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European Adaptation to Expeditionary Warfare: Implications for the U.S. Army

Authored by Dr. Andrew M. Dorman. | November 2002

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As has North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU) is adapting to the changing regional and global security environment in the wake of the Cold War. Almost immediately, Europe began to recognize that it could not barricade itself from the world and live off the peace dividend while instability rampaged along its border. The existing European security organizations (Organ¬ization for Security Cooperation in Europe [OSCE], Western European Union [WEU]) were ill-suited to deal with the host of new challenges, and as the Balkans conflicts revealed, the European contribution to NATO had fallen woefully behind.

European relevance in the security arena required the EU to develop an expeditionary force capability. After nearly a decade of evolution, the concept of a European expeditionary force developed and formed the centerpiece of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) gener¬ated during the 1999 EU Helsinki Summit.

Primarily intended for the Petersberg Tasks? humanitarian and rescue, peacekeeping, and use of combat forces in crisis management including peacemaking?the expeditionary force shall comprise 50,000 to 60,000 troops, with an additional 140,000 troops in support of extended operations. A 5,000-strong police contingent shall supplement the force by providing crisis management expertise. To wean Europe from the United States, the EU will procure sufficient air- and sealift (and sharing of airframes within the EU under the Air Transport and Air Refuelling Exchange of Services (ATARES) agreement; logistics; Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Information, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR); and combat support to provide it with the capability to deploy the force within 60 days and sustain it for a year.

The headline goal is both ambitious and difficult. Realization of the expeditionary force will require European states to reform or abolish conscription; restructure their forces (modularize) to permit multinational formations; invest significantly in airlift (Airbus A400M) to develop a European Air Transport Command; and, improve sealift and sea power capabilities. Moreover, the EU must increase its precision attack and C4ISR capabilities significantly if it wishes to operate alongside the United States.

The United States can foster the development of the ESDP expeditionary force by:

  • monitoring EU progress as it develops a light, expeditionary force;
  • encouraging modularization of European units;
  • encouraging NATO to cover shortfalls in areas such as supression of enemy air defenses (SEAD), sealift, and airlift;
  • encouraging NATO to conduct structural reforms to enable it to conduct multiple contingency operations;
  • remaining patient, as EU reforms will be slow;
  • considering adoption of the ATARES model for increased capability sharing;
  • offering the EU the C-17 should the Airbus A400M fail;
  • offering the U.S. Civil Reserve Fleet and Naval Ready Reserve Fleet systems for EU study;
  • encouraging the Europeans to explore off-the-shelf technology as a cost saving measure;
  • formalizing embarkation and debarkation as part of NATO mission essential task listing;
  • encouraging Anglo-Dutch Amphibious Force equivalent for southern Europe;
  • encouraging EU development of joint surveillance, target attack radar systems (JSTARS);
  • encouraging full implementation of the Helsinki Headline Goals, especially C4ISR, precision attack, and sustainability; and,
  • encouraging consortiums within the EU as well as between the EU and the United States.

The establishment of an EU expeditionary force makes sense because it increases burden-sharing and also symbolizes shared risk in between the United States and Europe. Now that Europe is secure, the time is ripe for Europe to take on added security responsibilities.


The issue of European defense has been the source of far greater conflict since the end of the Cold War than during it. During the Cold War, Europe was dominated by the confrontation between the superpowers, with virtually all the states of Europe either formally or informally members of one or other alliance. Since 1989 Europe has witnessed significant change?the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) no longer exists, while the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has found itself involved for the first time in the actual application of force in Yugoslavia.

Further afield, the end of the Cold War has brought little respite. The previously reticent attitude of the European powers to the deployment of their military forces outside the NATO region has given way to the commitment of significant military forces in a variety of operations both within and outside Europe. These have included the Gulf War and the subsequent operation to relieve the Kurds in Northern Iraq, peace support operations in Cambodia, humanitarian operations in Somalia, operations through¬out the Balkans, with Macedonia looking set to be the next deployment, and the dispatch of British troops to Sierra Leone.

While all this has been going on, there has been a significant battle over the changing security agenda. At one level, the various security organizations within Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Western European Union (WEU), NATO, and European Union (EU), have all sought to take charge of the security agenda. Initially the OSCE (then the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe [CSCE]) was viewed as the favorite with many, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, viewing NATO as a defunct organization similar to the WTO. However, with the CSCE?s failure during the early stages of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the WEU currently folding into the EU, we have been left with two dominant European security organizations?NATO and the EU.

At the same time, the security agenda has been challenged.1 For example, while President of the European Commission (EC) Jacques Delors concluded:

[w]e cannot limit our horizons to the new Europe. All around us, naked ambition, lust for power, national uprisings and underdevelopment are combining to create potentially dangerous situations, containing the seeds of destabilization and conflict, aggravated by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Community must face this challenge. If it is to be worthy of the European ideal it must square up to the challenges of history and shoulder its share of the political and military responsibilities of our old nations, which have always left their mark on history.2

More recently, Britain?s current Labour government has sought to set out an internationalist agenda. At a key speech made in Chicago during the celebrations of NATO?s 50th anniversary, Prime Minister Tony Blair reinforced this point:

Twenty years ago we would not have been fighting in Kosovo. The fact that we are engaged is the result of a wide range of changes?the end of the Cold War, changing technology; the spread of democracy. But it is bigger than that. I believe the world has changed in a more fundamental way. Globalization has transformed economies and our working practices. But globalization is not just economic, it is also a political and security phenomenon.3

While all this has been going on, there has been significant change to Europe?s armed forces. Since 1989 they have invariably been reduced in size, and there has been a slow shift away from conscription in favor of professional forces. They also have begun to be reorientated away from their Cold War threat-based tasking with its emphasis on home defense, towards an expeditionary warfare capability in different forms. However, the progress has generally been slow, and in Kosovo the Europeans found themselves totally dependent upon America for the conduct of the majority of the air campaign.4 When the Americans subsequently put a limit on their own ground deployment, the Europeans struggled to put sufficient land forces together in time to implement the peace agreement.5

Commentating after the conflict, European Commis-sioner Chris Patten stated:

The first point is that, frankly, Europe is failing to pull its weight in NATO. The statistics are telling. The European members of NATO spend around 60 percent of what the USA spends on defense, but our capacity to project military force is 10-15 percent of Washington?s. With some 2 million in our military forces, we scarcely deploy 2 percent ofthat number for the Kosovo operation. Three-quarters of the aircraft, four-fifths of the ordnance and most of the intelligence in the former Yugoslavia was provided by the U.S. That makes us weaker allies than we should be. We have to put these defects right.6

This view is shared within NATO. The Secretary-General recently summarized the problem thus:

[T]ough decisions on defense restructuring and defense spending have to be made now. Because unless nations provide the necessary and in some cases missing defense capabilities, the scope for political decision making and action by NATO or the EU would be seriously limited.7

The author therefore seeks to examine the reality behind the European rhetoric about force capability and makes recommendations for the U.S. Army. This monograph has been divided into four parts:

First, it will set out six reasons, some new and some old, why European states either singularly, in groups, or collectively will use military force in an expeditionary fashion.

Next, it will examine how the two key security institutions within Europe, the EU and NATO, have adapted to the changing strategic environment and assess their proposed developments.

Then, it will identify trends in Europe?s power projection capabilities. This will include an examination of changes in posture, force makeup, and procurement programs.

Finally, it will critically evaluate the extent to which the changes in Europe?s defense priorities match the likely threat scenarios and force development plans. Implications for the U.S. Army will then be drawn and recommendations made.


It would be relatively straightforward to argue that the European expeditionary capability is largely a myth, and progress has been and is likely to remain extremely slow. What is already clear is that there is considerable potential for the Europeans to develop their own expeditionary capability. A number of steps have been taken, and it is important to note the words of David Yost: ?In contrast with most of its European allies, the United States has been preparing forces for transoceanic power projection for decades.?69

During the Cold War, Europe?s military forces were in many ways able to act autonomously from one another. For example, NATO?s Central Front consisted of a number of national corps all working on separate lines of communi-cation, which in wartime they would retreat along. It is only now, with the shift from territorial defense to expeditionary warfare, that there has been a significant requirement to work together, become inter-operable, and create the ability to project forces. The work undertaken by the European Air Group reflects some of the problems and successes encountered. During the Cold War, individual air bases generally supported a particular nation?s aircraft. It has taken time to discover and train to support other states? aircraft and to project that capability into the field but this is being achieved.

The United Kingdom?s House of Commons Select Committee on Defense rightly concludes that:

The political advantages of multinational cooperation include sharing risks, demonstrating collective intent and, by acting in unison in pursuit of a common cause, bringing greater international pressure to bear on an adversary than a single nation would be able to do on its own. The military advantages are that cooperation adds depth (strength in numbers) and breadth (additional capabilities) to a force, as well as provid¬ing access to national or regional logistic infrastructures and, in certain circumstances, access to high value information and intelligence.70

Both NATO?s DCI and the WEU?s study of capabilities indicated the same basic weaknesses, and the respective members of NATO and the EU have agreed to remedy these. While there has clearly been movement, a considerable amount of ground to cover remains.

Interoperability remains a key issue. The pace of improvement in U.S. information systems continues to widen the gap still further, and the United States already has been forced to retain some legacy systems. There are a number of potential ways to mitigate the problems, particularly in terms of C4ISR. For example, an increasing use of commercial off-the-shelf systems may facilitate a closing of the gap, but it requires the Europeans to emphasize compatibility as a funding priority. In other areas, the fulfilment of the Defense Trade Security Initiative to streamline export controls at least would allow all the EU and NATO members access to key defense capabilities in the first instance.

Alternatively, the adoption of role specialization would allow individual European states to focus their resources on particular capabilities. Here the ATARES agreement might serve as a model of how this could work. It has already been shown to reduce costs, which allow funds to be spent in other areas. Alternatively, increased recourse to the private sector either at the national level or the EU/NATO level may provide the opportunity to maintain or develop capabilities that would otherwise be unaffordable. The disadvantage of such an approach is that it abrogates the idea of shared risk, and it also increases dependency within the EU and NATO.


  • That the U.S. Army continues to monitor develop¬ments by the EU in adapting to expeditionary warfare and see how they evolve. At present, they are at such an embryonic stage they neither present a significant capability nor threat to NATO or U.S. interests.
  • That the U.S. Army encourages its European allies to standardize their approach to the modularization of their units. This would to facilitate their inter¬changeability.
  • That the U.S. Army reviews what capabilities it lacks in sufficient number and is unlikely to obtain at the national level, and encourages NATO to develop these as a substitute. Examples here include additional SEAD, sealift, and airlift.
  • That the U.S. Army encourages NATO in its structural adaptation so that it can support more than one operation at any one time. The U.S. Army needs to consider its own level of commitment to this.
  • That the U.S. Army continues to support the ongoing reform of the EU and NATO. The potential for the reform to slow is considerable within both bureauc¬racies and individual state agendas.
  • That the ATARES model be adopted more widely as a means of efficient capability sharing.
  • That the European A400M program is pressed ahead as a matter of urgency, and, if it should fail, recourse to the acquisition of C-17s as an alternative be considered. In the short term, other European states should consider the temporary leasing of C-17s from Boeing in a manner similar to the United Kingdom.
  • That the Europeans investigate whether they can create their own version of the U.S. Civil Reserve Air Fleet as a means of supplementing their air transport.
  • That the Europeans examine whether the use of privately funded capabilities, such as the United Kingdom?s six ALSLs, will provide capabilities at an affordable price.
  • That the Europeans reconsider their respective national legislation governing the transport of their own personnel and equipment by sea. Here the EU may serve as the perfect platform for coordinating national legislation. This should be aimed at enabling them to be transported by other NATO/EU partners.
  • That the process of loading and unloading army units be practiced regularly.
  • That the Europeans consider acquiring their own variant of the U.S. Ready Reserve Force, perhaps under the aegis of the EU.
  • That efforts to create a southern equivalent to the Anglo-Dutch Amphibious Force be encouraged.
  • That NATO presses ahead with its own JSTARS force similar to the existing NATO AWACS force.
  • That the Europeans begin to look more seriously at the future construct of their armies and particularly the ideas of a lighter force.
  • That the DCI and Helsinki Headline Goals be implemented in full, particularly in regards to C4ISR, precision attack, and the area of sustainability.
  • That the use of contracturization by individual states and by the EU and NATO be more actively considered.


1.See Simon Duke, The Elusive Quest for European Security: From EDC to CFSP, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press Ltd, 2000.

2.Jacques Delors, ?European integration and security,? Survival, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, March/April 1991, p. 100.

3.Tony Blair, ?Doctrine of the International Community,? Speech made to the Economic Club of Chicago, Hilton Hotel, Chicago, April 22, 1999, http://www.fco.gov.uk/news/speechtext.asp?2316.

4.See House of Commons Defense Committee, ?Fourteenth Report: Lessons of Kosovo, Report and Proceedings,? HC.347, session 1999-2000, London: The Stationery Office, 2000.

5.Lord Robertson, ?European Defense: the Way Ahead,? Speech to the RIIA Conference, October 7, 1999.

6.Right Honorable Chris Patten, ?The EU?s Evolving Foreign Policy Dimension?the CESDP after Helsinki," Speech to a Joint Meeting of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee with members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 00/5 1, February 22, 2000.

7.Lord Robertson, ?Opening Statement,? Meeting of the North Atlantic Council, Budapest, Hungary, May 29, 2001.

69.David S. Yost, ?The NATO Capabilities Gap and the European Union,? Survival, Winter 2000/1, p. 99.

70. House of Commons Select Committee on Defense, ?Fourteenth Report: Lessons of Kosovo,? HC.347, London: The Stationery Office, 2000.