Interview with Lieutenant General
Peter Devogelaere, Commander EUROCORPS, Strasbourg
The European: General, you have been the Commanding General of EUROCORPS for almost a year now. During that time, you have been living through the aftermath of the withdrawal of allied forces from Afghanistan, and since 24th February of this year, the security of Europe has been severely tested by the war between Russia and Ukraine. What is the impact on your multinational Headquarters?
Peter Devogelaere: Since assuming command of EUROCORPS in September 2021, I haven’t been idle for a minute. The measures against the Covid-19 pandemic were still in place at the time. The unilateral withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, that also triggered the subsequent repatriation of allied troops and pre-vetted Afghan civilians, was the main topic of conversation. As if this were not enough the Russian aggression on Ukraine on 24th February has had an impact on the international rules-based order. Such use of force and coercion has no place in the 21st century.
The European: What might be Putin’s target concerning Europe’s security?
Peter Devogelaere: What President Putin is doing is a grave violation of international law. The target is not only Ukraine, but the security of Europe and the whole international rules-based order, based on the UN system and international law. His aggression is taking innocent lives, crushing people’s wish to live in peace. Civilian targets are being struck. During a visit to Warsaw, end of March, I had the opportunity to talk to Ukraine refugees, mostly women and children. I witnessed their hardships on the spot. Fortunately, the EU and NATO are united in offering strong support to Ukraine and its people.
The European: And what is in the current situation the mission of EUROCORPS?
Peter Devogelaere: As EUROCORPS is deployable to both the EU and NATO, it is closely monitoring the Russo-Ukraine war. On request, EUROCORPS supports other commands in contingency planning. Mean whilst, we capture and analyse lessons identified from the ongoing war. But EUROCORPS’ core mission is currently the European Union Training Mission in the Central African Republic (EUTM). EUROCORPS is providing a contingent of 40 military personnel that forms the nucleus of the staff at the EUTM Headquarters in Bangui. In parallel EUROCORPS is preparing for and adapting to its future role as NATO Joint Task Force Headquarters; to become standby during 2024. In 2025, EUROCORPS will take the lead of the European Battle Group, most probably in its new form and consisting of around 5000 soldiers in accordance with the EU Strategic Compass. Beyond 2025, EUROCORPS will adapt to a “Warfighting Corps”.
The European: Warfighting Corps, does this mean “fighting power”? Can you comment on this synonym?
Peter Devogelaere: Indeed, fighting power is the optimal development and combination of intellectual, physical and moral aspects of war. The intellectual component is all about knowledge and its application of warfare, tactics, logistics and command and control. It includes amongst others, organisational concepts, building a learning culture and adaptation. The physical component is a military organisations’ capabilities, such as equipment, infrastructure, weapons, ammunitions, sensors, communications, etc., and functional effects. The moral component is all about culture, values and legitimacy. It includes leadership, purpose and the will to fight of individuals and teams.
The European: To avoid what the Russian army is currently living in Ukraine?
Peter Devogelaere: We observe that the Russian combination of intellectual, physical and moral aspects has been sub-optimal. As an example given, Russian air and logistic problems seems to be systemic (structural) problems and take time to fix. On the other hand, we observe that the Russian Army is adapting its way of fighting and is using indiscriminate massed fires in a war of attrition. Russians employ concentrated artillery in East Ukraine to substitute infantry and airpower. At the same time, the aggressor has continued strategic operations to strike targets across Ukraine.
The European: EUROCORPS, being one of the most deployed Corps, gained great experiences from its past deployments and commitments.
Peter Devogelaere: Yes! With these experiences we are able to develop each of these fighting power’s components and adapt them based on experience and learning, and combine them in optimal ways in order to succeed. Preparing for whatever future role takes intensive training of individuals in exercises that build the capabilities of inter-professional teams, the understanding of complex equipment and doctrine, and great leadership.
The European: NATO is more strongly united than ever, but at the same time the EU continues to call for a European Defense. What role could EUROCORPS as a multinational Headquarters, play herein?
Peter Devogelaere: The duality is in EUROCORPS’ DNA. We work for the benefit of both the EU and NATO. It is important to point out right away that the defense policies and capabilities of NATO and the European Union are complementary. The member states of the European Union and NATO form a group of more than 30 nations that present a united front against existing or emerging threats. Military deployments beyond our borders provide a good demonstration of this multinational shared approach. Thus, there should be no distinction between an Atlantic and a European axis. Whether EUROCORPS is deployed on behalf of one or the other, as decided by the CHODs of the 6 Framework Nations, it always demonstrates professionalism and the skills of the soldiers who are part of it. The Staff of EUROCORPS could play a greater role within the security structure of the EU, including with a view to changing the structure of rapid intervention forces, by relying on our expertise and exercises in the NATO context.
The European: General, I myself see that political and cultural environment of the two organizations differs from time to time corresponding to the issue and the transatlantic interests.
Peter Devogelaere: This is right, but the defense policies of the European Union and NATO are complementary. It seems clear to me that autonomy at the European level in the field of defense, and more generally in the field of security, does not conflict with transatlantic security objectives. In this regard, EUROCORPS will continue to work resolutely for successful multinational cooperation. And, please remember that our military is trained to plan and execute operations within diverse structures according to approaches that converge in content but may differ in form. This was the case, for example, in Afghanistan (according to NATO procedures) or in Mali (according to procedures specific to the European Union), and it will happen again in the near future. In 2023, EUROCORPS will be certified by NATO as the Staff of a joint force (Joint Force Headquarters) in charge of very different tasks. During the training to obtain the certificate, a contingent is deployed in the Central African Republic under the flag of the European Union.
However, a successful transition between different missions is largely based on a strong organization, a stable and experienced workforce, available capabilities (both in terms of quantity and quality), committed leadership and a true operational culture. All of these are part of the aspects of “Fighting Power” to which I referred earlier. In fact, from EUROCORPS’ current mission to the mid and long term roles, one can notice the “Fighting Power” goes up steadily.
The European: Let me come back to EUROCORPS future tasks. What is behind this?
Peter Devogelaere: The multi-domain (CADO – Comprehensive All Domains Operations) approach points the way. Tomorrow’s conflict will be characterised by the widening of the battlespace, the fusion of dimensions and the rise of borderless warfare. But, an alliance needs to pay extra attention to the ways of achieving politically dictated ends with the allocated means. The warfighting corps should be capable of conducting territorial defence for NATO with up to five divisions and 120,000 troops. The Commanding General of LANDCOM (Allied Land Command) US Army Lieutenant General Roger Cloutier once said, “We must be in the position to work together as an alliance when we are asked to, from crisis reaction to larger combat deployments.” Thus, a warfighting corps is particularly required for NATO Article 5 operations, enabling the Alliance’s collective defense.
The European: In January 2022, Poland became the sixth Framework Nation to join EUROCORPS. What concrete impact does this have on EUROCORPS and could this accession, in particular in the context of the current security situation in EUROPE, be a start for other European nations’ contribution to EUROCORPS?
Peter Devogelaere: The Polish Minister of Defense stated
during the accession ceremony that “The dual nature of
EUROCORPS – its availability for both NATO and EU missions and operations – makes EUROCORPS particularly attractive. This feature of EUROCORPS has been one of the main arguments motivating Poland to fully embark on the accession project and to provide a significant contribution to it.” Poland will share in the growth and development of EUROCORPS, as the Headquarters is permanently adapting to new demands. This accession will therefore lead to an increase in contributions and will only strengthen EUROCORPS. A game changer for
EUROCORPS. During different meetings and contacts with military authorities, mostly related to updates about the
Russo-Ukraine War, I was delighted to learn that Sweden and the Czech Republic have been showing interest in EUROCORPS.
The European: What is the added value of a large number of Framework Nations in a single Army Corps? Is there not a risk of overloading the coordination or of losing time in the decision-making process?
Peter Devogelaere: A large number of participating nations has several advantages, not only for EUROCORPS, but also for the nations themselves. If the nations decide together to deploy EUROCORPS, we have very strong legitimacy. We already have a significant part of the EU united behind us. If other nations join us, for example from the northern part of Europe, our mandate will be even stronger. In addition to legitimacy, there is also material and workforce support for EUROCORPS. This is burden-sharing at its best, as it also gives smaller nations a chance to contribute. And, each nation introduces new know-how. Thus, multinationality strengthens EUROCORPS. Upon accession, a new candidate accepts the operating modalities as described in the Strasbourg Treaty. An important rule is that decisions are taken unanimously among the Framework Nations. Common decisions give us a planning horizon that many national Commanders envy. I cannot see that EUROCORPS is in danger of becoming unmanageable in the event of unlimited expansion. In the security domain, it is not so difficult to get everyone on the same page. Security, and especially the protection of the citizen, is in the interest of all and is the concern of all. We are stronger and safer when we work together.
The European: What is the Commander’s biggest concern at this moment?
Peter Devogelaere: There are two fields. The first is related to the Russo-Ukraine War: Russia’s military operations in Ukraine pose a new set of security challenges in Europe and beyond. The EU and NATO are facing an increasingly uncertain and complex situation on their eastern and south-eastern borders. The second is related to EUROCORPS itself: The shortage of staff. In the context of developing our know-how, it should be noted that the turnover of personnel – on average one third per year – is not a facilitating factor, but we take it into account in our training programmes. As I consider human resources to be one of the three necessary factors in bringing change within the Headquarters, I continue to take actions at national level to augment the workforce. Hence, staffing the organisation is a national responsibility. And, I am convinced all Framework Nations take their responsibilities in the human resources domain as well.
The European: Can you give our readers an example how nations are acting to increasing workforce?
Peter Devogelaere: I will give you an example of such a campaign in Belgium, but similar campaigns are launched in other Framework Nations as well.
The Belgian Minister of Defense, Ludivine Dedonder, strives for the reconstruction of Defence. For this, the Minister counts on the personnel, the driving force of the Department. She is implementing this strategy by means of the POP (People Our priority) plan, which finally gives the personnel the recognition and prospectives they have been waiting for. An increased recruitment was essential to begin the consolidation of the Defense Department, and will continue. Moreover, the Defence reconstruction continues with the STAR plan (Security, Technology, Ambition, Resilience).
The European: This all is in the hands of our politicians!
Peter Devogelaere: It is good and necessary that politicians have and execute a long-term vision, because success in the development of defense capabilities can only contribute to a stronger and more resilient Europe, in which nations cooperate closely together on security matters in NATO and the EU.
The European: To mark EUROCORP’S 30th anniversary, a number of events are being organised in Strasbourg on 8th/ 9th September. We will continue to report on EUROCORPS and we wish you all success.