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European Defense Strengthens Atlantic Alliance

European Defense Strengthens Atlantic Alliance

Address by Mr. Alain Richard, French Minister for Defense to the 38th "Wehrkunde" Conference in Munich, February 3rd, 2001. Source: French Ministry of Defense, Defense Information and COmmunication Delegation, Paris.

Today I want to present to you an optimistic and resolute point of view. History will perhaps remember the year 2000 as the time when our joint military and diplomatic achievements led to a return to democracy in Yugoslavia which after ten years of chaos, offers genuine prospects of stability in the Balkans.

I believe that in our dialogue on relations between the European Defense and the Atlantic Alliance we must remember this example and this success that is down to us, all of us, that of a solid partnership between Europe and the United States.

Our meeting at the Wehrkunde, and on that I would like to add my thanks to the organizers for the fine opportunity it offers us to exchange views, is this year taking place at a particularly significant time for two reasons:

On this side of the Atlantic, at Nice, the Fifteen of the European Union have together completed the initial phase of the European Security and Defense Policy. The work to implement it now awaits us, and the Swedish presidency is skillfully dedicated to that.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a new American administration is starting up and is informing us of its initial positions.

It is in the pursuit of an intense transatlantic dialogue on all strategic subjects that we will continue to make progress. I want to contribute to removing any "obstacles to understanding", to use a phrase used in Washington, concerning European Defense and its relations with the Atlantic Alliance, which is our subject this afternoon.

It has taken us two years to build at Fifteen our European Defense mechanisms, as we know it today. Two years of work punctuated, every six months, by decisions at the very highest level in the European Union Council meetings of Heads of State and of Government. Two years of regular and uninterrupted progress achieved in full transparency with our allies and the non-NATO European nations.

Such a move can only be based on a deeply felt shared objective. It unites the fifteen member states and takes its roots in more than forty years of European construction. Following the Single European Act, after Maastricht and Amsterdam, the European Union had reached the stage of political development that made it possible, indeed essential, for it to acquire a crisis management capability. The unacceptable intrigues of the Milosevic regime showed us where our responsibilities lay. The oft-repeated call to share the burden became all the more evident faced with the stark reality of the drama. Europeans were called upon to equip themselves with the means to undertake the very political role they shall play.

I have a question to ask all those who see in this undertaking a risk of decoupling: what would the transatlantic link look like today if the Europeans had shown no energy, no plan, had been content with a shy, symbolic and conditional participation in the diplomatic and military action in the Balkans?

No European nation would have agreed to participate in the development of European Defense if it meant a weakening of the transatlantic link. We have progressed as we have done because everyone of us has understood that our venture strengthens the transatlantic link by adapting it to the major political reality of the 20th and 21st centuries that the construction of the European Union represents.

What this means in very concrete terms is that the European capacity that we are establishing will widen the range of tools available to the transatlantic community for crisis management. Our American allies must be able to decide on their participation in the management of a crisis without being constrained by European impotence to endorse alone the choice between action or abstention. In addition, the European Union may make available to the community its own capacity for action in the civil fields, that are adapted to the variety of crises that we are experiencing today.

The European Defense that we aspire to is not and will not be an alternative to the Atlantic Alliance. It aims to provide the Fifteen with an autonomous crisis management capacity, in other words to maintain or to re-establish peace, carry out humanitarian and rescue tasks. These are no more and no less than the Petersberg missions, which have been contained in our public agreements since 1992.

Our pragmatic and realistic approach has led us to focus on capacities rather than an institutional façade. These capacities to decide and act are what I intend to tackle now.


The decision to act is left to the members of the European Union alone. This autonomy of decision for member states arises from the very essence of the European Union as it does from that of the Atlantic Alliance.

But in this particular case, we are dealing with two organizations that have eleven members in common. It is evident that EU will take a decision in due time in full transparency, in consultation with NATO, and taking full account of the views of our American, Canadian and European allies.

Theoretical controversy over the right of first refusal has no foundation in reality. Reality is what has happened in the Balkans, where consultation and cooperation between the European Union and the United States has been exemplary over all the recent years.

Reality, is that when a crisis emerges, each organization will examine the situation, and decide whether it would be appropriate to respond militarily. I cannot conceive of any rivalry between the EU and NATO, nor of one of them pre-empting the decision of the other.

In the real world, we do not have two compartmentalized entities, there are the component nations which work together and act together every day. It is through dialogue and mutual trust between the EU and NATO that will be determined the optimum means of assuming our own responsibilities.

Where we decide to commit the Alliance, strengthening European capabilities will significantly improve the contribution of European Union nations to the operation carried out under NATO. This is precisely the situation as it exists in the Balkans and no objections are raised against that. And when the Europeans state together that they will act "where the Alliance as a whole is not committed" they restate the obvious: the same nations cannot commit their forces in the same theatre in two different frameworks.

There will be situations where, following dialogue and consultation between EU members and those of NATO, we will decide that a European Union operation is the most appropriate response.

In these conditions, the current initiative within the EU, complementary with the Alliance, will enable us not to be helpless in such a situation. Depending on the circumstances, the Union will be able to conduct an operation using NATO assets (once we have the necessary arrangements on "Berlin plus"), or without NATO assets.

The autonomy of decision does not of course exclude in-depth consultation with other European nations. The Fifteen have moved as far as possible in this direction as is allowed by the provisions of the European Union treaty on decision-making.

The texts require us, as soon as a crisis emerges to intensify regular dialogue and consultation with our allied or EU candidate partners before the decision to act. We will lay particular stress on taking account of their concerns where they consider that the security interests are threatened. We will offer them ways of participating as complete as possible in EU-led operations.

We have adopted in the European Council substantial arrangements for consultation and cooperation with third countries. The intensity of the dialogue that we have been having with them throughout the last six months, bear witness to our desire for open relations.

This has been welcomed by all the nations involved which reacted positively, whether they be members of NATO or not, with a single exception. And I am sure that on this issue of "participation" the legitimate concerns of the Alliance will rapidly assume the ascendancy over national calculations.


Moving on from decision-making I shall now turn to action.

All of us here recognize the importance of the chain of command and of planning in any military operation.

Having decided to act and chosen a strategic option, the European Union will appoint an operation commander. In all probability this will be the Deputy SACEUR if the operation calls on NATO assets and capabilities, and a general officer from a member sate when the operation does not use NATO assets.

The production of detailed plans for the operation that, within the European Union, we term operational planning, is the responsibility of the operation commander. This arises from military experience and is only common sense. No military leader would agree to conduct an operation unless he himself had devised it and had it validated by his political authorities.

For operations that call on NATO assets, this operational planning will therefore be carried out at NATO, and primarily at SHAPE.

Where an operation does not call on NATO assets, an operational staff formed around a core provided by a national strategic staff will carry out the operational planning. This staff would be multinational and reinforced by officers from the other nations participating in the operation.

At this point I would like to return to an important principle that has guided us from the outset: "no unnecessary duplication". This is particularly true for operational planning. Hence the importance for all of us of the implementation of the decision taken at the Washington summit that provides for assured access to NATO planning capabilities. This is one of the essential points of the arrangements that are still to be finalized between the EU and NATO.

The other aspect of action is military capabilities, which are the token of our credibility.

Capabilities are in fact at the heart of our initiative.

  • They are our starting point: indeed, we noticed first that Europeans did not possess the necessary capacity to take decisions and above all to take action, to take responsibility for the military dimension of a joint operation without a massive contribution from the United States.
  • They are our mainframe through the commitment of defense ministers to reach the levels we have set ourselves on the basis of political goals.
  • Finally they are what we aimed at: the prime objective of the common European security and defense policy is to strengthen our military capabilities so that Europeans can make a greater contribution to the security of their continent, within the Alliance framework, or within the EU.

The attention we pay to the subject of capabilities bears witness to the seriousness of our initiative. On November 20th, Europeans demonstrated their determination at the capabilities commitment conference that enabled political objectives to be translated into very concrete military commitments. Without creating a wasteful and onerous structure, over a few months we were able to develop a catalogue of forces which validity was recognized by the NATO experts who participated in the work. Our approach was realistic, and did not ignore any shortfalls that emerged. We have already undertaken actions not to leave these shortfalls to be filled by others, in other words by the United States. The best example of this determination is the agreement signed by seven European countries to order together the A400M military transport aircraft, the largest military program ever undertaken in cooperation, to cope with a shortfall in strategic airlift that we had identified.

In the long run, we will prove our determination on the military capabilities issue. My European fellow defense minister know well that it is within a coherent European project that they will convince their governments and parliament to allocate the necessary resources to the equipment programs we must complete.

In this field as in others, the interests of the European Union match those of the Atlantic Alliance as we are mostly talking of the same forces, which can be employed either under an EU or NATO frame. Do we really have to keep repeating that we are not creating a European army to fight in a European uniform any more than there is a NATO army fighting in a NATO uniform?

We have insisted that a review mechanism should permanently measure and adapt our efforts in the long term. During the implementation of this mechanism, as we have done up to now, we will ensure that the transparency, cooperation and dialogue procedures enable the member states involved to provide the necessary coherence between commitments undertaken within the EU capability objectives, the DCI and the NATO force planning structure. As far as we are concerned, when preparing the French contribution to the commitment conference, we have ensured compatibility between our commitments and those we have made under the DCI.

The efforts we are making within the Union are fully compatible and mutually reinforcing with those which are being conducted within NATO, and which our American allies have been for a long time inviting us to undertake.

I understand the special attention being paid by our American allies to the effective reinforcement of European capabilities. The fact that Europe is taking greater responsibility would seem to me to be the best argument to use in favor of continued American commitment in Europe against certain parts of the American public opinion.

This is why our success on the capabilities front will be a common one.

The development of a European crisis management capacity, which has become necessary for Europe if it is to assume its responsibilities, is therefore useful to the alliance, and strengthens our transatlantic partnership.

The characteristics of this development give us grounds to be optimistic, and to make us determined to pursue the dialogue with our American allies.

The European Defense is far from being a threat to the solidity of NATO and the transatlantic link; it is an opportunity:

  • What might affect the vitality of the transatlantic link would be the inability of the Europeans to commit themselves to resolve crises in a serious and responsible way.
  • What might damage the cohesion of the Alliance would be for Europeans to have failed to decide to improve their military capabilities;
  • What would not have been in the interest of the United States would have been for the Europeans to relinquish their place on the international stage, without the capacity in the future to manage a crisis, and therefore for the US to lose its best partner.

The threat to NATO, the transatlantic link and the European-American relationship does not arise out of what Europe is currently creating. The threat would actually emerge if the EU did not get involved in this.


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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).