Effectiveness: The Missing Word in Civilian Crisis Management?

24 July 2019   ·   Jyrki Ruohomäki

The shift in the EU’s crisis management towards internal security needs and away from local needs might decrease the effectiveness of civilian missions. To bolster their effectiveness, the EU and its member states should improve training and secondment mechanisms and be open for external evaluations. The Finnish and German EU Presidencies can pave the way for this.

The European Union (EU) has launched a much needed process of developing its civilian crisis management as a part of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). A key document of this process is the Civilian CSDP Compact, launched in November 2018. Its 22 commitments are designed as a roadmap to make civilian CSDP more effective. Considering this, it is paradoxical that the concept of effectiveness itself is largely missing from the Compact and from the surrounding discussion. This article will address this absence.

In it, I make suggestions for how the coming Finnish and German EU presidencies can pave the way for more effective crisis management. I argue that the Compact should be read from the perspective of making civilian CSDP more effective and that the priorities of civilian CSDP should shift to recruitment and training. What is more, the EU should open its external action to independent evaluations.

A more EU-centric agenda can mean less effective operations

The civilian CSDP has always been about more than preserving peace, preventing conflicts, and strengthening international security (as stated in article 21 of the Treaty on European Union). It has also been about spreading European ideals, especially to its neighboring areas. In this, the EU’s Civilian Crisis Management differs from peace operations under the UN and other multinational organizations: At least on the strategic level, the latter cohort are trying to shy away from the so-called liberal peace paradigm that exports Western values without paying attention to  the acute and differentiated needs of local target communities. In the case of the EU, this critique has hardly been raised, revealing the overtly political nature of crisis management.

The recently-launched Compact broadens the scope of the EU’s civilian CSDP to include new security challenges such as irregular migration, hybrid threats, or cyber security. This is understandable and, to an extent, a necessary update. But these new security challenges could mean a shift in attention towards the internal security needs of the EU and its member states, and away from local needs. This shift is connected to the rise of populist and far-right parties in the EU. Taking fears caused by irregular migration and these new threats into consideration is necessary, but this might decrease the effectiveness of crisis management by paying less attention to paramount local needs. This is a clear danger. If the root causes of the conflict and crisis become secondary to the security needs of the Union, its crisis management missions will end up doing wrong things in a wrong place, neglecting the idea of providing local solutions to local problems. A more EU-centric agenda for the missions would also hamper local buy-in, as it might not resonate with the host countries’ own threat perceptions. All this would surely make the missions less effective.  

Civilian CSDP means capacity building in host countries through mentoring and advice provided by seconded or contracted experts. For example, the latest civilian CSDP mission, EUAM Iraq, advises Iraqi authorities on their implementation of civilian security sector reform. The experts share best practices that they have developed in their home countries. Alone, this is not enough. A tandem project of institutional and political reform must accompany capability building in the host institution, placing human rights at the forefront. Otherwise, an EU mission might end up strengthening the capability of the host country to inflict human rights violations. This is arguably the reality in Libya. Focusing too much on the new security challenges without paying respect to the needs on the ground can easily be ineffective and even counterproductive.

Germany, France and Italy need to increase their per capita secondments

Civilian crisis management experts on mission work under the flag of the European Union. Therefore, it is necessary that they also maintain a shared understanding of what the EU is and what its norms, values, and its acquis are. This does not mean that there needs to be one European way of conducting border management, for instance, but it does mean that, whichever program is selected together with the host country, it complies with the UN Charter, human rights, and sustainable development. This is an essential requirement for successful reform in the host country. Such a mix of civilian expertise and shared values in crisis management and stabilization is central to actualizing the EU’s conception of being a normative power.

A mission’s staff is central to its effectiveness. In order to succeed, the staff needs to be qualified and properly trained for the realities of the CSDP mission at hand. There are two central bottlenecks contributing to the suboptimal effectiveness of the missions: staffing itself and the efficiency of matching training with the right recipients thereof.

Currently, member states are not seconding enough personnel to the missions. According to the Human Resource Annual Statistics Report 2018 released by the European External Action Service (EEAS), about half of the mission staff are directly contracted, instead of seconded by the member states. This creates staffing shortages and dilutes the idea of the CSDP as a member state-owned instrument. To correct this, big countries like Germany, France, and Italy need to increase their per capita secondments and mid-size countries, which are currently inactive in civilian CSDP, should demonstrate some commitment. Delightfully, the new Finnish government has already pledged to increase Finland’s contribution, putting a halt to the national downward trend. The practical tools for doing this are the National Implementation Plans of the Compact, which are currently being drafted.

Mismatch between experts trained and experts deployed

Civilian CSDP experts receive their training mostly from member states, especially in the case of basic training. This is understandable for a member state owned-instrument, but it also makes the mission staff heterogeneous. Different EU projects train three times as many people than are ultimately deployed, yet, at the same time, my institute has found that almost half of mission staff report that they have not received prior CSDP related training. This means that there is a wasteful mismatch between the people trained and the people deployed.

To correct this, the EU needs to create better systems of aggregating training requirements directly from the missions and introducing impartial quality controls on training. The focus should be less on supply and more on demand. However, subjecting the training provided to impartial quality control is much harder for member states to accept than just enhancing training by continuing to focus on supply. This is why the EU’s own provider of training, the European Security and Defense College (ESDC), should lead by example and open its courses to external evaluation. Eventually, all new EU funded training initiatives should have the mechanisms and funding in place for independent evaluation. The EU Civilian Training Group (EUCTG) should be a strong leader of this process, answering to real needs of the field. To fulfill this role, it must support of institutions like the planned European center of excellence for civilian crisis management.  

The EU should open its external action to independent evaluations

The final level of effectiveness that needs attention is the operational level itself (Commitment 17). Currently, outside authorities largely do not evaluate the civilian CSDP missions. This has produced the usual problems of self-evaluation, which are either externally perceived or lack real objectivity. Despite this lack of separation, EU observers have leveled ample critique against CSDP: The European Court of Auditors (ECA) evaluated the Sahel missions in 2018 and raised, among other things, the problems of occupancy rates and short mandates that make the planning and procurement cycles of CSDP unmanageably short. The EU funded Horizon2020-project IECEU, made similar observations through numerous publications, based on extensive data and 260 interviews. IECEU researchers also pointed to problems in strategic and operational planning, which caused the missions to already be outdated at deployment, or plagued with an inaccurate picture of the situation on the ground.  It is possible that these issues could have been observed without a fresh set of eyes, but it is noteworthy that they stem from the central commitments of the CSDP Compact, thereby underscoring the necessity of independent evaluation in policy development.

This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in discussing the EU’s crisis management effectiveness outside its borders. Without the improvements described above, the mere evaluation of the mission’s effectiveness does not count for much. The Civilian CSDP Compact does not clearly spell out the need to focus on effectiveness, but its ambivalence opens a window of opportunity to raise this point. The future does indeed look brighter through the German plans to establish a new European center of excellence for civilian crisis management. This center could work as a central catalyst in paying necessary attention to the effectiveness of the EU’s civilian crisis management activities. The coming Finnish and German EU presidencies can be instrumental in making this a reality.