Center for Strategic Decision Research


Maintaining the Alliance's Cohesion

Admiral (ret.) Jacques Lanxade
Former Chief of Defense of France


After taking an active role in the building of European defenses, I am now an observer, and I must say that I feel very concerned about the future. Since 1998, European leaders have made decisions to provide the European Union with a crisis-management capability. The evolution of this objective has been perfectly natural and part of the gradual creation of a large European organization with all the attributes of international sovereignty.

This gradual transformation, however, has generated an in-depth modification of the Atlantic Alliance, which is now evolving toward a political and strategic Euro-American partnership. I am convinced that, far from weakening NATO, this evolution should in fact contribute to its permanence. The relationship between NATO and the European Union should therefore no longer reflect a certain amount of distrust but complete confidence.

European leaders have set up headquarters and decision-making structures that enable Europe to engage all of its assets-when it becomes necessary-to prevent or resolve a crisis, then to deploy troops on the ground and command them. This was necessary, and we should be glad that it is now possible.

Europeans have also defined which military capabilities are required to cover the full spectrum of the Petersberg missions as well as fixed the characteristics of the intervention force that would do so. An inventory of the existing capabilities and shortfalls was also established. But it seems that the budget resources required to fill the gaps have not been increased. Therefore, we are now at risk of being without the means to reach our objectives. Our political ambition is great, but we are not making the financial effort to give it reality.


As the Euro-Atlantic partnership has evolved, the European defense industry has started to restructure itself. First, productivity had to be improved although post-Cold War budgets decreased. In addition, the defense industry, which was essentially national, has now become European to a very large extent. Along with the political evolution, the merging of defense industries into a few large multinational groups shows the will of the industrials to create truly European companies capable of competing in a balanced way with large American firms. This industry concentration has made an essential contribution to European growth, because there can be no European defense capability without a strong industrial pillar. The size of the new European defense industry meets the needs expressed by politicians. But there will be very serious problems if budget resources remain at their present level.

Europeans are not the only ones who have difficulties with their armaments industry. If the objective in this field is to reach a well-balanced cooperation-a prerequisite for a continuing Euro-American partnership-the new U.S. administration will have to pursue and amplify what the previous administration started. If the new administration does not keep heading in this direction, there will be no cooperation, and the gap between Europe and the United States will grow wider.


I can easily understand and approve the idea of finding a new strategic balance between deterrence, defense, and outside intervention in an international environment characterized by the multiplication of potential troublemakers capable of threatening American and European territories with weapons of mass destruction.

As far as France is concerned, she will maintain her nuclear deterrence forces. However, if France wants her strategy to remain credible, she will need to be capable of identifying the source of a possible threat. She may therefore acquire a satellite alert system. France must also be able to protect forces deployed in an overseas intervention.

The defense of national territory is a problem that cannot be dealt with from a purely national point of view. In reality, it is a European problem. For Europe-leaving aside the problem of its relationship with Russia and China-it seems the situation is as follows:

  • The European assessment of security threats is different from that made by Americans;
  • The technological gap between Europeans and Americans is significant, because European governments have not invested sufficiently in research and development;
  • Finally and mostly, the lack of financial resources forces us to decide if priority should be given to missile defense or the improvement of intervention capabilities.

Missile defense is a very sensitive issue. This is because when the U.S. implements its selected system, if Europe has not followed suit and if the American system does not cover Europe, the European peoples and governments will believe there is a rift between the two sides of the Atlantic. Contrary to what happened during the Euro-missiles crisis, this de-coupling would not be of a strategic nature; that is, it would not result from European doubt about America's determination to protect Europe. I would describe it instead as a political de-coupling, or as a rift in the Euro-American partnership. Knowing that it could be threatened and not have the means to defend itself, the European Union may hesitate to support the U.S. in the case of a major crisis, for example, in Asia.


If you add up insufficient European financial resources, missile defense issues, and difficulties in transatlantic armaments cooperation, you will see we are faced with a problem we should not underestimate. If solutions are not found, the result might well be a strategic de-coupling between America, which is determined to maintain its influence on world affairs and is ever more interested in Asia, and the European Union, which would be obliged to give up its ambitions.

In my view, the future of the Alliance is linked to the existence of a balanced partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic. If such a balance is not reached, there may be a dangerous erosion of the Alliance. This message is aimed not only at Europeans, but at our American friends. As they modify their strategy, they should take European realities into account. I do hope that the ongoing consultations on strategy will be fruitful and contribute to maintaining the cohesion of the Alliance.

My message is clear: Europeans must become conscious of the consequences of their insufficient defense effort, which threatens their long-term security, their ability to be a global actor, and the transatlantic link to which they attach great importance. But our American friends must also bring their political support to the modernization of the military capabilities of the European Union, knowing that this can in no way weaken the Alliance; take into account the risks of working alone in the field of missile defense; and favor a true industrial partnership to go along with the political and strategic partnership.


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