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"A Lot To Do And A Lot To Learn"

"A Lot To Do And A Lot To Learn"

Speech delivered by the French General Chief of Staff, Jean-Pierre Kelche, on June 21, 1999 on the lessons learned from the Kosovo Crisis. (Photo E.C.P.A.)


Army General Kelche

Mr. Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The agreement signed on 10 June 1999 marks the end of the first phase of the military operations that have been conducted in Kosovo by the Atlantic Alliance since 24 March 1999 and in which our armed forces took part. Behind the US, France was the second contributing nation.

The acceptance by Belgrade of the conditions imposed by the G8, validated by the UN and implemented through the technical agreement on the withdrawal of all military and police forces, proves that the selected strategy allowed the Alliance to meet its objective. Throughout the air campaign, this strategy was supported by an unfailing political determination within an Alliance which succeeded in keeping its cohesion.

Perseverance may well be the first lesson that we must draw from the military action that we conducted over the last three months. We must not forget that we are only at the end of the first phase of a global plan, the final result of which will only be obtained over the long term. And perseverance remains essential while the troops are deploying on the ground and experiencing all sorts of problems faithfully reported by the press.

The objective of this seminar is to make a first and of course provisional assessment of the military action that we have conducted until now.

It is with great pleasure that I open the debate on technical / operational lessons and on political / military ones. The nature of the ongoing events makes it a highly motivating exercise and it should create the conditions of an even wider debate which will in term generate new ideas for the preparation of our future national and European capabilities.

I believe that today’s meeting is necessary. It is an important stage in the evaluation and assessment work which started at the very beginning of the campaign, kept being done in parallel with the conduct of the operations and in which all civilian and military personnel of the MOD were involved. Thanks to this evaluation process, we should also be able to adapt permanently our armed forces to the evolution of their environment.

I think that this seminar is also extremely useful in that it allows us to circulate information and to compare our analyses with those done by outside experts. In fact, self-evaluation performed by those who were involved in the decision making process must be taken cautiously.

Last, this meeting is relevant because it comes at the end of a precisely defined operational phase, at a time when we can benefit from the participation of people who were involved in the air campaign. Everyone knows how difficult it is to find where information can be found when time has passed and everyone is back to his normal activities.

However, only part of the lessons can be drawn since the crisis is not entirely resolved. We are now at the beginning of a difficult and decisive ground phase, during which diplomatic negotiations and military actions will be even more interwoven than before. We are only at the middle of the ford and we need to go further before we can form a global judgment. Therefore, the file containing what we have learned from the Kosovo crisis is bound to become much thicker as we add the political-military, the civil-military and the technical and operational lessons.

We will certainly experience difficulties since the world is in permanent evolution and nothing indicates that the next crises can be compared with this one. The common feature of contemporary military operations is that it is very difficult to guess in advance the nature that they will take on. This justifies our operational and doctrinal flexibility.

Also, we have not met all our political objectives yet. The refugees have yet to return home, acceptable living and security conditions for the Kosovo population have yet to be restored as well as stability in all the Balkan region.

Before giving the floor to the other speakers and without anticipating what the conclusions reached by the round tables will be, there are a few observations that I would like to make and some orientations that I would like to give you.

For the air campaign, we were the second contributing nation in terms of military assets and even though we have been out of the integrated command structure of the Alliance for more than thirty years, we experienced no particular difficulty. This may cast a new light on the subject of interoperability which was highlighted during the Washington Summit and is being studied by several working groups within the Alliance.

During the operations, I appreciated our national intelligence gathering capabilities. Beyond their operational value, they contributed to increasing the importance of our participation since we were of course led to share information with the rest of the coalition. In the field of intelligence, we have significantly increased our national autonomy and hopefully that of Europe.

As far as our offensive capabilities are concerned, important progress have also been made since the end of the Gulf war, particularly for what regards night and day precision strike capability. There remains however a significant gap between the Europeans and the Americans, which confirms the necessity of a better coordination of European capabilities.

Still, I believe that this gap exists more in terms of quantity than in terms of quality. Therefore, it seems to me that the technological gap which was so obvious at the end of the Gulf war now needs to be re-qualified. All modern technologies are now within reach of the European nations provided they agree to make a sufficient R and D effort.

The second phase of our commitment is about to start. It will not be easy and it will take a long time. Completely new modes of action will have to be implemented in order to cope with a very complex situation and carry out diversified and difficult tasks.

Quite obviously, we still have a lot to do and a lot to learn.


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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).