From EU Battlegroups to Rapid Deployment Capacity: learning the right lessons?

Christoph O Meyer, Anton Van Osch, Yf Reykers*

*Corresponding author for this work

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'We need to be able to act rapidly and robustly whenever a crisis erupts, with partners if possible and alone when necessary'. 1 The European Union's Strategic compass for security and defence (hereafter Strategic compass), adopted in March 2022, aims to improve the EU's rapid crisis-response capacity and create a Rapid Deployment Capacity (RDC) of 5,000 troops to reach operational capacity by 2025 at the latest. This ambition, which was later approved by the EU ministers of foreign affairs and of defence, and endorsed by the European Council, illustrated the new momentum in European security and defence integration that was under way even before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Yet, the underlying ambition is not new. In June 2004 the Council decided to create so-called EU battlegroups of 1,500 troops, deployable within five to ten days. These battlegroups have never been used since the achievement of full operational capacity in 2007, despite several opportunities to do so-a puzzle discussed in a rich literature. 2 Their non-use and the falling political commitment to fill the expected rota means that the instrument failed to serve its primary purpose as stated in EU official documents. 3 A creeping failure has become chronic. It cannot be compensated by secondary benefits such as enhancing EU and member states' capabilities or improving the interoperability of their armed forces. 4 The EU battlegroups have become emblematic of the capability/expectations gap in European security and defence more broadly. 5 Making a success of reformed battlegroups within the RDC concept therefore constitutes a litmus test for the success of the Strategic compass. A successful RDC would help the EU become a more credible and effective rapid crisis responder, able to act autonomously from other actors in a range of situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-201
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Affairs (London)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2024


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