General Leakey: EU Civil-Military Operations and Their Effect on NATO

General David Leakey, Director General of the European Union Military Staff, spoke at Yale on April 20. He is in the US on an official trip to meet with UN and American officials.




General Leakey described himself as a Euro-skeptic Brit, who nontheless has spent most of his career working in NATO. He has doubts about the vision and power of the EU, but believes in its utility in international affairs, since the US can’t police the world alone. Because of hostility, there are places where American power – and therefore NATO, and even the UN – are unwelcome. The EU has a role to play as an autonomous force and another option in the array of multilateral instuments for stability in the world.

The European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) had its impetus in the Balkans crisis of the ’90s. Since implementation in 2003, it has undertaken 23 missions. Of these, most are civilian. The most prominent missions are the 2,000 civilians who took over from the UN in Kosovo, and the 200-man (and soon growing) police force training the leadership of the Afghan Ministry of the Interior. Of the 6 military missions, 3 are in Africa, 2 in the Balkans, and the last is working on counter-piracy in the Indian Ocean. These missions represent a lot of activity – more than NATO has done in 60 years.

General Leakey was the commander of the EU force in Bosnia beginning in 2004. He commanded 7,000 soldiers, who took over from the NATO force that had been stationed there since the 1995 Dayton Accords. Leakey described the doubts that people had about this switch: why did the name have to change, since the same countries would be involved? The answer had to do with legitimacy: the future path to stability for Bosnia has to be as a part of the European Community, so simply changing the logo and marketing the force differently was important. There was also the factor of unified leadership. With the EU having a big presence with its giant European Commission embassy, a police mission and a High Representative, it only made sense to have everyone reading from the same hymn sheet.

What role did the troops play? Their primary function was to act as a deterrent, something which, when done successfully, means sitting still. Looking for a more active role, General Leakey went back to his orders. These were to support the High Rep.’s Mission Implementation Plan, yet this plan didn’t look like it included any military tasks. Then he remembered that EU Secretary-General Solana had told him to be “new and distinct” and to “make a difference”. What needed to be done in Bosnia? Jobs and justice are the most important things in a post-conflict zone, and 9 years after the war, both were lacking. The reason was institutional corruption. How could the military fight this? He decided to get his 7,000 man labor force involved in policing things like the fuel imports or the timber industry, and succeeded in scaring people into paying their taxes. This was unpopular with the national commanders, but there really wasn’t any other instrument availible to do the job.

General Leakey echoed Lord Ashdown in saying that he would have happily traded 2,000 soldiers for 200 Bosnian-speaking auditors. Ashdown and Leakey worked closely together in Bosnia, and seemed to have seen eye to eye. Leakey recommended Ashdown’s book Swords to Ploughshares and echoed his point about the utility of postponing elections.

In Leakey’s opinion, the big lesson of Bosnia is that good governance is important above all else.


Leakey and Ashdown both represent a pragmatic, technocratic way of approaching post-conflict reconstruction. In this view, fixing broken states is a slow and uncertain process, yet one that follows certain rules. Lessons learned in one country can be applied in the next, and global institutions can be built that possess the necessary power and know-how to intervene in each situation. This attitude is at odds with commentators who stress the limits of external players’ abilities to shape reality on the ground. Some experts, like Rory Stewart, point out the importance of unique complicating factors like culture, religion and tradition. To what degree can legitimate democracy be imposed from without? Are all attempts at nation building doomed from the start, or have they simply been mismanaged? These questions are commonly asked about the US invasion of Iraq, but they have a wider significance to the debate over Afghanistan, and about Western power in general.



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