Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)

A Franco-German-British treaty. The brilliant idea … useless

Bridgeheads in Gemersheim on April 1, 1945 (credit: ECPAD)
Bridgeheads in Gemersheim on April 1, 1945 (credit: ECPAD)

(B2) When it comes to European defense, everyone has their own idea to revive it, revitalize it… or dynamite it. There is therefore no shortage of good ideas. They are often defended by brilliant intellectuals. It gets people talking, keeps conversations busy. But, often, their implementation turns out to be just as impractical as the theoretical construction seems attractive.

This is the case with the proposal made by J.-D. Giuliani, of the Robert Schuman Foundation (1), which we have known to be more inspired. He proposes neither more nor less to sign a new treaty between France, Germany and the United Kingdom to reestablish a defense community between the three major countries of the continent, with “three innovations” according to him: “ 1) Strengthen the effective solidarity of the three leading European powers which, having to set an example, remain open to other European states joining them to provide mutual assistance in the event of their armed forces being involved, 2) S concretely commit to increasing their defense efforts to avoid any instability resulting from their disarmament, 3) Overcoming NATO-EU opposition by recognizing the freedom of each to organize as they wish on a bilateral level or within the framework of the European Union. »

In terms of innovations, this text has only one advantage: its simplicity. Eight articles in all. It's easy to read and understand. It’s even a little short for a Treatise of this importance…. In fact, it looks more like a political declaration than a real treaty. To be short, the content is no less distressing and not worthy of a think-tank reflection (2).

Surprisingly, he cites NATO as the key (and unique) work of European defence.

The defense of Europe is organized within the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty

To hell with the United Nations Charter and the UN, which normally remain the keystone of European construction in terms of crisis management. Maintaining peace is not even a declared objective of this new treaty. It's also dangerous. Because, today, the defense of borders is carried out at two levels: military (NATO in fact) and security (police, customs, borders) at the European level.

Article 2 establishes a new obligation of assistance in the event of commitment by the other country. If read as a 'real' obligation, this would mean that when the United Kingdom went to war in the Falklands, it could have demanded their support from its two allies. Idem for France and the United Kingdom for the operation in Libya in 2011. etc. Knowing the rules in Germany in the Bundestag for operations abroad, one has the answer to the applicability of this clause. Even in the House of Commons, it is difficult to see how the British could feel committed by an operation "Epervier" in Chad or a French one in the Central African Republic. It's not that it's undesirable, it's impractical, or even, again, dangerous.

Article 3 reiterates the commitments of 2% for defense spending and 20% for equipment. Nothing new there. These indices already exist at NATO and EU level, within the European Defense Agency. They are also reached for the United Kingdom, but not by France and Germany (for the first figure). Including an expenditure figure in a treaty is much more significant than introducing a political decision. This is rather reckless and tricky to say the least. The inscription in stone of the 3% deficit for the Euro today requires us to find some ingenious resources to get around the difficulty. Incidentally, the author forgets to mention the spending objective on Research which is – in my opinion – just as essential as reaching 2% of GDP for defense. So here we have a useless and superfluous article.

Let's move on to article 4 which explains that we can sign all the bilateral agreements we want. Well yes… it’s the international standard.

Articles 5 and 6 are devoted to providing for a minimum frequency of meetings between ministers and staffs. Useful certainly. But this is to forget a dominant one: defense is a notion attached to a strong predisposition of the executive (President or Prime Minister). The Minister of Defense, particularly in Germany, does not have the importance he has in France (when he does... It's not Le Drian or Alliot-Marie who wants).

Articles 7 and 8 are devoted to sanctions (exclusion – nothing less than that) if we do not achieve the financial objectives as well as setting up a timetable to get there.

And that's it... A bit short as a treatise... and as a reflection. It's a shame. Because having a Franco-German-British treaty was beforehand a very attractive and undoubtedly useful idea. But this paper has a big flaw: it does not contain any real proposal either to solve current problems, or to find funding to respond to defense shortcomings, or to boost the ability to respond quickly, or to bring politicians closer together, or to put some abilities in common. Clearly, this proposal is "brilliant" but useless, imprecise and inapplicable.

Defense Europe needs concrete, structuring projects

To regularly monitor European defense issues, in all its aspects (NATO, EU, multi- or bilateral), European defense above all needs fairly concrete, structuring, sustainable projects, which make it possible to resolve the squaring of the circle: do better with less money (spending at 2% of GDP will not be more effective); do more together while maintaining full sovereignty over the commitment of troops. What Europe needs are 'good' projects like the EATC, the C-130J aircraft pool (the recent Franco-German project), to share (a little) nuclear research, the financing of defense research, etc.

What Europe of Defense needs above all is to stop setting great ambitions which will never be implemented - as in the 2000s to have the capacity to project 60.000 men into operations (objective never reached) — or to put in place superb instruments (NRF, Battlegroup, Eurocorps, Euromarfor, etc.), whose authors seek every day to demonstrate a usefulness that is not immediately obvious.

It will therefore take a while for the “intellectuals” to get their hands dirty, start from the concrete, from the current blockages, and try to see how these could be unblocked, circumvented or overcome, with practical solutions. There is material there for several papers, several treatises. But you have to have the courage to think backwards and try to project yourself into a complex dynamic made up of refusals and unsaid things (3). We must be able to demonstrate that Europe is concrete, possible, and rewarding for everyone. This is not obvious. But a much more stimulating challenge than repeating the Battle of the Marne... or trying to revive the myth of the CED (the European Defense Community).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) To download here.

(2) Even more so when it is financed, in large part *, by the community budget.

(3) A good Think-Tank (in my opinion) is one who thinks against preconceived ideas who, like a “tank” (at its own center), travels the lines, the hills and the valleys to attack where it is the most useful and allows you to turn the game around, to find new solutions, not the one who travels the plains to the bucolic rhythm of autumn.

Addendum : in a telephone interview with B2, J.-D. Giuliani expressed that he did not like, but did not like at all the article, its general tone and the footnotes (especially). In a few minutes, all the arguments were there: "you despise intellectuals" (Nb: not really what I said), "I don't understand how you can judge such a proposal for which I have not received congratulations from this proposal (Nb: flatterers no doubt); “you don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on” (like “my dear, but you’re really not aware of what’s going on up there while I am well aware”) to end with “this is not 'is not journalistic work' (NB: it's an editorial) and 'you're not much anyway' (and bam).

In passing, and above all, he also wanted to put into perspective the money received from European institutions, starting by denying it and then believing that it was not much. In order to refresh some failing memories, the Robert Schuman Foundation - according to the European Commission sources consulted - touched 280.000 euros in 2015 (Idem in 2014, a very clear increase compared to the previous year: around 80.000 euros). If this director considers that it is not “much”, I suggest that he redistribute it or give it back to the European budget… Others besides him will surely be able to make good use of it.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).