European Union Has Developed a Nascent, but Growing Capacity to Deploy and Employ Armed Force

For Release

July 8, 2008

Over the past few years, the European Union has demonstrated the capacity to deploy and employ armed force outside its borders in support of broader common policy objectives, creating a new player in nation-building operations, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Until quite recently peacekeeping and post conflict reconstruction had been the province of the United Nations, NATO or American-led coalitions. Since the beginning of the current decade, however, the EU has begun to conduct such operations, leading peacemaking in Macedonia, taking over from NATO in Bosnia, conducting two military interventions in the Congo, and most recently deploying a peacekeeping force in Chad, according to the report.

Individual European governments have also played a dominant role in several recent peacekeeping operations, including Italy in Albania, the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone and France in the Cote d'Ivoire.

The new RAND study is the first comprehensive assessment of the European record in nation building. It examines all the above mentioned cases in which the European Union or a European government took the lead in a nation-building operation. RAND is a nonprofit research organization.

The report also reviews one Australian-led nation-building effort in the Solomon Islands that offers an interesting contrast to European, American and U.N. efforts elsewhere.

“There are certainly difficulties in distinguishing between American, U.N. and European-led missions since most international peace operations involve all three to one degree or another," said James Dobbins, the report's lead author and director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center. "But it does make a difference who is actually in overall charge — Washington, D.C., New York, Brussels or another European capital."

The RAND study examines those differences, compares the respective records, determines how the European approach differs from the American and U.N., and discusses what can be learned from those differences.

"Europe's Role in Nation-Building: From the Balkans to the Congo" is the third in a series of case studies examining the United States, United Nations and European-led nation-building operations since World War II.

All of the European-led nation-building operations studied, with the exception of the French in the Cote D'Ivoire, were rated successful. The European Union has thus demonstrated the capability of deploying and employing armed force, sometimes at great distance, and sometimes in quite difficult circumstances, according to Dobbins. In most cases, however, EU forces arrived only after someone else had pacified the country in question. Having now run several of these limited military interventions, in effect as pilot programs, the EU has demonstrated the capacity to take on somewhat larger responsibilities.

These successes not withstanding, most European governments continue to be rather risk-averse. For example, while heavily armed, highly trained European forces are now seeking to safeguard refugee camps in Chad, the U.N. is sending less-well-equipped soldiers to pacify the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. A reversal of roles might yield better results, Dobbins said, but European governments have been reluctant to commit forces to the more demanding Darfur operation.

Many European nations struggle with domestic resistance to the use of armed force for anything other than self-defense, according to the report. Funding nation-building efforts is also an issue, as force maintenance and modernization funds must be used from fixed budgets. This differs from the United States, which can use supplemental funding for major, unforeseen military contingencies.

The EU now offers Europeans another option for the conduct of peacekeeping missions, but it is not necessarily the most cost effective. Comparison of the U.S., European and U.N. records in this field show the U.N. scoring as high or higher in three out of four measures of success. The U.N. should thus remain the default option for peacekeeping missions, according to the RAND report. The best way for Europe and the United States to bolster such missions is to assign national contingents to U.N. operations, not conduct parallel Western-led missions.

"NATO provides the preferred vehicle for European defense and the U.N. for peacekeeping, but it's possible one — or both — of these may be unavailable or unsuitable in some circumstances," Dobbins said. "European governments want to be able to act independently and collectively should that happen. ESDP (European Defense and Security Policy) is designed to provide such an alternative and it now does so on a limited but growing scale."

The study was conducted in the public interest and supported by RAND using discretionary funds made possible by the generosity of its philanthropic supporters and the fees earned on client-funded research. Other authors of the study are Seth G. Jones, Keith Crane, Nora Bensahel, Christopher S. Chivvis, Benjamin W. Goldsmith, Stephen Larrabee, Andrew Radin, Brooke K. Stearns.

"Europe's Role in Nation-Building: From the Balkans to the Congo" is available at

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