On March 21st, the Council of the European Union (currently under the presidency of France) formally approved the Strategic Compass, which had originally been the E.U.’s very first white paper on defence, the draft of which was first presented to EU defence ministers on November 15th, 2021, by High Representative/Vice President Mr. Josep Borrell. In its current form, the Strategic Compass is the latest iteration of a common European security and defence policy, which provides the European Union with an ambitious plan for strengthening the EU’s security and defence policy by 2030.
In general, the plan seeks to encourage increased co-operation between member state’s militaries and to allow the EU to respond to international incidents independently.
The Strategic Compass: The Detail
The Strategic Compass will lead to the creation of a coordinated EU rapid deployment capacity of up to 5,000 troops, an evolution of the EU Battlegroup initiative of 1,500 troops, which have yet to be deployed.
The Rapid Deployment Capacity will be more flexible in comparison and will therefore be able to be deployed to a much wider range of scenarios and is intended to reach full operational capacity by 2025. Germany has agreed to provide the core of the troops for the Rapid Deployment Capacity for its first year, while troops from several EU states are expected to rotate in operation, with no specific unit or base of operation for the force at present.
In addition to which, the contents of the Strategic Compass will allow for more regular live exercises on land and at sea, a substantial increase in member states’ defence expenditures to reduce military gaps and stronger investments in defence research and development and more regular threats assessments and deeper cooperation with allies. The EU’s cyber defence policy is also to be better resourced to counter cyber-attacks and a “hybrid toolbox” is also to be created, in order to respond to hybrid threats (e.g. disinformation, refugee crises.)
It is worth noting that a more coordinated defence strategy in the European Union had been previously attempted in 2016, known as the “Implementation Plan on Security and Defence”, the approval of which failed to materialize at the final hour.
The Strategic Compass & NATO
As outlined, the Strategic Compass provides the EU with the ability to act alone on the international stage without NATO’s help but within the chapters of the White Paper, it also emphasises increased co-operation with NATO (with 21 of the EU’s 27 member states belonging to the military alliance) where their goals align as well as with the United Nations, but also between the EU and other regional organisations and at bilateral level.
With the Strategic Compass, the EU has been provided with the ability to build a joint defence force and pool its strategic resources, a goal which the trading bloc has been attempting to reach for almost two decadeswith the European Commission now due to come forward with new policies on increased defence spending and better coordination on investment into new military technologies.