Deployment of rapid-reaction forces

December 8, 2015 - nr.96
Summary

Conclusions and recommendations

Conclusions

In 2007, the AIV published its advisory report no. 56, ‘Deployment of the Armed Forces: Interaction between National and International Decision-Making’.1 Since then the EU Battlegroups, designed for crisis management tasks, have undergone few substantial changes. The Battlegroups have not been deployed and the concept remains almost unchanged. The question has been voiced whether it is worthwhile to continue with this rapid-reaction force; in other words, ‘use them or lose them’. The NATO Response Force (NRF), designed for crisis management and collective defence, has also been hardly deployed to date. The NRF has been deployed twice for humanitarian operations, as well as during the presidential elections in Afghanistan. Its relevance has, however, increased recently. In 2014, in response to the deteriorating security situation on the eastern border of the North Atlantic Treaty area, NATO decided to restructure the NRF. This included establishing a Very High Readiness Task Force (VJTF), also referred to as the ‘spearhead force’ because of its rapid response time. The NRF’s raison d’être is therefore not in dispute.

The security situation in Europe has changed radically. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, the advance of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the disintegration of Libya have resulted in an ‘arc of instability’ on Europe’s borders that presents a direct threat to security on the continent. The European member states cannot ignore the need to take responsibility for their own security. This includes, if necessary, military intervention. The EU is therefore developing a new security strategy. International cooperation on defence in Europe, both bilaterally and multilaterally, has intensified enormously. This has led to the emergence of an increasing number of permanent military partnerships, including the Visegrad Group, the Weimar Triangle and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).

National and international decision-making procedures have largely remained unchanged in recent years. A fast-track procedure has been introduced in the EU, but it has not led to deployment of the Battlegroups. Within NATO, steps are being taken to speed up planning and decision-making procedures, including giving the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) the authority to prepare units for deployment pending the outcome of those procedures. There is also greater focus on decision-making procedures at ministerial and parliamentary level. Defence ministers have conducted political exercises (POLEX) for a number of deployment scenarios, and parliamentary decision-making procedures have been discussed on several occasions at the Interparliamentary Conference (IPC).

The principle question in the government’s request for advice s as follows:

What, if any, further adjustments to national and international procedures are necessary in order to facilitate and expedite decision-making on the use of rapid-reaction military units and on crises? 

The fact that the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF have not been deployed for crisis management tasks is, in the AIV’s opinion, not due to national and/or international decision-making procedures. Member states have repeatedly proved unwilling to place units at the disposal of these forces. The AIV believes that this unwillingness is related to the current state of European defence cooperation and the level of public support for European integration. Faster development is not something that can be forced.

In the view of the AIV, changing the set-up and concept of the Battlegroups would make their deployment more likely than changing the decision-making procedures. The possible deployment of the NRF/VJTF has taken on a different perspective as a consequence of deteriorating relations with Russia. Both the concept and the decision-making procedures have been adapted to the changing circumstances, so that deployment for the purpose of collective defence is now possible.

The government’s first subsidiary question is as follows:

What are the factors that have thus far precluded the use of rapid-reaction units (e.g. EU Battlegroups, NRF and JEF) in operations? What adjustments to the design of and decision-making procedures for rapid-reaction forces must be made in order to expedite decision-making?

The failure to deploy the EU Battlegroups and the NRF for crisis management tasks is a consequence of the following factors:

  1. The structure and set-up of the EU Battlegroups and the NRF: the rotation schedules for both rapid-reaction forces are fixed long in advance and lack flexibility, while their composition is highly random. It is asking a great deal to organise close international cooperation at a relatively low (battalion) level. There is no continuity, as the composition of the EU Battlegroups changes every six months and that of the NRF every 12 months. The Battlegroups are also limited in size, restricting the number of crisis management tasks for which they can be effectively deployed. The Battlegroups do not have their own follow-on forces.
  2. The Battlegroups have no central military planning or operational command structure – the headquarters changes each time the Battlegroup changes – causing time to be lost and reducing the EU’s combat readiness.
  3. The military-strategic cultures of the member states in relation to defence differ substantially, including varying doctrines and/or different perspectives on rules of engagement. In addition, they differ on the EU’s role in the area of security and that of the EU Battlegroups within it. There are also large differences between the military capabilities of the individual member states.
  4. In the case of both the Battlegroups and the NRF, many member states and/or allies are discouraged from taking action by the lack of joint financing. The lion’s share of the costs are borne by the participating countries and not by the EU or NATO as a whole.

In the AIV’s opinion, the EU would be well advised to change the concept of the Battlegroups and in the future to form them through permanent defence partnerships like the Visegrad Group, the Weimar Triangle, the JEF, the Lancaster House cooperation between France and the UK, the UK/NL Amphibious Force or the Benelux partnership. Such an arrangement would generate greater continuity. It also has the significant advantage that the participating units have already chosen to collaborate and therefore will become increasingly accustomed to working together. This effect will be even stronger if the participating countries consistently make the same units available. When there is general agreement that military action is required, it is crucial that the military options be credible. This can be assured if the Battlegroups are always deployed in combination with units from one or more of the larger countries (France, Germany and the UK).

The absence of a central operational command – a European headquarters – could be addressed by establishing a central unit for operational military planning and command. The AIV is aware that the time is not yet ripe to set up a fully fledged European headquarters, but believes that establishing a Military Planning and Conduct Capability, analogous to the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability, would be a step in the right direction. It would also facilitate an integrated approach with the European Commission from the outset.

For the financing of the Battlegroups, the EU’s Athena mechanism would have to be changed so that the bulk of the costs of Battlegroup operations are borne by all member states. It is disappointing that the recent review of Athena produced so few results in this respect. The next review, in 2017, should at least designate the transport costs to and from the area of operations as common costs. For NATO, setting up a common fund could be an option. In the AIV’s opinion, all NATO allies should bear the cost of deploying the NRF/VJTF, especially for the purpose of collective defence.

The government’s second subsidiary question is as follows:

Should the national decision-making process on the allocation of military units to rapid-reaction forces also encompass decision-making on their actual deployment?

In the AIV’s opinion it is not possible, when allocating military units to rapid-reaction forces, to anticipate decision-making on their potential deployment. When the Dutch government allocates military units to the EU and NATO and informs parliament of this by letter, not all the components of the Terms of Reference for decision-making on the deployment of military units abroad are known. As there is usually no actual operation imminent, no information is available on the nature of the mission, its objectives or the exit strategy. The House of Representatives can therefore make no assessment on these issues. Consequently, the AIV considers it neither possible nor desirable to run ahead of the Article 100 procedure in this way by completing parts of it at the allocation stage.

In the AIV’s view, such a measure is also not necessary. If the government sends a letter of notification to the House of Representatives, informs the House when the military plans for deployment options are being fleshed out, and sends the Article 100 letter prior to the decisive session of the EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) or the North Atlantic Council (NAC), it has in the AIV’s opinion informed parliament in the correct manner, giving it sufficient time to discuss the issue. The AIV believes that time is not the problematic factor; if the decision-making procedure needs to move quickly, parliament will be willing to cooperate.

The AIV does see opportunities to raise the profile of the national decision-making procedure. Firstly, the House of Representatives should reflect in detail every year on the government’s decision allocating units to the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF. In its letter informing parliament of this decision, the government could describe the current security situation in the various crisis areas and the possible deployment scenarios. The letter merits extensive parliamentary consideration, involving both the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and on Defence. The Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs usually acts only in the case of an Article 100 letter being sent. Because of the prominent role this committee plays in the parliamentary consideration of the Article 100 letter or in a situation falling under article 97 of the Constitution, it is important that it be involved in good time, i.e. in the allocation phase. Prior to considering the issue, MPs could consult with counterparts in other participating countries. As the AIV pointed out in earlier advisory reports in 2004 and 2007, allocating units to the EU Battlegroups and NRF/VJTF is not without obligation. It implies an irreversible commitment, and units can be withdrawn only in extreme circumstances. It is thus crucial that this phase be considered very carefully, because – if parliament does not raise any objections – the Netherlands will be committing itself to possible future deployment of its military forces.

Secondly, the AIV considers it advisable that the government always send a letter of notification to parliament if there is a possibility that the Netherlands may be involved in a crisis management operation entailing deployment of the EU Battlegroups or the NRF. Apparently, that does not always happen at the moment. There should also be a systematic focus on the deployment of rapid-reaction forces, even if the Netherlands is not contributing any units. The government can devote specific attention to this in its letters to parliament presenting the annotated agendas for the relevant EU and NATO meetings. After all, in the event of such a deployment the Netherlands provides political support and, as a member state and/or ally, bears joint responsibility for the mission.

If the NRF/VJTF is deployed for collective defence, article 97 of the Constitution applies, rather than article 100. In principle, under this article, the government is not obliged to inform parliament in advance. The government has, however, pledged to parliament that it will always endeavour to do so. Concerning article 5 situations, the government says, ‘Given the urgency of article 5 situations, however, it is conceivable that the House will not be informed until the VJTF units are on their way to the deployment area.’2 The AIV does not consider it very likely that such a situation will occur. In such cases, relations with the country or countries in question will probably have been strained for some time, and this will have been the subject of discussions between the government and the House. The AIV believes that the seriousness of an article 5 situation requires the government to make every effort to inform parliament in advance. Should exceptional circumstances preclude a public debate at first, the House could be informed in confidence, and a public debate could be held subsequently, as soon as circumstances allow. If rising tensions lead to preventive deployment of the VJTF, or preparations for such deployment, the government cannot exclude the possibility that it will be unable to inform the House in advance. The AIV is of the opinion that the government should inform parliament in advance in these situations too, in confidence if necessary followed by a parliamentary debate as soon as circumstances allow.

The government’s third subsidiary question is as follows:

How do the current decision-making procedures in the Netherlands compare with those in countries like Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium with regard to participation in crisis-management and other types of operations? Are the national governments/parliaments of the countries participating in a rapid-reaction unit sufficiently aware of one another's decision-making procedures? How could this situation be improved and any differences smoothed out?

There are considerable differences between the parliamentary procedures of individual EU member states. In some member states, parliament hardly plays any role, while in others (like Germany) it has an important and decisive voice and EU Battlegroups can be deployed only on the basis of a UN mandate. The AIV has the impression that the member states and their parliaments are aware of – or can obtain information on – one another’s decision-making procedures. Partly at the Netherlands’ initiative, the Interparliamentary Conference (IPC) has devoted attention to this issue. The AIV is of the opinion that it is neither possible nor necessary to harmonise decision-making procedures. Countries with very diverse parliamentary procedures and competences have proved able to work together very effectively on defence matters. Mutual trust is a decisive factor for success.

To enhance joint decision-making in the countries concerned, it is advisable to set up a network of parliamentary standing committees. The standing committees of countries participating in crisis management operations conducted by the EU Battlegroups or the NRF can then be called together at short notice to discuss the announced participation in military operations. These committees could also periodically discuss progress in international defence cooperation and possible deployment scenarios.

The government’s fourth subsidiary question is as follows:

The crisis management procedures of the EU have recently been revised, with the addition of a ‘fast-track process’. Are these procedures sufficient for the deployment of a rapid-reaction force, such as an EU Battlegroup? What are the political (strategic and operational), institutional, legal and financial implications of invoking article 44 of the TEU?

European decision-making procedures have been reviewed on several occasions. The recently introduced fast-track procedure is an improvement. In the AIV’s opinion, further improvement could be achieved by speeding up the decision-making process at the start of this procedure. Like the rest of the procedure, the drafting of the Crisis Management Concept could be subject to a time limit, of perhaps 10 days, so that the following steps in the decision-making process can be taken quickly. Other than this, the AIV sees few opportunities to speed up the decision-making procedure.

Under article 44 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), a mission can be implemented by at least two member states on the basis of a unanimous decision. This includes rapid-response operations. To date this has not occurred. All provisions relating to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) on the legal basis, political control and financing of operations are fully applicable. The participating member states are responsible for the planning, command and implementation of the operation. Specific structures are being created for this purpose. Article 44 of the TEU can be used as a transitional stage leading to a full CFSP operation, or an operation by a ‘coalition of the willing’ can be converted to an article 44 operation. A related question is to what extent the application of article 44 of the TEU saves time. The Council’s approval is required at various stages of the decision-making process. Member states want to stay abreast of the process, even if they are not providing military units. All things considered, article 44 of the TEU does not yet offer an effective solution for the Battlegroups.

In the AIV’s view, the permanent structured cooperation provided for in article 42, paragraph 6, and article 46 of the TEU and in Protocol 10, to which the consensus rule does not apply, could present an alternative option. Although such cooperation is aimed in the first instance at strengthening defence capabilities, it could also be used to conduct missions. It could act as a model and give groups of countries the opportunity to conduct a Battlegroup operation on the basis of these articles. Obvious examples are permanent multinational partnerships like the Visegrad Group, the Weimar Triangle and the Benelux. Participating member states would not need to seek the approval of the remaining member states; a notification to the Council and the High Representative would suffice. The AIV believes that putting permanent cooperation structures on the agenda of the upcoming Dutch EU Presidency would be very worthwhile. In addition, these forms of cooperation create extra guarantees for continued multinational cooperation on defence.

Recommendations

  1. The AIV believes that the EU needs to explore the scope for changing the set-up and concept of the Battlegroups by making exclusive use of permanent partnerships on defence like the Visegrad Group, the Weimar Triangle or the JEF. The effect of this change would be strengthened if the participating countries were to consistently make the same units available. The Battlegroups would always have to be deployed together with military units from one or more of the larger countries, like France, Germany or the UK, which would increase their combat power and credibility.
  2. The AIV believes that putting permanent structured cooperation on the agenda of the upcoming Dutch EU Presidency would be very worthwhile. It could act as a model and give groups of countries the opportunity to seek closer cooperation to conduct Battlegroup operations or operations in combination with Battlegroups.
  3. The AIV is of the opinion that doubling the stand-by period of the Battlegroups from six to 12 months would enhance their continuity and save on costs.
  4. The AIV believes that the absence of a central operational command – a European headquarters – is an important reason for the Battlegroups not being deployed. The EU’s operational and planning capability should therefore be strengthened by, as a first step, establishing a Military Planning and Conduct Capability as a military equivalent of the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability. Ideally, both capabilities should be integrated.
  5. In the AIV’s opinion, the decision-making procedure for deploying Battlegroups could be shortened by imposing a time limit on the drafting of the Crisis Management Concept, for example 10 days, so that the next steps in the decision-making process can be taken quickly.
  6. The next review of the Athena mechanism in 2017 could ensure that a larger part of the cost of Battlegroup operations is borne by all member states. This should at least include the transport costs to and from the area of operations. At the same time, agreements could be made in 2017 on a multiyear trajectory in which the part of the cost covered by common funding gradually increases to include, for example, the cost of exercises and certification, and the purchase of combined capabilities. The AIV advises setting up a common fund within NATO to finance the NRF/VJTF.
  7. The AIV considers it crucial for NATO to examine the extent to which it is necessary to further modify the planning and decision-making procedures for deploying the VJTF, in order to enable a rapid and effective response to possible threats.
  8. The AIV considers it advisable for EU and NATO defence ministers to conduct regular political exercises (POLEX) to test decision-making procedures.
  9. The AIV considers it important that the parliaments of the EU member states invest heavily in interparliamentary contacts. In addition, the position of the IPC should be strengthened and, where necessary, institutionalised. The parliaments of the countries involved in the various permanent defence cooperation structures could set up a network of parliamentary standing committees, which could be convened in various formations and at short notice to discuss imminent military operations. They could also periodically discuss the progress of international cooperation on defence and possible deployment scenarios.
  10. The AIV advises parliament to reflect in detail every year on the government’s decision to allocate units to the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF. Besides the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Defence, the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs should also address this issue. The AIV considers it important that this committee be involved at an early stage because of the prominent role it plays in the parliamentary consideration of the Article 100 letter. In addition to military-operational aspects, the consultation between government and parliament should also devote explicit attention to the various deployment scenarios, in combination with an analysis of the current security situation and possible crisis areas where deployment may be an option.
  11. The AIV is of the opinion that open communication with parliament is crucial for effective rapid military deployment in situations falling under both articles 100 and 97 of the Constitution. For that reason, the AIV advocates informing and involving parliament as fully as possible in the event of potential or actual military deployment. That also applies to the deployment of the VJTF in an article 5 situation or in the event of rising tensions. If it is not possible to inform the House publicly in advance, the AIV considers it necessary to do this in confidence, after which a public debate should follow as soon as possible afterwards.
 
1AIV advisory report no. 56, Deployment of the Armed Forces: Interaction between National and International Decision-Making, The Hague, May 2007.
2 Letter from the Minister of Defence to the President of the House of Representatives of the States-General with the report of the meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels on 24 and 25 June 2015, The Hague, 9 July 2015, p. 5.
Advice request

Professor Jaap de Hoop Scheffer  
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Date    11 May 2015

Re       Request for advice on rapid-response military capabilities and democratic legitimacy

Dear Professor de Hoop Scheffer,

An arc of instability has formed along Europe's borders, extending from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus to the Middle East, and from the Horn of Africa to the Sahel and North Africa. This instability has taken a variety of forms: annexations of other countries' territory; endemic, deep-seated and enduring unrest (as in the Arab region); and impending or ongoing civil war. The problems on Europe's periphery are structural, rather than temporary in nature. At the same time the strategic focus of the United States has shifted in part to Asia. This means that the countries of Europe bear an increasing responsibility for finding a suitable response to threats, including sudden crises that require military intervention.

The European Council of December 2013 gave a boost to the further development of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), with an emphasis on its military aspects. These efforts include improving the EU’s rapid-response capabilities as part of the planned enhancement of the overall effectiveness, visibility and impact of CFSP operations. The use of EU Battlegroups, the EU's only standing rapid-response military capability, is a key focal point of these efforts. The failure to deploy any Battlegroups to date undermines the EU’s credibility as a security actor.

In a NATO context, too, there is renewed interest in enhancing the allies’ capacity for rapid, flexible and decisive military action. This is partly due to the new security environment, particularly in the wake of Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. The primary emphasis in this connection is on the collective defence task. At its Wales Summit in September 2014 NATO decided to establish a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which would fall under the existing NATO Response Force (NRF). Yet the NRF has the same general drawback as the EU Battlegroup: it has never been put to the test in practice, except in the aftermath of major natural disasters in Pakistan and the United States.

The very rapid deployment of the VJTF requires similarly rapid decision-making processes. NATO is now discussing the possibility of expediting decision-making, especially in cases where the force is to be deployed in the context of the collective defence task. The deployment of Dutch VJTF units within the NATO Treaty area to prevent an article 4 or 5 situation (or to engage in collective defence in an article 5 situation), constitutes defence of the Kingdom and its allies, which is provided for in article 97 of the constitution. This type of deployment does not fall under article 100 of the Constitution. Consequently, there is no obligation to notify parliament beforehand. If possible, however, the House of Representatives will be informed in advance about the deployment of the VJTF for the purpose of collective defence. The government recently exchanged thoughts with the House on this matter. For that reason we would ask that you do not cover the VJTF in your advisory report.

In addition to the NRF and the EU Battlegroups there are also a number of multilateral initiatives, in which one country assumes the role of 'framework nation'. An example of this is the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), a multinational initiative of a limited number of like-minded NATO partners, led by the United Kingdom. The aim of the JEF is to mount a rapid, tailor-made response to a growing threat, so as to obviate the need for a large-scale operation. The JEF is meant to complement the NRF and EU Battlegroups.

In recent emergency military interventions outside the NATO treaty area, the US and the major European nations have initially opted to work in small, ad hoc ‘coalitions of the willing’. From this it may be concluded that political decision-making regarding military deployment at EU or NATO level clearly does not lend itself well to the need to act quickly in cases of 'out-of-area' crisis management. These processes demand consensus, which is sometimes difficult to reach. Furthermore, there are doubts among the member states about whether the decision-making procedures are equal to the task of ensuring the rapid deployment of the response forces. Partly as a result of this, there are now calls at EU level to make use of article 44 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which allows one or more member states to take military action on behalf of the EU. 

Several years ago the parliamentary working group on the NATO Response Force (Van Baalen working group report, June 2006) and the AIV itself (in a report of May 2007) considered the possible tension between national and international decision-making processes on rapid military deployment. In its advisory report of May 2007 ('Deployment of the Armed Forces: Interaction between National and International Decision-Making') the AIV argued that, given the Netherlands' reputation as a reliable partner, an 'opt out' would only be warranted if there were 'important national considerations [that] militate against participation'. In its response to this report the government endorsed this point of view (letter to parliament, 25 April 2008). At the same time the government concluded that even in the case of an imminent deployment of rapid-response forces, there is sufficient time to inform parliament before a decision is taken at international level. The then government felt that this obligation to proactively inform parliament (including providing information about the allocation of units for the preparation of international missions) ensured the desired level of parliamentary involvement. More recently, certain parties have also underscored the importance of the timely involvement of parliament in forming far-reaching partnerships and long-term collaborative ventures with strategic partners (including inter-parliamentary contacts).

The gulf between the expressed desire for a joint rapid-response capability and the reality of military interventions thus far again raises questions about the genuine willingness of European politicians to deploy multilateral rapid-response forces. Many countries insist on making their own assessment at national level and having the final say on military deployment. This is difficult to reconcile with the need to be able to approve military action within a few days. Bearing the above in mind, the government would ask the AIV to address the following questions in its advisory report:

Principal question:

  • What, if any, further adjustments to national and international procedures are necessary in order to facilitate and expedite decision-making on the use of rapid-response military units and crises? 

Subsidiary questions:

General

  1. What are the factors that have thus far precluded the use of rapid-response units (e.g. EU Battlegroups, NRF and JEF) in operations?
  2. What adjustments to the design of and decision-making procedures for rapid-response forces must be made in order to expedite decision-making?

National

  1. Should the national decision-making process on the allocation of military units to rapid-response forces also encompass decision-making on their actual deployment?

International

  1. How do the current decision-making procedures in the Netherlands compare to those in countries like Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium with regard to participation in crisis-management and other types of operations?
  2. Are the national governments/parliaments of the countries participating in a rapid-response unit sufficiently aware of one another's decision-making procedures? How could this situation be improved and any differences smoothed out? The above countries could serve as examples when answering this question.

EU-specific

  1. The crisis management procedures of the EU have recently been revised, with the addition of a ‘fast-track process’. Are these procedures sufficient for the deployment of a rapid-response force, such as an EU Battlegroup?
  2.  What are the political (strategic and operational), institutional, legal and financial implications of invoking article 44 of the TEU?

We look forward to your report with interest and hope to receive it before the budgetary debates this autumn.

Yours sincerely,

Bert Koenders

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert

Minister of Defence

                                                                              

Government reactions

Government response to the AIV advisory report ‘Deployment of rapid-reaction forces’, February 2016

The government thanks the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) for its very readable and useful advisory report ‘Deployment of rapid-reaction forces’ (advisory report no. 96, October 2015), which builds on earlier AIV reports on this issue. The government also appreciates the fact that the AIV produced the report at relatively short notice.

The report comes at a time when the geopolitical and security context in Europe has changed radically. In the changing security environment, Europe has to take greater responsibility and be able to respond rapidly with the military assets at its disposal. That creates challenges for Europe and its member states. The AIV’s clear description, analysis and recommendations help clarify the government’s thinking and contribute to the political and social debate on this issue.

The government is prepared to explore all possible options for removing obstacles to deployment of rapid-reaction forces like the EU Battlegroups and the NATO Response Force/Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (NRF/VJTF). With this in mind, the government below presents its response to the AIV’s conclusions and recommendations, on the basis of the principle question in its request for advice.

In this letter, the government also responds to the request by member of parliament Gert-Jan Segers to address the question of sovereignty in relation to enhanced international cooperation, the principles on which that cooperation is based, the modified Terms of Reference and the Article 100 procedure. This also fulfils the Minister of Defence’s undertaking in her report on international military cooperation (Parliamentary Paper 33 279, no. 16) of 30 October 2015.

Principle question
What, if any, further adjustments to national and international procedures are necessary in order to facilitate and expedite decision-making on the use of rapid-response military units?

In its report, the AIV concludes that the fact that the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF have not been deployed for crisis management tasks is not caused by national and/or international decision-making procedures. It does believe, however, that there is a causal link between the lack of deployment of rapid-reaction forces and the unwillingness of member states to place military units at the disposal of these forces. The AIV also concludes that changing the set-up and concept of the Battlegroups would make their deployment more likely.

While the government is not yet convinced that changing the Battlegroups’ set-up and structure would make their deployment more likely, it agrees with the AIV that the member states have shown insufficient political willingness to make units available for rapid-reaction forces. This unwillingness is often the result of more deeply rooted differences of opinion on the role the EU should play in crisis management. The AIV is right in stating that differences in military-strategic cultures play a role, as do operational and financial motives. The member states’ political will to deploy the Battlegroups is therefore crucial.

 

Recommendation 1
The AIV believes that the EU needs to explore the scope for changing the set-up and concept of the Battlegroups by making exclusive use of permanent partnerships on defence like the Visegrad Group, the Weimar Triangle or the JEF. The effect of this change would be strengthened if the participating countries were to consistently make the same units available. The Battlegroups would always have to be deployed together with military units from one or more of the larger countries, like France, Germany or the UK, which would increase their combat power and credibility.

The government partly agrees with the AIV’s recommendation. Setting up rapid-reaction forces on the basis of permanent regional partnerships would simplify coordination and increase interoperability. In addition, the Netherlands aims always to work jointly with a large member state when contributing to a rapid-reaction force. At the same time, the government does not wish to always make the same units available to particular rapid-reaction forces. In fact, this is simply not possible, as it has to take account of national tasks, ongoing operations, training and exercises, and recuperation, when considering what units to allocate.

Recommendation 2
The AIV believes that putting permanent structured cooperation on the agenda of the Dutch EU Presidency would be very worthwhile. It could act as a model and give groups of countries the opportunity to seek closer cooperation to conduct Battlegroup operations or operations in combination with Battlegroups.

The government considers it important to make a clear distinction between the options for permanent structured cooperation provided for in article 42, paragraph 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and for enhanced cooperation provided for in article 42, paragraph 5 of the same treaty.

The permanent structured cooperation described in article 42, paragraph 6 is elaborated on in article 46. Article 46 makes it possible for member states to make more binding commitments with a view to the most demanding missions. As the AIV states, structured cooperation focuses mainly on improving material defence capabilities, which is seen as the basis for closer operational cooperation, including the deployment of rapid-reaction forces.

Operational cooperation is provided for in article 42, paragraph 5 and article 44 of the TEU. Under these articles, the execution of certain military or civil CSDP tasks can be entrusted to a group of member states. Article 44 can be applied for the deployment of a Battlegroup. Since the cooperation of a group of member states in a Battlegroup is already laid down in the Battlegroup concept, however, article 44 offers little added value in terms of the set-up and training of these forces. In addition, the AIV is right to express doubts as to whether the application of article 44 would save time. These and other considerations have resulted in article 44 not yet being fully elaborated within the EU. It is also unclear how this article should be implemented in practice.

In addition, it is unclear how the Battlegroups would relate to, for example, UN operations. The government sees promising possibilities for deploying a Battlegroup as a ‘transitional force’, in preparation for a UN peace operation, or alongside an existing UN peace operation. In such cases, the Battlegroup would have to fall under the existing EU command structure and political supervision procedures. Another option would be for a Battlegroup to be an integral part of a UN peace operation and thereby fall under the UN command structure and supervision procedures. The government is, however, not in favour of this last option, because of considerations of political and strategic control and military operational feasibility.

Neither permanent structured cooperation nor article 44 of the TEU is expected to be under discussion during the Dutch Presidency of the European Council in the first half of 2016. The agenda for security and defence policy will be set by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The government would welcome the inclusion of permanent structured cooperation in the discussion relating to the presentation and further elaboration of the EU’s new foreign and security strategy, which is currently being drawn up by the High Representative and is due to be completed in mid-2016.

Recommendation 3
The AIV is of the opinion that doubling the stand-by period of the Battlegroups from six to 12 months would enhance their continuity and save on costs.

Doubling the stand-by period of the Battlegroups would indeed contribute to their continuity and help save on costs. The government would, however, point out that it would also lead to more exercises. In addition, the allocation of units to a rapid-reaction force with a longer stand-by period would have to take account of national planning and existing national and international obligations. A longer stand-by period could therefore not be introduced without a period of preparation.

Recommendation 4
The AIV believes that the absence of a central operational command – a European headquarters – is an important reason for the Battlegroups not being deployed. The EU’s operational and planning capability should therefore be strengthened by, as a first step, establishing a Military Planning and Conduct Capability as a military equivalent of the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability. Ideally, both capabilities should be integrated.

As the AIV correctly states in its report, there is no permanent facility for the operational planning and command of EU military operations from Brussels. There is such a facility for civil missions, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC). Military operations require the timely activation of the operational planning and command capability. According to EU procedures, however, this cannot occur until the Council has reached a decision to set up an operation, so important planning time is lost in the run-up to the operation.

The government agrees with the AIV that the time is not ripe to set up a fully fledged, permanent and separate European military headquarters. At the same time, the EU’s military planning and command capability needs to be improved, possibly by integrating it with the CPCC.

Recommendation 5
In the AIV’s opinion, the decision-making procedure for deploying Battlegroups could be shortened by imposing a time limit on the drafting of the Crisis Management Concept, for example 10 days, so that the next steps in the decision-making process can be taken quickly.

The AIV rightly notes that time could be saved by shortening the period between the drawing up of a Political Framework for Crisis Approach (PFCA) and the drafting of a Crisis Management Concept (CMC). The reason this process takes so long is that the member states have different perspectives on crisis management, as a result of which CMCs have included increasingly detailed operational elements in recent years. This has made the political-strategic CMC more difficult to distinguish from the Operational Plan (OPLAN), which focuses on implementation.

The government finds the AIV’s recommendation to impose a limit on the time allowed to draw up a CMC an interesting suggestion. It points out, however, that this would not subject the process preceding the drafting of the CMC to a time limit, while the phase in which the PCFA is drawn up takes a lot of time, partly because of the need for international coordination. A time limit for drawing up the PFCA could also be considered, but the quality of PFCAs and CMCs must remain the top priority.

Recommendation 6
The next review of the Athena mechanism in 2017 could ensure that a larger part of the cost of Battlegroup operations is borne by all member states. This should at least include the transport costs to and from the area of operations. At the same time, agreements could be made in 2017 on a multiyear trajectory in which the part of the cost covered by common funding gradually increases to include, for example, the cost of exercises and certification, and the purchase of combined capabilities. The AIV advises setting up a common fund within NATO to finance the NRF/VJTF.

The government is in favour of a better functioning Athena mechanism. It is therefore looking critically at possible ways to improve the mechanism, assessing both the costs and benefits. The question remains, however, whether an expansion of the Athena mechanism would result in member states committing more quickly to contributing to EU military operations, as this is primarily a matter of political will. The mechanism’s current rules offer the flexibility for member states to decide on an ad hoc basis to jointly finance deficits in specific critical capabilities (for example, medical care). The government applauds this flexibility and is in favour of exploring the scope for further improving the availability of such critical capabilities.

Through a temporary arrangement, the costs of transporting a Battlegroup to its deployment area are eligible for common funding until the end of 2016. During the next review of the Athena mechanism in 2017, the government will argue in favour of making the costs of transporting Battlegroups to and from an area of operations a permanent component of common costs.

The government sees possibilities for the common funding of exercises and certification through the Athena mechanism, but this can only be addressed at the next review of the mechanism if agreement can first be reached on generic requirements for the readiness of the Battlegroups. Until now, the countries participating in a Battlegroup have themselves been responsible for the force’s readiness. The government is willing to discuss these requirements with other member states.

The Athena mechanism already allows for the purchase of combined capabilities for military CSDP operations. The EU does not procure operational capabilities itself.

Within NATO, the government advocates a fair distribution of the costs. Under the current rules, participating countries pay the costs of readying units for deployment and the host nation has to pay costs incurred in the deployment area, including transport and accommodation costs. Lastly, costs that individual Allies cannot reasonably be expected to pay, such as costs for strategic transport, are paid from common NATO funds. This ensures a fair distribution of the costs. The government concludes that there is currently no need or support for setting up additional common funds.

Recommendation 7
The AIV considers it crucial for NATO to examine the extent to which it is necessary to further modify the planning and decision-making procedures for deploying the VJTF, to enable a rapid and effective response to possible threats.

The government endorses this recommendation by the AIV. Although the readiness and deployability of NATO forces are currently being improved, the very rapid deployment of units is possible only if operational planning and political decision-making are fully coordinated. It is crucial for NATO’s credibility and effectiveness that the political decision-making processes both within the Alliance and in the member states allow very rapid deployment of the VJTF.

Recommendation 8
The AIV considers it advisable for EU and NATO defence ministers to conduct regular political exercises (POLEX) to test decision-making procedures.

The government is in favour of regular political exercises to test the decision-making procedures for the deployment of rapid-reaction forces. Besides defence ministers, it would also like to see EU and NATO foreign ministers involved in these exercises.

As the AIV itself notes, the EU has already held political exercises (POLEX) at ministerial level on several occasions to familiarise ministers with the decision-making process for deploying the EU Battlegroups. During the Dutch EU Presidency, the Netherlands would like to organise a POLEX for the German-led Battlegroup that will be on stand-by in the second half of 2016 and in which the Netherlands will be participating. The Netherlands and Germany are currently discussing the scope for organising such an exercise.

The government shares the AIV’s view that political exercises should also be organised within NATO, as they help to make the decision-making process more efficient. Secretary- General Jens Stoltenberg will draft a proposal, at the request of the Netherlands and other member states.

Recommendation 9
The AIV considers it important that the parliaments of the EU member states invest heavily in interparliamentary contacts. In addition, the position of the IPC should be strengthened and, where necessary, institutionalised. The parliaments of the countries involved in the various permanent defence cooperation structures could set up a network of parliamentary standing committees, which could be convened in various formations and at short notice to discuss imminent military operations. They could also periodically discuss the progress of international cooperation on defence and possible deployment scenarios.

The government notes with interest this recommendation to strengthen parliamentary cooperation on defence. It is aware that this is a matter for parliament itself, but is prepared to support the idea where possible.

Recommendation 10
The AIV advises parliament to reflect in detail every year on the government’s decision to allocate units to the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF. Besides the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Defence, the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs should also address this issue. The AIV considers it important that this committee be involved at an early stage because of the prominent role it plays in the parliamentary consideration of the Article 100 letter. In addition to military-operational aspects, the consultation between government and parliament should also devote explicit attention to the various deployment scenarios, in combination with an analysis of the current security situation and possible crisis areas where deployment may be an option.

The government shares the AIV’s view that the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs should be more closely involved in the annual deliberations on the military-operational aspects of the allocation of Dutch units. The government is however aware that it is a matter for parliament to decide what issues it wishes to address and how.

In response to the second subsidiary question in the request for advice, the AIV states that it is not possible, desirable or necessary during the allocation phase to anticipate certain components of the Terms of Reference in the Article 100 procedure. Similarly, the government does not consider it opportune to explore possible deployment scenarios. Without an imminent actual operation, the political debate would become too speculative. Such speculative discussions would undermine the quality of the political debate when an urgent crisis calls for a rapid and flexible response and decisions have to be made in accordance with article 100 or article 97 of the Constitution.

Recommendation 11
The AIV is of the opinion that open communication with parliament is crucial for effective rapid military deployment in situations falling under both articles 100 and 97 of the Constitution. For that reason, the AIV advocates informing and involving parliament as fully as possible in the event of potential or actual military deployment. That also applies to the deployment of the VJTF in an article 5 situation or in the event of rising tensions. If it is not possible to inform the House publicly in advance, the AIV considers it necessary to do this in confidence, after which a public debate should follow as soon as possible afterwards.

Through the Minister of Defence, the government has already explained the nature of parliamentary involvement in deployment of the VJTF (Report of the meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels on 24 and 25 June 2015, Parliamentary Paper 28676 no. 226). As also stated in its letter of 27 January 2015 on parliamentary involvement in the deployment of the VJTF (Parliamentary Paper 29 521, no. 279), the government will always make every effort to inform the House of Representatives as fully as possible before the VJTF is deployed. Under article 100 of the Constitution, Dutch units (including those involved in the VJTF) will as a rule not be deployed for crisis management before the government has informed the House of Representatives on the basis of the Terms of Reference.

The VJTF can also be deployed in the event of rising tensions or in a situation as described in article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Such cases concern defence of the Kingdom and its allies. This task does not fall under article 100 of the Constitution and the government is therefore not obliged to notify the House of Representatives in advance of the deployment, though it will always make every effort to do so. Given the possibility that the VJTF may have to respond very rapidly to a threat, it is conceivable that the House will not be informed until the VJTF units are already on their way to the deployment area.

The government is in favour of the further operationalisation of rapid-reaction forces, so that they can be deployed quickly in crises. The AIV’s recommendations are a constructive contribution to the policy process, both nationally and within the EU and NATO. This year, the operationalisation of rapid-reaction forces will be addressed on a number of occasions, including during a seminar organised jointly with the AIV on 12 February 2016, a seminar on 14 and 15 March in the context of the Dutch EU Presidency, and at the Interparliamentary Conference on the CFSP/CSDP on 6-8 April.

Sovereignty and international military cooperation
During the debate on the defence budget on 13 November 2014, member of parliament Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union) asked the government to address the question of sovereignty in relation to enhanced international cooperation, the principles on which that cooperation is based, the modified Terms of Reference and the Article 100 procedure. In her report on international military cooperation of 30 October 2015, the Minister of Defence pledged that this would be addressed in the government’s response to this AIV report.

International cooperation on defence continues to develop. In the report of 30 October, the defence minister notified the House of these developments, and the aims of and criteria for international military cooperation. The developments do not change the fact that decisions on the deployment of the Dutch armed forces continue to be a national, sovereign matter. This applies to the deployment of military units not only to maintain or promote the international legal order, but also for self-defence or collective defence.

Two points should be noted here. First, the deployment of military units for collective defence must comply with certain treaty obligations, as laid down in article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and article 42, paragraph 7 of the TEU. Political factors also play a role. International agreements on the composition of multinational units and the integration of military capabilities entail certain obligations. It is important that partner countries can rely on units not being withdrawn when deployment is on the cards. To preserve the Netherlands’ reputation as a reliable partner, withdrawing Dutch units would be justifiable only in extreme circumstances. For this reason, the House is notified annually of which units the Netherlands will be making available for the EU Battlegroups and the NRF/VJTF. The government has elaborated on this in its response to AIV recommendation 10.

The second point is that sovereignty relates not only to authority within a state, but also to the capacity to act. Sovereignty in its narrower sense comprises a state’s independence in the international environment. In its modern interpretation, sovereignty involves both state authority within the national borders and the promotion of security and national interests in the international arena. The government therefore considers the capacity to act as an essential component of our concept of sovereignty. International military cooperation can increase our capacity to act, and thereby our sovereignty. The government’s response to the AIV’s advisory report on European Defence Cooperation of 11 May 2012 (Parliamentary Paper 33 279, no. 2) and its letter of 7 March 2013 on international military cooperation (Parliamentary Paper 33 279, no. 4) elaborate on this issue.

During the budget debate referred to above, Gert-Jan Segers also referred to article 100 of the Constitution. Article 100 is applicable when the armed forces are deployed or made available to maintain or promote the international legal order, including for the provision of humanitarian assistance in the event of armed conflict. The practicalities are described in the Terms of Reference. Article 100 is applicable if the Netherlands takes part in an international crisis management operation, where the following criteria in particular play a role:

  • military units are deployed or made available to maintain or promote the international legal order;
  • the proposed deployment of troops concerns personnel sent out as a unit;
  • in performing their tasks, the troops may be required to use or to risk exposure to armed force.

The government’s letter of 22 January 2014 on Dutch participation in peace missions (Parliamentary Paper 29 521, no. 226) elaborates on the application of the Article 100 procedure and the Terms of Reference.

Press releases