Learning from the EU’s Georgia success

The EU’s Georgia mission is looking like a much-needed, if small ESDP success. But there is still much the EU can learn from its deployment.

The deployment of three-hundred unarmed European monitors to Georgia to observe compliance of the EU-negotiated six-point ceasefire accord may not have immediately impressed the Russian army’s 76th Air Assault Division nor done much to further the EU’s reputation as a serious security actor. In addition to reasserting Moscow’s military muscle, Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory threw Europe’s strength and reach into sharp relief. But contrary to superficial appearances, the monitoring mission actually represents a significant achievement for the EU.

From a standing start, the Union’s new crisis management bureaucracy marshaled the necessary staff, borrowed equipment and vehicles, and established an embryonic headquarters in Tbilisi – all in few days. This stands in contrast to the ill-fated mission in Kosovo – which is still not up to full strength – or the EUPOL mission in Kabul, which is undergoing its third leadership change in less than two years.  As such, EUMM could become quite a milestone in the development of Europe’s crisis management. There are, however, lessons to learn if the EU is to improve further.

On 1 October, EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) was ready to fulfill its mandate, with spiffily-dressed Italian carabinieri and French gendarmes giving Russia no excuse but to withdraw its forces from Georgia proper. Only a day before the EU deployment, Russia said they would not allow the monitors to enter a buffer zone surrounding the separatist South Ossetia region. But when a group of EU observers arrived at a Russian checkpoint near the village of Kvenatkotsa at the perimeter of Russia’s so-called “security zone”, the Russians quickly let them enter the area. The same was seen elsewhere across the country. In fact, two weeks after the EU deployment, Russian forces appear to have withdrawn from buffer zones around both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It did not, of course, always look like EUMM Georgia would deploy so successfully. While a ceasefire seemed to be slipping out of Nicolas Sarkozy’s grasp in late September, the Council Secretariat – and the newly staffed Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) – was struggling to plan for the mission, with staff pulling all-nighters and management having to draft in personnel from other tasks while calling capitals to get enough vehicles to ferry the EU staff around once in Georgia. The mission deadline – 1 October – seemed almost impossible; the EU mission in Kosovo took more than a year to plan while most staff in the Council Secretariat were not around to remember the planning process for the EU’s monitoring mission to Aceh in 2005, which had a similarly short lead-in time.

But in spite of the early success, a number of problems occurred that must be avoided in the future. First, though the deployments of formed police units from France and Italy served the mission well – making it look robust even if unarmed – it came about as a result of a mistake, not by design. The CPCC had made a call to EU countries to contribute staff to deploy, but did not manage to procure armored vehicles for the mission’s personnel. Governments were therefore asked to withdraw their offers of staff unless they could offer vehicles too – which few could.

This then meant that governments with formed, readily-deployable units – like the gendarmes – made up the bulk of the mission. Such units, however, are expensive and in a few months the Italian and French governments can be expected to want to plan their re-deployment home. The mistake also meant that the mission had to take more staff than it needed, as governments were loath to withdraw their initial offers of personnel and many smaller countries were unhappy about the process. The EUMM now numbers some 340 people when it probably ought to be around 200 or even the 70-80 people that were originally planned for the mission before the French picked the 200 figure out for political reasons.

The problem with the lack of vehicles is also a funding issue. The European Commission (EC) is responsible for funding the EU’s civilian missions. But despite having set up a mechanism to do so, the EC remains reluctant to begin purchases, especially expensive ones, before EU foreign ministers have formally agreed a mission. But this means there is rarely enough time to buy equipment like armored vehicles, which have a long purchase-to-delivery time-line.

The third problem exposed by the deployment of EUMM is the lack of staff in the Council Secretariat. When the CPCC was asked to plan for the mission, its senior management had to draw personnel from across the EU bodies to make up the necessary numbers. Though this produced a part civilian, part military team it also meant that the EU was not providing the necessary “reach-back” for other missions, such as the EUPOL mission in Kabul.

Finally, the planning for the EUMM shows how much that the EU has borrowed from the military in the way it operates civilian missions. Though this allows the process to enjoy the benefits of rigor – given the tried-and-tested nature of military planning – in this case it meant the use of inappropriately cumbersome procedures. For example, pre-deployed staff in Georgia had to get flight times for supply planes from air traffic controllers in Tblisi as it took too long to decrypt e-mails sent from the CPCC even though information on flight times is publicly accessible and need not be encrypted

Though the inter-disciplinary teams in Brussels and Tblisi undertook the operational-level planning well, they appear to have struggled to undertake the higher-level, strategic planning for the mission. In future, the Council Secretariat probably needs a Strategy and Planning Office dedicated to undertake the strategic-level thinking, before the drafting of the concept of operations (CONOPS).

Now that the initial deployment is finished these lessons need to be used to improve the EU’s institutional capacities and to refine the intellectual frameworks for civilian missions. Though European governments are likely to  mandate a lesson learning process in the weeks to come, such an exercise ought to include not only officials, but independent outsiders.

At the same time, the EU needs to consider where the Georgia mission goes from here, given the time-limit on French and Italian units and the likelihood that Russia will veto the existing OSCE and UN missions, which have been in place since 1992 and 1993 respectively. Does the EU take over these missions or should it withdraw from Georgia entirely towards the end of the Swedish EU Presidency in late 2009, when Spain takes over the EU’s rotating chairmanship? Or, should it hunker down to a Cyprus-style inter-positional role, which may last 30 years or more?

The EUMM is looking like a much-needed ESDP success, at a time when doubts had begun to surface about the EU’s capabilities. But there is still much the EU can and has to learn from its deployment to Georgia.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


ECFR Alumni · Former Senior Policy Fellow

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