Europe must rethink its defence (L. Gautier)

(B2) Europeans must demonstrate a strong political will to face their changing geostrategic environment, according to Louis Gautier, ex general-secretary for defence and national security (SGDSN). That is what he explained during the ‘entretiens de la défense européenne’ in Paris on May 16th

Louis Gautier at the ‘entretiens de la défense européenne’ with S. Rodrigues, one of the organisers (credit : Sorbonne/IREDIES)

An in-depth political reflection is needed

A deleterious international environment, a fragilised Europe

The international and strategic environment is « deleterious. » Conflicts that seemed to be a thing from the past are coming back and getting closer to the borders of Europe. New dangers (cyber, space…) are appearing. The geopolitical landscape that Louis Gautier describes is not engaging. Especially since the European Union is « weakened », undermined by its divisions. The situation has « further deteriorated in recent months » : Italy, founding member of the Union, joins the Eurosceptic side, the United Kingdom persists in its disastrous Brexit. The « most worrying » events seem to threaten the European security architecture : the dismantling of the agreements reached at the end of the Cold War, the waning of the American support, or what is felt as such, and the Russian provocations.

We need to be lucid !

Confronted with these challenges, Louis Gautier calls for lucidity : « Europeans are unable to collectively face a major crisis on their soil or a conflict in their neighborhood. » We need to rethink our way of acting strategically. « Europe, it’s according to the world that we have to do it. And European defence must respond to these security challenges. » Europe and its defense, as they had been initially imagined, must be « re-examined. » And to consider European defence only through « the prism of capabilities » is a mistake. We must start by « drawing a strategic landscape, identifying issues, defining our collective interests. »

A possible revival ?

Alright, the revival of the European defence project is well under way, with a « multiplication of projects » between 2016 and 2018. This is « very positive. » With the European Defence Fund (FEDef), « for the first time, there will be European money on the table for defence and this will change the situation. » But these projects are only relevant if we have governance bodies, a definition of priorities. It is now a matter of ensuring we don’t lose this momentum. We have « experienced similar upsurges » with the Maastricht Treaty, the Saint-Malo summit, the comeback of France within NATO or the Lisbon Treaty. And the momentum has always run out of steam. The objectives are « each time revised downwards, never implemented, left pending in the statements. » The European Union remains « handicapped by European divisions, a lack of will, capacity deficits. » Reluctance, habits and conservatism outweigh dynamism.

A political will for a collective intervention is key

Political will is therefore a major condition for achieving sustainable progress. Today, the Union remains weak in defending its interests, whether they are industrial, economic or security-related, insists the specialist on strategic issues. In the event of an attack, the States will respond with national means, unequal means according to the capacities of each one. Even though « the gaps in some will create vulnerabilities in others. » It is the Union’s lack of strategic vision that paralyzes efforts to build something effective.

The end of the eternal EU-NATO debate

We must stop focusing on the eternal EU-NATO debate because today, it is a question that concerns « the States, their collective response, and the fact that the European Union can facilitate their coordination. » Without the collective intervention of the Europeans, « we cannot get the solutions to the end of the crisis. » Even though some of these solutions are within the reach of the Member States. This was demonstrated during the conflict in Kosovo : regular European councils « punctuated the operations with decisions that kept the Europeans together. »

Necessity to clarify

Europeans have « never been collectively able to define what their collective contribution to their collective defense should be. » Whatever the setting.

Identify the objectives of the European defence

The very concept of the ‘Europe of defense’ – an expression that means nothing, ‘very French’, untranslatable for our partners – « mixes everything together : intergovernmental cooperation, community projects, the pillar in NATO… »Without sufficiently specifying the aspects to work on. Clarifying the features of this European defense is necessary. We must « identify the objectives, because too much ambition frightens. »

An indispensable clarification between NATO and the EU

It also implies an « indispensable clarification » between NATO and the EU. « Until proven otherwise », the European collective defense « takes place in NATO. » But the Union must verify that it is able to manage attacks that are not the responsibility of NATO. « The answers, they are European. » We cannot rely on a distribution of roles in which NATO deals with military issues while Europe « only takes care of the capacity aspect. » Because, firstly, « it is wrong » according to Louis Gautier. And because capacity development comes, first and foremost, « at the service of a military and industrial policy. »

Five priorities for the future

First, the « strategic affirmation » of Europeans. Europeans who must understand that they have common issues to defend and that no one will defend them for them. But also the « protection » of borders, the « reaction to crises », the « capacities » and the « strengthening of the BITD [Defence Industrial and Technological Base]. » To do this, we must « consolidate the technological autonomy » of Europe, anticipate more and better, and improve the coherence and cohesion of defence structures. While the European military budget is « 230 billion euros », larger than that of China, duplications have a price : a « lack of credibility. » And « if Europeans do not rectify these issues, they are the big losers of the 21st century. »

(Coline Traverson st.)

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