His Excellency Monsieur Daniel Bernard CMG, CBE
The French Ambassador
On: France and the UK in the European-Atlantic Context
17 June 2002
“We run two risks when we talk about Euro-Atlantic relations: that of wallowing in platitudes, or luxuriating in grandiloquence. I am not sure I am going to succeed in avoiding either, but I will try at least to avoid a third: confusion. Indeed, the adjective Euro-Atlantic is sometimes understood in its straightforward geographical sense, that is, pertaining to the vast area of two continents and the ocean uniting them. I do not think that is what interests you here.
So I will take Euro-Atlantic as meaning North America, Western Europe and the institutions representing them: the EU and NATO. This is a simplification; but it has the merit of not deforming reality.
As for the current context, it is obviously marked by the terrorist attacks of 11 September and their repercussions. I shall therefore confine myself to talking about Euro-Atlantic relations in the political and security field, which is in any case the most important one.
I’m going to focus on three points:
- · The constancy of the values shared by North American and Europe,
- · Our effective solidarity in the fight against terrorism,
- · Our common concern to give new heart to our political and military co-operation.
Terrorist Attacks in the US
Indeed, 11 September was a turning point for us all. We are still experiencing the shockwaves created by the attacks against New York and Washington, and their repercussions. One of these is the possible redefinition of transatlantic relations. The US reaction and the role, by definition, more discreet, of the other powers have raised several questions in people’s minds.
To start with, Europe and the United States seemed to have different conception in the field of international relations, as evidenced by the much talked about “axis of evil”, and the erudite speculation on the clash of civilisations. Nevertheless, it is quite clear – and this is no surprise – that, on essential matters, the two sides of the Atlantic remain true to the common values underpinning their alliance and deep-rooted union: defence of democracy, respect for individual freedoms, and a determination to always to place human beings at the centre of political decision-making.
The words used may differ, and at times surprise, but the principles have not changed. For the French, a good example of this deep-rooted solidarity is President Bush’s recent visit to our country: the fact that he came to Normandy and paid tribute, by President Chirac’s side, to the thousands of young Americans who laid down their lives for our country’s freedom, reaffirmed our shared destiny better than any speech could have done.
In the UK and France, demonstrations of solidarity with the American people have not just shown the degree to which our hearts have gone out to them. They have expressed a community of destiny which can be summarised by the “Le Monde” newspaper headline: “We are all Americans”.
Of course, this is not the first time we have stood shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism. We are doing so, for example, in the Balkans, and our action there is long term. Europeans and American are today working together in the three operations conducted in this theatre: in Bosnia, Kosovo and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where the thousand members of Operation Amber Fox have prevented the first incidents from degenerating into a bloodbath. This is an unsung success story for a prevention mission.
These three cases have two things in common: the joint commitment of the Americans and European, and the very large share of responsibility exercised by both the UK and France.
The EU is also playing a growing role in this theatre, on its doorstep. And not just in the civilian sphere, where it is masterminding the bulk of the reconstruction effort, and offering, with the prospect of accession, the hope of a peaceful and prosperous integration in the community of nations. It is too the case too in the military sphere, where Euro-Atlantic solidarity gives our presence its important political dimension. And, in this respect, it is significant that plans for the EU eventually to take over military responsibility in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are being drawn up with the full backing of the United States.
So first the Balkans, and then 11 September, brought home to us how close we are, because they enabled us to identify what is at the heart of our partnership: the joint effort to promote peace and freedom.
French Military Contribution
It would be totally meaningless to affirm a total unanimity of views with our allies, unless this were backed up by an ability to take military action alongside them. The United Kingdom and France have understood this and, immediately in the wake of 11 September, our two countries made substantial assets available to the coalition.
You know the scale of your country’s effort. I think it is necessary to repeat here that France’s commitment was no less significant than the UK’s, because when it comes to active solidarity with the US, some people are still parroting the old clichés of a less than enthusiastic France!
We know that, historically, that is far from correct, let alone fair. Over the past two centuries, whenever either country has faced a grave crisis, France and the United States have stood shoulder to shoulder. As they do today.
For evidence, let me give you a few details of our commitment at our great ally’s side since 11 September. I shall concentrate on my country’s effort since I presume you do not lack information on the UK’s role in the various operations launched since 11 September.
As early as 27 September, we redeployed our intelligence capabilities, principally in the Arabo-Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. In order to ensure better co-ordination between staffs, France also sent a liaison and planning team to CENTCOM [US Central Command running current operations against al-Qaida], in Tampa.
In the actual theatre of operations, French aircraft started reconnaissance flights in mid October. These provided what I know has been recognised as valuable information on the local situation for Enduring Freedom.
By this time, in the Indian Ocean, our ships were deployed alongside your and US vessels. The aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle” set off from France on 25 November, and her on-board Super Etendards began their sorties over Afghanistan on 22 December. As President Bush recently recalled, about a quarter of the French Navy is today engaged in the operation.
During this time, in northern Afghanistan – and, very early on, despite the difficulties of the exercise, at CENTCOMS’s request, we deployed an infantry detachment of 250 men to secure the perimeter of Mazar-I-Sharif aerodrome. This detachment had the mission of helping to ensure the safety of the “Red horses” which were repairing the runway.
I should like to stress that the deployment of our advance detachment in Mazar was possible thanks to the support provided by an American C 17 and several CH 53 helicopters. The bulk of the French elements were transported by French aircraft from a forward base in Dushanbe in Tajikistan. I am sure I do not need to tell you how important – and difficult- it is to establish such forward bases so near as sensitive a theatre as Afghanistan.
Our infantry detachment returned from Mazar to France at the end of January, their mission accomplished.
From our Dushanbe forward base, we were also able, very rapidly, to send the French elements of the international force to Kabul. This deployment of over 500 men, joining ISAF, started at the beginning of January.
Finally, the last of our elements to arrive in the area are now stationed in Manas in Kyrghystan, on the multinational base, opened thanks to exemplary international co-operation.
The deployment of these air assets (6 Mirage 2000s and 2 tanker planes) is not just assisting in Operation Enduring Freedom, but also contributing to the security of ISAF in Kabul. The fact that, as soon as they arrived, our pilots began taking part in combat operations in Afghanistan, in Operation Anaconda, shows just how important their presence is. Everyday, alongside their comrades in the naval aviation group based on the aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle”, they provide close air support in the Afghan skies to the allied ground troops.
Today, nearly 5,000 French soldiers are directly involved in the operations supporting Enduring Freedom and contributing to resorting peace in Afghanistan. That is on top of the 10,000 French soldiers who have now been in the Balkans for over ten years, and of the 6,000 men stationed permanently in Africa. Over 20,000 French troops deployed abroad – that is no mean effort in the service of peace and law enforcement. What conclusions would we draw from this?
First of all, that France is playing an active part in the world campaign against terrorism – one not fought solely on the military front and which will, we know, go on for a long time. Our experiences of counter-terrorism, like our good knowledge of the Arab world are, and will remain valuable. They are at the coalition’s disposal.
Secondly, – and, here again, let me stress the paralleled nature of our two countries’ commitment-, although France and the UK may seem to have different relationships with the United States, when it comes to the crunch, when it comes to risking lives in support of our great ally, we do so together. When you’re Special Forces back up the Americans in the Gardeyz region, our Mirages fly over them to ensure the theatre’s security.
Finally, our joint participation in Enduring Freedom and ISAF confirms that, over and above the determination to stand at our ally’s side, both our countries possess substantial military assets. This military capability gives us a special role in the Euro-Atlantic area, where we are increasingly the only counties capable of making an effective contribution alongside the United States.
It is this which as prompted us, together, to seek to revitalise the transatlantic link. And it is to this that I want to turn now.
Revitalization of the Transatlantic Link
France and the UK had already, before 11 September, taken on board the lessons of the end of the Cold War. Since the St Malo summit, our two countries, so often engaged in crisis-management operations, have managed to inject into the EU a momentum in favour of European defence.
The unacceptable machinations and actions of Milosevic’s regime forced us to face up to our responsibilities. Confronted with the stark reality of the tragedy unfolding before our eyes, we realised that – as we had so often been requested – we had to share the burden. The European had to equip themselves to take on their political role.
No European country would have agreed to participate in building Defence Europe if this had meant weakening the transatlantic link. We have made headway because everyone has understood that our project strengthened the transatlantic link, by adapting it to the major political event of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: the building of the European Union.
In very concrete terms, this means that the European capability we are in the process of setting up provides an additional tool for the transatlantic community to use in crisis management.
The European Defence we aspire to is not and will not be an alternative to the Atlantic Alliance. Its aim is to give the Fifteen an autonomous crisis-management capability, in other words, a capability to maintain or restore peace, conduct humanitarian operations and evacuate nationals. These are the Petersburg Tasks defined at the WEU council of Ministers in 1992 and subsequently adopted by the EU in the Treaty of Amsterdam. Our pragmatic and realistic approach has led us to focus on capabilities rather than an institutional façade – capabilities enabling us to take decisions and act.
The theoretical controversy over the right of first refusal has no basis in reality. Reality is what happened in the Balkans where consultation and co-operation between the European Union and the United States have been exemplary throughout these past few years.
In the event of a crisis, each organisation will consider the situation and appropriateness of a military response. There is no question of there being any sort of competition between the EU and NATO, or of either organisation having a pre-emptive right of decision.
In the real world, there are not two separate entities, cut off from each other: each is made up of member states that work and act together every day. It is through consultation and on a basis of trust between the EU and NATO that we shall determined the best way of shouldering our responsibilities.
A decision-making capability have to be coupled with an ability to act. The importance we attach to capabilities testifies to the pragmatism and seriousness of our initiative. The Europeans have demonstrated their determination to translate political objectives into very concrete military commitments. Without creating an unnecessary cumbersome structure, we drew us, in a few months, a catalogue of forces whose validity has been recognised by the NATO experts who took part in the work. Our approach was realistic; we did not ignore any shortfalls which emerged. We have already made commitments to make good these shortfalls ourselves, instead of burdening others, in other words the United States, with the task of doing so.
In the long term, we shall be judged on the level of our military capabilities. In this field as in the others, the European Union’s interests obviously coincide with those of the Atlantic Alliance, since we are talking, essentially, about the same forces, which can be deployed in the EU or Alliance framework. Do we really need to keep on repeating that we are not creating a European army to fight in a European uniform, any more than there is a NATO army, fighting in a NATO uniform?
What we are doing in the EU is fully compatible with what is being done in NATO. Indeed it strengthens NATO, and, in that framework, is something our US allies have been urging us to do for a long time.
Far from being a threat to NATO’s solidity and the transatlantic link, Defence Europe provides a window of opportunity:
- What could undermine the transatlantic link’s vitality would be the inability of the European to commit themselves seriously and responsibly in the event of a crisis;
- What could undermine the Alliance’s cohesion would be a failure of the Europeans genuinely to develop their military capabilities;
- What would not be in the United States’ interest would be for the Europeans to stop playing their role in the international arena, to have no crisis-management capability in the future, and thus for the US to lose her best partner.
The risk for NATO, the transatlantic link and relationship and between the EU and the US does not stem from what Europe is in the process of building. The risk would come from it’s failing to build it.”