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European Defense

European Defense

Speech by French President Jacques Chirac to the Presidential Committee of the WEU Parliamentary Assembly and the visiting fellows from the IHEDN (Institute for Advanced National Defense Studies), Paris, May 30, 2000. Source: French Embassy, Washington D.C.

You invited me to come to the WEU Parliamentary Assembly and the Institute of Higher Defence Studies (IHEDN) to present the broad outlines of France’s approach to the European Union’s foreign and defense policy prior to the start of its presidency. As I have already had the pleasure of being your guest, I thought it was time to invite you to the Elysée Palace. By speaking to you, and the representatives of the French Parliament, whom I am delighted to welcome, I wish my message to reach the entire country, and beyond our borders, to reach our European partners. As representatives of the people of Europe at the WEU Assembly and the various sectors of French society at the IHEDN, you share the same ambition: making Europe a major global player.

Future of Europe

At the dawn of the new century, Europe has become a fact of life for us. It is part of our economic life and our political life, but it is also, in simpler terms, a fact in the daily life of our fellow citizens. European affairs have long since ceased to be foreign affairs. They are everybody’s affairs now and this is a good thing.

Fifty years after the cornerstone was laid, the construction of Europe has to open up to new horizons. We cannot rely on our great successes of the past to ensure that Europe is able to meet the coming challenges. As it draws up its plans for enlargement, Europe must make its ambitions clear. What kind of Europe do we want? What kind of Europe do we want to pass on to our children?

There are still many tasks to be accomplished in economic and social areas, in monetary matters and in relation to cultural issues. We need to have a wide-ranging discussion and debate on the construction of Europe. We shall take an active part in this process, alongside our German friends. I will return to this topic later.

Today, I would like to talk to you about an area that is critical to building Europe’s identity. It is the European Union’s political role in the world. It is now time for this role to expand. Our ambition should be to make Europe a leading political player in tomorrow’s world, and we must make sure that this ambition has wide popular support.

Euro-power? Euro-politics? Whatever we call it, it must meet the need to play a major role for peace in the world.

The European Union can and must work to reduce international tension, since prevention is the best way to ensure security. The multipolar world that France is seeking will provide balance and harmony. But it will not be feasible unless Europe is organized and able to play its role on the international stage.

The European Union must also be able to help settle conflicts once they have broken out. To do so, it will need diplomatic and military instruments. But it first needs to have political objectives and determination.

The purpose of the European Union is to establish lasting peace on our continent. This is its task. It will take up this task gradually but irreversibly.

Our countries have experienced war and division. They have known oppression. They have also been able to face up to the errors of the past and turn their eyes towards the future. This has made them aware of the complexity of the world and taught them how dear freedom is and how fragile it is. The very special alchemy of European history gives full value to the message that our Union can give the world in a century that I hope will be the century of ethics.

Peace in today’s world calls for restraint and measured responses, respect for others and seeking negotiated solutions to the problems encountered. We are not being naive and we know full well that there are times when sanctions are called for, or when the use of force is necessary. But coercion, which is sometimes unavoidable, must be carried out on the basis of well-established international rules that are accepted by all. Ultimately, it is the prerogative of the United Nations Security Council, which is the only body with the international legitimacy to decide on the use of force. In my view, it is this special nature of Europe, which prefers the enforcement of values by law to enforcing the law by the use of force.

My vision of Europe, France’s vision, is based on a certain European vision of the world.

It is in France’s interest to have Europe and its ideas fulfil their full role in the world.

Far from weakening our sovereignty with this undertaking, we will be able to assert it more fully. Unity, solidarity and defense of common values and interests are the ways in which European societies will flourish in the 21st century. They are the foundations for a common foreign and defense policy.

Assertiveness does not necessarily mean opposition. I am thinking specifically of our American friends and allies. Their contribution to Europe’s identity has been as great as Europe’s own contribution to the American identity. We shall never forget that the Americans came to our side to fight tyranny twice in the last century. It is also thanks to them that Europe has been able to develop in peace for fifty years, in spite of being divided. The Atlantic Alliance is still critical for Europe’s collective defense today.

But assertiveness requires us to define our own objectives and implement our own policies, to proclaim them clearly and loudly and to use every resource to achieve them.


We must start on our own continent. Europeans have achieved reconciliation. They have achieved Union, and the coming enlargement of their Union will mark another milestone in this process. Stability and security have made progress in Europe in recent years, but they are still running up against an apparently entrenched bastion, where the worst memories Europe’s past still fester: nationalism, ethnic persecution, hatred of others and contempt for freedom. We cannot resign ourselves to this situation. You have of course understood that I am referring to the area of the former Yugoslavia.

The European Union must find a solution to this endemic crisis, because it is an offence to the very founding principles of the Union. It is also up to Europe to find a solution because it alone can provide the region with the framework of peace and stability that it needs. It will do so on the basis of clearly defined political objectives and responsibilities.

It is our duty to speak the plain truth to the people of the Balkans. We can do so because we are Europeans speaking to other Europeans, because we are destined to belong to the same family of democracies, because we have also experienced what they are going through now. We should tell them that we will always stand by them, if only they would drop their references and policies from another age. In Kosovo, the international community stepped in to break the mechanism of ethnic purification. It succeeded. Today it is maintaining stability in Kosovo, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But peace and democracy cannot be provided from outside. They need to emerge and grow strong from inside.

Some of these countries are already showing the way. I am thinking of Macedonia, which is courageously maintaining a fragile balance. I am thinking of Montenegro, which is striving to maintain its freedom within the FRY, and even Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the latest elections brought about a change for the better. I am thinking most especially of recent Croatian developments that have given rise to new hopes. I recently spoke to President Mesic, who has opted for peace and reconciliation. We must build on these positive developments to reduce the too frequent examples to the contrary, which give us the impression that atavistic hatreds are hard to extinguish.

It is time for the European Union to make its policy more coherent and forceful, as was acknowledged at the Lisbon European Council. We have to continue working in this direction. We should state more clearly what we expect of these countries and what we are prepared to do to help them. We need a more determined strategy for the Balkans. This will be one of the objectives of France’s presidency of the Union.

If we hold a summit meeting between the European Union and those countries of the former Yugoslavia that have achieved the greatest progress towards democracy and are now at various stages in the process, we will be able to clarify objectives and restart the deadlocked process. More determined European Union policy would support recent developments in Croatia, salute the efforts made by Macedonia and note the progress made in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It would encourage these countries to do more through more resolve on the part of the EU, and remind the FRY that the door will also be open as soon as it comes to join the movement. I intend to present such an initiative to our partners in the European Union.

I have dwelt on the subject of the former Yugoslavia because it represents a real challenge for the European Union. We must meet this challenge because, ultimately, these countries’ sole destiny is to become a part of the Union one day.

Non-Proliferation/ABM Treaty

Another major issue for Europeans, and for the international community as a whole, is the proliferation of weapons and technology. Here again, our frame of reference should be respect for rules and treaties. The NPT Review Conference, which has just been held, has shown that progress can be made through negotiations. This Treaty imposes a discipline that all the signatory States have accepted, since it is a source of stability and peace. Looking beyond the NPT, France, along with its partners in the European Union, would like to see agreements on banning tests and the production of fissile material, as well as on chemical and biological disarmament, implemented and completed soon.

I will not go into the details of these negotiations now. I just want to stress that the only way to enhance security in this area is to proceed according to the law, to convince others that strict discipline is required in this area, that it would benefit everyone and that the only valid safeguard is international constraints and inspections. Therefore, I cannot conceal my reservations about any initiative that, far from supplementing international arms control arrangements, would jeopardize the ABM Treaty, which has been one of the pillars of strategic stability for thirty years now. How can we convince countries that might be ready to renounce acquiring new weapons, when the most powerful countries feel it is necessary to develop technologies that jeopardize the strategic balance that has been so difficult to achieve?

From a legal point of view, this issue concerns only the United States and Russia, which are the parties to the ABM Treaty. But the issue is one of peace and stability. Therefore it concerns the international community as a whole and, more specifically, the countries of the European Union, whose security is directly at stake. As allies and friends, we must tell the United States of our conviction that jeopardizing this Treaty could harm non-proliferation efforts and trigger a new round in the arms race.


The European Union must make its voice heard more clearly on the international stage. But, in addition to speaking, it must be able to act in a crisis, and, more importantly, it must be able to act to prevent crises. This is what the members of the European Union are already doing. In Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, they have made a key contribution to the action of NATO and the UN. A few months ago in Timor, Europeans were once again among the first to intervene to put an end to another human tragedy.

We have conviction, as well as courage. But our commitment lacks coherence and, it must be said, Europe’s action does not have a high profile.

This is primarily a matter of political will.

When, nearly a year ago, I first proposed that the general staff of the European Corps should take over the command of KFOR in Kosovo from NATO, the idea seemed presumptuous and even premature. Yet, this is what has come to pass, thanks to the determination of the five members of the European Corps and thanks to German-French co-operation. The European Corps is becoming a Rapid Reaction Corps and its general staff, headed by a Spanish officer, has provided exemplary command of KFOR for several weeks now.

Defense Europe

In more general terms, under the Finnish and Portuguese presidencies, Europe made substantial progress towards the objectives that the United Kingdom and France defined at the Saint-Malo summit. I will simply remind you of the philosophy behind these objectives, since you are well aware of the details : priority for operational capabilities and establishing instruments for planning, decision-making and command so that effective crisis management action can be taken. European Union members must be able to act collectively on the international stage when their interests are at stake, either with their own resources or with backing from NATO assets and capabilities.

These two examples show how some members can act as a driving force, as long as there is a consensus on critical points, such as defending the values that we share. Any of the fifteen members of the Union who wish to become part of this common effort will be welcome. But those who do not wish to make the same commitment, either because they do not have a tradition of alignment or because they do not wish to commit the necessary resources, should not prevent the bolder members from advancing. It is only natural that there should be front-runners in any group that make faster progress towards a mutually agreed goal. I think defense is an area where it is natural for more far-reaching cooperation to exist within a small group of countries that wish to advance further and more rapidly than the others.

First of all, we must give Europe the credibility that it sometimes lacks. This will mean acquiring the military capabilities to be able to decide and act without relying on choices made elsewhere.

The capabilities required must be identified, audited and completed to reach the criteria set by the Helsinki European Council. The European Union is now conducting this analysis independently, within the interim bodies that it has set up. It will be helpful, or even necessary, to call on NATO’s expertise to complete this work. It would be absurd not to. The Atlantic organization and our American allies should naturally underpin the European defense plan, which will help strengthen links across the Atlantic. The partnership between the European Union and the Alliance should be based on transparency and respect for the autonomy of Europe’s decision-making.

During its presidency, France will work to develop capability criteria that enable the European Union to deploy 60,000 troops to a crisis region outside its borders. By the end of the year, I would like the member States to be able to commit to the military capabilities that they would be willing to make available to the Union in 2003 in order to reach our jointly defined criteria. This means that shortfalls and deficiencies will have to be identified and taken into account. Success will call for steadfast political determination, but this objective is now within our grasp. It will require each country to make the necessary defense efforts on a national basis.

These efforts must not be limited to forces alone. They must include command, intelligence and strategic transport resources as well. The experience of the European Corps in Kosovo has shown that Europeans can assume their responsibilities in this area, and do so in complete harmony with NATO arrangements. I think it is now time to contemplate increasing Europe’s rapid reaction capabilities, particularly in Southern Europe. It would be appropriate to set up a new European rapid reaction force for the North Mediterranean area.

To carry out this role, European forces must be deployable to crisis areas without delay. This will call for harmonized transport resources and joint organization. Therefore, I welcome Britain’s recent decision in favor of the Airbus A 400M, which is the future European transport plane. As in the case of METEOR, this is the best choice in operational and technical terms. It shows that the European approach is also based on efficiency and performance. The Spanish authorities recently told us that they have also opted for the European project. I hope that our German friends will announce their intentions soon and that, together, we can all have the same new transport plane. This will facilitate joint management of a genuine European strategic air transport fleet that is suited to the tasks of our armed forces.

Another critical area is intelligence. Europeans already have satellite observation capabilities that they can reinforce. Preliminary joint data interpretation has been conducted for a few years now at the WEU Satellite Center, which is to be transferred to the European Union. We can take this process further and design a European system, which would underpin closer cooperation between the European member States which are willing to contribute to it. It could later become the foundation for an autonomous European intelligence capability.

Thus, the European Union could have all the resources it needs to act on the international stage : from political decision-making to economic and humanitarian measures, or even military deployment, if necessary. This comprehensive approach, which is the only way to cope with regional crises today, is a considerable asset for the European Union. I hope that the interim bodies set up in Brussels last March will soon be made permanent, so that they can play their full role. The Security and Defence Policy Committee should be the linchpin of the European Union’s foreign and defense policy, acting under the authority of the Council. It will provide permanent and stronger support for Mr Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Secretary-General of the WEU, who has done such an outstanding job in less than one year. The WEU has also taken part in these developments. The members of the Parliamentary Assembly sitting here today have made an important contribution, which I would like to acknowledge.

I cannot end my discussion of the French approach to security in Europe without mentioning Russia’s role. One of the twice yearly European Union-Russian summits was held in Moscow yesterday. We are expecting a great deal to come of our dialogue and cooperation with Russia, the other great European power. The European Union should stand by Russia if we want it to be modern, democratic and steadfastly committed to a massive programme of reforms. Long-term peace and stability on our continent obviously calls for a closer special partnership between the European Union and Russia.

The European Union should be a leading political partner for each of the world’s major States and for each of its regional organizations.

More than a century ago, Ernest Renan defined nationhood as the expression of a "desire to live together". It was not an idea imposed in an authoritarian manner by a handful of leaders seeking conquests, but a deeper reality stemming from the desire of the people. These national desires persist today and, coming together in natural convergence, they constitute Europe’s force.

As in the case of nationhood, it would be pointless to come up with an abstract definition of political Europe. The European Union will truly assert itself on the international stage when its inhabitants show their feeling of belonging to Europe with strength.

I think that the emergence of this feeling is one of the great promises held out by this century. It can be found in the life, the culture and the emotions of today’s young Europeans. They are driven by the same enthusiasms and the same indignation, which give the idea of a strong role for Europe on the international stage its full meaning. Little by little, their eyes are turning to the same horizon. That is why developing a European Union foreign and defense policy is a fundamentally political project. It will happen because Europe is happening, and if it does not happen, the very life force of our continent will ebb away.

The accomplishment of this project will take us far beyond the end of the French presidency of the European Union. It will happen in starts and stops, but I am convinced that it is necessary and inevitable. Several of the initiatives I have mentioned will be introduced later, but I wanted to tell you about the spirit in which we are now working. With the government, and with all of the authorities and agencies concerned, we will do everything to ensure that the French presidency is a time of decisive progress towards this great ambition.

Thank you./.


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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).