There could have hardly been a more interesting time to take over the role of Chairman of the EU Military Committee (EUMC) than now. A central part of the EU Strategic Compass preparations, the EUMC had just delivered its key contribution: the military expertise, the so-called ‘end-user perspective', to set the political guidelines for an historical shift of gear towards a credible European defence. A true success story for the European Union in terms of demonstrating, with an actionable document, the required shared responsibility for ensuring the security and defence of EU interests.

However, just when Member States were about to co-sign the Strategic Compass, the unjustified and unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine brought war back to European soil, brutally.

Considered a wake-up call or even a tectonic shift, this crisis has come as the latest in a long series of events affecting - more or less directly - the security of our territory and citizens. The Caucasus, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific region, Syria, the Mediterranean Sea and Libya as the bottleneck of all crises stemming from the Sahel: these are all troubled or potentially distressed regions where the EU is already active, with the objective of projecting security.

Strong, unprecedented EU reaction

Yet, the magnitude of the EU’s overall reaction in support of Kyiv is unparalleled, with powerful and unprecedented political and economic sanctions now in place against Moscow.  Breaking long-standing taboos, the EU also unleashed the full power of its European Peace Facility mechanism, financially backing the delivery of lethal weapon to Ukraine for the defence of its territory. Not to forget the significant change of mind on security and defence witnessed in countries such as Sweden, Finland, Germany and Denmark.

In my opinion, this is the very first lesson we can draw from the recent crisis: when the going gets tough, the EU and its Member States can flex their muscles. In this respect, the Russian war in Ukraine has proved a real game changer, far from dividing EU Members States.

On the other hand, we know that we need to exercise those muscles, now.

Even though the EU is not directly engaged militarily in this conflict, there are already a number of lessons identified that will be key in supporting the implementation of the Strategic Compass, and developing a credible and more autonomous EU defence.


  • Special Operation Forces (Austrian Armed Forces)


Operational lessons identified

Remaining below the nuclear threshold, this conventional conflict has in fact shown that the quantity  of available boots on the ground, armament, technology, imagery, communications, as well as  the industrial support , continue to be decisive for projecting power on the battlefield. In addition to that, this war is also showing the importance of having adequate weaponry stockpiles, once the conflict turns into a war of attrition.

Logistics, often considered secondary compared to operational aspects, have also once more demonstrated their crucial impact on warfare: footage of tanks out of fuel, kilometres-long convoys stalled on the street sides and soldiers hunting for food will fill history books with powerful images, and not just for military planners…

Linked to this, the surgical use of strategic communications has also been instrumental in building narratives to motivate soldiers, population, create partnerships, achieve supports, and eventually gain an advantage on the battlefield.

Last but not least, in an enlarged battlespace jammed with sophisticated Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and satellite reconnaissance, but also made of shoulder-rockets and tanks, this war has demonstrated how cyberwarfare can often disrupt, but seldom disable operations.

Against this backdrop, one question arises: in such a scenario, would the EU be capable - as a whole - to defend itself against such immediate threats and challenges? The answer is not so simple.

The evolving global scenario, marked by continuously shifting interests after the end of the Cold War, has led the EU to acknowledge that relying solely on other organisations for its own security is anachronistic and unreasonable. Hence its ambition to seize the moment and move towards more autonomy.

While collective defence is and will remain within  NATO’s remit, the EU recognises that its muscles are strong, yes, but probably not strong enough to support its current ambitions. In fact, there are still critical capabilities and capacities we lack in order to be credible when we cooperate with partners (our preferred way), or when we have to act autonomously (should the situation require it).

On top of Europe’s list of capability gaps feature Command and Control structures, suitable Communication capacities, logistic, airlift, medical support, military mobility, intelligence and reconnaissance instruments, all of which are enablers necessary to project security abroad. Such capabilities are indispensable even for crisis management in non-permissive environments, and the activation of the newly agreed spearhead of EU defence, the Rapid Deployment Capacity.


  • EUTM

If you want peace, prepare for war

All these topics have been addressed, in principle, by the Strategic Compass, which must be now implemented with a new, truly converging attitude by all Member States. This is something we must still achieve.

The fragmentation of the defence landscape and the uncoordinated way we continue to spend our national defence budgets are leading examples of this lack of cooperation: we don’t do enough joint research & innovation and  joint procurement, while we maintain old national arsenals and invest too much into competing systems. From a purely military perspective, all this is hardly understandable in terms of interoperability and logistics, and unacceptable if we want to protect ourselves against direct and long-term threats for Europe’s security.

Therefore, the way ahead should be based on a simple concept: if we want peace and stability, we should also prepare for war. Security does not come easy, nor for free.

More cooperation needed

In practical terms, using the current momentum without aiming to duplicate or compete with NATO, we should rapidly achieve our own, autonomous capacity to manage operations and missions, dispose of strategic foresight, and do our defence planning, for prevention and deterrence, in a more integrated, collaborative way.

We should give up some national sovereignty in developing key capabilities. In a way, we should take a step back as single stakeholders, only to better advance together afterwards, in a rugby-like strategy. We should refill our stocks, in some cases consistently depleted by considerable transfers of military equipment and ammunition to Ukraine, by buying together, and better.

Time on our hands is very limited. Decisions cannot be procrastinated any further, especially considering the long timespan required to prioritise defence spending, procure key systems and have them operationally available.

We will then need to exercise those capabilities and capacities, robustly, and to find ways to finance and enhance those exercises. Together as EU Member States, and with partners.

At the same time, for the sake of credibility, we should not diminish our current efforts on the ground but, on the contrary, invest more in mitigating existing and potential future crises, wherever the EU’s interests are at stake, also considering  their economic, energy-related and humanitarian effects, to name only a few of them.

Because if the Russian aggression has attracted all the spotlight, several other crises continue to raise concerns, often right at our borders.

In conclusion, if I had to highlight three topics on which I intend to focus my EUMC Chairmanship in the next three years, I would mention: cooperation, implementation of the Strategic Compass and support to CSDP activities.

First, the need to enhance cooperation, at all levels. Cooperation among ourselves, as military leaders, among Member States, with NATO, the UN, the African Union and all other stakeholders involved.

This cooperation will be even more instrumental if we can benefit from the existing and new collaborative opportunities, and if we deliver on the Strategic Compass in a timely fashion, knowing that  60% of the agreed actions in the Compass are to be implemented before the end of the year.

Finally, we should continue to build on the results and lessons learned from our ongoing missions and operations, and make their mandates more robust and effective. Eventually, this will make them more attractive for contributing Member States and partners and deliver a message of trust to host nations and the wider international community.

To sum up, I believe that more than ever before, the EU is now regarded as a first-line security stakeholder, which plays a leading role in the A-league of global security providers. The Russian  war in Ukraine has pulled  Member States together, offering an opportunity we cannot miss. The situation calls for it, our partners demand it, and European citizens expect it.

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