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The Way Forward on European Defence

The Way Forward on European Defence

Speech by the former Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, at the New Statesman Conference, LSE. 8 September 1999. Source: Britain in the USA.

Summary

NATO’s well-established and rehearsed defence planning processes must remain the primary means for actually delivering the capability improvements.

NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and defence policy but Europe must be able to field a stronger and more coherent contribution to it.

NATO will remain the sole organisation for the collective defence of its members.

It will also have a role in crisis management operations.

It will be the organisation to which we turn when Europeans and Americans see their common interests at stake, and wish to act together. We have just done so in Kosovo.

But we want to ensure that strong and effective military resources are also available to the European Union, so that we can take action in support of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, when NATO as a whole is not engaged militarily.

We need therefore to develop the EU’s capacity to take timely and informed decisions on emerging crises.

EU Heads of State and Government agreed in June 1999 that the EU should have the ability to take decisions on conflict prevention and crisis management tasks. They identified the politico-military components that would be necessary to do this.

The defence bodies need to be the right size and shape to support sensible defence decision making, but they must not necessarily duplicate the resources and functions that are available from NATO.

Any new arrangements must take full account of the interests of those European nations who are not EU Member States, in particular those six who are NATO Allies.

The bulk of the military resources and assets for planning and conducting EU-led operations will, however, come from NATO which has welcomed the EU’s aspirations and announced that it stood ready to develop arrangements that would allow the EU ready access to its collective assets and capabilities.

Strong working links between the EU and NATO will be essential if this initiative is to succeed.

Europe needs to face up to its security responsibilities. We have shown in Kosovo that Europe can be a force for good in the world. But we are no doing all that we can. We must be stronger. We must be more efficient. We must co-operate more fully. Only then will Europe have the muscle to underpin our political and economic weight. Only then will we truly be able to discharge our responsibilities as the richest and most developed group of nations on the planet.

Full text of the speech

The theme of this conference is the way forward for Europe. I do not need to point out to this audience the merits, indeed the necessity, of playing a part in deciding that way forward. I am proud of this Government's policy of constructive engagement and gratified by the results. All too often, in some quarters, Europe is portrayed as something that is done to us by others. And this is exactly what we should expect, if we are not ready to contribute enthusiastically to its development. Britain's own security, economic well-being and culture are inextricably linked with the rest of Europe's. Europe does not start at Calais. We are in Europe physically, politically, personally and we are in Europe to stay. It is the British way to shape from the front, rather than carp from the back.

That then is precisely why the United Kingdom has played a leading role in the current debate on European defence. Indeed it was a debate that we ourselves launched last autumn. Then, as the St Malo Declaration made clear, we wanted to strengthen Europe's contribution to its own security. The events in Kosovo since then have underlined that we need to strengthen this contribution - both politically and militarily.

Significant numbers of European aircraft operated over Kosovo throughout the immensely successful air campaign. But we relied heavily on our American Allies for the necessary night and day precision bombing capability. We Europeans flew only a third of the total number of aircraft sorties during the campaign, and only 20 per cent of the strike sorties. It was American military power that gave credibility to the diplomatic campaign.

True, the majority of forces now operating under NATO command as KFOR are from European nations. But deploying a force of even a few tens of thousands, that is less than 2 per cent of the total military personnel available to us, has undoubtedly stretched our collective resources.

The lesson is clear. Europe should do better. This is why we have focused the European defence debate on capability. Capability to decide, and capability to act.

But enhancing our collective capability to act is a demanding goal. As time goes on there is a growing consensus among European nations that our defence budgets must be spent more wisely. Too many European armed forces are still structured to meet the requirements of the Cold War, rather than the requirements of the next millennium. We no longer face an overwhelming, monolithic threat to our continent. We are more likely to need to respond to more complex threats to our common interests. We rarely expect to operate in a purely national context, but often expect to operate in a multinational one.

These factors place new demands on our armed forces. We need enough of them to be readily and rapidly deployable, so that we can reach a potential crisis area in time, and in sufficient strength, to make a difference. We need to be able to sustain these forces for extended periods away from home bases, often in areas where the local infrastructure is insufficient to provide anything other than the most basic means of support. We need armed forces that can turn their hands and equipment to a variety of tasks and challenges. We need to be able to work closely with the armed forces of other nations.

Deployability, sustainability, flexibility. Mobility, survivability, interoperability. The characteristics required of our forces today are rapidly becoming a mantra in defence circles. But a mantra is no more useful in a crisis than a fancy flow-chart, so how are we turning them into a reality?

Nationally, here in Britain we are continuing to make progress on the implementation of our Strategic Defence Review. The publication of the Review marked the start of a wide-ranging process of modernisation, including highlights such as the creation of a pool of highly capable Joint Rapid Reaction Forces, the establishment of the Defence Logistics Organisation and the launch of the Smart Procurement Initiative. Kosovo has vindicated the decisions that we made during the Review, and, while I have no wish to preach, we enthusiastically commend its methodology to others.

On the multilateral front, the Western European Union is conducting an audit of European military capabilities, which will help us to identify in more detail Europe's collective capability shortfalls and problems. And NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative, launched at the Summit in Washington in April, focuses on improving just those characteristics of the Allies' armed forces that I described earlier.

We also launched a little noticed initiative at the British-Italian Summit in July, in which we proposed the development of European defence capability criteria. We want to establish performance goals, both on a collective European basis and on an individual national basis. These are early days and we have much work to do to establish which targets will most readily lead to improvements in capability. We think that we should focus on measuring our performance against the criteria of deployability and sustainability. But there may also be merit in measuring the volume of defence budgets spent on equipment or the level of training that Service personnel receive. We will need a package - some criteria will resonate more in some nations than others.

We can harness a great deal of political momentum by appealing to the common belief in the European cause, in much the same way as convergence criteria focused minds on European Monetary Union. But NATO's well established and rehearsed defence planning processes must remain, the primary means for actually delivering the capability improvements.

NATO remains the cornerstone of our security and defence policy but Europe must be able to field a stronger and more coherent contribution to it. NATO will remain the sole organisation for the collective defence of its members. And it will also, as set out in the updated strategic concept published in Washington, have a role in crisis management operations. In this role, it will be the organisation to which we turn when Europeans and Americans see their common interests at stake, and wish to act together. We have just done so in Kosovo.

But we want to ensure that strong and effective military resources are also available to the European Union, so that we can take action in support of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, when NATO as a whole is not engaged militarily. This means that we need to develop the EU's capacity to take timely and informed decisions on emerging crises.

EU Heads of State and Government, meeting in the European Council in Cologne in June, agreed that the EU should have the ability to take decisions on conflict prevention and crisis management tasks. And they identified the politico-military components that would be necessary to do this, including a new Political and Security Committee, a European Military Committee and a supporting European Military Staff. These are intended to become part of the standing machinery of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

We are working on defining the precise roles and composition of these new defence bodies, and on the detailed procedures for the planning and conduct of EU-led operations. Clearly, the defence bodies need to be the right size and shape to support sensible defence decision making. But they must not unnecessarily duplicate the resources and functions that are available from NATO. And clearly any new arrangements must take full account of the interests of those European nations who are not EU Member States, in particular those six who are NATO Allies.

But the bulk of the military resources and assets for Planning and conducting EU-led operations will come from NATO. At Washington, NATO welcomed the EU's aspirations, and announced that it stood ready to develop arrangements that would allow the EU ready access to its collective assets and capabilities. We are also taking forward work defining the practicalities of these arrangements, which will enable the EU to draw on a wide range of capable and proven multinational military resources.

We are looking to make progress on all of this work by the end of year. This will be a busy autumn, and I look forward to seeing progress in my current job, and in my next as NATO Secretary General. I also look forward to working closely with fellow Ministers from our European partners and with Javier Solana, in his new role as the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Strong working links between the EU and NATO will be essential if this initiative is to succeed.

Europe needs to face up to its security responsibilities. We have shown in Kosovo that Europe can be a force for good in the world. But we are not doing all that we can. We must be stronger. We must be more efficient. We must co-operate more fully. Only then will Europe have the muscle to underpin our political and economic weight. Only then will we truly be able to discharge our responsibilities as the richest and most developed group of nations on the planet.

 

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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).

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