“The international composition of Eurocorps means that we have to consider each individual nation’s approach and then adopt the best one.”
Interview with Lieutenant General Laurent Kolodziej, Commanding General Eurocorps, Strasbourg
The European: General, you are the 13th Commanding General of Eurocorps, a multinational army corps, highly respected for its military capabilities and performance in international operations. Today, Eurocorps is a major military force that benefits both the EU and NATO. Personally, this fills me with pride as I was the first German officer with operational responsibility for the establishment of the Eurocorps headquarters in the 1990s. When my French counterpart, Colonel François Clerc, and I raised the European flag in the courtyard of the newly founded headquarters on 1st July 1992, we somehow dreamed that we were laying the foundation of a sort of European army, which seems unrealistic today, since a European army would trigger endless cultural, legal and administrative problems that would be unsolvable at present.
General, how do you see Eurocorps? As part of a vision for a European army or as a concrete pillar of European Strike Forces?
General Kolodziej: Eurocorps was founded in 1993 as a first step towards a European defence system. At the time, and this has not changed significantly today, the goal was to create a military unit that could make a concrete contribution to the security of Europe. In my opinion, it was particularly important to the founding fathers to set a clear signal for Europe on one hand without, on the other hand, creating a structure that is out of touch with reality, but one that can make a concrete contribution within NATO, the European Union and the Framework Nations. That is why Eurocorps was assigned the task of leading the entire military operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina only five years after its foundation. We assumed a similar task in 2015/16, when Eurocorps was entrusted with planning and commanding the European Training Mission in the Central African Republic. In this sense, I see Eurocorps as a concrete contribution to the security of Europe and its partners.
The European: If in your opinion multinational units – be it battalions, brigades, divisions or corps – are the most efficient means of shaping European forces, then the question also arises as to whether these units, with their high degree of readiness, should be specialised and perform only very specific tasks or whether their training qualifies them for deployment in ANY kind of operation.
General Kolodziej: When I look at the missions in which Eurocorps has been deployed today, such as the NRF Standby Phase as Land Component Command, the European Training Missions or the upcoming missions such as the NATO Joint Headquarters role, my conclusion is that in order to meet today’s security requirements, Eurocorps must be flexibly deployable. In other words, it must be able to assume the whole spectrum of functions, ranging from the role of Joint HQ through the deployment as a War Fighting Corps.
The European: That means that you have to train your army corps for a high intensity combat role, as well as employment as a Security Force HQ and the assumption of European Training Missions?
General Kolodziej: Yes, and it is precisely that bandwidth that requires highly specialised personnel, so that they can adapt optimally to each mission in terms of scope, structure and capabilities. At a time of limited military resources, this is the key to success.
If these forces are then quickly available and deployable, which requires a high level of operational readiness, this alliance represents the ideal tool for the participating nations. This is exactly the logic that we follow at Eurocorps and that is reflected, year in year out, by our portfolio of tasks.
The European: How do you define the capabilities of Eurocorps as a whole, and what lessons have you learned from your various international missions?
General Kolodziej: Eurocorps has led, or participated in, every significant NATO or EU operation in recent years. On the NATO side, the portfolio ranges from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Afghanistan; on the EU side, Eurocorps has completed missions in Mali and the Central African Republic. Currently, about 60 soldiers are deployed with the European Training Mission in Mali and in the summer Eurocorps will assume another rotation in Mali and a further one in the Central African Republic. At the same time, Eurocorps is preparing for its Stand-by Phase as a NATO Joint Headquarters in 2024.
The European: That means that the Eurocorps has gained unique operational experience across the full spectrum of operations.
General Kolodziej: You are right, but let me add that when one considers that Eurocorps has most of the equipment it requires at its disposal, participating nations can deploy Eurocorps at any time, even at short notice, a possibility that nations make ample use of, as the deployment commitments show.
The European: Successful deployments of your servicewomen and servicemen – who are always employed in mixed and combined units – certainly generate motivation and cohesion. How many nations are acceptable for such a large multinational force to ensure that it remains efficient in military terms?
General Kolodziej: A total of 10 nations currently participate in Eurocorps: Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Spain as decision-making Framework Nations, as well as Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Turkey as associated members. Other nations have expressed interest.
The international composition of Eurocorps means that we have to consider each individual nation’s approach and then adopt the best one. Numerous examples, especially during operations, illustrate the fact that efficiency and multinationality are not a matter of figures but of implementation.
The European: Could you please develop this point further?
General Kolodziej: Of course, let me mention a few examples: in EUTM Mali, 28 nations are currently working together under the command of Brigadier General Gracia, whose original function is Eurocorps’ Deputy Chief of Staff operations (DCOS Ops). He has reported to me that work in the theatre is proceeding extremely well. The same situations can be observed in NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) operations in the Baltics or France’s Takuba mission in the Sahel region, where a large number of nations are involved in order for it to be sustainable in the long term and to emphasise the mission’s legitimacy. Especially at times of complex challenges, nations need to cooperate militarily and combine their strengths.
The European: I can imagine that the months and weeks before an engagement are politically difficult as you are guided by a Common Committee of national chiefs of defence and directors of foreign affairs of 10 nations. How do you manage to make your military operational decisions on a common basis of political guidance? Just think of Germany with its “parliamentary” army and France with its “presidential” army, for example. Is it possible to find common ground there?
General Kolodziej: I can only report from my perspective as Commanding General Eurocorps. I attended two Common Committee meetings in 2019 and 2020. On the basis of that experience, I can report that coordination on important decisions such as the participation in missions works relatively well. Eurocorps has a planning horizon that generally extends five years into the future. This year we will ensure a total of three rotations for the European Training Missions in Mali and the Central African Republic and another rotation in CAR in 2022. At the same time, we are starting our preparation cycle for the role of Joint Headquarters. In 2023, we will be certified by NATO, in 2024 we will assume the actual Stand-by Phase, and in 2025 we will lead the EUBG. These are planning horizons that many large national units can only dream of.
The European: As to other decisions to be taken, for instance with regard to equipment, what is the decision-making process?
General Kolodziej: To be frank, and however surprising it may sound, it is also relatively fast-paced. For example, over the next few years we will migrate to SICF 2, the most modern command and control system, used in the French armed forces, with the agreement of all nations. This also shows that nations are keen on reaching agreements with the goal of forming a large military unit that can be employed by all of them.
The European: This will allow further developments and adaptation. However, with regard to your forces’ equipment, besides a unified communication system and a unified command and control system, you have to contend with a great variety of national weapon systems: five different infantry fighting vehicles, four different types of rifles and a variety of tanks. How do you see the future of equipment?
General Kolodziej: Decisions on equipment standardisation are a political question and remain a national prerogative. However, initial trends have clearly emerged within the framework of PESCO, the Permanent Security Cooperation, like, for instance, the joint development of a next-generation combat aircraft or a new common battle tank. At the same time, there are a number of other examples such as the A 400 M, the TIGER combat helicopter, etc, in which several nations have already combined their efforts.
The European: That is of course true, but when we founded the Eurocorps in 1992, wasn’t the intention to enable it to procure directly for the HQ and its units?
General Kolodziej: At Eurocorps, our equipment is already largely harmonised in terms of the armament, vehicles and equipment at our disposal. This was either procured directly by Eurocorps, such as command post equipment, tents, power generators, etc., or was individually provided to Eurocorps by the nations – in this case mainly vehicles and weapons. This equipment is used by all Eurocorps personnel regardless of their nationality. Only in the context of special national requirements, for example in the context of mission preparation, is special equipment made available by the National Support Elements and used when necessary. We have had good experience with this approach over the last few years and it shows that synergies are possible and helpful in the context of burden sharing.
The European: This is good news. Let me finally address the training of the forces you will soon be sending to the Sahel region and the way this training will be carried out as “uniformly” as possible?
General Kolodziej: One of the great advantages of Eurocorps is that – and this is exactly why we have now been tasked by the Framework Nations with such a mission for the second time after 2015/16 – the Eurocorps personnel already know each other, train together and prepare together for each mission. The majority of staff members prepared together for the NATO Response Force (NRF) Stand-by Phase in 2019 and for a whole series of exercises that were subsequently certified successfully by NATO. Based on this, we have designed a central training module that is attended by all Eurocorps personnel for whom a deployment is planned, from the future Mission Force Commander to the non-commissioned officers as well as, incidentally, the key external personnel.
The European: I understand that this is how you ensure that experienced personnel who, despite their different nationalities, know each other well and work together on a daily basis here in Strasbourg, are deployed on a mission as key personnel.
General Kolodziej: Yes, this ensures that the otherwise sometimes lengthy familiarisation processes within a contingent are minimised. When this personnel is then replaced by fellow soldiers after six months of deployment, the advantages are obvious.
The European: What impact on day-to-day service do the personnel returning from such missions have on the morale of the troops? What influence do these experiences have?
General Kolodziej: Basically, deployments are part of soldiers’ lives. Therefore, on the one hand they are normal, on the other hand, not only the individual soldiers but also the entire unit benefits from the experience gained in the course of deployment. This is all the more true if the soldiers remain as pragmatic when they return home as they need to be during missions, finding the appropriate solutions to accomplish those missions. In this respect, in my capacity as commander, I am particularly interested in the detailed evaluation of deployment experiences, which enables not only the individual soldiers to learn from one another but also the entire unit to benefit from the experience. The experience is then taken into account, for example, in the course of training planning to ensure that Eurocorps soldiers are continuously trained and prepared as realistically as possible, not only within the scope of direct pre-deployment preparation such as in the current preparation for Mali and the Central African Republic, but also within the scope of NATO’s commitments.
The European: General, perhaps an odd but nevertheless serious question: the special characteristic of Eurocorps is that you serve two masters. You can be employed by NATO and by the European Union. For whom does your heart beat, or in other words, do you and your leaders have a dual DNA?
General Kolodziej: This dual DNA was instilled in us by our founding fathers, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, and it is reflected in our motto “A Force for the EU and NATO”. That is why this duality principle is particularly close to my heart as Commanding General of Eurocorps, and I am grateful that the framework Nations regularly underscore its importance and ensure that is still applied 28 years later, especially in the operational planning process I have just outlined. This duality and the outstanding experience associated with it, the ability to see the bigger picture, as it were, distinguishes Eurocorps from all other comparable units in Europe and makes us, to a certain extent, unique.
The European: Thank you, General, for this interview. I wish you and your troops continued success and that you bring all your soldiers back safe and sound from the Sahel region.
“In order to meet today’s security requirements, Eurocorps must be flexibly deployable.”
Lieutenant General Laurant Kolodziej
has been the Commanding General Eurocorps since September 2019. He was born in 1962. After a period at the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti, he joined the 4th Tank Regiment. Kolodziej was then employed at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in Paris and became the French Liaison Officer at the British Defence Academy in Shrivenham. On promotion to Brigadier General he commanded the 6th Light Armoured Brigade, Nîmes. From 2014 to 2016 he served as Head of Department for internationale Engagements at the MOD, Paris. He was then appointed Commander of the Rapid Reaction Corps France (RRC) in Lille and promoted to Lieutenant General in 2018.