A combined European defence force would be “out of its depth” if required to act on several fronts, a report laying bare the continent’s military frailties has found.
Researchers attempted to pitch the EU’s military ambitions against the actual capabilities of its members by creating a range of scenarios to which they may have to respond.
These included peace enforcement missions, conflict prevention, rescue and evacuation work and humanitarian assistance, in regions ranging from the Horn of Africa to the Caucasus.
It was found that, given the current equipment and resource picture, juggling several missions at once would be “beyond the reach of EU member states”.
Britain’s departure from the bloc also threatens to “make a bad situation worse”, as it could mean the loss of one of Europe’s most powerful military players, the report claimed.
Talk of a “European army” has long been a source of tension between the UK and its allies, with the EU hoping to use the Common Security and Defence Policy to ramp up joint military activity across the globe.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies and the German Council on Foreign Relations sought to establish the interventions that could be triggered by the policy, based on sources such as the EU Global Strategy.
But the report, titled Protecting Europe, added: “It is this concurrency of operations that will create real stress on capabilities, much more so than any one of the scenarios mentioned above taken by itself.
“Moreover, sustainability is a problem. While short-term operations might be possible when using all available assets, those requiring one or more rotations will overstretch European armed forces.”
Problem areas identified by the analysis included shortages in equipment, vehicles, supplies and personnel.
Only the rescue-and-evacuation and humanitarian assistance scenarios did not result in potential deficiencies – but the removal of the UK posed problems for the naval response to the latter.
Meanwhile, interventions to prevent conflict, enforce peace or stabilise volatile political situations would “all create significant capability shortfalls”, even with Britain’s help.
Success would be "doubtful" if the UK did not throw its weight behind these missions, the study said.
The most drastic situation examined – seven simultaneous smaller operations, in line with the block’s stated level of ambition – left the EU “out of its depth” and exposed to “extensive capability gaps across all domains”.
“Removing the UK from the picture renders a bad situation much worse. Existing shortfalls would be even more pronounced,” the report said.
Brexit will also ratchet up pressure on the EU to cement its partnerships and improve “transatlantic engagement”, it added, suggesting the US may be called upon to prop up more operations.
By 2030, the picture appears unlikely to get much rosier. Equipment gaps are expected to endure among the 27 members and the UK amid ongoing concerns about cost and several resource-consuming procurement programmes currently under way.
Significantly, researchers were unable to identify any plans to develop military capacity that would “compensate for the UK contribution” after Brexit.