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My Vision of NATO

My Vision of NATO

Speech by Madame Alliot-Marie, Minister of Defence of France at the Wehrkunde Conference. Munich, Germany, February 8, 2003. Source: Wehrkunde and French MoD, Paris.

Ladies, Gentlemen,

Dear friends, dear colleagues,

I thank the chairman of this conference, Dr Horst Teltschnik, for the invitation to address this conference.

I congratulate our German hosts for the excellent organisation of this meeting. I warmly welcome our friends from across the Atlantic who have made the long journey to join us here.

I have been asked to speak to you about the future of NATO as I see it, as France conceives it.

At this time when decisions of the utmost gravity are before us, it is essential to remember that France has a longstanding and enduring attachment to the trans-Atlantic relationship.

As Minister of Defence of France, the future of the Atlantic Alliance is something that I consider to be of central importance.

My vision of NATO's future revolves around three ideas:

  • Coalitions are no substitute for the Alliance;
  • NATO should adapt to the new context ;
  • The strengthening of European defence will be NATO's greatest future asset.

[1] First of all, coalitions are no substitute for the Alliance, which is based still on the principle of collective defence tying Europe and North America.

The Alliance has a proven record of effectiveness.

It has sheltered us from outside aggression.

It helped us transit the very delicate process of European re-unification.

Its enlargement to seven new members affirms its stabilising mission.

But the September 11 attacks against the United States have demonstrated clearly the extent to which new risks subsist.

They now take different forms which require new responses. France was victim to mass attacks in 1986 and 1995 and tried to interest its partners in these new risks, but without success.

Confronted by these new risks, the value of collective defence lies in its ability to construct common solutions.

To be allies, has a status that implies dialogue and mutual respect.

To be allies, means consultation in the search for consensus.

To be allies also implies a fair and lasting share of the risks and responsibilities.

On that point, the solidarity of France for Turkey will be absolute, should Turkey be threatened.

However, I observe a tendency for another form of relationship to develop, more opportunistic and less secure, that of ad hoc coalitions.

Of course, as we saw so well in Afghanistan, such coalitions can be militarily very effective, with short reaction times in particular circumstances.

There is no doubt, that we should be able to act in coalitions when circumstances require.

But these ad hoc coalitions can in no way substitute for the Alliance. They should be placed within a comprehensive and shared vision of security, which , and this is the point, is developed through consensus among the Allies.

[2] My second idea, is the need to adapt to the new strategic context. At Prague, we took important decisions in this regard.

The decisions were of two kinds :

First, enlargement. Seven countries were invited to join. This is something to celebrate. From now on, the Alliance will be working in a much greater and more coherent geographic framework. The Alliance itself is creating this coherence.

The NATO-Russia Council has added a new dimension.

It is in the process of radically transforming the strategic context in which we evolve. I am delighted.

NATO as a military organisation should be constantly open to adaptation to the new security agenda. That means adjusting its structures.

At Prague, we took a second key decision: the creation of a NATO reaction force.

France has given the strongest support to the process of adaptation.

President J Chirac gave a favourable welcome to the concept of a NATO reaction force.

He stated our willingness to participate, subject to the status of our forces being respected and the NRF's compatibility with commitments made in the European Union.

To me, that means that the NRF should be equally available for use by our two organisations, NATO and the EU.

As we see it, NATO adaptation requires three complementary developments:

1) First, a more responsive command structure.

Its outlines have already been agreed.

France supports in principle the creation of a functional strategic Command for transformation.

The new Command should respect the existing attributes of the strategic command for operations.

It should also, and I think it essential, lead to effective exchanges on doctrine and concepts between Europe and North America in both directions. The new Command must work in a decentralised, non bureaucratic way.

2 )Then we need to set out our priorities for action at the operational level. The Alliance's vocation is first to act within and around Europe, where the potential for crisis remains significant.

That's where we should concentrate our efforts.

In any case , NATO's role and military interventions should always be decided on the basis of what is politically and militarily appropriate and opportune.

3) Finally, we must strengthen our military capabilities. The Allies have so decided.

It is our responsibility as the politicians responsible.

This requires increased defence spending by the Europeans, and therefore an increase in their defence efforts.

France fully supports this approach.

We have decided to increase our equipment budget by more than 10% in 2003. We will continue to increase our effort throughout the 2003 – 2008 timeframe of our new military programme law.

I can only encourage my European colleagues to commit themselves resolutely to the difficult but crucial task of redressing our defence capabilities.

[3] My third idea on the Alliance's future, and I am utterly convinced of it, is that the strengthening of the European Security and Defence Policy will be the Alliance's greatest asset.

In the Balkans, the Europeans have fully taken on board that they not only have a strong interest in staying close to the Americans but also in making a greater effort themselves to contribute more effectively to their own security.

The European Union has decided to develop its military and civil capabilities for managing crises. The ESDP is being built within the framework of a long term vision.

There is no intention of competing with the Alliance, which is based on the relationship with the United States. The intention is to strengthen our Alliance.

This year, we will meet the operational objective of a European force 60000 strong.

Progress will continue by filling the identified capability gaps and the development of new capabilities, with the objective of convergence in national planning among Europeans.

On 22 January, the Paris Summit marked the 40th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty between France and Germany. It renewed the fundamentals of Franco-German co-operation, and set them even more firmly in the European perspective.

I would like to state how much we appreciated the fact that the German government, in a difficult and restrictive budgetary context, have managed to protect those programmes relating to our European objectives.

The Franco-British Summit of Le Touquet on 4 February, showed that the spirit of St Malo remains forceful and a determining factor for the development of European defence.

By becoming less dependent, or even better by accepting real responsibilities, the Europeans will make a more significant contribution to NATO.

That was the thinking behind our initiative on Macedonia, where we proposed that the EU should relieve NATO.

It's our way of responding to the legitimate concerns of our American partners for "burden sharing".

To my mind, Europe must also become a major partner, in every sense of the term, of the Atlantic Alliance.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that NATO has at least two major tasks facing it :

Continue the efforts already under way to strengthen the still uncertain stability of the European continent, renew its military structures through the support of modernised European forces adapted to the new threats.

I believe that there is one additional, essential element: the Alliance must remain a place of privileged transatlantic consultation so that it is ready, within the limits of its missions, to act together politically and militarily when our common security requires it.

The depth of the links that have united all the Allies for so long are an inestimable asset which we must want to and know how to preserve so as to address the challenges and the threats that we will have to confront.


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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).