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European defense

Published on March 18, 2010
Article by Pierre Lellouche, Minister of State responsible for European Affairs, published in “Mondes – Les Cahiers du Quai d’Orsay”¹

Paris, March 2010
European defence, a challenge for the new Europe

As a new decade begins, Europe stands at a turning point in its history.

The financial crisis has acted as a catalyst, an awakening to the realities of globalization. This greatest crisis since 1929 has reminded European countries that none of them, not even the largest, can hope to deal with such turmoil alone. If they are not united, they will be increasingly threatened with marginalization by the enormous emerging geopolitical entities. It is clear that, as Nicolas Sarkozy put it, when we emerge from the current crisis, “the hierarchy of powers will not be what it was when we entered it.”

The figures speak volumes: in 2050, there will be 8 to 9 billion people in the world. The European Union will account for only 6% of the world’s population (compared with 20% at the start of the 20th century), and France… 0.6%. These figures explain the relevance of the question posed by the French President to our ambassadors at a meeting in Paris in August 2009: “Does Europe intend to shape the 21st century, or merely endure it?”

We saw at the Copenhagen Climate Summit that the postmodern dream of a united Europe whose moral example alone can convince the other “great powers” of the need for virtuous behaviour did not stand up to the realities of power relations and of the basic national interests. Faced with the present-day poles of power – the United States, China, India – we must learn to see Europe as it exists in the “real world”, the world of international power relations.

In the multipolar world that is emerging around us, a reunited Europe, with its 500 million men and women, its position as the world’s leading economy, its industry, its agriculture, its still preponderant position in international trade, its democratic values that are more important than ever to the world, this Europe, I am convinced, can assert itself as one of the three or four poles of power in the international system of tomorrow.

The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009 represents a significant shift and also a cause for hope: with our new institutions we are entering a new phase in European history. After the reconciliation phase of the immediate post-war period, when half of Europe was constructed with half of Germany from 1945 to 1989, and after the peaceful reunification of the continent over the past 20 years, we are entering a third phase: a unity of European peoples that is essential to affirming our future in a globalized world.

Time is of the essence, however, because the other major players are trying to reshuffle the cards to their advantage. A “post-European” America is turning increasingly towards Asia, and some observers are already imagining a US-China “G2” at the head of a new global order.

It is only within a European framework that we can successfully meet the challenges of globalization. The essential issue at stake is how to defend our values and way of life more effectively: by promoting a sound European industrial policy that will create growth and increase competitiveness; by adding to our commitments on climate a dissuasive carbon adjustment at Europe’s borders; by making energy security a strategic objective of our common external policy and not merely a ‘sub’ issue of our internal market or environment policy, as it is now; by strengthening European solidarity on immigration; and by giving Europe the capacity to assert itself on the international stage, including in crisis management.

In this last area in particular, the challenges are considerable: as I see it, foreign and defence policy occupy a key position in the European project, and it is important to examine it in greater detail, first by analysing the threats that Europe faces.

A world rich in opportunities, but also in threats

The most immediate threat to Europe today is terrorism. This threat is the reason why we are participating in anti-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean. Europe is directly targeted by jihadism and its supporters, such as al-Qaeda. The risk of a terrorist attack in Europe is real. And European citizens are at risk not only at home but also abroad.

Nuclear proliferation is the other major challenge that faces us, as can be seen in the current Iranian nuclear crisis. Of course, the gradual elimination of nuclear weapons, under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is ultimately the objective of all the NPT signatories. But in order to collectively create the conditions for achieving it, we must now focus on reality, not pious hopes (such as “Global Zero”), and work proactively to stop proliferation. If not, we run the risk of nuclear escalation in the Middle East and a situation of nuclear anarchy, with incalculable consequences for international security. In the case of Iran, after six long years of negotiations the situation continues to deteriorate. So while we must keep the door to dialogue open, there is little choice but to strengthen Security Council sanctions.

We must understand that the threat of proliferation directly concerns Europe. European nuclear deterrence (French, British and American missiles) will therefore remain essential for the foreseeable future. We are a long way from “Global Zero”! The Iran crisis also reveals the crude reality of the ballistic threat to Europe. We must work on a European anti-missile defence system within the European Union or the Atlantic Alliance.

Today’s threats come in many forms: computer attacks, pandemics, natural disasters. Organized crime is a major cause for concern, with all of the different kinds of trafficking it involves: drugs, piracy, human trafficking (which fuels illegal immigration). Indeed, organized crime is a destabilizing factor for European societies, and battling it requires common policies.

The question is whether Europe, faced with these threats, will be an actor in its own security and international security more broadly, or a mere “consumer” of American security, as most Europeans were during the Cold War. Can Europe defend its values, which until now have served as the foundation for international relations? Today’s Europe has a rendezvous with history.

Europe enters into this new world with new institutions

There is no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty has given us a more “political” Europe. The EU’s new institutions will enable it, provided there is sufficient political will, to emerge as a full-fledged strategic actor, capable of influencing international affairs. These include:

- a President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, appointed for two and a half years at the Extraordinary European Council of 19 November 2009, by unanimous vote of the Heads of State and Government. He will ensure continuity in the European Council’s actions and will represent the EU on the international stage. The informal meeting of the 27 Heads of State and Government that he convened on 11 February 2010 to discuss employment and economic recovery is a first tangible result. It is the first time EU leaders have met in such a format to decide on common policies, at a time when unemployment rates on both sides of the Atlantic exceed 10%. In this way, the idea of a European “economic government”, supported by the French President, is progressing.

- a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton, also appointed by the Extraordinary European Council of 19 November 2009. She oversees the European External Action Service (EEAS) and is responsible for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Her membership of both the Council and the Commission should allow for greater coordination between Member States and the European Commission, which implements common policies (in energy, development assistance, humanitarian aid, etc.) and possesses the corresponding financial resources. This new architecture will help avoid situations where the Commission develops policies without consulting with the Member States, such as in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bosnia.

More recently, the poor visibility of the European Union’s action in Haiti demonstrated the importance of translating the political impetus created by the High Representative on the ground, if necessary through a European humanitarian force. The French President has stated that he is in favour of the creation of such a force.

- the European External Action Service (EEAS), which will be formally established by the summer of 2010, under the authority of the High Representative/Vice-President. The EEAS will be an important instrument of a political Europe that is more influential on the international stage, and capable of mobilizing efficiently and coherently all its instruments of external policy in order to achieve its objectives.

The EEAS will oversee one of the largest diplomatic networks in the world and incorporate all the instruments of the earlier European Security and Defence Policy (European Union Military Staff, EU Joint Situation Centre, EU Civil-Military Cell for crisis management). The structure, missions and size of the EEAS are under discussion.

Decisions on these questions will be made by those that have legitimacy in this domain, namely the Member States.

New resources, which must be strengthened

The High Representative/Vice-President has a solid base on which to build in the development of European defence. In the ten years of its existence, the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), established in Helsinki in 1999 (one year after the France-UK summit in Saint-Malo), has recorded a number of successes on the ground. I have often observed that European defence progresses more through conducting operations than through institutional improvements. In ten years, the ESDP has led 23 civilian and military operations in the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Ocean. These operations involved 67,000 civilian and military personnel.

The European Union is currently the only entity to have such a wide range of economic, diplomatic and military instruments at its disposal for crisis resolution. The example of the Balkans shows us just how essential this combination of resources really is.

Europe can be proud of its crisis management operations. In Georgia in the summer of 2008, thanks to the commitment of the French President and Bernard Kouchner, Europe was able to launch a purely European peacekeeping operation very rapidly. The operation was successful in stabilizing the situation. In the Indian Ocean, Operation Atalanta, the EU’s first counter-piracy naval operation, is an undeniable success. I was able to see this for myself when I visited the operation in mid-October 2009. Europe is now playing a major role in ensuring the freedom of the seas in this zone that is crucial for global trade and for our interests.

However, we must acknowledge how far we have to go to develop a strong European defence system. Indeed, the shortcomings of European defence need to be examined frankly and boldly.

- The budgets are not equal to the task. The combined defence budgets of the 27 Member States of the EU, whose total GDP is greater than that of the United States, amounts to barely half of the Pentagon’s budget. Within the EU, France, the United Kingdom and Germany account for two thirds of this combined European defence budget.

- The disparity is even greater for our military capabilities, although Europe clearly does not have the global responsibilities the United States currently has. Nevertheless, the European Union as a whole can muster barely 10% of American military power projection capabilities in external theatres. In practice, the shortfalls of European armed forces make them dependent on the United States in such key areas as strategic transport, large-scale helicopter operations and Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD). This situation has remained essentially unchanged over the past ten years, despite all the praiseworthy efforts of the European Defence Agency.

- European armaments programmes are also woefully behind. The 27 Member States currently invest one third as much as the United States in equipment for their armed forces and one fifth as much in defence-related research. Moreover, they disperse their resources by simultaneously developing 3 fighter plane programmes, 6 submarine programmes and around 20 armoured combat vehicle programmes. The 1970s and 80s saw the birth of programmes like the Transall, Jaguar, and the Hot and Milan missile programmes, and the launching of projects like the A400M transport aircraft and the NH90 and Tiger helicopters. Today the lack of large-scale cooperation projects is striking. And yet these projects are essential to the construction and maintenance of an industrial and technological base for European defence.

- The results of EU-led operations remain limited. The reality is that most of the operations led by the European Union are relatively small and have a mainly civil dimension. The European Union has only conducted 6 military operations in around 10 years. Today, 6,500 men and women from the 27 Member States are participating in European operations (EULEX in Kosovo, EUBAM in Transnistria, etc.), only half of them in military operations like Atalanta. This is less than France alone, which currently has 10,000 troops participating in a dozen external operations.

Furthermore, the EU’s rapid reaction capacity remains very limited. The crisis in Haiti demonstrated that one must act quickly to have an effect on the international scene. Without a permanent European military staff for planning and conducting civil-military operations, the European Union cannot react rapidly to emergency situations. Europeans must work together in a pragmatic fashion to improve this capacity.

- Coordination between the European Union and NATO remains inadequate. The European Union and the Atlantic Alliance may be neighbours in Brussels but they do not work together enough, in Brussels or in the field (Afghanistan). 21 of NATO’s 28 members also belong to the European Union. And yet coordination in operations in which the two organizations are engaged side by side is still far from ideal, despite the possibilities opened up by the “Berlin Plus” agreement. In practice, the European Union has used NATO resources only twice, for Operation Concordia in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, too, the European Union lacks effective planning and crisis management capacities.

The Treaty of Lisbon and the current international context: an opportunity to relaunch European Defence

The current reform of NATO and its Strategic Concept provides an opportunity for Europe to claim its rightful place within the Alliance. This is what the French President had in mind when he decided on France’s full return to NATO. More France in NATO means more Europe in the Atlantic Alliance. France’s return in 2009 clarified our relations with our allies in America and Europe by removing certain ambiguities: now no one can accuse us of wanting to develop European Defence against NATO. It is now essential to develop close relations between the European Union and NATO in order for the two organizations to work more effectively together in the future. Better coordination between the European Union and NATO is clearly the key to success in handling many international crises, including Afghanistan. Why not, therefore, go further in defining the special partnership relations between the two organizations, which have 21 members in common?

Beyond institutional questions, it is essential to increase the European dimension of defence in order to gradually remedy its shortcomings.

This might require pooling certain types of equipment through the Permanent Structured Cooperation mechanism or bilateral agreements (‘variable geometry’ Europe). Most importantly, it is crucial to develop new joint industrial projects, whether France-Germany or France-UK, on the condition that they achieve real economies of scale and do not increase costs. The UK Defence Green Paper, published on 3 February 2010, opens up new possibilities for reviving our bilateral cooperation and revitalizing European defence. The Franco-German axis will also be important in the development of cooperation in armaments programmes, as was reaffirmed at the Franco-German Council of Ministers on 4 February 2010.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation provided for in the Treaty of Lisbon is an important step forward. The idea is that those who wish to move forward more quickly in defence matters can do so. I believe this should enable the European Union to strengthen its operational engagements and its defence efforts. The Permanent Structured Cooperation is a catalyst meant to encourage Member States to commit themselves further to European Defence. The pragmatic cooperation developed between France, Germany and Poland in the “Weimar Triangle” could serve as an example for this type of voluntary defence cooperation. We must make sure that it does not simply become another layer of bureaucracy, however, because the point is to facilitate action.

Finally, the question arises of the content and the level of ambition of the Common Security and Defence Policy. Here I believe we must favour a pragmatic approach. We will only reconcile our citizens with the idea of Europe if we can show them the concrete benefits of implementing policies at a European level. In addition to stabilizing the Balkans and Afghanistan, which are our top priorities, we must develop new types of missions: against piracy (Operation Atalanta), against drug trafficking (in the Gulf of Guinea, where it is essential to cut off financing to al-Qaeda), and against illegal immigration across Europe’s borders, where we must increase European solidarity by providing FRONTEX with more resources, especially now that the boundary between internal and external security is more tenuous than ever. We must also develop our humanitarian relief capacities (with the establishment of an effective European humanitarian force, which as we saw in Haiti, we currently lack).

Let us be clear about collective defence. It is a prospect included in the European treaties, but we must be careful not to move too hastily. Not only are neutral Member States reluctant, but some of our European allies are afraid that premature announcements on this issue could encourage an American disengagement in Europe, which would not be in our interest. Promoting European Defence, including its international crisis management capacities, is one thing. Going so far as to claim that Europe is now ready to defend itself alone is quite another. The history of the 20th century teaches us that it is preferable to keep the United States in the European security equation. To this end, it is necessary to show the United States that Europe is able to assume its responsibilities and handle crises, and so to shift from being a security “consumer” to being a partner. This is the best way of maintaining the long-term involvement of the United States in European security. The European Union must prepare itself to collectively assume its responsibilities and an increasing share of the burden, because the security of Europe depends on two pillars: the Atlantic Alliance with the United States and European Defence.

In practical terms, Europe’s ability to matter politically on the international stage depends on the revival of the European defence and security pillar. This is why relaunching European Defence is a crucial strategic component of the European project for the years ahead. It requires a collective analysis, through the drafting of a White Paper on Common Security and Defence. It seems to me that the adoption of a shared geopolitical analysis of Europe’s threats and interests, together with a detailed definition of a European security strategy and a common level of ambition, will enable Europe to make important progress towards European Defence./.

¹ A new quarterly bilingual English/French magazine published by the French Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, in partnership with Editions Grasset.

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