In times of instability and fast changing risk scenarios, defence capability planning has become very complex and demanding. How do you handle this duty and what are the main challenges you are currently confronted with?

Currently, we are living in a very volatile and complex security environment. The threats and challenges and the related military scenarios cover the whole range from the sustainable conduct of crisis response operations to high intensity warfare for territorial defence. In principle, the Bundeswehr must dispose of those capabilities to address 360° of Security challenges. Therefore, we need to strike the right balance as far as the capability profile of our armed forces is concerned. With a single set of forces the Bundeswehr must be ready and capable of covering the entire spectrum of existing and potential tasks as laid down in the recently published Defence White Paper “White Paper on German Security policy and the future of the Bundeswehr”.

Consequently, we have adjusted earlier decisions on material, personnel and budget for the Bundeswehr and are breaking the trend of downsizing and decreasing. We are convinced the right answer to hybrid warfare is a comprehensive, whole of a government approach, i.e. a combination of closely coordinated soft- and hard power means. In our opinion, hard power does not fit to every problem we are facing at the moment. Nevertheless, hard power must not be excluded as it can play a significant and effective role.

New types of threat also change the picture?

Yes, cyber space is increasingly becoming a theatre of conflict. In order to counter these threats effectively and efficiently, a new Cyber Command will be established and will become operational in 2017. First and foremost, this Cyber Command will provide us with the capabilities to properly react to one of the most pressing security challenges.

We all should be aware: no European state alone has the capacity to solve today's challenges on its own. This is why we firmly believe that bilateral and multinational cooperation is essential for our future and has to be considered as one of the cornerstones for our national, European and transatlantic defence.

This will require a certain degree of harmonization and synchronization of Member States’ defence planning cycles and spending plans. What are in your view the main incentives and obstacles for achieving that?

National defence planning processes in general are rooted in national perspectives of the security situation. However, no single Nation is in a position to solve its security problems on its own and therefore we are engaged in the EU as well as in NATO to safeguard our security interests. Consequently, multinational defence planning processes such as the EU Capability Development Mechanism (CDM) and the EDA’s Capability Development Plan (CDP) as well as NATO’s Defence Planning Process (NDPP) are aiming to converge the various national efforts towards a commonly agreed political objective or a common level of ambition. In this respect the organisations are the “owners of the requirements”, whereas the Nations are the “owners of capabilities”.

Since Nations only have a single set of forces and capabilities at their disposal we have to make sure nations do not receive competing capability requirements and different lists of priorities from the above mentioned organisations. In other words the products of the various multinational planning processes should be in line with each other. We also have to make sure the requirements developed by the EU, EDA and NATO are all designed to correspond with our level of ambition and are at the same time realistic enough to be implemented. The requirements should also be expanded into the long term in order to allow room for manoeuvre to Nations to implement them. Finally, the definition of requirements and national defence planning issues must be transparent in order to provide an overview on the European capability landscape.

Besides that we need a change of mind set: National defence planning cannot be conducted successfully in isolation. Since we will always operate in a multinational environment, we have to look at coherence and interoperability of our European force pool in the first place. Therefore, the national defence planners always have at least to take into account the effects of their national planning on the European capability landscape and the ability to operate together.

National defence planning cannot be conducted successfully in isolation

A coordinated annual review of Member States’ defence planning and spending would help to achieve this. What is your take on this idea, would it be a step-change?

The term ‘European Defence Semester’ was recently put forward on numerous occasions like in the EU Global Strategy or the Initiative of the French and German defence ministers to revitalize CSDP. The answer to your question ties in with what has been said earlier. I am convinced the added value of a coordinated annual review would be an unprecedented level of transparency and also a higher political visibility on multinational and national capability development.

A coordinated annual review could be a periodic EU peer review of military and civilian capabilities as well as related shortfalls and budget lines, which makes full use of the existing processes and reporting systems in the EU and EDA (…) This approach could lift capability development to the political level and thus make EU defence planning more visible and politically more relevant.

You are the current chairman of the EDA Steering Board in Capability Directors composition. Based on your first year in this position, what are the biggest hurdles for enhanced capability cooperation and what could be done to overcome them?

In my view the cooperation between European capability directors is on a good way. However, there is still some room for improvement and an enhanced cooperation requires further steps. We need to meet more often and discuss the issues relevant to our level.

We have to ensure a common situational awareness, broad information sharing and free exchange of views between Capability Directors to allow well-informed decision making. With support of the EDA the right tools to foster these processes are available. Now we have to make best use of it.

However, we must not forget that the substance and its details cannot be handled by the directors’ level only. We need the entire ‘capability community’ to be successful. In this respect the new setup of ‘Capability Days’ to prepare the content of the Steering Boards in the format of Capability Directors as well as to give guidance to the expert level seems to me a promising way ahead.

All in all we clearly have to overcome a case-by-case or event driven dialogue. Therefore, we should investigate how to further improve our way of working and to achieve both more focus and more continuity.

How could EDA be enabled to better facilitate defence cooperation?

Let’s have a look at EDA’s history: Over the past twelve years, we have tried a number of measures and EDA has developed excellent offers to support the participating Member States (pMS) in numerous areas. There might even be some divergences of views amongst pMS on EDA’s performance. However, let us be honest: EDA remains a service provider for its Member States and its the pMS who play the decisive role when it comes to substantial cooperation. Therefore, EDA has to further provide services and instruments of support in its portfolio. From my point of view, I would also like to encourage EDA to further pursue a capability driven approach as the main driver of its activities across all relevant areas within EDA’s mandate in particular when it comes to R&T activities. EDA’s and pMS R&T activities must be first and foremost capability driven.

EDA is increasingly assuming the important role of the pMS’ voice in Brussels. Let’s take the Single European Sky (SES) activities, for example. Their results have become indispensable for national decision making processes.

We have already achieved remarkable progress, especially in capability planning and development. We need to tap EDA's full potential by further improvement and alignment of established fora and processes.

In the process of identifying and meeting requirements, the EDA should therefore focus on preparing multinational armament programmes, i.e. serve as a European coordination and catalyst forum for programme preparation. The further implementation should then be transferred to a dedicated management agency, such as OCCAR, or a pilot nation. The existing Administrative Arrangement between EDA and OCCAR provides the cornerstone for such an approach.

Do you see any role for EDA in providing support to the Framework Nations Concept (FNC)?

The 16 FNC Defence Ministers decided in June 2016 to open the FNC concept for partner nations and we are investigating how we can benefit from existing multinational organizations, such as the EDA. I consider this is a unique opportunity to visibly demonstrate a pragmatic way of working between NATO and the EU. I am convinced that this will strengthen the European pillar within NATO.

The EDA has been invited as an observer to the upcoming FNC meetings. That is a first significant step. We will continue to identify the scope, modalities and concrete areas of future cooperation and support.

As a result of the FNC Steering Board meeting, FNC participating Nations asked EDA to consider whether the agency could provide a common electronic workspace. This initiates a pragmatic working relationship and our experts already figure out in detail, how EDA can pragmatically support the implementation of FNC activities.

You served as Commander of the 9th German Kosovo Force Contingent (2004) and as NATO Commander KFOR in Pristina (2010-2011). Based on your experience, what an improvement would it be if, in future, EU military operations were commanded out of a joint military HQ instead of rotational command by EU states?

The Union presently deploys eleven civilian missions and six military operations across three continents. Currently the EU has three different options to plan and conduct its operations and missions: either by Operational HQ provided by Member States, by using the NATO Command Structure via the Berlin-Plus-Agreement or the EU OPCEN while civilian CSDP missions already have their own planning and conduct capability (CPCC).

However, the current EU crisis management structures left three out of six EU operations - the non-executive military training missions - without a planning and conduct capability at strategic level.

The EU is not on the verge of launching a permanent “EU HQ” for military operations – nor trying to duplicate NATO’s command structure. From my perspective the national OHQ remain an important pillar for executive EUFOR- or EUNAVFOR-operations. But for non-executive training and advisory missions, the EU will need its own strategic planning and conduct capabilities especially linking civilian and military efforts more closely.

However, this would not be a completely new element but could build onto already existing elements within the current structures of the European Union Military Staff, CPCC and the EU OPCEN Horn of Africa and SAHEL.


Lieutenant General Erhard Bühler joined the Federal Armed Forces in 1976. Since then, he held numerous positions, including Military Assistant to the Permanent State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Defence (1997-1998) and Senior Military Assistant to the Minister of Defence (2001-2003) before becoming Commander of the 12th Armoured Brigade (2003-2006), Deputy Chief of Staff V (Operations) of the Armed Forces Staff at the MoD (2006-2009), Commander 10th Armoured Division (2009-2013) and Commander of the NATO Joint Warfare Centre in Stavanger/Norway (2013-2014). Since August 2014, Lt General Bühler is Director for Defence Plans & Policy and Head of the Directorate General for Planning in the Federal MoD in Bonn.