New's letter Editor Research Forum French Geostrategie

Europe in search for Strategic Protection,

Professor François Géré, Director Institut Diplomatie & Défense

If an American administration believes that it is in its strategic long term interest to try to provoke the break-up the EU it will be difficult to avoid it. The question is who will suffer the most, in the end ? It is a matter of strategic vision and leadership : shall "we" benefit more from cooperation, division of labor, or from basic competition, bitter rivalry  and random conflicts ? All of us should ask seriously who, ultimately, around the world, would benefit from that mutual destruction policy. To be sure, there are candidates...

Key words: françois géré, institut diplomatie & defense (paris), strategic protection, strategic autonomy.  

The famous tale about the elephant and the blind men applies quite well to the notion of ESDP. One touch the tail and says it is a rope. Another who touches the leg says its a tree, and so on. But is there a real elephant and who are the blind men ?


I. A Long European March

What happened and what has been done ? A short evaluation of the results suggests the image of  the glass half full, half empty.

Half full

In 1991, PESC (Politique extérieure et de sécurité commune) has appeared for the first time as a goal in the Maastricht treaty which must be considered a direct reaction to the end of the Cold War  and the collapse of the Warsaw pact.[1]

In June 1992 the war between the RFY and Croatia led the Western European Union (WEU) to agree upon the so-called Petersberg Missions. They encompassed peace enforcement a nice expression which is close to war but the word has become politically uncorrect. [2]

In June 1996 the war in Bosnia led to the Berlin agreement on "double hatting"between NATO and WEU.

In June 1999, when the Kosovo war was reaching its end, the Koln Conference created a European mecanism for foreign policy and defense. A High commisioner took responsability. Later, in Helsinki and Figueira da Fos, the members of the EU agreed upon the building of a European force of 50 000 soldiers capable to be deployed with air and navy forces on short notice with the capability to sustain for one year. All these events demonstrate that ESDP is a product of Balkan wars.[3]

In the armament industry the changes have been astonishing. National companies have merged creating the capabilities for the development of a real European industry : EADS, THALES, MBDA, to name some of them, have gathered, Deutch, Italian, German, Spanish, French and British interests. Finally, there is a general agreement on the creation of a European armament agency based upon the pratice of OCCAR and the principes of the letter of intents (LOI).

Half empty

But many voices make the case that the process is too slow, that Europeans have been unable to prevent a ferocious war, ethnic cleansing and humanitarian disasters in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Time has been wasted in theological controversies about architecture, about adjusting the Western European Union, the EU, NATO, intertwined decision-making mechanisms.. Still, today a murky bureaucracy located in Bruxelles has created amazing         expressions such as "headline goals", "structured  (enhanced, strengthened ?) cooperations", "framework nation". Meanwhile the money is not there and the capabilities remain too limited to project and sustain a significant force. Moreover, some confusion persist on the nature of the security activities and the kind of forces suited for achieving peace ans stability. Are they police operations ? Is the military irrelevant ? French Gendarmerie, Spanish Guardia civil and Italian Carabinieri seem to meet the tasks : mob control, search for arms smuggling and other criminal activities. Obviously, it is needed to create the complete chain linking the initial use of force to curb the warrying parties, impose disarmament and, step by step, leave the ground for constabulatory forces along with the effort to help rebuilding the country in a stabilized environment. 

Ultimately, the EU has been able to prevent war in Macedonia and is in a position to take over responsibility in Bosnia.       

II. A flavour of Europe : understanding the foundations of the EU

1. From national identity to European diversity

Major trends include : the search for prosperity, the sense of social welfare, an increasing acceptance of  wealth sharing, the rejection of violence to solve the conflicts, a sense of compassion towards humanitarian disasters and the rejection of abuse against human rights all around the world.

It does not go without profound contradictions which do not help action.

A common European way of life has taken place which has chosen diversity a s foundation and a goal.

Political pluralism, sexual diversity, Multiculturalism as a value, respect for the individual, human rights, an exacerbated respect for human life. Not it surprinsingly, it goes with major contradictions. Drug tolerance versus agressive campaign against tobacco, abortion at a high rate along with  avoidance for death penalty. A tolerance for risks on the roads which fringes absurdity.

Indeed, "We", Europeans form a complex and fragile community. More or less, the cultural trends in Europe ressemble very much New York City, even if NYC is not America. My personal sense is that in the span of two generations, may be less, most of the American people will come close to this situation.

Here comes the problem of the fundamental relation between war and politics.


2. A European farewell to Clausewitz

Europeans dislike to hear about war. War films, war books are commercial failures on the European market with a notable exception "Save the private Ryan". So far, Europeans are not very good at dealing with the ghosts of the past. Dirty secrets remain unveiled. Contrition for war crimes has taken a long time. In France, bitter controversies about the war in Algeria persist.[4]

There is a strong reluctance in Europe for war. For most Europeans, the end of the Cold War equated with the end of war. They have contemplated with horror and indignation the ethnic war in the Balkans and approved an armed force humanitarian intervention. The notion of security for continental Europe has a precise meaning for the present century : war should no longer be considered a tool for achieving political goals.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned the relevance of war is much more controversial.  Most Europeans question the level of the American defense budget. They dont see its rationale. This persistant interrogation is a source of political unrest with Washington. Most Europeans -who have little sympathy for dictators- do not understand the real goals of the war against Iraq. So far, they think that the Iranian nuclear crisis can be solved by diplomacy and a blend of pressures.

Do such reservations imply that Europeans have become "impotent and obsolete"[5] in today's world ?

Beware Manicheism !  Robert Kagan, after Sam Huntington is successfull because it simplifies the situation. The clash of civilisation was -and still is- dangerous because its helps creating wrong perceptions. The split between paradise and power is equally misleading. It presents to the Europeans an America oversimplified and to Americans a Europe which meets their fear, not their hopes.[6]

The Balkan lessons are important to help define the nature of overseas operations.

Let me say that perhaps the biggest change is in the nature of war. Fifty years ago, war meant the destruction of enemy forces and the disruption the enemy country. The more it suffered, including the civilians, the best it was. Today western war must be waged with the objective to rebuild and bring assistance to the people. It is not only a major change but also a great challenge. 

The rethoric about old and new Europe proceeds from the same and agravated neglect of the real world . The Poles are joining NATO and send forces into Afghanistan and Iraq. Have they become suddenly offensive and war oriented ? On the contrary. They buy security assurance in Europe.

To conclude, I borrow a formula  from a former French Chief of staff of the Armies, admiral Lanxade who declared : "while Americans see war as a solution to international crisis, the Europeans favor crisis management." They admit that preventive diplomacy needs to be supported by armed forces but their use should come as a last resort. Therefore the military campaign should be limited in violence and in duration.


3. American dilemmas and PESD : how much and what for ?

During the Cold War the US have always asked for a greater European commitment in the burdensharing and risksharing.

But confronted with a major soviet threat both nuclear and conventionnal, America had vital interests at stake and took over the major responsability and the largest part of the burden. Today the Unites States do not see Europe as an area of danger..Russia is weak in respect to the US. It does not means necessarily that it does not remain a high priority concern for its small European neighbours.

Now, if Europeans are serious about spending efficiently about acquiring capabilities, they will approach, step by step, a level of military capacity and usability which will give them some degree of autonomy. And the United States have to accept the full consequences of what they ask for. In this respect, and even if, personnaly, I am not a Tervuren fan, the creation of a planning cell and specific headquarters with command, control and intelligence capabilities are nothing more than the consequence of a greater European commitment for defense. As Kissinger put it when he was writing about Transatlantic misunderstandings : you cannot equally win from two different worlds. The question : how much is enough is related to another one how much is too much ?

In addition, because of the end of the Cold War, the perceptions of the threat have changed on both sides of the Atlantic.. Ballistic missiles, WMD and terrorism are much less convincing than a single speech by Stalin or Brejnev, years ago.

In democratic countries the capability approach is not the easiest one. The public and the politicians agree to spend on defense when they see the enemy, when they feel the pain because of terrorist actions. Nine Eleven has created a new sense of danger and a new need for protection which, in my view is wrongly handled by the present administration. The confusion between Al Qaida terrorist activities and Saddam Hussein, using WMD as a linkage is a strategic mistake.

They real world shows that the cooperation between competent agencies has been remakably succesfull. And hopefully it will continue.


III. The future : Areas and Missions, long term goals versus short term responses

Since the Atlantic Alliance has de facto abandoned the notion of area of responsibility and goes global, it is important for the EU to think about geography.



Three areas for ESDP :

The notion of ESDP results from a compromise between visions of the future of Europe...It is the same coin but there is the security side and the defense side. This ambivalence generates many misunderstandings.

A/The territories of EU members a community of interests will be covered by SECURITY.

Nonetheless the definition of the area of responsibility will be an important issue : the EU is likely to expand.. Pending remains the status of Turkey.

B/ EU neighborhood which is made of non EU members which can be elected for membership and neighbors  in the East and the South which could be associated through partnership agreements but who have no reason to enter the EU.

The criteria are not easy to set up : why Turkey and not Russia ? Why Morocco or Tunisia and not Algeria ? Closed door policy is not very encouraging…

PROTECTION and PARTNERSHIP will be the mutualy supporting principles driving the strategy.

C/ The EU in the world…

Europeans will no longer be protected by the US, at least in the sense it was understood during the Cold War. A major strategic change is taking place. Protection will no longer be ground-based. It will be space-based.

The EU have to recognized that it has global interests and that it can be threatened by agressions which challenge its prosperity and its own welfare. ACTIVE DEFENSE which ranges from preventive diplomacy, preventive action and all kind of defenses against transcontinental threats : ballistic missiles and global terrorism could meet such requirements. Because of its economic power, its dimension as a market and its needs to trade with the whole world, EU is already a new major actor on the world stage.

The question is the magnitude of its influence in the global balance of power. For the coming years, the question is how it will translate its power and its needs into foreign policy goals and the defense which could support them.

The United States may have preferences about the answers. But it should not see the Union as a potential rival.

Washington will have to admit a new balance and some reduction of its leadership first, in Europe, second, in the Middle East. That area could become a major theater of disagreements.

The Far East : China, Japan are problems for other generations. But proliferation creates a link. The EU cannot disregard that globalisation which affect key-partners in the G 7



The building of ESDP  is an effort to reconcile short term crisis and long term goals.

The logic should be to have a common foreign policy and a common defense policy but the variety of interests and perceptions oppose such a logic.

May be the long term will change that temporary framework but a crisis requires rapid decisions. Therefore the EU is torn between emergency on a day to day basis and the building of a force capable to meet long term requirements in the framework of an envisaged European grand strategy which will remain in limbo for some times.


3. European AUTONOMY versus national sovereignty

At stake, lays the notion of collective defense and the relevance of NATO while the EU and NATO which are, by nature, different bodies are evolving, expanding, ultimately creating ties of different kind.

On the one hand, many European governments endorse the British approach which considers collective defense through and only through the Atlantic Alliance ; but on the other hand we cannot disregard the problem of solidarity against agression among nation which have melted their vested interest. The building of Europe create an implacable logic which, in essence, is   superior to an alliance.

Spending better instead of spending more makes sense. But is hard to reach such a goal just because of the non-integration of their forces. The more Europeans will become integrated, the more they will need a common foreign policy supported by their armed forces, integrated or not.

For the time being, ESDP should parallel with NATO's evolution making sure their progress do not oppose. In the end, each member will see what has been achieved and how its interests are best served. 



This is a time for adaptation, for adjustment between different perceptions.

*Among European governments and people, visions of Europe will continue to compete. It is no longer France trying to rule Europe, it is the result of a systemic approach : the reality of the EU  ressembles much more a system rather than a Union.

*With notable difficulties, French governments - no matter right or left - recognize the fact that France will not lead the EU according to its perceptions .and its appetite for leadership. Clearly, some competition will continue and one can find it healthy. Indeed hegemony of one European nation is impossible. Some, for at least a generation will cherish a goal of supremacy while a growing majority will recognize it is unavoidable. ESDP will be a comprehensive blend or will not exist.

*A major clash with the United States should be avoided. Today, no doubt, a real struggle is going. On both sides of the Atlantic disruption forces are at work. In France there is a widespread complacency to put forward the most negative statements and the most provocative one can find in the US. An influent French newspaper, - even if it has been the target of widespread criticism -, is found of publishing the most agressive and irresponsible papers and articles coming from Americans neo-cons[7]. The coalition of the extremes is a traditional recipe for disaster.

*Nonetheless, if an American administration believes that it is in its strategic long term interest to try to provoke the break-up the EU it will be difficult to avoid it. The question is who will suffer the most, in the end ?

It is a matter of strategic vision and leadership : shall "we" benefit more from cooperation, division of labor, or from basic competition, bitter rivalry  and random conflicts ?

All of us should ask seriously who, ultimately, around the world, would benefit from that mutual destruction policy.

To be sure, there are candidates...

Professor François Géré
Director Institut Diplomatie & Défense


[1] Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the members of the European Common Market were preparing for a European Community.  

[2] Same for the term  "strike" which is now nicely called a "social move".

[3] As history often demonstrates, war can be a major factor of integration. Blood can turn into a cement for unity. The ultimate building of the United States came from the blood of the civil war. Balkans wars have created a sense of unity and collective defense in the post cold war Europe. But such a point ofview hurts politcical correctness.  

[4] Rumours about Pentagon teams seeing Pontecorvo's movie, "The battle of Algiers" have created a lot of confusion. Too bad, it is a poor movie.

[5] To use Ronald Reagan's parlance in his famous SDI speech, march 1983.

[6] David Calleo has presented a wiser view of the problem in his comments on Kagan's book The National Interest, n°72, Summer 2003.

[7] Le Monde, June 21st 2003 translation of Andrew Sullivan, "Superpower Europe", New Republic.

Copyright 20 novembre 2003-Géré/


  On line : december 2003


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