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A Capacity for Autonomous Action: European Needs to Be Credible

A Capacity for Autonomous Action: European Needs to Be Credible

Speech by Mr. Alain Richard, French Minister of defense to the General Affairs Council. Brussels, November 15, 1999. Source: French Embassy, Washington D.C..

The participation for the first time of Defence Ministers in a General Affairs Council is a milestone in the building of Defence Europe. It demonstrates the vigour of the process launched by the Cologne European Council and fully sustained by the Finnish Presidency.

We are indeed here today in order, in accordance with the decision of the Cologne Council, to give the Union "the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces".

I see in today's meeting an illustration of the absolute necessity for very close cooperation between Foreign and Defence Ministers both within each member State and at EU level. Indeed, we shall be able to make use of the capacity for action we decided to give ourselves in Cologne only if the political decision-making machinery is underpinned by a mechanism providing the necessary expertise and credible military capabilities.

Europe has decided to make itself capable of taking on, using autonomous capabilities if there is a common political decision to do so, all the Petersberg tasks. We can, we're fully capable of taking military action in the NATO framework. We have proved this and are doing so every day in Bosnia and Kosovo. We must maintain and improve this capacity. But we decided, in Cologne, to be capable of acting alone, thereby offering the whole Alliance an alternative which wasn't available to it during the Kosovo crisis: if, by common agreement, the Americans and we Europeans had preferred the Europeans to take responsibility for the operation against the Serb regime, it wouldn't have been possible.

To alert our political authorities, prepare their decisions and implement them when they involve recourse to military force, we must equip ourselves with common military capabilities. It's our responsibility as Defence Ministers to define these capabilities and work together to establish them.

To my mind, this means developing seven generic capabilities:

  • a strategic situation assessment capability, which presupposes our being supplied with adequate intelligence, including for crisis prevention;
  • a capability to plan and conduct operations, including in real time;
  • an ability to project forces of adequate strength;
  • a capability to prosecute, if necessary, a high-intensity campaign;
  • sustainability;
  • appropriate training;
  • interoperability at all levels.

These are the objectives I am putting forward for our debate in response to the request in the European Council Declaration of 4 June. We have to decide on a realistic programme permitting us to realize them, within a reasonable timeframe, with due regard for every country's national position and respecting the principles we have set ourselves, particularly the avoidance of unnecessary duplication of already existing assets.

We aren't starting from scratch, far from it. Europe's capabilities are not insignificant, as our contribution to the Kosovo campaign showed. The WEU audit, whose conclusions will be presented next week in Luxembourg, reveals a projection capacity of 100,000 men, 500 aircraft, 300 of them combat aircraft, and naval assets including both a naval aviation and an amphibious component. Quantitatively this is satisfactory, but we have to concentrate on the qualitative aspect of this potential: Europe as such doesn't today have the necessary assessment, command and projection capabilities to carry out the whole spectrum of Petersberg tasks.

We could therefore set to work together on the following broad objectives:

I - In the short term, i.e. between now and 2002:

1/ We could firstly agree in Helsinki on the definition of the powers and remit of the military committee and European staff. But we shall immediately have to task a military secretariat to build up a European staff with sufficient expertise to enable it to assume responsibility for monitoring, situation analysis, and the drawing up and validation of strategic options.

2/ We can agree, between those member States which so wish, jointly to create and make available to the EU early-warning and surveillance assets (space component, possibly reconnaissance planes and UAVs). The governing principle will be total retention of national capabilities, with a possibility of pooling them through the European Military Staff's intelligence office.

3/ We can establish, at the strategic, operative and tactical levels, structures enabling us to conceive, plan and carry out a deployment.

At the strategic and operative levels, States with appropriate joint command structures could permit the use of these by the European Union. The full availability, at all times, of national command capabilities will be strictly guaranteed.

At the tactical level we can strengthen the command capabilities of the forces answerable to WEU (FAWEU): EUROCORPS, EUROFOR, EUROMARFOR and the national and bilateral force packages.

The success of these objectives depends on achieving interoperability between the different information and command systems. This will have strictly to respect the imperative of the possibility of Europe operating autonomously.

4/ We need to be able to deploy, for a period of at least a year, outside European Union territory, a rapid reaction land force backed up by air support to secure control of the air space and a naval force including both a naval air and an amphibious group. In terms of force strength, this should be the equivalent of an army corps (50,000 to 60,000 men), 300 to 500 aircraft, including 150 to 300 combat aircraft and fifteen or so large warships.

II - Looking further ahead (for example 2005), other objectives may be adopted, particularly in the light of any developments we note in what we ourselves are doing and in Europe's strategic environment.

1/ We could increase the strength of the deployable forces. The land component should allow us to deal with two simultaneous crises, including a high intensity one with a long-term requirement for forces. The ability of the sea and air lift components to project forces and carry out deep strikes would be significantly increased. Here we could envisage an army corps supplemented by 6 to 7 brigades and 600 to 700 aircraft including 400 to 450 combat aircraft.

2/ We can endeavour to strengthen, to an appropriate extent, the planning and command assets:

On the one hand, by facilitating collaboration between national planning structures and, on the other, by organizing synergies between already-constituted multinational forces and, going beyond that, between the national forces which member States have decided to make available to the EU.

3/ Increasing operational efficiency should also be an objective:

- by building up the collective strategic assessment capacity, combining satellite, air-borne and UAV capabilities so as to be able to cover the potential operation zones;

- sustained long-term efforts are required to strengthen projection capabilities. There must be coordinated development of strategic military lift, including both sea and air mobility assets, with the first task being to establish European transport commands;

4/ Finally, we can think about setting up a civilian population security force, specialized in peacekeeping missions in which maintaining law and order and dealing with criminal activities are among the most important activities.

III - We shall also have to explore ways in which we could guide our national policies in order to help us achieve these objectives.

Here, the simplest method of obtaining, in a reasonably near future, homogenous contributions from the member States is to define coherence indicators. These will have to be limited in number and take account of the diversity of national situations. Priority could be given to technical indicators bolstering the ability of the Union to make a sufficient proportion of their forces deployable and that of member States to train their forces effectively for joint operations.

An economic criterion for expenditure on modern military equipment is also vital if we want to have the capabilities to take effective action. Because of the need to take account of existing national differences, our objective must be limited. It could be to maintain in each member country the ratio of defence equipment expenditure/GDP recorded over the previous three years, coupled with a concerted monitoring mechanism to encourage nations to harmonize to a greater extent their procurement choices.

These efforts will have to support a European defence industry whose current restructuring reinforces our project's rationale.

So that is the comprehensive programme on which I'm suggesting we work. It is perhaps too limited in some areas, too ambitious in others and I am convinced that other innovatory ideas will emerge in our debates today. It's one of our strong points and our strengths that we make progress through debate and sometimes through dissent. We are going to learn to reconcile the specific character of the defence dimension with the principles of the European Union in which every member State is on an absolutely equal footing.

It's on our ability to achieve the defence capability objectives referred to in Cologne that our political resolve will be judged. I have confidence in us, I have confidence in the Finnish presidency to give us in Helsinki the impetus we need./.


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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).