European Affairs

U.S. and Europe Agree on Basics, Not Always on Specifics     Print Email

Minister of Defense of France

Europe and the United States share fundamental geopolitical interests and a common destiny. Globalization is reinforcing this solidarity.

That does not mean our interests will always be the same on specific issues - indeed there will often be legitimate differences. It does mean that we must face our common challenges together.

Those challenges are to be found in areas, either in Europe or close to it, that are still potentially unstable. New dangers that concern all NATO members are emerging in the Balkans, in Russia, in the Caucasus, and in the Middle East.

In practice, our analysis of these dangers is very similar. We are in broad agreement on the need to prevent the break-up of regions into micro-states; to staunch the proliferation of arms, particularly through regional approaches; to guarantee the respect of human rights and the introduction of democracy; and, when negotiating solutions for problem areas, to take into account the concerns of all the countries involved so as to arrive at balanced overall settlements.

The lessons from the crisis in the Balkans, notably in Kosovo, showed the degree to which our interests and strategic objectives were interdependent, and could finally converge on questions as diverse as crisis evaluation and the means to guarantee regional stability. We succeeded in coordinating our policies through a process of permanent consultation.

It would thus be a grave exaggeration to raise the specter of a systematic divergence of interests between our two continents - to evoke the danger of a "decoupling," in which the interests of Europe would be regarded as merely regional while those of the United States were global, and to read into that a split between Europeans and Americans at the heart of NATO.

That being so, it is perfectly understandable and legitimate to recognize that we can each have our own specific interests. Such differences do not ipso facto dig a ditch between America and Europe. That is true in the economic and cultural fields, where we can have quite strong differences. It is also conceivable that we could differ on aspects of security without tolling the death knell of an Alliance that is today more lively than ever.

Besides, during the Cold War, we had major differences of view on issues such as the Euromissile crisis and the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. Such differences are characteristic of a community of democratic states in constant interaction with each other.

Thus, Europeans are entitled to interpret strategic and international developments in their own way. They can conduct their own analyses of risks and threats, and reach their own conclusions as to the correct policy responses and techniques of crisis management. They can also develop their own instruments for dealing with crises, as they have been doing over the last 18 months.

In this context, France will use its current presidency of the European Union to push ahead with plans for the proposed European rapid reaction force in a pragmatic fashion. Our first two priorities will be to gather the necessary military assets and to set up permanent decision-making mechanisms so that the EU will be able to act in its own right when crisis management operations are needed.

The EU member states are firmly resolved to meet the objective of assembling a 60,000-strong force, capable of being deployed for at least a year, by 2003. That is why we will be holding a capabilities commitment conference in November. We expect the commitments to be ambitious and credible, and to include an assessment of shortfalls in collective capacities and concrete steps to address them.

It will be important that we can draw on NATO's expertise when we consider it necessary, which is why we are making provisions for NATO experts to attend some of our working groups. The EU and NATO need to place their relations in a permanent framework, based on the autonomy of each organization and on the importance of being able to cooperate on military aspects of crisis management.

Our differences are, by definition, less problematic than they were during the Cold War. I will go further: the Transatlantic partnership feeds on a dialogue that cannot be limited to a single channel. It extends far outside the Alliance framework - and I am aware of all the interest in Washington in the regular meetings between the U.S. administration and European officials, including at summit level.

Europeans undoubtedly attach special importance to the United Nations. In the end, only the UN can legitimize the use of international coercion, through a mandate from the Security Council. The UN can widen and consolidate support for joint actions, as it did, for instance, in bringing Russia into the management of the Kosovo crisis.

Russia remains in our eyes a partner of the highest importance in the prevention and management of crises. We must make sure to include Moscow before, during, and after any such process. All Europeans have a fundamental interest in seeing the emergence of a stable and democratic Russia, and are constantly concerned that Russia not be marginalized. Including the Russians is a wise course of action dictated to Europeans by geography and history, not by considerations of global equilibrium.

Another caveat, perhaps also considered more important on the European side of the Atlantic, is that the use of force must be preceded by the definition of a clear political strategy and be only a last resort when all other political and diplomatic means have been exhausted. The use of force constitutes only one element of policy. During military action, this long-term perspective must be maintained through political control at all levels, keeping the ultimate objective in view.

The same also goes for sanctions policy. Sanctions have undoubtedly borne fruit with regard to Iraq, Serbia, and Libya. However, sanctions must not contribute to the isolation of the target country or the maintenance of the government in power. The civilian population must not bear the brunt of them. An entire generation cannot be sacrificed, at the risk of engendering immense resentment and frustration, leading later to new attempts at destabilization. A more flexible approach, and one more responsive to the course of events, would seem in some ways to be more productive. That need not mean relaxing vigilance in the face of risks and threats.

American plans for a National Missile Defense have led to contrasting reactions on either side of the Atlantic. Europeans have raised questions about whether NMD is an adequate response to the threat and about the consequences of its deployment for world stability and for international efforts to restrain the proliferation of weapons. In any event, we fully recognize that this is an American decision, and we have no reason to doubt that, when the time comes to make it, the United States will take all its ramifications into account.

So, in this post-Cold War period, Europeans have much at stake. The crises in the Balkans put European interests into play more directly than they do American interests. Europeans see serious risks that instability on their own continent will spill over into conflicts, with the ensuing economic, political, and security consequences. Regional stability also has a direct bearing on the process of European integration and the development of the EU's political and security policies.

In this contrasting picture, I do not see much cause for alarm, but simply the need to reinforce the practice of cooperating with and listening to each other.

I would like to offer the following thoughts:

  • The European continent is finally reunified, which means that all our countries share in a common adventure. That makes us all responsible for advancing the cause of liberty, respect for human rights, security, stability, and prosperity. But, let us not confuse different types of problems or suffer from the illusion that we can always achieve unanimity. Let us treat our differences as an asset as we confront globalization and try to rid Europe of zones of instability.
  • The most important fact about Europe for the past half century has been that we are building an economic, political, and social structure that has no precedent over the last 1,000 years. The building of Europe has positive consequences for all Europeans and their neighbors, and elsewhere in the world. All our countries can feel that.
  • The Transatlantic link remains an essential part of the European security equation. Let us hope that our North American allies can work with us effectively as the EU grows in power and as we develop a diversified partnership with a Russia that will remain for a long time in transition toward greater harmony and democracy.

The Atlantic Alliance and the EU are two pivots of European security. Synergy between them is indispensable to the stability of our continent. A stronger Europe means a stronger Alliance. It will also be a partner capable of conducting a richer dialogue with its American friends.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number I, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2000.

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