Shaping the Future of Civilian Crisis Management

28. November 2018   ·   Carina Böttcher, Marie Wolf

Almost unnoticed by the wider public, the EU has taken a landmark decision to make its civilian crisis management more capable, flexible and responsive. However, important commitments in the “Civilian CSDP Compact” remain vague. As a strong supporter of civilian CSDP, Germany should push for further ambitious steps to be made concrete.

After a year of discussions on its future and challenges, EU member states have given their civilian Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) a new push. On 19 November, they decided on a civilian CSDP Compact with 22 commitments to improve on identified shortfalls and gaps. The document is of crucial importance in defining the role of the EU’s civilian crisis management in the coming years and making progress towards fulfilling the EU’s own ambitions, set out in the EU Global Strategy of 2016. Especially in light of the current security environment of the EU, with several large conflicts in its neighbourhood, it is strategically relevant to invest in civilian crisis management. 

The Compact entails strong implications for the mandates and conduct of civilian missions. Nevertheless, this does not negate the fact that civilian crisis management is not a priority for all member states and important commitments contained within the Compact remain vague. The Compact’s potential depends on the member states to substantiate its broad political aims in 2019.

Lack of political will prevented common responses

Currently, the EU maintains ten civilian missions in countries including Kosovo, Georgia, Mali, and Somalia. The missions aim to support crisis-ridden partner countries and contribute to stabilization and the prevention of renewed crisis. The missions consist of civilian experts such as judges, police officers and political advisors – mostly sent by member states – who train police officers in the host country, help to build up the judiciary and civil administration and advise on human rights or gender issues.

In recent years, a lack of political will on the part of EU member states has prevented common responses to some pressing challenges faced by these missions. In the past, decisions between the EU 28 to deploy a new mission often required lengthy consultations. Member states disagreed on core functions of the missions or whether and how they should be reoriented to new security challenges such as preventing violent extremism. Generally, missions often lacked the capabilities – mainly specialized experts – needed to carry out the tasks in the field. Missing national legislation and structures made it difficult to recruit personnel on short notice. After deployment, inflexible mandates hampered missions to react to developments in the host countries.

To address these shortfalls, EU member states started an initiative to strengthen civilian CSDP last November, which culminated in the adoption of the Compact. The Compact has three key elements: it gives strategic direction, increases responsiveness and addresses capability gaps.

Strategic, capable, and responsive

On the strategic level, the Council took a clear stand on the question of which tasks civilian CSDP has to perform: the core functions remain policing, rule of law and support to civil administration, supplemented by Security Sector Reform and monitoring tasks. The Council has given priority to these tasks, while adding that civilian CSDP can – along with other EU instruments – also contribute to tackling new security challenges like terrorism, irregular migration, and organized crime.

Swift deployment and adapting missions to conflict developments are a key challenge in crisis management. “Responsiveness” was therefore a buzzword in the discussions around the Compact. Member states have agreed on some tangible results: They want to increase a small pool of experts, which can be deployed within few days, from 30 to 50 personnel (Core Responsiveness Capacity). Moreover, member states want to be able to equip and deploy 200 experts in 30 days. They have agreed to make mission mandates more responsive: Future mandates will open possibilities for missions to react to the local crisis context by scaling staff strength up or down, and adding or removing mission components depending on the developments on the ground. These are steps in the right direction, but precise suggestions as to how to speed up planning and decision-making procedures before deployment are missing.

Capabilities in the form of personnel expertise are the key asset of civilian missions. Member states want to raise the share of seconded experts in the missions to at least 70 percent. This target may stop the trend of steadily decreasing secondments of personnel from member states. They also plan to deploy small pilot project teams to test new tasks in civilian missions, such as experts in countering hybrid threats. These two points show the member states’ willingness to invest in the missions. But apart from this, the Compact falls short of precise plans and targets for how to develop sorely needed capabilities. This task remains completely up to national administrations – so far without commitments on coordination formats, an allocation of which member states provide what, or timelines and liabilities. These decisive questions are left open to be answered by an action plan – to be agreed on in spring 2019 – and 27 individual national implementation plans.

Strengthen broad commitments with substance and work on leftovers

Member states touched upon further important issues in the Compact but missed the opportunity to specify targets and precise proposals: the commitments remain vague on increased harmonization of training, shared conflict analysis, mainstreaming gender and human rights, and better evaluation. They agreed to conduct a review on commitments, but postponed further clarification on the procedure to 2019. This risks delaying delivery on more substantial aspects, such as capabilities, and misses the chance to track progress from the outset.

The Compact has opened the door for almost all important points and ideas that were discussed in the last months. But it can only be seen as a kick-off. It shifts important decisions and negotiations on substantial commitments to an action plan in spring 2019 and national implementation plans which remain completely at the discretion of member states. Postponing these decisions clearly entails the risk that with decreasing attention, sceptical or indifferent member states will retreat from their commitments and the Compact initiative will lose momentum. This is why the political commitments of the Compact need to be urgently strengthened with further substance.

Instead of leaning back, the supporters of a strong civilian CSDP – led by Germany and the Nordic countries – should uphold attention on the issue. They should start to implement the Compact even before the year ends and fill national implementation plans with high ambitions: with concrete commitments on capabilities such as personnel, equipment, training, and funding. Furthermore, they should share intermediate results with other member states to create pull-effects, meaning other member states could be incentivized through ambitious achievements to also make a strong effort. The Compact should be seen as a chance to make civilian crisis management a solid pillar of EU foreign policy capable of reacting to current and future security challenges.

Zivil-militärische Zusammenarbeit Europäische Union

Carina Böttcher

Carina Böttcher is a research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.

Marie Wolf

Marie Wolf is a research assistant at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin.