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The Image Analyst at the Heart of the Space Observation System

The Image Analyst at the Heart of the Space Observation System

Seminar on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the Satellite Centre. Address by Mr. José Cutileiro WEU Secretary General Madrid, 15 October 1998.

Minister, Director, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is both an honour and a great pleasure for me to be here today to open the seminar on "The image analyst at the heart of the space observation system", organised by the WEU Satellite Centre to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its inauguration. Unlike many of you here, I am not an expert on this subject but you will have ample opportunity in the course of the next two days to exchange views on the present function of the image analyst and the prospects for the future. I am sure that this will be the start of a fruitful discussion. For my own part, I should like to take this opportunity chiefly to speak about WEU's role and place in what is generally known as the new European security and defence architecture.

Since the end of the Cold War, our strategic environment has changed beyond recognition. We now live in a multipolar and interdependent world. A new European order is emerging, in which two contrary influences are at work: integration, essential to the stability of the new Europe, and fragmentation, leading to crises that are often attributable to religious, nationalist or ethnic factors. Crisis management operations are now complex civil and military operations, involving joint and multinational forces.

The essential aim for Europeans today, in the field of security, is to maintain the transatlantic link, while at the same time jointly developing their own area of responsibility and their own ability to respond to crises. In practical terms, this means that, in a climate of tight budgets and rapid technological change, they must carry on with the current work of restructuring their armed forces so that they will be ready to respond quickly and effectively to any missions they may be called upon to perform, be they humanitarian missions, missions to keep or consolidate the peace, or combat missions. They must also endeavour to harmonise their equipment requirements and to meet the need for interoperability. Any measures of this kind that are undertaken at national level must take account of the essential need for a common operational view. Co-operation and co-ordination are the watchwords. Crisis management demands closer and better co-ordination between the international organisations responsible for initiating action and all those who may contribute to it.

The Satellite Centre serves that essential aim. It gives Europeans the capabilities they need to take on the additional responsibilities associated with providing for their own security. It is an important tool for crisis management, which requires information about the world Ð "intelligence" in the French and English sense of the term. With its advanced technology and highly qualified staff, the Centre's primary task is to exploit the imagery received from observation satellites, for security and defence purposes, at the request of the WEU Council, Member States, Associate Members or any other user designated by the Council. Thus, the Satellite Centre's work makes a valuable contribution to the decision-making process by providing the WEU Council with the accurate and reliable information it needs to take its decisions. In the case of Albania, the Centre has supplied 68 dossiers so far, in response to a number of requests from the Council. The Satellite Centre is also responsible for training specialists in the interpretation of digital imagery and, with an eye to the future, developing new techniques and procedures that will enhance its operational effectiveness. The WEU Space Group is at present working on a feasibility study for a system for direct reception of imagery and is also examining the possibility of WEU participating in a multilateral European programme that is being developed. I believe that these two studies are on the right lines and, in particular, that they meet two essential crisis management requirements with respect to joint action, namely flexibility and speed.

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the past few years, WEU has acquired a Planning Cell, a Situation Centre and more recently a Military Committee, in addition to the Satellite Centre. The missions WEU may be called upon to perform have been clearly defined. I am speaking of the Petersberg tasks. WEU has also worked out and tested crisis management mechanisms and procedures. As a result of these steps we have taken together and of the work we have done in close co-operation with the European Union and NATO, WEU now offers Europeans a credible instrument enabling them to assume the political control and strategic direction of military crisis management operations in which the North Americans do not wish to be directly involved. In any operations of this kind, WEU will most probably act at the request of the European Union, employing NATO assets and capabilities where appropriate. This is the primary role of WEU, a role in which all the States that have a seat on the WEU Council may participate.

WEU also offers a forum for consultation on politico-military matters where all European Union members and all European allies sit round the same table both at Ministerial and at Permanent Council level. Eleven of these countries are in both organisations and meet regularly there; seven are only in one or the other. In WEU, NATO allies Iceland, Norway and Turkey (soon to be joined by the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) on one side, and EU members Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden on the other, participate in debates and decisions concerning European security, ranging from assessments of post Cold War risks and threats to the actual planning and execution of operations. The former group can thus have a saying in some important areas of EU's Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP); the latter can include their crisis-management military assets in WEU's contribution to NATO's defence planning Ð a process that will greatly clarify and rationalise collective capabilities.

The advantages of this arrangement to European Security, seem to me obvious. In WEU the political clout of the European Union and the military might of NATO come together to give credibility and efficiency to crisis-management operations run by Europeans. This happens now, at the present stage of European security architecture and CFSP, respectively. In fact, for the specific purpose of bringing WEU into action no further major institutional developments are needed Ð the current ones are satisfactory and would allow the organisation to go well beyond the timid and peripheral ventures to which it has so far been confined. The question is collective political will: in other words, Europeans must get used to the idea of acting militarily together without American leadership. To be fair, until very few years ago such a will would not have easily found a way. Now the way Ð the tool Ð exists in the operationally apt WEU.

The third important role WEU plays lies in providing, at working level, a pre-figuration of the Europe of the future. Ten Central European countries that are candidates to membership of both NATO and the EU are our Associate Partners. Individually, all of them are PfP (Partnership for Peace) countries and all of them have extensive pre-accession co-operation programmes with the EU. Together, they sit at about half of our Council meetings and participate in an increasing number of WEU activities. They do not get from WEU either a security guarantee or financially backed modernisation programmes, but WEU offers them a unique multilateral forum where they join EU and European NATO countries in debating and deciding on politico-military matters including dialogues with Russia, Ukraine and Southern Mediterranean countries; crisis-management exercise policy; and actual operations like the current Multinational Advisory Police Element deployed in Albania.

What prospects for WEU then? The three main roles that I have identified will remain important in the foreseeable future, more visible than they are now if nations decide to entrust WEU with the management of a real crisis.

A fourth one will profile itself when an European Armaments Agency is finally created under the aegis of WEU. Armaments are the Achilles heel of European defence aspirations, one might even say of Europeans' aspirations to a convincing burden sharing of their defence. In recent years the main European armaments producers have taken steps aimed at strengthening and rationalising the industry. Much is being done by companies but OCCAR, that will manage French, German, British and Italian programmes and the Letters of Intention exchanged among those four countries, Sweden and Spain are substantial governmental efforts. The European Union, in particular the European Commission, is putting its shoulder to the wheel to bring about common harmonised rules for the sector. And in the WEU framework the Western European Armaments Group, taking into consideration all the above, is devising a detailed and elaborate plan for an European Armaments Agency that would start work in 2001.

Now, international organisations are tools for political purposes, in WEU's case, as decided in 1991, for becoming the defence component of the European Union and for strengthening the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance. These are long haul goals subject all along to shades of interpretation but we have been on our way ever since. Considerable progress has been made and WEU is now seen as a necessary hinge or pivot between the European Union and NATO. Given the differences in memberships between the European Union and the European side of NATO ingenious institutional engineering was needed to make this both politically acceptable and practically useful. The balance thus achieved certainly lacks the formal neatness dear to security architects Ð but it helps to solve substantive problems that must be dealt with if we are to build an efficient European security capability. That capability also demands hard political choices at national level on the nature and shape of armed forces and of armaments industries, without which institutional constructions would be hollow. Form and substance must go together.

The WEU Satellite centre is a good example of a common vision - a common operational vision - made real by the will of nations that have put the appropriate means at its disposal. Thanks, in no small measure, to the efforts of the Director and his team the potential of the Centre is now well understood, the added value of its contribution fully recognised, and demand for its services increasing.

I would not like to end without thanking the Spanish authorities, in the person of Minister Eduardo Serra, for their wholehearted support over these last five years. We could not have hoped for a better host nation.

I wish you all a very good seminar


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).