23 April 2020
Many Europeans leaders have declared several times their wish to develop a united European defence. We can take for example the French President Emmanuel Macron stating in a speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017 his intentions to develop a real European army, which was backed by the German chancellor Angela Merkel in a discourse in front of the European Parliament in November 2018. The realisation of such an ambitious project will not only be possible through efforts to create regulations and institutions that could ensure the sustainability of the European defence, but also through efforts to create a feeling of unity and fidelity between the national armies. As the French President said in his speech « What Europe, Defence Europe, lacks most today, is a common strategic culture. »( Macron, Sorbonne speech, 2017). In that optic, the Task Force Takuba could be a valuable operation as it could be the starting point of a new kind of European solidarity.
Background of Takuba
The first time that Takuba started to gain some momentum was after the G5 Sahel, a gathering initiated by the French President including the fives leaders of the region and representatives of other international institutions such as the European Council and the United Nations. This G5 format was put in place following numerous attacks against Malian military bases, mainly Mondoro and Boulkessy attacks. These were particularly difficult for the national troops since it instigated a feeling of incapacity to assure the security of their bases and in extension of their populations. That feeling made the African leaders sign a joint statement, in which they authorised French presence in the Sahel while encouraging other countries to help them reinstaure the peace in the region.
Only ten days later, that call was heard by multiple European countries. Estonia promised forty troops, Czech Republic, Norway, and Sweden among others, were interested in supporting the operations. At the time, expectations were high and French projections for the Task Force came down to 500 Europeans soldiers, of which 100 would be French (Fergus Kelly, the defense post, 2020). Troops that will be added to Barkhane, the French counter-terrorism mission, already
composed of 5100 men since the decision of the French President in February 2020 (Fergus Kelly, the defense post, 2020). At the end of the same month, the Task Force Takuba was officially announced, but many countries now had declared their incapacity to join the operation, despite their political support towards it. This disengagement and the difficult assembly of the Task Force could make us wonder if the European Union is united when it comes to solidarity. To answer this question we could distinguish two forms of solidarities: the Europeans solidarity towards the world and the solidarity towards Europe itself.
I : The failure of European solidarity towards the world
Once the excitement passed, the negotiations to define the composition of the Task Force became much longer and difficult. Norway, for example, despite being one of the first countries to promise a contribution to the project, ultimately withdrew its pledge to send troops to the Sahel region. Indeed the country was fearing that the combination of this project with their future deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2022 would overstretch their military capacity.
Other countries like Germany or The United Kingdom had to limit their contribution to political support. As a matter of fact, due to the national complex political landscape that would prevent the government from obtaining a parliamentary approval, Germany had to take a step back even if it tried to support the project. Regarding the UK, it is because of the complex negotiations surrounding Brexit, since the British government led by Boris Johnson is currently trying to reduce the defence participation of the UK, or at least use it as leverage to obtain a better deal (Daniel Boffey, the guardian, 2020). These examples showcase the differences in strategic cultures among member states, which makes it harder to convince their parliaments and their respective populations. The latter are defined mainly by their geographical, historical and religious heritages, which are firmly in place in every national institution. As such, building a European strategic culture could only be a long process in which national populations would have to learn to cooperate and develop a sentiment of unicity.
The simple principles of solidarity and assistance to another population are not yet enough to allow European countries to intervene militarily in foreign countries. However, another type of solidarity and calculation allowed other member states to participate in the making of the Task Force actively.
II : The success of European solidarity towards Europe
Internal European solidarity is not quite the same as the solidarity towards a country which is thousands of kilometres away. Europeans share the same space, the same cultural background and more importantly, the same threats. That is why the example of Sweden in the composition of the Takuba Task Force is telling. Their government promised a contribution of 150 soldiers, which amounts to more than one-third of the initial French projection, provided that they obtain parliamentary approval. This decision is not only based on the wish to help the Sahel populations but can also be linked to the construction of a « common strategic culture »( Macron, Sorbonne speech, 2017). We could compare the current Swedish decision to the Estonian participation in the EUROF RCA in 2014. In the middle of the Ukrainian conflict, Estonia decided to send troops in Bangui in the frame of the European operation initiated by France to secure the African capital city. Troops that could of been useful, in case of an expansion of the Ukrainian conflict in Estonia. However, by supporting France in Africa, Estonia was engaging in a quid-pro-quo, since France simultaneously deployed at the time multiple combat planes in Poland to ensure the security of the Baltic states (Pierre Haroche, Les Champs de Mars, 2018). This example allows us to understand why Sweden, by actively participating in the Takuba Task Force, could be in reality trading that participation for future assistance in case of a conflict affecting Sweden’s interest or territory. The Task Force Takuba will be overseen by a French general, which hasn’t been chosen yet. Also, all the European troops will be sharing the same camp, the camp Epervier. Those elements will help create a better understanding between the armies, thus furthering the feeling of a European military community and enhance European interoperability.
In conclusion, we can say that solidarity, especially in the strategic field, is never purely an act of charity, it is always a calculation between the moral duty to help another and the national interest. Nevertheless, joint operations like Takuba could be the first step in the creation of a European common strategic culture, a culture based on the interconnection of Europeans countries and shared assessments of the dangers and challenges against European interests. As a result, mutual assistance in Europe could become automatic. Countries would understand that it would be in their best interests to help their neighbours for one day, as they could become the one in need of assistance. This logic could be, in time, not only limited to Europe itself as it could become the global common strategic culture. Through it, common threats such as terrorism or climate change could be addressed on a global level. That global culture could ensure the creation of a global defensive structure capable of resolving the new dangers of an interconnected world.
Written by Julien Dalman Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre
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