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The West After Iraq: Are the Security Strategies of the US and Europe Still Compatible?

The West After Iraq: Are the Security Strategies of the US and Europe Still Compatible?

Speaking in Berlin on 24 June, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson said the security strategies of the United States and Europe remain compatible. Lord Robertson travelled to Germany to address a conference organised by the Ministry of Defence and the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine on defence policy, security strategy and the future of the German armed forces. Speech by NATO Secretary General at the BMVG-FAZ Forum, Berlin, June 24, 2003. Source: NATO.

Minister Struck, Minister Szmajdzinski,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here and even more delighted to be able to answer a simple question with a simple answer. The theme I have been asked to tackle is whether after Iraq, the security strategies of the US and Europe are still compatible.

  • My answer is, yes they are.

That does not mean that the old cold war partnership between Europe and North America is still alive and kicking. It is not. It is dead and has been for some time.

However, it is being replaced by something very different yet, I believe, equally robust. A partnership for the 21st century based on security strategies which are at least as compatible as those which saw us through the cold war.

Don’t misunderstand me. There were deep differences over Iraq earlier in the year, within Europe and across the Atlantic. There are still differences on Iraq and a host of other security issues. That is neither new or news.

It is also true that the transatlantic Alliance, NATO, was damaged, along with every other multilateral institution. But NATO’s damage was superficial, above the waterline, and that damage was repaired quickly as capitals recognised that what united them far outweighed their temporary divisions over Saddam Hussein.

Indeed, we are now seeing the evolution of strategies which reflect the unquiet post 9/11 world rather than the cold war or its aftermath. Strategies which learn the lessons of terrorism, Afghanistan, Iraq, and crisis areas as diverse as the Balkans and Central Africa.

Of course, we have not crossed all the ts. But we all agree on the dangers. We all agree on what needs to be done, although we may sometimes have differences on the tactics. We have even started to put strategy into practice.

To be frank, my concerns are much less with common strategies than with our capacity to finish the jobs we are starting or need to do. I will, however, come back to that later.

Any credible security strategy must start from an analysis of threats and challenges. This analysis is now essentially the same whether in NATO, the EU or our member countries.

So I can quote with approval from the EU’s new strategy paper which highlights terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states and organised crime. It concludes: "Taking these different elements together terrorism committed to maximum violence, the availability of weapons of mass destruction and the failure of state systems we could be confronted with a very radical threat indeed".

I could not put it better. And I would expect Javier Solana to be able to endorse equally easily NATO’s assessments, which say the same thing in different words.

The next stage in an effective security strategy is to decide what to do about these threats. Those who argue that America’s Mars has a fundamentally different approach to Europe’s Venus have not been paying attention.

Let me give you another brief quotation: "Outside our borders, within the framework of prevention and projection-action, we must be able to identify and prevent threats as soon as possible. Within this framework, possible pre-emptive action is not out of the question, where an explicit and confirmed threat has been recognised."

Donald Rumsfeld or Colin Powell? Actually, the French Ministry of Defence in September 2002.

Or what about this: "We need to develop a strategic culture that fosters early, rapid, and when necessary, robust intervention". Not Tommy Franks but the new EU strategy.

And my final quote comes from Minister Struck’s own excellent Defence Policy Guidelines: "defence can no longer be narrowed down to geographical boundaries, but contributes to safeguarding our security wherever it is in jeopardy".

NATO’s Prague Summit commitment to deal with threats from wherever they may come, hailed at the time as a radical new landmark, sounds almost mild by comparison.

But that is because we have come a very long way since that summit in November last year.

In large part, we have done so by putting strategies into practice, not in war games or simulations but on the ground in the most difficult real-world situations.

Take the war against terrorism. NATO warships are now on daily patrol in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean to cut the flow of people and supplies that Al Qaida needs to mount its evil attacks. Have we completely stopped these attacks? Clearly not. But we have certainly reduced them and as a spin-off cut the cost of maritime insurance in the Mediterranean by 20%.

Take Afghanistan. Had I speculated two years ago that this would be NATO’s next mission, I would have been laughed at. A year ago I would have received a storm of protests. And had I suggested that the driving force for NATO involvement would be Germany, my sanity would have been questioned.

But that is what is happening. The evolution from support to Germany and the Netherlands in ISAF III to a NATO lead in ISAF is taking place. Not for theological reasons but because it makes practical common sense and is necessary if our strategies are to work.

The same applies to Alliance support for Poland in Iraq. If NATO is the best military framework in the world, can we afford not to use it to help bring stability to post conflict Iraq?

Perhaps most striking is the fact that these once unthinkable decisions now appear quite natural. So that NATO Ministers can debate seriously the pros and cons of a more direct Alliance role in Iraq, or even in the Middle East, without storms of theological protest. This is real evidence that our strategies have evolved but remained in step.

Finally, take the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. No longer in the news, but the transfer of responsibility for this small operation from NATO to the EU last March was the consequence of another common transatlantic strategy, the development of a European Security and Defence Policy compatible with, and reinforcing, NATO.

However, let me now return to my concerns. Because the picture is not entirely rosy. While transatlantic strategies are in my view compatible, there are still real challenges to be overcome if we are to implement them successfully.

In the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and the war against terrorism, we do not at present have the capacity to finish the jobs we have started. When I say "we", I mean we Europeans. Because this is essentially a European problem. And it is not simply a question of capabilities, although that remains of critical importance.

I will however start with capabilities. First, let me say that since Prague the picture is much improved.

  • The Prague Capabilities Commitments are being delivered.

I pay tribute to Minister Struck for his leadership of the consortium on strategic airlift. There is also good news on other initiatives such as sealift, air tankers and precision guided weapons; and national commitments are, for the most part, being met.

In parallel, we have much quicker progress than I had expected in streamlining NATO’s command structure and setting up the cutting-edge NATO Response Force. And the new Transformation Command, created last week in Norfolk, Virginia, will enable the Europeans to tie into the dramatic changes in US high-technology capabilities evident in the Iraq war, while at the same time feeding in their own expertise in other military fields.

All of this is positive. But it is not enough. Because most Europeans defence budgets continue to stagnate or even to fall. Because progress on key capabilities such as ground surveillance and logistic support is much too slow.

Because nations are still spending too much on cold war legacy capabilities and unnecessary prestige projects, and not enough on what really matters today.

This is not just a matter of political and military taste or fashion. It really matters now that we Europeans have demanding commitments from the Straits of Gibraltar, through the Balkans to Kabul and Baghdad, and down into the Congo.

In theory, the availability of relevant resources should not be a problem. The 18 countries of NATO’s Integrated Military Structure in principle declare around 240 combat brigades to the Alliance, each about 5000 strong. A huge figure.

But fewer than half of that number are declared as deployable, and therefore usable for today’s real-world operations. And when you subtract the US contribution and those forces which NATO assesses to be undeployable in practice, the number of usable brigades falls to fewer than 50.

Factor in the need to train, rotate and rest your troops, and the absolute maximum NATO’s members, less the US and France, can sustain is around 16 brigades or some 80,000 soldiers. Even this would require larger European countries such as Germany to be willing and able to keep two or three brigades deployed at any one time.

Does this seem militarily possible? Or politically credible? If its not, we face a growing disconnect between our collective aspirations in Europe, and our willingness and ability to deliver the forces needed to meet them.

Usability will, in my view, become as great an issue as capabilities in the coming months and years. It is not a matter of conscripts against professionals. My perspective on that is well known but the question will be as difficult for countries with professional forces as it will be for those who retain the draft.

The same criteria of relevance and usability affect NATO’s Strategic Partnership with the European Union.

What we call the Berlin Plus arrangements, completed with too little publicity earlier this year, finally set the stage for NATO to support EU-led operations. They will allow the EU gradually to do more, including in the Balkans, and to become an effective security actor.

As one of the authors of the St Malo initiative from which Berlin Plus is derived, I strongly believe that this is in everyone’s interests. It allows for more equitable burden sharing, and a better balanced and more sustainable transatlantic partnership.

But having agreed the framework and launched the first Berlin Plus operation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we must not sit back on our laurels.

NATO and the EU must build on that success, using the linkages so painstakingly agreed to cooperate across the whole spectrum of shared interests, not just on Balkan crisis management.

Not every EU operation will necessarily need NATO support. However, we cannot afford to revert now to the theology of so-called autonomy, especially if it puts European soldiers at risk when operations go wrong. Nor can we afford any unnecessary duplication of resources, efforts or headquarters. Which, for those of you who know Brussels, means that I am querying the need for a second white elephant in Tervuren.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite these caveats, the tone of this presentation is one of optimism. We are dealing with the consequences of success, not of failure.

  • Prague was hugely successful in charting the Alliance’s latest transformation.

We survived the damaging differences over Iraq and met our Washington Treaty commitments to Turkey more quickly than in similar but less contentious circumstances in 1991. We have built the foundations of a genuine strategic partnership with the EU. With the EU, we are pushing ahead to close the transatlantic capabilities gap. And we are beginning to use NATO’s strength and capabilities to help bring peace and stability beyond Europe.

Is this the record of an Alliance which cannot even agree on its strategies? My answer is certainly not. I hope that your discussions today will lead you to the same conclusion.


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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).