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A test too far for the EU CSDP? – Peacekeepers to the Donbas

March 20, 2015

“Over the past 4 months the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and/or Article 7 of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement that directly relates to the CSDP, has been mentioned within entries no less than 14 times.  A somewhat recurring theme of late – and deliberately so, with the obvious and impending implications contained therein.

The last time the CSDP was mentioned here was only yesterday, when the Rada voted via 341 MPs, to request international peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine:

“That Russia will likely veto any UN request is expected. That the EU will not support an Eulex type mission in the absence of a UN mandate, despite the pleas of the host government, is a likely (though not definite) extension. To do so without a UN mandate would be seen by too many capitals as a “provocation” that The Kremlin would react to – similar to arming Ukraine when it requests it.”

As anticipated over the previous months (and numerous mentions here), Ukraine has now officially called upon the EU in respect of the CSDP, via the bilateral commitments made in Article 7 of the Association Agreement.  No surprise – Peacekeeping more often than not, has the effect of setting territorial facts on the ground.  It may well be that for Ukraine, currently buying time with ceded space/territory is a necessary (and perhaps preferred) outcome – for now.  But that may not always be the case, and for The Kremlin, territory/space is an irrelevance when one of the goals is to control Ukraine as a whole, and prevent its European integration.  Indeed serious practitioners would question the ability of the Russian military to control huge swathes of territory if it managed to take it.

As expected, following the Rada vote, Ukraine has officially delivered a letter to the Council of the European Union requesting peacekeepers within the framework of the CSDP.

“The Mission of Ukraine to the EU has officially handed a corresponding letter over to the heads of European institutions, requesting that the Council of the European Union properly consider this issue and enter into consultations regarding an EU (peacekeeping) operation in the framework of common security and defense policy.

Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, representative of Ukraine at the EU stating that EU peacekeepers would “contribute to the restoration of peace and stability in eastern Ukraine through the creation of proper political and security conditions for the successful implementation of the Minsk agreements and support of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.”

Not, perhaps, what those crafting the Association Agreement, nor those that subsequently signed and then ratified it, had in mind when enshrining “…..shall address in particular issues of conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability…..” within the Article 7 text:

“Foreign and security policy
1. The Parties shall intensify their dialogue and cooperation and promote gradual convergence in the area of foreign and security policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), and shall address in particular issues of conflict prevention and crisis management, regional stability, disarmament, non-proliferation, arms control and arms export control as well as enhanced mutually-beneficial dialogue in the field of space. Cooperation will be based on common values and mutual interests, and shall aim at increasing policy convergence and effectiveness, and promoting joint policy planning. To this end, the Parties shall make use of bilateral, international and regional fora.”

The CSDP – although it appears to mean many different things to many different EU Member States – in a nutshell, has both civilian and military pillars designed to facilitate the EU assuming its responsibilities in both conflict prevention and crisis management.  That said, one has to suspect it will be a very long time before anybody sees the (on paper) CSDP EU Battle Group deployed in any active role – anywhere.  Peacemaking (enforcing peace) still seems far beyond where many Member States will go – particularly without a UN mandate to do so (and hide behind), despite the willingness of any host government to accommodate such an EU force.

As the EU has no standing army, it follows there is not one at the disposal of any CSDP deployment.  It relies on forces put at the disposal of the EU for joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance, conflict prevention and peacekeeping, as well as tasks of combat forces in crisis management – including peacemaking and post-conflict stabilisation.

Importantly, the CSDP specifically mentions that all of these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including the supporting of third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.  Presumably there is an enhanced obligation to those nations (Ukraine) that have ratified bilateral cooperation within the CSDP framework – but will that extend to peacekeeping at the request of the Ukrainian authorities?

We are, perhaps, about to discover the limitations of the CSDP – or perhaps more accurately its members (which de facto amounts to the same thing) – with regard to on-going conflict (a ceasefire, there is not) within the European continent, and any form of armed intervention/deployment whatsoever.

Is there any more appetite to deploy armed EU peacekeepers in The Donbas, than there would be to deploy the EU Battle Group – anywhere?  It is, after all, quite difficult to keep the peace armed with nothing more than an EU Communique of “collective tutting” and an ID badge – although collective tutting, disapproving communiques and sanctions are all instruments within a CSDP (and more general diplomatic) toolbox.

The difference between unarmed EU peacekeepers and unarmed OSCE monitors would be very little when it comes to effective peacekeeping in the current and foreseeable climate – although perhaps the EU participants may see more clearly, and hear far better, than the OSCE appears to do when “monitoring”.

At its core, leaving aside issues of impartiality and consenting parties in peacekeeping, EU decision makers, Member State leaders, (and readers), must ask themselves if they are prepared to see their nationals (under any (unlikely) EU peacekeeping mandated mission) use sufficient force as is necessary – including lethal – both in self-defence, but also in the robust defence of their given mandate?  Especially so as there is the real possibility of a return serious fighting come mid-May.

Are the EU and its Member States prepared to deal with any escalatory Russian reaction should one or more of its “holidaying soldiers/GRU operatives” die at the hands of an EU peacekeeper?  If they are so prepared, and yet their peacekeepers begin to become casualties, how then to respond?  To then withdraw the mission would send entirely the wrong signal to The Kremlin.  To continue to take increasing casualties and/or fail to keep the peace also demands a response.

How many EU peacekeepers are sufficient for the task, without them being cast as a “NATO legion in disguise” by the Kremlin propaganda machine – thus, via said propaganda, turning peacekeepers into targets, no different to the Ukrainian military, for those fed upon propaganda?

Indeed physically putting armed EU peacekeepers in harms way is a very different matter to that of collective tutting, issuing of disapproving statements/communiques, and imposing of sanctions, in far away Brussels – and deploying peacekeepers brings with it perhaps very different escalatory – and also de-escalatory – implications.

The chances of an EU mandated EU peacekeeping mission?  Slim – but not impossible.

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