Center for Strategic Decision Research



Defining Our Identity

Ingénieur Général Robert Ranquet
Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs,
French Ministry of Defense

In an attempt to keep my wrap-up remarks short—as they always should be—I am going to concentrate on the two questions that crossed my mind as I was going through the notes I took during the three days of the workshop.


First, I would like to refer to Minister Jung’s opening speech in which he told us how we—individual nations, NATO, the EU, the U.N.—face common threats and share a common responsibility to act, making it less and less relevant to ask which organization should do what. He also told us that we had to look for some sort of global response, more or less regardless of the specific organization we are talking about. With that in mind, it seems to me that we should be cautious about the assumption that the globalization of threats blurs the picture of how different organizations should react. Of course, we share the same global context and to some degree the same challenges, but we need to recognize that, depending on one’s specific situation on the globe, things may look very different from one perspective to the other. For example, an inhabitant of the east coast of the U.S. does not have the same perspective as one on the west coast or one in western Europe or the Balkans or Russia or China (see the speech by Minister Meimarakis). So, we have different perspectives on identical global challenges depending on geography.

We also have different perspectives depending on our specific interests. For instance, a lot has been said during the workshop about the energy issue, but this issue does not mean the same thing for different organizations. Obviously, individual nations and organizations may have problems with energy—the U.S. may have problems with energy and the EU, an economic power by itself, may have problems with energy. But NATO? What do we mean when we say that NATO should be involved with the energy issue? NATO, as a military alliance, does not have energy problems, or at least not in the same way that the U.S. or the EU does. So any involvement by NATO in this issue would probably be of a totally different nature than that of the U.S. or the EU.

Another issue on which different entities have different perspectives is one of the new global threats that is often referred to: migration. Because the U.S. has a territory and borders it may have migration problems. So may Russia and the EU (the so-called Schengen area). But, again, what do we mean when we talk about NATO confronting this type of problem? NATO has no territory, no borders, so what does it have to do with migrations?

Still another example is public support and public opinion (see the speech by Ambassador Juneau). Again, there is U.S. public opinion and more and more there is EU public opinion. But there are no NATO nationals, no NATO citizenship, so to what do we refer when we speak of NATO public opinion?

All of this is to say that we should be careful about saying that globalization of the challenges we face is driving us to some sort of global, undifferentiated response. We must keep in mind that the nature of the various actors is different, their interests are different, and thus their courses of actions are different. Of course, this is not to say that different actors should act as rivals or compete; it is just to say that they are different, and thus we should expect them to act according to their own nature and interests.


This drives me to my second and last point. Obviously our organizations have a problem with identity. This was very clearly stated by two military commanders during the workshop: Lieutenant General Perruche concerning the EU and General Jones concerning NATO. The EU has, among other problems, the problem of its aborted Constitution and its membership. NATO also has a membership problem as well as an outreach problem: Where does it stop–Afghanistan, Japan, New Zealand? And do its missions include energy, migration, the avian flu? In short, the question is, What do we want? What do we want to achieve and who do we want to be?

This question has been a large part of our discussions during this workshop.For instance, when we talked about Afghanistan (see the presentation by General Back), we asked what we wanted the final stage to be there, what we want to achieve. Do we want to wait to see the last poppy crop eradicated? Do we want to wait to see this country reach western standards on governance, economic prosperity, and democracy? Or do we have in mind a calendar-driven exit strategy: three more months, three more years, or three more decades? I have heard much about what we collectively agree we want to prevent in Afghanistan but very little about what we want to happen.

The same goes for Iran (see the exciting discussion between Ambassador Akram and General Zhan). It is relatively easy to see what we do not want Iran to do. But what is it that we do want Iran to do? What is the role we want for that country? What sort of security framework do we want to see in the region? We seem to have tremendous difficulty coming to some sort of common understanding on these issues. And, as was clear from our discussions, we cannot design a strategy from “do not want” approaches.

Clearly, many of the issues that were raised during this extraordinarily exciting workshop will have no answers until we can answer the basic question “Who are we and what do we want?”


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