In their meeting on 15 November, the EU foreign ministers discussed the EU’s defence and security role and the action plan for developing a European Rapid Deployment Capacity (EU RDC) by 2025. According to reports, the ministers endorsed two operational scenarios: an initial phase of stabilisation, and rescue and evacuation protocols.
The EU RDC project was initially proposed in late March this year. Although the idea of an EU army had been aired before, the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war several weeks earlier catalysed serious European wide discussion of the establishment of an EU military force. This said, the actual nature of the EU’s role in the European security order in the near future hinges on the answers to three crucial questions.
The first is whether it will acquire military capacity. After years of denial the EU has now acknowledged that conventional land war presents a threat to the collective security of member states, on top of unconventional threats such as terrorism, energy dependency and organised crime. Accordingly, it needs to accelerate steps to form the EU Rapid Deployment Capacity called for in the EU’s Strategic Outlook 2022. Consultations are currently in progress to determine member states’ contributions in order to bring this force into being by 2023. According to the information available so far, Germany will take the lead, the Netherlands will contribute 150 battalions, Luxembourg will furnish reconnaissance satellites, and Belgium will provide special forces, though no details have emerged on the nature or quantity of these forces. Still, there remain considerable differences between EU members over the details of the EU RDC and some are sceptical that the idea will actually come to life.
The second question concerns EU-NATO relations. The EU is expected to move towards more complementary relations with NATO, enabling it to benefit from the organisation’s military capabilities, which have developed in accordance with a long-standing political and strategic concept of security that addresses potential conventional defence scenarios and rapid deployment needs.
This means the US will continue to assert its influence over European security outlooks and calculations through NATO. It also signals the end to any tendency towards independence from NATO-the US that some EU countries had advocated before the war in Ukraine.
As for the form that complementary relationship might take, at the security/military level in particular, some suggest that it would be embodied in a new security organisation charged with formulating the strategies, protocols and other mechanisms for responding to military threats using the RDC the EU is creating and governing how it would operate alongside NATO forces.
The third and final question is how the EU will deal with Russia and China. In light of the EU’s broader concept of security that comprises both conventional and unconventional spheres of military threats, and in view of the return of the arms race and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the EU will try to avoid ranking Russia and China enemy states to be confronted with military instruments, economic sanctions or political isolation. The rank of “frenemy” and an attempt to work out a modus vivendi are more likely
The EU’s Strategic Outlook 2022 speaks of how European energy and economic security depends on Russian energy sources, despite Russian attempts to carve out spheres of influence in Europe and countries of the South using military force, hybrid tactics and cyber-attacks.
The document refers to China as a partner with which the EU can work on such global concerns as climate change. However, it simultaneously maintains that China is involved in many of the world’s hotspots and furnishes military support to Russia in the Ukraine war. In addition, it states, China is an economic competitor to Europe and a power that wants to change the structure of the international order and the values on which it is based, to which testify its increasingly close relations with Russia.
The EU’s relations with both Russia and China are so multifaceted that a direct clash would be extremely costly at all security, economic and technological levels. The EU is therefore likely to engage in extensive negotiations with both Moscow and Beijing in order to forge a common ground for peaceful coexistence that will ensure Europe’s security needs and recognise Russian and Chinese interests and their influence in Europe.
* The writer is head of the Security Research Department at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a visiting professor of political science at Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.