The Battle Group 1500 [BG 1500] is made up of ground forces held at a readiness of 5-10 days that can be deployed and sustained at 6,000 km or more from the EU territory for operations lasting between 30 and 120 days. Member States participating in the BG concept offer their 'battle group packages' for periods of six months at a time. The 15 European Battle Groups, most of them multinational, each consist of at least 1,500 soldier. Europe had the first battle group ready for deployment in 2005, and maintained two battle groups on standby when the Battle Groups reached full operational capacity in January 2007.
In 2004 France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands agreed to build up an European Gendarmerie Force with a seize of about 800-900 police officers and based in Vicenza, Italy.
The BG 1500 comprises a limited combat force built around an infantry battalion (500/600 personnel) with fire support, reconnaissance means and staff support. It is completed by combat support elements (engineer, air defence, helicopter support) and combat service support (logistic, medical support, etc.). It can, if necessary, be back up by element of forces drawn from air and/or naval forces and if necessary by 'special forces'.
Multinationality was not the primary course sought by the initiators of the BG concept. A certain divergence of perspectives still exists between countries such as France and Britain (which will man a purely national BG in the second part of 2008) and the other EU member states. For Paris and London it appears that the combat core of the BG (i.e. about 500-600 infantry soldiers) have to be drawn from the same country; and if not they have to belong to countries that have already trained together, such as the Dutch and the British; the French, the German and the Belgians; or the Nordic BG (the only BG which exists on a permanent basis and in which Sweden represent about two-thirds of the manpower).
The EU Battlegroup concept was conceived primarily as a means of encouraging continued improvements in deployable European capabilities, thus widening the scope for burden sharing with European partners. This would in turn broaden the pool of European high readiness capabilities available not only to the EU but also to NATO and, specifically, the NATO Response Force. In addition, this kind of high readiness capability meets the UN's requirement for forces who are able to respond very rapidly to an emerging crisis under a Chapter VII mandate, and thereby demonstrates European willingness to meet a crucial global capability gap in support of the United Nations.
The concept was initially proposed as a UK, French and German initiative, following on from bilateral discussions with the French on furthering conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations in close co-operation with the United Nations, and the Declaration made at the Anglo-French Summit on 24 November 2003.
Battlegroups were designed specifically, but not exclusively, to be used in response to a request from the United Nations to undertake rapid intervention in a hostile environment. This might include acting to prevent atrocities or helping with the provision of urgent humanitarian aid. This type of scenario is particularly applicable in failing or failed states. Recent examples in Africa (such as the UK's operational experience in Sierra Leone, the French in Co^te d'Ivoire, and the EU's operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) have not only illustrated the need for such a capability, but demonstrated how a relatively small number of forces can have a significant eVect in a short period of time, provided they can be deployed rapidly with the appropriate support.
The Battlegroup initiative set a new level of ambition for the EU, alongside the existing 1999 Helsinki Headline Goal. It formed a part of the new 2010 Headline Goal which adds to the original aims a clearer focus on the quality of the capability, such as the ability to deploy forces rapidly, sustain them at distance and operate multi nationally. The Battlegroup initiative concentrates on smaller, higher readiness forces, more rapidly deployable, more mobile and more self-sustainable.
The key elements of the initiative are:
- Stand-alone Battlegroup-sized forces (around 1,500 strong, including Combat Support and Combat Service Support);
- deployable within 15 days;
- sustainable for 30 days (but extendable up to 120 days);
- designed for compatibility with typical UN Chapter VII mandates to restore international peace and security; and
- composed of contributions from one or more Member States, and open to participation by third parties.
Rapid response forces need not necessarily be large but they do need to be militarily eVective, credible, coherent and capable of stand-alone operations. EU Battlegroups are composed of the generally accepted minimum force elements necessary to meet such requirements. They are a specific form of rapid response and constitute part of the wider strands of work that collectively make up the EU's eVorts to improve its ability in this area.
In discussions between the EU and NATO, there was broad agreement that the Battlegroup initiative will be mutually reinforcing with the larger NATO Response Force (NRF), each providing a positive impetus for military capability improvement. Wherever possible and applicable, standards, practical methods and procedures for Battlegroups are analogous to those defined within the NRF. Correctly managed, there is considerable potential for synergy between the two initiatives.
The types of mission for which the NRF and Battlegroups are designed are complementary, rather than being duplicative. The NRF is designed to participate in the full range of Alliance missions, up to and including high intensity war-fighting. This may include a show of force, stand-alone use for crisis response operations, or initial entry for a larger operation. On the other hand, EU Battlegroups will in most cases be deployed in response to a UN request and will be capable of robust peace enforcement on a limited scale. Likely missions include local suppression of hostilities, separation of parties and prevention of atrocities.
Nevertheless, the EU Battlegroups have the potential to act as a useful "stepping-stone" for countries who want to contribute to the NRF, by developing their high readiness forces to the required standard and integrating small countries'contributions into multinational units. The key will be to ensure transparency in the development of these initiatives so that we avoid duplication and enable those Member States contributing to both to harmonise their commitments.
This initiative attracted a high level of political support throughout Europe, not least as it is closely linked to the "protocol for structured co-operation" in the new European Constitutional Treaty. Structured co-operation is a treaty mechanism to allow some Member States to make more binding commitments to each other in defence matters. The UK ensured that the Treaty set out participation in battlegroups as the principal entry criterion for membership of structured co-operation. This has two welcome effects: first, it prevents structured co-operation becoming a closed or exclusive club (any Member State who chooses to meet this criterion can join); second, it has provided a strong political incentive for all Member States to make real investment in deployable, high readiness forces, so that they can contribute to a battlegroup and hence be included in structured co-operation.
The EU Battlegroup proposal was welcomed by the European Council in March 2004. In his report on EU military rapid response in April 2004, the Secretary General Javier Solana proposed a methodology for developing the capabilities required for rapid response. This proposal was approved by the Council of Ministers in May 2004 and integrated into the Headline Goal 2010 to provide the political guidance for the development of the concept. The Council also concluded that work on the Battlegroup Concept should be completed by the end of the Irish Presidency in June 2004. The European Council on 14 June welcomed the agreement of the Battlegroups Concept by the EUMC. Finally, and as noted above, Ministers of Defence reaYrmed their commitment to the concept at the Military Capability Commitment Conference on 22 November.
A roadmap leading up to the Full Operational Capability period was agreed and the next steps involve developing the operating standards, rotation principles and training requirements for the Battlegroups. Work was also underway between the EU and NATO on harmonising the Battlegroup and NRF concepts to ensure they continue to develop on a complementary and mutually reinforcing basis. The UK is fully engaged in this process and is supporting EU Member States with advice on how best to develop the critical enabling capabilities required to deploy and sustain an EU Battlegroup.
The Military Capability Commitments Conference on 22 November 2004 drew commitments from 22 different EU Member States, along with Norway, resulting in a total of 13 Battlegroups, and a number of supporting niche capabilities, to be available by 2007. This was testament to the success of the Battlegroup initiative in driving the development of high-quality crisis management forces by European partners. With so many countries participating, each will have its turn in the spotlight.
Full Operational Capability was to be reached by 2007, with the Union able to undertake two concurrent single Battlegroup-size rapid response operations. In the meantime, during the Initial Operational Capability period, the EU was able to provide at least one coherent Battlegroup package, to undertake one Battlegroup-size operation.
The United Kingdom committed one national and one multinational Battlegroup, in partnership with the Netherlands, based on long-standing cooperation in the UK/Dutch Amphibious Force. The UK expected to hold one of these Battlegroups on standby for six months in any two-year period. The national Battlegroup was on standby for this first six-month rotation (January-June 2005), during which time France had also committed a national Battlegroup. The UK/Dutch multinational Battlegroup would be available after 2007. To meet these commitments, UK troops will be drawn from the Joint Rapid Reaction Force as appropriate at the time. The UK has also made available facilities at the Permanent Joint Headquarters, Northwood, as a multi-national Operation HQ for any future potential Swedish-led EU Battlegroup operation.
Funding for ESDP operations involving Battlegroups would follow the agreed format for all military ESDP operations, i.e., funding for "common costs" (eg Headquarters) divided between Member States on a Gross National Product key, and all other costs paid for by the sending Member State. Therefore, as has been the case with EU military operations to date, in the Demographic Republic of Congo and Bosnia, the majority of the costs of any EU military operation involving a Battlegroup will fall to the Member State, or States, which provide the forces deployed. Given that Member States are providing their Battlegroups contributions on a voluntary rotational basis this approach should ensure an equitable division of financial burden between participating Member States.
Member States' contributions involve a form of rotational plan based on a six-month cycle. The system would be flexible to accommodate the diVerent ways in which Member States organise their contributions: some will wish to draw on existing high readiness forces (either continuously or periodically) to meet a Battlegroup commitment, whereas others will prefer to generate specific formations for explicit periods of stand-by. The most important factor is that it must be for Member States to produce complete Battlegroup packages, either nationally or in small multinational groups. That means small countries providing niche contributions must ensure they are integrated into full Battlegroups, and not simply placed on the table. The UK is therefore opposed to any heavily centralised force generation process which would allow countries to oVer small, incoherent contributions, relying on the EU Military StaV to bind them into groups, and reducing the incentive of this initiative to drive national capability improvement.
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