Armed and Ready? The EU Battlegroup Concept and the Nordic Battlegroup </h1>

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by Jan Joel Andersson
SIEPS 2006:2
Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies

This report traces the origins of the EU decision to set up battlegroups, describes the underlying political and military concepts and analyses the challenges that the EU and its member states face in realising the Headline goal 2010, the plan adopted by the European defence ministers in June 2004 with the aim of improving European military capabilities. It also discusses the broader question of whether or not a military capability allows the EU to better achieve its goals.

The Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies, SIEPS, conducts and promotes research and analysis of European policy issues within the disciplines of political science, law and economics. SIEPS strives to act as a link between the academic world and policy-makers at various levels.

By issuing this report, we hope to stimulate the European discussion on how the role of the European Union on the global scene is related to its military capabilities.
Stockholm, March 2006
Annika Strm Melin

The capability to deploy military forces on short notice during crises is an essential aspect of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). TheEuropean Union Battlegroup concept lies at the centre of this capability. An EU Battlegroup consists of a battalion-size force package of around 1,500 troops, complete with combat support and logistics units as well as the necessary air and naval components, ready for rapid deployment around the world. The EUs ambition is to be able to launch a Battlegroup operation within five days after approval by the Council. Once the decision has been made, troops should be on the ground implementing their mission within ten days. To date, the EU Member States have agreed to the establishment of thirteen Battlegroups. Every six months, two of these will be on stand-by to deploy within 5-10 days. Limited operational ability is already in place but full operational capability is expected to be reached by 2007. At that time, the EU should be able to undertake the simultaneous or near-simultaneous launch of two concurrent single battalion-size rapid response operations. The Battlegroups will be capable of managing the full range of response tasks, including humanitarian assistance, traditional peacekeeping and peacemaking by force. In support of the ESDP, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia have agreed to establish a joint Nordic Battlegroup (NBG) under Swedish leadership, which will be on standby during the period 1 January 30 June 2008.

This report traces the origins behind the EUs decision to establish these Battlegroups, discusses the political and military concepts underlying the EUs decision and analyses the challenges facing the EU and its Member States in realising the Headline Goal 2010. Moreover, the report will review the current build-up of the Nordic Battlegroup (NBG), which comprises units from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia. In conclusion, the report addresses the fundamental question of whether the development of the Battlegroup concept in fact enables the EU to better achieve its goals.

The report then discusses three alternatives by which the EU might achieve its goals and examines how the EU Battlegroup Concept functions within each. The three alternatives are as follows:

  1. remain a civilian great power and rely on civilian means;
  2. become a traditional great power and develop the full range of tools for international statecraft, including an army and
  3. attempt to square the circle by acquiring a limited military capability as a complement to mainly civilian tools.

While the Battlegroup concept has won wide acceptance in Europe, the question remains whether rapid deployment of 1,500 light infantrymen will be the right answer to the next crisis. If military force is to be an instrument in achieving the EUs strategic goals set in the European Security Strategy - counteracting terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, promoting security in the neighbourhood and assisting the UN in the management of international crises - the EU will need far more than two battalion-size Battlegroups at its disposal to meet these goals. While the EU may not necessarily need an entire army, it will need at minimum a few standing brigades. If not, the Member States may eventually find themselves in a Union whose bark is much worse than its bite.

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Jan Joel Andersson is a research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. His main areas of research are European security and defence policy. A graduate of Uppsala University, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr Andersson is a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London and a form er visiting fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in Paris. Among his recent publications are the edited volume Sverige och Europas frsvar (2005) and a forthcoming co-edited volume on the European Security Strategy.

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