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Hartmut Bühl, Brussels

Fundamental rights are essential for military personnel The human factor in missions abroad

by Hartmut Bühl, Brussels

The “European – Security and Defence Union” magazine, in addition to addressing the grand political concepts and strategies for the security and defence of the European continent, also looks regularly at the situation of the men and women sent by their countries on civil and military crisis-management missions abroad. They work and fight as part of joint multinational headquarters or task forces, or are deployed on national operations. All of them put their lives on the line. Only now is there a dawning realisation of the psychological and social consequences for the people concerned. But this is not the case in all countries.

In order to gain, as far as possible, a Europe-wide perspective on some of the problems, I visited EUROMIL President, Emmanuel Jacob, at his Brussels office. I wanted to ask him whether EUROMIL is making any progress with respect to its call for the freedom of association laid down in Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and about the human factor during operations, all of this in the light of the budgetary restrictions affecting the armed forces of practically all EU member states.

Associations are often still seen as undesirable President Jacob did not see why freedom of association should be negatively affected by the current financial crisis, which he thought should, on the contrary, have a federating effect. He underlined that, unfortunately, over half of European countries’ armed forces personnel still do not enjoy the right to set up and join associations: in some EU countries, the chairmen of military associations are even prosecuted for denouncing certain social or economic conditions, which constitutes a clear discrimination against EU citizens. He put EUROMIL’s limited progress in this area down to cultural or traditional factors in many nations’ armed forces, whose first contact with modern human resources management methods of the kind applied within the armed forces of northern European countries often takes place within multinational headquarters.

The counteracting forces of military culture “Some nations have come to the conclusion that this idea of the soldier as a social being does not fit into their particular organisational structures, which are not at all geared to participative forms of cooperation. So their first reaction is to go on the defensive”. He considers that the main reason for this is in many cases their particular conception of the soldier’s duty of absolute obedience, and their firm belief that no-one can take care of the interests of military personnel better than their own hierarchy.

New challenges for the associations and EUROMIL At present the main challenge to be tackled is the negative impact of the economic and financial crisis on defence budgets. Emanuel Jacob firmly believes that the resulting cutbacks in national defence spending and in the numerical strength of armed forces have created new challenges for the national associations and for EUROMIL. He argued: “Soldiers pay for the crisis twice. Firstly, we pay our share in the form of new taxes, income reductions, cuts in our national social security systems and other government measures resulting from the crisis. Secondly, as soldiers, we again pay the price of reductions in our defence budgets!”

In answer to my question as to who and what precisely is affected, Mr Jacob was categorical: “When governments decide to make budget cuts, there is not an infinite number of

Military and political personnel demonstrate in favour of freedom of association.


40 possibilities”. He said that whichever way you look at it and whatever the decisions taken, military personnel ultimately bear the brunt of such cutbacks. “Either budget cuts result in poor training and preparation for military operations abroad, putting our personnel in danger, or the lack of investments leads to soldiers being deployed on missions with inadequate equipment, which is also detrimental to their safety”.

New threats in operations Mr Jacob explained that the threats facing crisis-management forces deployed on multinational missions have changed: over the years they have become more complex, with soldiers and civilian personnel facing delicate political situations in the areas of operations. We live in a world of asymmetrical threats; moreover, in certain regions of the Middle East and North Africa, “personnel are confronted during operations with CBRN threat scenarios”, something that for a long time was no longer imaginable. He refuted my objection that military personnel are, after all, well trained for that purpose, explaining that there was no standard quality of training and equipment even among the forces of the different countries themselves: “Civilian forces – and here I’m thinking of some NGOs –in most cases do not have any protection at all”. With a view to the comprehensive approach enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, Emanuel Jacob pointed to the need to formulate, in the context of the CBRN Action Plan, common requirements for nations as regards the level of training and equipment. “One day there may even be common European equipment adapted to the requirements of civil and military forces”, he said. Asked who should take the initiative, he designated this a political task for the European Parliament.

International recommendations are to follow Emmanuel Jacob pointed out that EUROMIL has drawn up widely accepted recommendations concerning the points to be taken on board for multinational crisis-management and peacekeeping missions (see insert). His organisation’s calls to adapt equipment and training to new threats are, he says, now being heard: “EUROMIL has for a long time been asking for priority to be given to protective equipment and logistic supply, as well as to armour-plating for vehicles”. While implementation is the responsibility of individual nations, he calls for the joint training of troops in the run-up to a given operation, in order to create synergies and give troops on the ground the ability to adapt in the interests of efficiency. “Those who work together should train together”, he said. Finally, President Jacob stressed a point of particular importance to him, one, moreover, that concerns the deployed personnel of all nations: “Political situations in the areas of operations are always delicate for those who have to be protected, as well as for the protectors themselves. That is why impeccable behaviour on the part of our own personnel in the different theatres – and above all the military personnel who may have to use weapons


EUROMIL’s 10 recommendations

1 That political mandates best reflect the reality of the theatre and the mission, that the number and effect of national caveats are reduced, and forces operate according to common rules of engagement. 2 That adequate pre-deployment training – including the use of identical types of combat gear, equipment and systems as in the mission area- is provided to enhance the skills, effectiveness and safety of the individual soldier and the unit. 3 That appropriate instruction is provided on international law, language skills and cultural awareness during pre-mission training. 4 That combined pre-deployment training of multinational troops occurs in order to optimise the cooperation and interaction of different national contingents in theatre. In the mission phase EUROMIL advocates: 5 That priority is given to the provision of appropriate personal combat equipment and to ensuring that the standard of armour protection of vehicles is commensurate with the mission, and that logistic supply structures are effective and appropriate. 6 That the families of soldiers are at the outset involved in all support and adaptation programmes in each deployment stage. 7 That appropriate physical and psychological medical care is ensured during military operations. In the post-mission phase EUROMIL advocates: 8 That long-term medical surveillance and treatment of returning soldiers and veterans is guaranteed through military medical facilities and/or the civilian health care system. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) should be recognised as an occupational sickness of peace-keeping veterans. 9 That vocational and retraining schemes are set up, which facilitate the employment of veterans in the public administration or civilian labour market. 10 That employment and training schemes are established, which permit seriously injured military personnel to be employed by the public/military administration or civilian labour market.

source: EUROMIL In the pre-mission phase EUROMIL advocates:

– has become more important than ever, for the mission success is affected by the increased publicity brought by the internet and satellite communications”.

Taking care of veterans In response to my last question about the issue closest to his heart, the President of EUROMIL showed no hesitation in replying: “The recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a vocational illness of peacekeeping veterans”. He underlined that the post-deployment phase is more than just the end of the soldiers’ mission during which their health and lives are placed at risk. “The wrap-up phase is also the beginning of diverse processes such as the reintegration into life back home, rebuilding psychological stability, recuperation or creation of self-esteem and pride, future preparation for new contracts or other professional choices”.