In late June 2015 the heads of government of the 28 European Union (EU) Member States will meet in Brussels to discuss their Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). They are expected to agree a clearer commitment to strengthening military forces in countries affected by conflict. But will EU efforts contribute to peace?
The EU already has military training missions in Somalia (since 2010) and Mali (since 2013). Increasing instability on Europe’s neighbouring continents has encouraged some EU Member States to call for more EU military training missions, and in March 2015 the EU launched such a mission in the Central African Republic.
EU military capacity development
A preparatory meeting of the 28 EU Member State Foreign Ministers, known as the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), took place in November 2014. The conclusions from this meeting requested that the European Commission develop a “concrete” EU plan for military support and training (known as capacity development). These missions will take place in countries where violent conflict affects European interests, such as the supply of natural resources for energy.
The stated aim of this policy is to help conflict-affected countries “prevent and manage crises by themselves”. The FAC decision to invest resources in a military approach, rather than addressing either the immediate causes or the longer-term causes of the conflicts, does not seem to further this stated EU goal to help conflict prevention. Increasing military capacity in a country affected by conflict is likely to increase the risk and impact of further violence.
An alternative approach would be to support peacebuilding as a tool to prevent conflict. This might include supporting civil peace services, mechanisms for dialogue, the effective functioning of government, and/or promoting equality within the society.
Vision and values in capacity development
The EU’s operational planning staff are constrained by the type of personnel and resources they are offered by EU Member States. Imbalances include: a high proportion of men, a high frequency of military rather than civilian skills, and a low occurrence of necessary linguistic and cultural awareness skills.
On the whole the EU uses male trainers and advisers. By doing this EU operations risk reinforcing gender relationships that encourage conflict. To build peace, women must be empowered in their society, and violence must not be part of how men understand their masculinity.
The EU needs a radical increase in the proportion of women it deploys or contracts as part of its capacity development missions. This would be much easier if the EU reduced its reliance on military staff: soldiers are more likely to be men. The peace that the EU says it aims for, is also enhanced by involving local women’s groups directly in security sector reform – such as the peacebuilding approach taken by Search for Common Ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2001.
Peacebuilding takes time, and military capacity development is not a short cut
In recent years, the focus of EU capacity development missions has moved from south east Europe to north and central Africa – where the capabilities of the state security sector are far less. In these more challenging environments, it is taking much longer to see results from EU military capacity development programmes. Putting aside the question of whether developing military forces in fragile states is a good idea at all, the EU should recognise that it takes many years, if not decades. There is no advantage is searching for a quick fix that avoids addressing the underlying causes of conflict.
Peacebuilding alternatives to military capacity development
Given the limited success of lengthy capacity development missions, the EU should consider human security approaches. Peacebuilding activities that focus on young people offer the opportunity to address the needs of a group whose interests are often marginalised during conflict. Young people are also the target of recruitment efforts by armed groups, including the state security sector. Boys, in particular, would benefit from support to help them avoid becoming the next generation of combatants. A specific focus on education, and particularly peace education, is likely to be a more effective use of resources.
Alternative approaches to capacity development include:
- Small grant schemes (where the local security sector, women’s groups and minority groups jointly make spending decisions) provide opportunities for grass-roots cooperation, and help to equalise the power of different groups within society: often an underlying factor in violent conflict
- Support to conflict-affected countries with mechanisms to pay salaries to security personnel to reduce vulnerability to extortion and violence by the military (the EU did this successfully in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2005-2015)
- Scholarships, study tours, secondments, and exchanges
- Peace education (such as non-violent communication) in communities and schools
- Investment in higher education, to encourage critical thinking and local research
- Investment in the professional development of peace-builders, educators and trauma specialists.
EU support for capacity development is a potentially important tool for conflict-affected countries, but this does not need to be development of military capacities. The EU should support the development of people and organisations that are likely to contribute to peace. If the EU is to promote peace in the world, it must not support power relationships that underpin conflict and insecurity, under the false premise of providing short-term stability. These approaches ignore both the needs of the community and the dynamics of the conflict.
Overall, we must ask whose capacity is being developed, and for whose benefit. If the EU wants to promote peace, then it must seek to support the peacemakers and not the build the capacity for war.
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For more information about EU militarism and the forthcoming European Council meeting, see our recent QCEA background paper Militarism in the European Union.
On the Global Day of Action Against Military Spending, (13 April 2015), seventeen European peace groups called on the EU to:
“Consider alternatives to military capacity building in conflict-affected countries. The almost complete exclusion of women from EU operations that seek to support military, police, and justice reform reinforces gender roles that associate masculinity with power, violence, and control. Instead European Union justice and security sector reform programmes should involve local civil society, including women and young people in needs assessments, planning and delivery phases.”
To read the full statement click here.