General Kostarakos, what are in your view the main challenges EU CSDP operations face in the future?

The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), contributes to enhancing the security of European citizens and to international peace and stability. This was recognized by the Council on 18 May 2015 and the EU Council in June 2015. To achieve deepened cooperation with collective defence organizations, namely NATO, to further fine-tune our performance on the ground, to maximize the results of our training missions, they are also among the challenges that we persistently face in our effort to become more efficient and to optimize our performance!

Beyond them, the challenge I regard as the major one is to identify ways to further contribute to the EU’s comprehensive Capacity Building efforts in the places we are – or will be in the future – deployed, assisting the local security and defence-related Institutions in taking over the task to provide security by themselves to their fellow citizens.

To launch CSDP operations and missions, it requires not only political will but also the necessary capabilities. To what extend have lacking capabilities already become a stumbling block for new EU operations?

For every CSDP operation and mission, the participating countries need to have at their disposal the enablers which will allow for their deployment and sustainment. Unfortunately, there are still significant shortfalls in areas like air-to-air refuelling and intelligence, command & control and strategic reconnaissance. Clearly, these remain absolute priorities for European capability improvement. Obviously, EU-NATO complementarity in capability development remains a crucial issue.

As we speak, the EU runs no less than six CSDP-related missions and operations, two of them executive, the remaining being of an advisory and training nature. Problems arose in the past; they continue to rise, thankfully in a diminishing frequency and of lower severity. The point we have reached on the learning curve, enables us to tackle them in a timely manner and to proceed with our missions before they create further complications. Furthermore, the so far experienced ‘lack of capabilities’ has never been a ‘no-go’ factor for the EU, in launching an operation or mission that the political leadership regarded as necessary or indispensable.

And in the future?
It depends on the specifics of the operation we examine, on the region in which it will take place, on the mandate and the objectives that we would be tasked with, on the situation on the ground and on countless other major or minor details that have to be included into our planning procedures.

Taking into account that our current operations and missions are at the lower to medium end of the military spectrum, we are in position to realize a demand for similar operations without any major concern, should the EU leadership decide so.

Unfortunately, the so desired European strategic autonomy, always speaking strictly within the context of CSDP operations, remains an unaccomplished objective. Despite all the efforts made so far, Europe still lacks those strategic enablers that would render it capable of independently performing the full range of tasks associated with the missions and operations it launches.

While it is true that duplication of efforts and of capabilities are the contemporary ‘anathema’ and as such they have to be avoided, it also goes without saying that defending values and enjoying premium privileges such as autonomy comes with a cost. This ‘in house’ capabilities development is under no circumstances contradictory to the stated objective of strengthening cooperation between the European Union and NATO nor should it be regarded as challenging the Alliance’s leading role in assuring the territorial integrity of Member-States.

On the contrary and being remindful of the fact that the means of both organizations are –for the vast majority of them – nationally owned, this development will only increase the operational flexibility of the Alliance, it will facilitate a clear division of the respective roles and it will portray the complementarity of the European Union and NATO.

With the publication of the new EU Global Strategy, do you expect any major strategic or operational changes in the way CSDP operations and missions are contemplated, planned, decided and implemented?

The EU Global Strategy, as the HR/VP has stated, “...nurtures the ambition of strategic autonomy for the European Union.” This level of ambition has taken into account the contemporary security environment and reflects the role envisaged for the EU as a global actor and a security provider. It also portrays the level of engagement the European Union foresees for itself in the shaping of the future geostrategic environment in its neighbourhood and beyond it, in order to protect and advance its interests. In this context, the EU Global Strategy will affect and change the way we manage our operations and missions. A review of our procedures will have to take place and changes, were needed, will be applied, to ensure that we remain in good shape to respond to our role and to contribute to the EU’s Comprehensive Approach in a professional way.

Do you anticipate more EU operations in the future as a result of the renewed dynamic and security engagement which could result from the EU Global Strategy?

The EU Global Strategy provides a European answer to the deteriorating security environment in our neighbourhood and in the ‘neighbourhood of our neighbourhood’. The increasing geographical proximity of conflict, the ongoing occurrences of state fragility as well as the root causes of these phenomena that guarantee the reappearance of the flux unless addressed with determination: they are the scene setters of a broader European Union engagement with its geostrategic environment. Whether this engagement incorporates and to what extent each time the military element, remains to be seen. I expect that, at a different level for each particular engagement, the military element will be called to contribute, as the EU’s Comprehensive Approach provides for. This is, after all, the comparative advantage of the European Union. The nature of the contemporary challenges Europe faces – multifaceted, ambiguous or hybrid – calls for responses that address all of their aspects at the same time in a concerted way. The military can largely contribute to that, taking over a variety of roles. And this is thanks to the fact that the military is the most flexible, versatile, available and deployable tool in the European toolbox!

Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR Med) is the first CSDP operation with an openly coercive mandate which, if implemented, would lead the EU to engage in ‘peace enforcement’-type activities. What are the lessons learned so far from this operation since it reached its full operational capability in July 2015?

Operation Sophia (EUNAVFOR Med) has been a perfect test bed for coordination among EU actors on the ground. Namely, an EU regional task force on migration has been set in Catania under the coordination of Frontex which included EUNAVFOR Sophia, the Commission’s DG HOME, Europol, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the Italian law enforcement authorities, including the Prosecutor’s Office, Guardia Costiera, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza. UNHCR was also associated with the work of the Task force.

CSDP organisational structures and cultures have successfully met the demands of their ever-changing environment, being flexible, adaptable, agile and responsive. The Comprehensive Approach and partnerships worked very well avoiding duplications and developing synergies. It was a clear change of mind-set.

The EDA is active in supporting CSDP missions by offering its resources, expertise, existing projects as well as ready-to-use solutions and framework contracts. How important is this for EU operations and which additional role could the EDA play in order to ensure availability of necessary military capabilities now and in the future?

Against the backdrop of a complex and rapidly changing geostrategic environment and daunting fiscal constraints, the EU must ensure that it has the requisite capabilities and resources to act decisively as a security provider. Otherwise, the Global Strategy will remain an academic exercise and the vision of EU be seen as a credible security provider will become wishful thinking.

In this context, the role of the EDA in ensuring the timely development is undoubtedly essential. Although the development of military capabilities is primarily a national responsibility and will remain so for the foreseeable future, the new Capability Development Plan (CDP) tool and the revitalised Collaborative Data Base (CoDaBa) can help military planners to align planning processes and to identify possible partners in the development of future projects. The new EU Global Strategy could prove to be a catalyst, leading to improved cooperation between Member-States in order for the identified capabilities for its implementation to be developed.

To facilitate matching the EDA’s programmes to the actual needs of Mission and Operations, I suggested to their respective Commanders to visit the EDA upon taking up their commands to be briefed on the tools and services available to them. Feedback upon the completion of their tour would provide valuable input on how to better steer the efforts and offer better and more relevant tools and services to the troops deployed.

General Mikhail Kostarakos

was born in Thessaloniki in 1956. He graduated from the Hellenic Military Academy in 1978 as 2nd Lieutenant in the Artillery and commanded combat units of both Field and Air Defence Artillery (HAWK Missile system). As general Officer he commanded the Brigade level Command at CHIOS island, a Mechanized Infantry Division and the C’ Army Corps and NATO Deployable Corps Greece. He was assigned as Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff from 2011 to 2015. The EU Foreign Affairs Council appointed him as the Chairman of the Military Committee effective from 06 November 2015. He holds a Political Science degree from the Law Faculty of the University of Athens and a MsC in “Diplomatic and Strategic Studies”.