Center for Strategic Decision Research


Defense Cooperation after the Iraq War: All Quiet in the West?

Ingénieur Général de l'Armement Robert Ranquet
Deputy Director of Strategic Affairs, French Ministry of Defense


My speech is going to focus on only one question: Did the war in Iraq have any impact on defense cooperation? As I thought about this question, I took a candid look at one of the major actors in defense cooperation: The EU. I was struck by the spectacular progress it has made in this field while the Iraq war was unfolding. Indeed, beyond a temporary freshening of relations between the U.S. and some non-coalition European nations, the period since the Iraq war has seen very impressive forward motion in the European defense area. 

For example, we have seen significant achievements on the ground with the first EU military operation, the ARTEMIS operation in the Congo. We have also seen significant progress in the conceptual field by having the European security strategy spelled out for the Union by Javier Solana. We have seen progress in the area of capabilities with the rather successful implementation of the Helsinki objectives through the European capability process (ECAP). We are close to setting a new, ambitious, longer-term objective with the 2010 Headline Goal. And we have seen concrete efforts to give the EU more credible military capabilities better adapted to current requirements for deployability and agility with the Battle Groups 1500 concept.

A very significant step taken by the EU to improve its operation is the creation of the European Defense Agency, an organization through which Europeans can strengthen their capabilities. This agency, which will be a major part of the Union’s institutional framework, will be capabilities driven and have a critical role in the implementation of the 2010 Headline Goal. Under the direct political leadership of the ministers of defense, the agency will operate in several fields, including: 

  • Capabilities requirements 
  • The strengthening and widening of armaments cooperation 
  • Making the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base more robust and competitive
  • Defense research and dual-use research under the supervision of the European Commission.   

All of the progress we have made adds up to a pretty good record of achievement for the EU. While much has resulted from the boost to ESDP momentum provided by the U.K. and France at the St. Malo Summit, the EU is gaining strong internal momentum as it expands its membership and develops its fields of competency. 

Certainly the shock of September 11 and the subsequent operations in Afghanistan and Iraq were key elements in making leaders around the world, particularly European leaders, more conscious of the necessity to increase their commitment to global security challenges. In addition, having the U.K. in the uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the U.S. coalition with the so-called Old Europe helped to make the ESDP development more acceptable to the still-reluctant United States.


I think it is fair to say that we have seen less momentum in the capabilities area. Of course, NATO has been struggling to take part in many serious and significant engagements on the ground, essentially in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and has been building the NATO Response Force and promoting transformation through the ACT. But the general impression that NATO is still short of the capabilities it needs to fulfill extended political ambitions is correct: Statements made by former secretary general Lord Robertson during the last months of his tenure were crystal clear on that point. His successor, Mr. De Hoop Scheffer, is now pushing hard to revitalize the NATO capabilities-enhancement process, which we will evaluate at the Istanbul Summit. 


When considering the progress made by NATO and the EU, we must remember that EU progress will benefit NATO, and that any progress made by Europeans in either organization will ultimately benefit both. We can already see this in the capabilities field, for example, in the A400 M program, which will be the major contributor to future NATO strategic airlift capability. We can also see it in the forces field, for example, in the EUROCORPS being among the first units to be made available to the NRF and picked to provide HQ capabilities for the ISAF in Afghanistan.

Despite the unfortunate effects of the Iraq war, one positive effect is that it is compelling nations to concretely measure their commitment to improving their individual and collective defense capabilities.



















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