpose in maximising opportunities and preparing units to operate with partners (Pernin, 2015). The more challenging targeted approach can also become a prerogative of CROC, which deals with briefer imminent operations. These may need more of a tactical interoperability, combining units at different levels such as division, brigade, and battalion (Pernin, 2019).

However, in practice, several impediments hinder the effectiveness of EUFOR CROC. In the first place, resources may pose an issue. National brigades should be fuelling CROC, as they are in most cases the largest army unit at disposal, but a very limited number of states have maintained a full range of both combat support and combat service support units enabling brigades’ manoeuvre units (Biscop, 2020).  This results in many brigades not being used in various operational scenarios. For instance, brigades lacking air defence units cannot be deployed in most expeditionary scenarios, as drones would represent too large a threat. Furthermore, substantial capability for strategic enablers for force projection is lacking. However, this capability should be implemented within CROC according to the original Franco-German project.

These major drawbacks are also caused by the unexploited interoperable mechanisms which could take place with an actual integrative CROC. A full range of required support capabilities could be supplied to CROC through a combination of national brigades pooling support units (Biscop, 2020).  The resilience needed for the armed force readiness proposed by CROC calls for a multinational force package featuring the brigade as a building block. A ‘corps-sized’ CROC could provide a high degree of integration complemented by specialisation (Biscop, 2019). The advantage would come from the possibility of choosing to distinguish scenarios which require full-on integration into merged multinational support units from situations whose response can be supplied with a division of labour of individual national support units supporting other brigades. The aforementioned concern regarding unemployable brigades would essentially be solved with this interoperable logic, providing smaller nations lacking sufficient combat support with the means to become operative.

It is clear that EUFOR CROC is still in the initial stages of its development and its effectiveness is yet to be tried and tested. However, the gaps in integration which do not respond to a certain degree of developable interoperability may be the ultimate hindrance to enhance European military resilience within a PESCO framework.

Written by Anna Bruschetta


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