« European Union squeezed between two arcs of tensions »

19 novembre 2015 0 Par Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann


Finabel conference note.pngFINABEL-Europe- two arcs of crisis.png

Intervention at  the FINABEL Conference

COS PME II-2015 Meeting

Trencin, Slovakia, 21 april 2015

From Dr Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann

Directory of research in geopolitics, IERI

The Finabel Coordination Committee is a Land Forces organisation comprised of 17 Member States of the European Union to promote interoperability between its Members.

The annual conference of  The chief of staff Committee (COS) and the Principal Military expert Committee (PME) took place in Trencin, Slovakia the 21st of April. A conference on the future of Land forces has been organized on this occasion.

The added value of geopolitical analysis

It is necessary to establish a diagnosis on security threats and risks to European Union territory and populations before to think about military capabilities (the reverse approach is currently put into practice and distorting a right diagnosis of the situation).  A central point is then to examine the different/common perceptions of security between European Union Member States according to their history/geography. The security perception has an impact on geopolitical priorities and they diverge between EU Member States (mainly Southern orientation of France and Eastern orientation of Germany).  The posture of third powers must also be understood to know their red lines in order to avoid mistakes and unnecessary suspicion that spiral into conflict when taking wrong decisions.

Lessons from past mistakes and success stories should also be central to adjust security and defence policies. As an example, we should remember about the incoherence between the decisions taken during ex-Yugoslavia crises and its impact on the Ukrainian crisis today as the territorial integrity of Ukraine is today Western priority, but not for Yugoslavia in the 90’s. Some aspects of the operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya war can be considered as military successes but they are political failures. The situation of these countries and our security is worse today than before these military operations. The operations in Mali, Central Africa were initiated for example partly to repair the mistakes of the previous destabilization of Libya.

Finally, it is necessary to forge common European priorities on territory. Negotiations would be long and difficult but it may have been more useful to engage ourselves in that direction than applying a restrictive legal and economic approach during ten years of negotiations for the Lisbon Treaty with few results: there is still no real European common diplomacy and no credible common European and defence security policy.

Geopolitical diagnosis

The world is experiencing an evolution towards a multipolar world and an enlargement of factors of power (the combination of different factors of power during a conflict is named as a « hybrid war »). Globalization can be defined as a fight to carve up geopolitical spaces between the different state powers but also sub state actors.

In this new world, we are confronted to permanent instability and uncertainty coming from State rivalries mixing territorial rivalries on the ground, air space, maritime space and cyberspace. It is then more and more complicated to make a right diagnosis of a geopolitical situation and to build a coherent strategy 

Geography and History are the main factors to understand a crisis.  In the case of Ukraine, old historical maps are necessary to understand the geopolitical stakes between the actors.

The importance of ground forces remain central since control of territory is the most important objective in most of  the past and future crises (the German philosopher Carl Schmitt said that human beings are not fish nor birds but have their feet on the ground, so what is happening on the ground is what is the most important).  Because of technological breakthroughs, we can fly, navigate and enter cyber space, but in the end, we live on the ground and the need to control ground territory remains the main geopolitical stake.

There is an illusion of total control of territory from air, cyber space or maritime zones. The current « technique supremacy » ideology to master our geostrategic spaces is misleading.   

Threats and risks to Europe

The land forces of European Union Member States face today many different scenarios. Hybrid wars are not new:  the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu invented already the concept. 

We are also experiencing an evolution from defence to global and home security missions when classical threats are still credible scenarios. European taboos in some countries make it difficult for the army to operate on home territory.

When we examine the geopolitical situation map of Europe and its geographical surroundings, the Southern arc of crisis is the source of Jihadist forces threats, failed States and hostile States. This area is potentially the source of the worst security scenario for European territory. (See map « European Union between two arcs of crisis »)

Hybrid war originating from the Southern arc of crisis is the most likely threat. The scenario combining internal threats (uprising of European cities suburbs concentrated with non assimilated minorities) mixed with home grown jihadist terrorist acts and manipulation and support from hostile third States from the Southern arc of crisis is a situation we have to anticipate (See map « Common threats from North Africa and Middle East to the Eurasian continent »).

The Eastern arc of crisis presents many risks but constitutes no threats as there is no enemy in this area. Most likely is the destabilization of this area because of civil wars provoking flows of refugees. A nuclear power plant incident can also be a risk for European Union Member States. However, the degree of potential escalation depends also on the attitude of European States and their own political decisions.

Utility and optimization of land forces: main features

  • Special forces sent to remote and difficult locations (Sahel)
  • Urban combat abroad (Sahel) and on home territory in Europe
  • Interventions in support of civilian powers for security risks (nuclear power plant)
  • Less likely scenario : worst case scenario of full scale intervention (example : blockade of strategic maritime passage)
  • Since the budget are squeezed, then ability to rebuild forces for a classical conflict if necessary is required  
  • Think the unthinkable and adopt European hybrid strategy


The Eurasian continent faces common threats from the Southern arc of crisis with the destabilizing actions of jihadist forces (see map « Common threats from North Africa and Middle East to the Eurasian continent »). The European Union Member States are increasingly squeezed between these two arcs of crisis on the South and East and it is in our security interest to overcome this situation of encirclement.

However, we lose time with the Ukraine crisis. The threat of escalation in this area depends also on the actions from European States, and red lines from our neighbours shouldn’t be crossed (like in Ukraine crisis, there is a lack of geopolitical analysis at EU level). Since Russia is not an enemy for European security in the Eastern arc of crisis (it is not in the interest of EU Members States to have more fragmented geopolitical space on the Eastern flank), the Eurasian nations, EU Member States, Eastern European states, Russia, Central Asian States, and also possibly China should cooperate more to face these common threats originating from the Southern arc of crisis (See map « European Union between two arc of crisis »). Increasing military cooperation was initiated between UE and Russia in EU operations in Africa (transport with helicopters) before the Ukraine crisis and there should be a reset in that direction.