On 1 April 2014, the European Union (EU) launched its first military operation (EUFOR RCA) in the Central Africa Republic (CAR). This decision reflects rising international concern over the increasingly volatile and violent situation in the CAR and the effects of the international community to protect the civilian population and restore security and public order in the country.[i]
EUFOR RCA represents the first time that the EU has deployed a military operation of this nature in six years. The last such operation was in 2008 when the EU sent ground forces to Chad. This is not to say that the EU has not launched military operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) since 2008, but rather that the nature of these operations have focused on training and capacity building operations. These operations have thus not consisted of the deployment of troops to assist with the provision of security on the ground.
Under EUFOR RCA’s mandate, troops will seek to contribute to achieving a safe and secure environment in the Bangui area. In executing its mandate, EUFOR RCA is also expected to contribute to international efforts aimed at protecting the population most at risk and to creating the conditions for the provision of humanitarian aid. Once fully operational, it is expected that EUFOR RCA will include between 800 to 1,000 personnel, including approximately 120 military police. At this stage, the operation is expected to be in operation for six months, after which point it will transfer its activities to a UN peacekeeping force or to African partners. EU officials have also begun discussing the nature of the EU’s continued engagement in the CAR following the end of EUFOR RCA’s mandate. This includes the possible deployment of a follow up civilian mission and reinforced aid and development assistance.
For those of us who study the EU’s CSDP, what is interesting about the EU’s decision to establish EUFOR RCA is that the EU member states have once again decided against deploying one of its Battlegroups. Established in 2004 to provide the EU with the means to rapid respond to such crisis situations, whether at the request of the UN or independently, no Battlegroup has been deployed since it was declared operational in 2007. They are designed so that troops canbe deployed within 15 days notice and sustainable for at least 30 days (extendable to 120 days by rotation). They are expected to be flexible enough to undertake operations in distant crisis areas, under, but not exclusively, a UN mandate, and to conduct combat missions in an extremely hostile environment (mountain, jungle, desert etc.). They can be used for stand-alone operations, or to prepare the ground for larger, more traditional peacekeeping forces. In establishing the Battlegroups, the EU has showcased them as core tools at the EU’s disposal for its crisis management activities.
Although declared operational in 2007, the EU has neither deployed or tested the effectiveness of this CSDP rapid reaction mechanism. The non-deployment of the Battlegroups has in a large part been due to the lack of political will among member states to actually deploy these units rather than due to a lack of crisis situations in which to deploy them. In the current context, European security and military experts began drawing up plans for the deployment of a Battlegroup in December 2013 to assist France’s military operation (Operation Sangaris) but due to strong opposition from the UK, – the UK had troops committed to one of the two Battlegroups on stand-by in the second half of 2013 – the plan was not officially raised at the December European Council meeting. As a result, the Heads of State or Government of the EU member states were not placed in the position of having to discuss and vote on the issue.
The fact that the EU member states have not deployed a Battlegroup raises significant questions and illustrates key problems with the EU’s ability to act as a credible and effective crisis manager. The EU’s failure to utilize the Battlegroups illustrates that although the EU has developed an instrument to enable it to rapidly respond to crisis situations, if the political will to use this instrument is lacking, then its effectiveness, and added value potential becomes mute. In addition, the nature of the Battlegroup concept also renders deployment difficult. Aside from specifying that a Battlegroup must include the necessary support and strategic lift capabilities to allow its deployment within 15 days and be sustainable on the ground from 30 to 120 days, the actual composition of the Battlegroups remains flexible. In addition, the six-month rotation schedule of the Battlegroups is planned years in advance. Thus, Battlegroups on standby during a particular crisis may not represent the most appropriate formation for the type of operation that the conflict specifically requires.
By its very nature, the Battlegroup concept is faced with a number of obstacles to its operability and effectiveness as a crisis management tool. The usefulness of the Battlegroup is thus heavily reliant on there being an alignment between the specific crisis, and the composition of the Battlegroup on standby and the political will among EU member states to unanimously agree to its deployment. It should therefore not be surprising that the Battlegroups have remained paper commitments. Yet, the failure to deploy a Battlegroup has raised questions about its viability as a crisis management instrument and the reliability of the EU as a partner in crisis management for such organisations as the UN. It also raises questions as to the extent to which the EU and its member states have been able to recognise the problems with this crisis management tool and implement steps to re-dress these issues to make it a viable tool. As it stands, CAR marks another missed opportunity for the EU and its member states to showcase this specific crisis management tool.
[i] For a overview of the conflict in the Central African Republic see:
Amnesty International, Ethnic Cleansing and Sectarian Killings in the Central Africa Republic, 2014 <https://www.amnesty.org/en/news/central-african-republic-ethnic-cleansing-sectarian-violence-2014-02-12>
BBC World News, ‘Central African Republic Profile’ <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13150040>
International Crisis Group, ‘Central African Republic: Better Late Than Never’, Policy Briefing, Africa Briefing N. 96, Nairobi/Brussels, 2 December 2013, <http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/central-african-republic/b096-central-african-republic-better-late-than-never.aspx>