Skip to main content

44th Conference on Security Policy

Published on March 5, 2008
Speech by M. Hervé Morin, Minister of Defense, (excerpts).

Munich, February 9, 2008

(…) Less than two months from the Bucharest summit, but also five months from the start of our European Union presidency, it’s important for us French to be able to share our thoughts on the future of our transatlantic community, to which all of us here are so committed.

As you know, these form part of a substantive debate President Sarkozy initiated in France last summer, which is driving the work on the "White Paper on Defence and National Security". (…)

1. Thoughts on NATO’s evolution:

The theme of our meeting is "The Atlantic Alliance: Bucharest and Beyond". For me, this first of all concerns the transformation of the very structure of NATO, even though France is not in the integrated command. Incidentally, I suggest that one day thought be given to what being in the integrated command, being part of this structure means, compared with France’s current position in the Alliance, the implications this has for our forces and our independence. I wouldn’t want you to chide me for displaying "Gallic arrogance". I know that the Alliance is doing a lot to evolve, but, with your permission, I’d like to pass on to you some ideas.

As regards NATO’s evolution, I see three problems:

Internal Reform/Command Structure

- an internal problem first, which concerns NATO’s necessary internal reform: at a time when our democracies are confronted with growing budget constraints, NATO must resolutely tackle this imperative of rationalization - in terms of overall cost, number of troops and number of HQs.

Let me remind you that NATO has a €2 billion budget, with over 22,000 full-time employees (for 66,000 troops engaged in operations!), nearly 320 committees or sub-committees, including, for example, ones with such names as "Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society" and "Food and Agriculture Planning Committee"!

I know that the Secretary-General, Mr de Hoop Scheffer, is convinced of the need to make the Alliance more efficient. Things now need to go further and faster.

Of course, the progress report on the transformation launched at the Prague 2002 summit is a positive one: our forces, essentially static and organized to confront those of the Warsaw Pact, have acquired a rapid response capability and become rapidly deployable. (…)

However, we must not content ourselves with this. The Alliance must transform in order to acquire an ever faster and more flexible response capability, in sync with a more unstable and unpredictable era - so different from the strategic ice-age which served for so long as our framework.

The reform of the command structure must be determinedly pursued: the number of HQs has already been cut, but there’s still room for more reductions. In response to the Prague goals, we have developed 16 HQs with rapidly deployable components, but are at the same time retaining six permanent structures of the same type dating from the Cold War period, which have become redundant.

We all know that the money saved through these reforms will be useful elsewhere, both within the Alliance for conducting current operations and, more generally, in all our defence budgets.

Defense Planning/Afghanistan

The work NATO has set in train to reform the defence planning process must also be pursued. The current process, which everyone agrees is long and fastidious, was based on a Cold War rationale: the aim was collectively to build our defence capability to confront, in a stable framework, a clearly identified enemy. Today the difficulties the Alliance is encountering in Afghanistan - I’m thinking particularly of UAVs and transport helicopters - show that this process hasn’t allowed us to guarantee provision of the capabilities required to meet the needs of current operations. We have to have a more flexible, more transparent process mobilizing fewer people. Nevertheless, it is essential in this process to find the right balance between satisfying the urgent needs of current operations and developing future capabilities. It is equally important for nations to retain full control of the choice of the framework in which they wish to use the capabilities they have developed - often at the cost of substantial financial effort - regardless of whether it is or isn’t for NATO.

Common Funding

A highly relevant question in this debate: common funding. Let’s apply the same rules to both NATO and the European Union. It isn’t normal for some countries to acccept in one structure an effort they refuse to make in the other. It’s by removing this kind of logjam that we shall take forward both the transformation of the Alliance and Defence Europe.

NATO’s Borders

Then the problem of the borders. How far is the Alliance’s enlargement destined to go: where will we stop? In Bucharest, we’ll be looking at some special cases, but we must together take a more over-arching view of the issue. Personally, I regard us as members of a Euro-Atlantic community, a community of values built on a common philosophical base, the same foundations. (…)

NATO’s Future/Afghanistan

Finally, third idea: what must NATO become? For me, at its core the Alliance is clearly a military alliance, welded together on the basis of article 5, which lays down the legal foundation of our collective defence. NATO has progressively acquired crisis-management capabilities and today operates outside Alliance territory. Should it become an instrument of global stabilization, a sort of "world policeman", going as far as to rival the UN?

These are not theoretical reflections: on the contrary, they have a very concrete immediate application in Afghanistan, which was the issue at the heart of our discussions in Vilnius.

This theatre is particularly important for us, since in it we again find intermingled most of the problems, risks and threats confronting us: terrorism, religious fanaticism, anti-Western sentiment, crime, poverty, arms and drug trafficking, fragility of the rule of law, corruption, etc.

In Afghanistan, the solution isn’t simply military, as we well know, even if an extra effort must perhaps be made in the short term. Military action is futile if it isn’t followed by real comprehensive action on the ground - it’s a bit like the effect of a wave on the sand, the continuous ebb and flow of the ocean. We are achieving military victories - this is the urgent task - but as soon as our forces have left, the situation reverts to exactly or almost exactly what it was before: when the water recedes, it leaves the sand as it was.

While the solution isn’t military, nor is it to want the creation ex nihilo in that country of a Western-style democracy: we can’t apply to that country a Westernized, ethnic-centred vision. We have to accept integrating into our approach the whole weight of history and different cultures. France has long been championing this idea and I was pleased to note some real points of agreement in Gordon Brown’s speech to the House of Commons last December.

By operating together today in Afghanistan, working simultaneously on the military and civil dimensions, we are preparing our security for the future. Indeed, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in "La Citadelle" ["The Wisdom of the Sands"] (…) "As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it".

Precisely, to enable the future we have to keep in mind our goal: a stable country in Afghan hands. The military operations are only one element - admittedly essential when it comes to the fight against al-Qaida - in the effort to achieve it.

So acting today for security tomorrow means firstly having the necessary means of action and secondly adapting our strategy to the Afghan situation and, finally, making this clear to the general public in our countries.

Having the means to intervene and concretely express the will to act. The difficulties encountered with generating forces and concerns of some allies about effective solidarity within the Alliance are both matters which have to be taken seriously. I am struck by the fact that less than a tenth of our forces are deployable as well as the inability to provide 15 or so heavy transport helicopters.

This has to persuade us collectively to agree to a defence effort commensurate with what for us is at stake. (…)

Secondly, adapting our strategy. On the one hand, collectively within the Alliance, and in all our capitals, we must carry out a public diplomacy exercise to convince our general publics and parliaments of the correctness and pertinence of our action in Afghanistan.

We also need to combine on the ground well-targeted military-civilian actions tailored to this type of crisis, which demands better coordination of the players. It is now more necessary than ever to appoint a public figure with recognized skill and charisma to carry out this task on the United Nations’ behalf, liaising closely with the Afghan authorities.


2. NATO and the European Union, two players which complement each other and must act together.

I’m convinced that the difficulties we’re experiencing in generating forces, in Afghanistan as in Chad, are nothing other than the military expression of European political abandonment. Europe hasn’t come to terms with its role. It wallows in its situation of dependence. The United States regrets this, but at the same time has long been satisfied with it - in a sort of schizophrenia. I talked at length about this to my friend Robert Gates last week in Washington. Indeed Europe has to do more to share the burden of its defence, but the European nations will do so only if they wake up to their own responsibilities: this will happen only if they emerge from the state of childhood in which we’re confining them. It’s when they reach adulthood that they will make an extra effort. And clearly the European Union doesn’t mean less alliance but more forces - with this pool of forces at the service of both the Alliance and European Union.

Bucharest must signal the Alliance’s transformation and at the same time be the moment when the Europeans decide to shoulder their share of the burden. And this must be done through a responsible and accepted approach, and not in a reversed "Berlin Plus". Europe can’t content itself with being NATO’s civilian agency.

As you know, there are a lot of areas where tensions threaten to run high: in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central and Southern Asia. A priori, Africa is, on the whole, more an area for Europe; Asia, more for NATO. Given the increasing number of these crises, potentially threatening us directly, there isn’t a surplus but shortfalls. There are more crises than capabilities to deal with them. So both the European Union and NATO are necessary and complement one another.

The scale of the threat and importance of the stakes compel us to find the best ways and methods of acting, using one or other organization depending on which is better for a specific crisis. As President Sarkozy reiterated recently, seeing them as incompatible is senseless, because for us NATO and the EU are two sides of the same security and defence policy.

We can - and I’d even say we must - act simultaneously to strengthen Defence Europe and establish a NATO with a more rapid and flexible response capability.

So, together, our approach must be political, but also embrace capacity, in order to revisit and inject momentum into cooperation between an Atlantic Alliance destined to pursue its transformation - and within which France is destined to take her full place - and the European Union.

Defense Europe/ESDP

3. We need a strong Defence Europe:

- Over the ten years since Saint-Malo, the record of Defence Europe has been indisputable. As a convinced European, I am proud of this, at the moment when the EU is getting ready to launch a new autonomous military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic. Naysayers may stress the obstacles encountered and the difficulties in generating forces… But who’d have thought, only ten years ago, that the European Union would be bringing into one of the toughest African theatres several hundred Irish, Polish, Swedish, Latvian troops…?

In this I personally see a strong desire to contribute on the part of member States who, until now, didn’t always form the heart of the forces deployed by the EU. I also see in it the sign of a new maturity of the European Security and Defence Policy. With your permission, I’d like to thank the contributing member States, who are enabling us to give this operation, whose humanitarian objectives in Darfur are vital, a genuine European dimension.

French EU Presidency/ESDP

One of the publicly stated priorities of the French EU presidency will be to strengthen Europeans’ defence capabilities. France is determined to grasp all the opportunities and instruments offered us by the Lisbon Treaty, to concretely flesh out the ESDP and, with the other member States, start production of pooled crisis-management capabilities.

The need to build Defence Europe is far more than a personal conviction - it’s also the conclusion of a pragmatic analysis. It is high time we took on board our continent’s interests and particularly the goal of regional stability in the neighbourhood of a European Union with over 450 million inhabitants and a GDP accounting for a quarter of global production. When you’ve created common interests, you need to defend them together. And we have far more than interests to defend: a community of values, a model of society and an immaterial heritage.

How can we say we have a common destiny and not build the means to protect it, i.e. Defence Europe?

Building Defence Europe means us identifying with Europe, becoming aware of its existence and of what we ourselves are as Europeans. (…)

We also have a message of peace and humanity to promote, all the more legitimately and strongly because we have learned the lessons of our own history. It’s a message of optimism, a message of confidence for the whole world, particularly in Africa: out of a European continent torn apart, we have succeeded in building a prosperous continent living in harmony. In the words of a European head of State, Europe is "a school of peace and stability". That’s what we have to build, and get people to rally round. (…)

We must build all this on the basis of the idea of sharing, of responsibility exercised by some for the benefit of the others. It’s not an abandonment, but a move to a new form of sovereignty, a collective sovereignty.

Let’s open up avenues for the future: for surveillance of our borders and air and maritime spaces, for example. NATO is conducting the MSA project to fight terrorism, we want Europe to have a network interconnected in real time - comparable to what is being done in air defence - for all civilian and military maritime surveillance with intervention procedures combining all the capabilities.


We see clearly that there is no incompatibility between NATO and the European Union’s capabilities, they complement each other. We propose that some nations take responsibility on behalf of others for certain missions and tasks, which they have the military capabilities to carry out - I’m thinking for example of what NATO has done for air defence.

Here too, we need to move towards more efficient assets and efforts. For us, this isn’t a minus it’s a plus. For example, we want the so-called European forces to be used in priority for operations decided on by the European Union. When you visit Eurocorps headquarters in Strasbourg and see the little use made of this human and equipment investment, you realize that dedicating a priori such systems to the European Union isn’t a minus but a plus for our Euro-Atlantic Alliance. (…)

To deal with the crises of today and tomorrow, we need both a strong Europe, alongside our American allies, and a strong Alliance.

* * *

As you can see, dogma is a word I have banished from both my vocabulary and what I do. In our view, we must be guided by pragmatism and, in the face of the crucial issues confronting our countries, efficiency has to be the rule. (…)

We have a new strategic environment, in which it is less than ever a matter of reaping the peace dividends. A more acute perception of the risks and theats hanging over us is now driving us and compelling us to act. It is this vigilance which has prompted us to transform the Atlantic alliance to address the new key security issues of energy security and cyber-attacks.

France’s approach to NATO has necessarily changed and naturally given rise to new thinking on the relationship we must maintain with it, as an ally and initiator of proposals. In this respect, next year’s radical rewriting of the strategic concept and 60th anniversary summit should be two landmarks in NATO’s transformation.

Defence Europe is, in our view, just as important a strategic necessity. Our mission is to go on developing it so that it may work in close agreement with NATO, whether or not the two organizations are deployed simultaneously. (…)./.

      top of the page