France and NATO - a renewed harmony ?
At the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest from April 2 - 4, 2008 the quest for a new comprehensive NATO "Grand Strategty" will be one of the most sensitive issues.
French Admiral (ret) Jacques Lanxade is one of the five former top-ranking military leaders who presented the study “Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain world –Renewing the Transatlantic Partnership” (published by WSN on January 16, 2008) – enabled by the Dutch Noaber foundation – on a new comprehensive and coherent “Grand Strategy” for NATO and so-called interlocking institutions like the UN and the EU.
The five authors of the study are: Field Marshal (ret) The Lord Inge, former Chief of the Defense Staff of the United Kingdom, Admiral (ret) Jacques Lanxade, former Chief of the Defense Staff of France and former Ambassador, Dr. Klaus Naumann, former Chief of the Defense Staff of Germany and former Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, and General (ret) Henk van den Bremen, former Chief of Defense Staff of The Netherlands.
All five gained a lot of politico-military experience in top national and NATO appointments reaching far beyond a purely military expertise. This broad-based knowledge is the prerequisite for developing a Grand Strategy that reflects all relevant political factors of soft and hard power.
Admiral (ret) Jacques Lanxade is in a unique position. France is a member of the political integration of NATO, but not a member of NATO’s military integration, since France left this military integration in 1966 following a decision by the then French President Charles de Gaulle. This withdrawal threw NATO into one of the most serious crises.
Since then there were repeated signals of a possible reintegration but it never happened. Under the presidency of Nicholas Sarkozy there are signs that France might return to NATO military integration.
After the publication of the study, I had the chance to ask Admiral (ret) Jacques Lanxade some questions to gain more background information about the study and France’s future cooperation with NATO or military reintegration in NATO.
France’s military forces are strongly involved in NATO – led operations in Afghanistan.
Dieter Farwick: Why do NATO and the 26 NATO member states need a new or modified comprehensive Grand Strategy?
Jacques Lanxade: As we explain in our document, NATO needs a new comprehensive grand strategy because it has to deal with a new world, very different from the one that existed during the Cold War. Experiences gained in Iraq and Afghanistan show that our present way of managing crisis is inefficient and needs improvement.
Dieter Farwick: What are in your view the essentials of this coherent Grand Strategy?
Jacques Lanxade: The grand strategy we propose has to be comprehensive, that is to say it should not only be based on the use of armed forces. It must also encompass the full spectrum of any crisis, from prevention to stabilization.
Dieter Farwick: Why does the study stress the significance of an improved cooperation between NATO, the UN and the EU?
Jacques Lanxade: We conclude that at present, no organization is able to deal with the complexity of the crises we will meet. As an example, NATO needs the support of the EU in matters of non-military capabilities and, on the contrary, the EU has insufficient armed forces to manage a serious crisis. It is also clear that the UN lacks political management. So the three organizations have to combine their efforts in order to be more efficient.
Dieter Farwick: How can the governments of NATO member states – especially the Europeans – be motivated to improve their awareness of the current and future challenges and improve their political resolve to implement your recommendations?
Jacques Lanxade: I hope that after the ratification of the new European treaty the EU will be in a better position to assume worldwide responsibilities. With a permanent president, a foreign policy high representative and vice-president of the Commission, the EU should be better prepared to make necessary decisions. When this does happen, it would be very useful if the US acknowledges the existence of the EU as a political body; this could motivate Europe to commit itself to be more involved in the management of international order, in close cooperation with NATO and the US.
Dieter Farwick: Short of a reintegration into the military integration of NATO, there are a lot of military activities involving French forces with NATO member states and with the NATO alliance. What are France’s vital national interests with regard to the option of reintegration?
Jacques Lanxade: Since the election of a new president, France is prepared to change the quality of its relationship with NATO. This does not mean that the reintegration within the various bodies is at stake. What we say is that we are ready to participate in a renewal of the Alliance if this should be decided. Our priority is to take part in the decision making process.
Dieter Farwick: French soldiers are highly respected as being real professional soldiers. Do you see a disadvantage of this professionalism because French soldiers have no experience in working in NATO’s military structure? What could be done to mitigate that deficit?
Jacques Lanxade: It is not true that French soldiers have no experience in working with NATO’s military structure. During the Cold War, we took part in NATO exercises and since the fall of the Berlin Wall our cooperation at the operational level has been considerably increased. We were involved, under NATO command, in Bosnia and Kosovo and we are fully integrated in Afghanistan. So our staff and our units have no problem with participating in NATO operations.
Dieter Farwick: The war in Afghanistan is the litmus test for NATO. There is no excuse for failure. The Taliban cannot win militarily. Could NATO win militarily and build the basis for nation and state building as well as for the reconstitution of the infrastructure – under the guidance of the UN and the EU?
Jacques Lanxade: If the Western community should be unsuccessful in Afghanistan, the credibility of the West, and especially of NATO, could be seriously damaged and in this case our countries’ security could be threatened. We have two main problems in Afghanistan. The first one is the lack of a comprehensive strategy due to the absence of a good management organization and to the insufficient coordination between the UN, NATO and the EU. Then, from a military viewpoint, the commitment of the European countries is not sufficient. We have to solve these two problems if we want to have a chance to solve this crisis and to restore our credibility.
Dieter Farwick: What advantages would a French reintegration in NATO’s military arm have for this alliance and for France? Could you envision a permanent stationing of NATO troops or NATO Headquarters in France?
Jacques Lanxade: I repeat that our reintegration in NATO’s military arm is not our priority. The present situation is convenient and permits the full involvement of the French forces in NATO’s operations. We are a member of the Military Committee and we have the staff needed to play our role. From another point of view, I am personally doubtful about the efficiency of the regional command organization which is a remnant of the Cold War and has not been adapted to deal with the new missions of NATO throughout the world. SACEUR is essential but the other commands are less useful. So, there is no need for a new installation of NATO’s headquarters in France.
Dieter Farwick: Is the French public prepared for a reintegration of France in NATO? What has to be done to convince the French people?
Jacques Lanxade: The French people, generally speaking, are in favor of a renewed relationship with the US and NATO. They should agree to any changes that could result in the renewal of the Alliance and that fully recognize the existence of the EU as a political body. This last point is essential.
Dieter Farwick: What could and should be done to harmonize NATO and EU military efforts and also increase synergetic effects?
Jacques Lanxade: In our document, we presented many proposals to harmonize NATO and EU actions. But, the problem is not only to increase cooperation between the Europeans and the Alliance. We need to have the three – NATO, the EU and the US - working closely together. This is why we propose to create a directorate where these three entities could organize their cooperation in order to have the Western community better prepared to face the risks of the new world.
Dieter Farwick: What structure should the UN and the EU have for example in Afghanistan to become an efficient partner for a well-trained and well-equipped military headquarters?
Jacques Lanxade: In Afghanistan we need a strong UN representative, chosen in agreement with NATO, the EU and the US, who could carry out a comprehensive strategy including military and non-military operations. This is a necessary condition in order to have a chance at being successful.