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Policy brief | 10 July 2019

How militarily willing and able is the EU? Operation Althea struggles in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Balkans Brexit Defence EU European Defence

This latest ELN policy brief evaluates the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the EU’s ability to carry out its peacekeeping military operation, EUFOR Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and draws wide-ranging conclusions on the EU’s current ability to carry out military operations as part of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

As a low profile reassurance force with a minimal military presence, EUFOR Althea depends on intelligence assets and out-of-country deployable British reserve forces. In case of a no-deal Brexit, British assets would be removed and there is currently no sign the EU27 are both willing and able to plug the gap. Should the security situation in BiH deteriorate, and the UK assets not be replaced, EUFOR Althea risks exposing the EU as a helpless military actor in its own neighbourhood. 

The chronicle of Operation Althea is revealing. It stands as a test, if only low-level, of the EU’s seriousness as a security provider. The UK’s potential withdrawal from the EU highlights the operational, strategic and political challenges facing EU defence today. The authors argue that despite its ambitions, the EU still has a long way to go in developing a culture of military responsibility and in delivering its ambition of operational “strategic autonomy”.

Progress made since the 2016 EU Global Strategy has largely focused on capability development and the consolidation of the EU defence industrial base, with initiatives such as PESCO and the European Defence Fund; there has been little real operational progress in CSDP military ambitions and deployment. Operation Althea exposes the long-standing reluctance of Member States to agree on, and contribute to, CSDP military missions in any meaningful way. The gap between the Union’s objectives and its current military capacity is wide and Brexit will only make a bad situation worse.


Download the Policy Brief here


The opinions articulated above represent the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network (ELN) or any of the ELN’s members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.