A European inter-parliamentary assembly : a forum that we need

Lately, Mr Robert Walter, chairman of the WEU Assembly, or more precisely ESDA (its new name) published on ESDA a statement named “Parliamentary scrutiny of CFSP and CSDP: the way forward”. More recently, in exclusive release for a blog named “Mon Blog Défense”, Robert Walter detailed his views on the issue.

Mr Walter being a UK Conservative is for sure not a federalist. May be he is even a eurosceptic person. I do not mind. What I read from him is extremely pragmatic, taking into account the European reality, without building castles in the air.

Among his arguments the fundamental one is that Common Foreign and Security Policy, even after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty remains an intergovernmental issue.

Indeed the power of European Union as for Defence issues refers is extremely weak. A good example could be the following one: out of the 27.000 EU employees, about 200 are from the military. Except some badges on shoulders, there are no EU soldiers, and there is no defence budget.

Even more, who is paying for the security of Europe?

Firstly the USA, and among the Europeans, a few countries, while the other ones maintain defence forces only for pacific tasks where the danger is minimized. Therefore the following sentence of Protocol N°10 of Lisbon Treaty remains the best proof of this intergovernmental approach: “the performance of these tasks is to be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States in accordance with the principle of a single set of forces”. When the capabilities are provided by a Member State, which pays for it, the Member State decides. That’s so simple.

Until now, no agreement could be found among the Member State to alleviate this stupid principle of “the costs lie where they fall”. Concretely a country decided to take part to an operation is in front of three disadvantages:

1. It pays, from its own budget, the largest part of its participation to the operation, while the Union, some months later can give him a warning shot for its budgetary deficit.

2. Solidarity will remain mainly verbal, and as soon as the situation on the field worsens, even verbal solidarity will be too much.

3. In case of difficulties on the ground (casualties, collateral damages, etc), the national support to the operation will decrease and could go until the fall of the government.

In such conditions, although I am personally a strong supporter of European Defence, I can only support a strong and efficient scrutiny of national parliaments on European Defence issues.

If the wish of Mr Walter to establish a permanent and light structure to maintain the scrutiny of the national parliaments in replacement of the WEU assembly is to be supported, I fear that it fails: to reach this objective, he would need political support, at least from the country presiding the Union. His hopes were lying on Belgium, which is not in the best situation when looking at the current political crises, to negotiate such a structure with the partners.

By the way, in order to confirm, that EU Defence Policy is far from really existing, you can have a look here


Non proliferation treaty: the German ambiguity

Regarding the building up of a unified European Defence, which scares some Anglo-Saxon people, everything is all right. We are still very far from removing the US nuclear umbrella and lifting the ambiguities.

Today, let us have a look at German policy.

Lately Guido Westerwelle, German Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed his satisfaction for seeing some European joining German stance on the ban of Nuclear Weapons from the European soil. Of course, getting partners in such an essential issue for our security is definitely positive. However, those partners are Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Norway. I would have preferred Germany to discuss a stance with partners of the same level, which are France and the UK in the first row and then Poland, Italy and Spain.

On 26th March 2009, Mrs Angela Merkel expressed herself in favour of the total ban of the weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, at that time she expressed the opinion of a vast majority of Germans who have grown up in the belief that being a nice guy was enough to avoid war. Let us remember the huge demonstrations against the Euromissiles and the intense debate when Joschka Fischer, the then Green minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his support to the NATO Air campaign in Kosovo.

Firstly, France and the UK are among the major European countries and belong to world’s nuclear powers. I really do not think Belgium able to influence France on nuclear weapons. In the second circle, Italy, Poland and Spain are simply the other major European partners, considering that a constant element drives the foreign policy of Poland: security. Whatever can improve the feeling of security is good for Poles, and US nuclear weapons belong to those assets.

I can hardly think that Germany really wants to ban all nuclear weapons from Europe. Indeed, while declaring in this statement from 2009 her commitment for the ban of nuclear weapons, Mrs Merkel reaffirms simultaneously its strong support to the German involvement in the nuclear capability. After some research on the web, I could learn that the Luftwaffe Tornados of Büchel Airbase were equipped to fire the US nuclear weapons. By the way, I could not confirm this information on any official or governmental website. The only and thin piece of information I could get access to are on the Luftwaffe Website and are really elliptic: “keep ready for national defence tasks” (in German language: Verteidigungsfall’). This terminology is used only in cases related to defence to the national territory, in the NATO collective defence framework. Mrs Merkel assesses this nuclear and not so public nuclear role of Germany as a vector of influence of her country in the NATO.

On the other side, France, Germany’s major partner in Europe does not specify that all the WMD should be ban. Of course: this is the main, or the only trump that this country has in its hands when referring to the UN Security Council. Therefore, taking a rather different stance than Germany, France promotes a reduction of the arsenals of the main powers as well as the inclusion of the tactical nuclear weapons in the negotiations. By the way, one should say that French nuclear weapons are not included, in the French concept, within the tactical weapons: they belong to the strategic autonomy (cf French White paper on Defence).

Therefore his German initiative is really to be looked at quietly: in the conclusions of EU council of 29th March 2010, one of the strongest statements is when the EU is “reaffirming the commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons”.

Of course dreams cannot be banned. French and UK nuclear deterrence systems will not be dismantled, and that better, as long as a major partner like Germany will not look frankly at the issue and will not be truly coherent.



We shouldn't disregard the German Army!

I am pretty much used going on French blogs dedicated to defence issues. One of the most known of them is named ‘secret defense’ (self explanatory). The author, JD Merchet is talented and has become a reference in the whole French military.

For different reasons, he does not believe so much in European Defence. Some of them are really excellent, and some of them are irritating (at least for somebody like me who believes in European Defence), as JD Merchet wrote in 2009, when publishing ‘European Defence: the great illusion’. I did not buy it yet.

I fully support him when he writes that when it’s dealing with death of soldiers or combats, Europe cannot endorse this responsibility. It is still and for a long time a matter of national sovereignty.

However the comments in this blog are often very nationalistic ones, disregarding our allies. And they are obviously written by French soldiers. One of the frequent targets is the German army, that some reproach not being able to fight adequately and to remain quietly in the North of Afghanistan.

I could read in ‘die Zeit’ that on 15th April 4 German soldiers had been again killed in Afghanistan, in an ambush. The German Minister of Defence does not hesitate using the word ‘War’ to describe the situation over there. For a country like Germany this word has a really strong meaning, as it recalls the Germans a long time ago that everybody wanted to ban from the German future. Some Germans already intend to deploy heavy artillery, attack helicopters, tanks in Kunduz area. Angela Merkel does not exclude to authorize the Germans to act pre-emptively.

The great strength of the Germans is that they are able, beyond the political parties, and a great sense of responsibility, to discuss sincerely any issue and find a solution. But they do not speak from a withdrawal, and they are even more numerous than the French soldiers in this country.

Therefore, I really think that the best and first step towards European Defence would be to stop holding in contempt our allies and neighbours and in contrary to try learning from them, or to try discussing whether how to make the operation more successful by creating synergy, instead having among the three largest European nations, one in the North, one in the East and the third one in the South.


Finnish F-18 and the volcano cloud

The Icelandic volcano has put such a mess in the European airspace that nobody can ignore it. Having heard on the radio about their F-18s damaged by the particles of the cloud, I paid a visit to the website of the Finnish Defence forces. There I could find a press release dealing with this incident. Unfortunately this press release is not available in English. Therefore I translated it for one or the other who would read this post.

As I haven’t worked on my Finnish for while, there could be some mistakes. With my most sincere regrets.

There are some words that I am not sure of. For instance: “jäähdytysilmakanava”. Directly translated, it would mean: channel for cold air. According to the context I have translated it as the exhaust. A second difficult word was ‘näytteenottosäiliö”. My understanding is that this is a pod designed for gathering particles in the air.

I suppose that Finavia is the Finnish air traffic office.

Text of: “Tuhkahiukkasista konkreettista vaaraa lentoturvallisuudelle Suomen ilmatilassa

The Air Force has investigated on the damages that occurred on Thursday and Friday on the F-18 of the Lapland squadron. The aircraft took off on Thursday morning for an air exercise in the North-Finland airspace. Then the airspace was still fully open.

After they had landed, the aircraft were checked and volcanic slag was found in the air inlets of the engines. Both engines of one of the Hornet were investigated with a fibre optic camera. On the pictures one could observe, that even with a short flight that smoke particles could cause significant damages to the aircraft engines.

Pictures of engines have proved that the particles accumulated in the combustion chamber, where they melted approximately at a temperature of 1000°. Melting ashes accumulate in the cooler engine exhaust and provoke overheating of some parts and weaken some metal. Weakened metal generates for the rotating parts of the engine the danger of cracks. In extreme cases some parts could break and destroy the engine.

The Hornets exposed to the ashes are scrutinized carefully. In any case some engine parts will be replaced and running tests will be conducted at he Patria workshops. Damages parts are to be taken down as far as deemed necessary in thee engines, in which we would observe anomalies because of the smoke particles. This will apply for instance if particles are detected in the exhaust.

Operational flights will be operated as usual.

Despite the particle cloud, an Air Force Hawk training jet, equipped with a pod conceived to take samples, is ready the period the airspace will remain closed. The aircraft will fly anywhere on request of the civilian authorities.

On the basis of the information gathered by the aircraft, we will be able to determine how much smoke particles are in the air. The results will be forwarded to the civilian authorities, which will make out of the results of the gathered knowledge their decision as for the use of the Finnish airspace refers.

The reconnaissance aircraft will fly at a defined altitude and will gather in a filter the particles it will cross. After the landing of the aircraft, the samples are sent to the National Defence Research Centre in Lakiala. To get the results we need about two hours, which are then sent to Finavia. When deemed necessary pilots will report in real time their direct observations. The observation aircraft is operated by people from Kauhava Air Force school.

Despite the smoke cloud the Air Force operates as usual the operational flights, like activities linked to the preservation of the sovereignty of our area.


Missile Defence: a must? we need a sword rather than a shield

Ivo H. Daalder published in ‘Die Zeit’ on 13th March 2010 an article named “Stärker, schlauer, schneller “. Looking at the US report on missile defence, he reveals that the USA assess that the main threat against the USA and Europe is now based in Middle East and more precisely Iran and Syria, at least for the time being.

Indeed he stresses that the risk of invasion of Europe by hordes of bloodthirsty soldiers is rather thin and he proposes therefore that NATO, the USA and Russia work together on this subject, so that Europe is protected from 2018 on.

Beyond the fact that Ivo H. Daalder preaches for the USA, being the US ambassador to NATO, some points are missing in his article, while some other ones remind the Europeans that their current defence systems represent an incredible waste of money.

On the one hand one can only approve Mr Daalder statement when writing that the risk of invasion is really weak. After a period of waiting Russia to stabilize in the late 90’, we did not really optimize our armies against new threats, which would emerge far from our borders. The fact that we still face huge problems with our transport aircraft is the best illustration. Another one could be a look at the efficiency of the defence organizations of the Member States. Their cumulated budgets reach 200 billion Euros for what concrete results? Some thousands of soldiers are risking their lives every day in Afghanistan and unable to operate without a strong American support.

On the other hand, anyone a little bit aware of the armament programs could guess that involving a country, or more complicated a bunch of countries in a project as big and as complicated as missile defence is would mean years and years of negotiations and development, alike what happens with the Joint Strike Fighter. Therefore, the US proposal is simply to pay for being protected, without having the possibility to voice on the necessary defence of the industry jobs in our countries.

Furthermore, as missile defence is supposed to constitute the shield against those states, where the sword. At least since the Middle Ages, French now perfectly that a good system consists in the balance between the sword and the shield, or at least, when you are willing to fight light, a good sword alone can make it. Indeed, missile defence is a shield without a sword will be more or less efficient during a while and then? Without a sword, the enemy will finally bypass the sword and kill you anyway. Currently the USA offer us to share their shield, while they would retain the sword.

Frankly, getting some inspiration from the samurais, I would be in favour of

1. a good sword, which would mean a restructuration of European defence forces,

2. then, if there is some money left, a shield, that I would use myself, for my protection, not leaving it in the hands of my suzerain.


Poland in European Defence

The tragedy that occurred while the Polish Presidential flight was near to land haseen the death of the President as well as the main Polish military leaders and family members of those who had been assassinated in Katyn.

As for European Defence refers, in the recent years Poland has irritated France, while buying the F-16, supporting the USA in Iraq, then Germany about the issue of the borders and Russia when reinforcing its links with the NATO and the USA.

Again very active in the field of Defence, Poland has decided to seat at the rank it deserves in Europe. Being one of the largest European nations, Poland doesn't want to stay at the outskirts of the EU, including in the field of Defence. In order to fully play the role that Poland has assessed to be the one it ought to play, this country is investing in Eurocorps, final aim being to become a full member (or framework nation) with the same rights and duties than France, Spain, Germany, Belgium or Luxembourg.  Click (here) for the Eurocorps source and (here) for the press.

This large movement of integration of European armies should not been neglected: being obviously a top-down approach, imposed by the political power, this movement will not be seen positively by our respective defence forces which struggle strongly against the cuts in their budgets. However, it will come up sooner or later, as our nations are fighting to save the single Euro. Defence is a perfect gold mine. 

I will try to write a post on EU defence expenditure in the near future.


Eurocorps: avant-garde of a European army?

After a post on Mr Westerwelle’s statement on a European Army, I think interesting to have a quick look on Eurocorps.
I will not come back to the history of this headquarters and the debate over its military capabilities. The focus will be put on its political relevance.
A major issue of European Defence is its ability to remain as neutral as possible in the midst of the various and sometimes opposing national interests of European countries, that we face, even in the official statements on a common decision (you can refer to my precedent post on the WEU –ESDA). To come back to neutrality, I do not mean neutrality during an operation, or in other words passivity in front of the opposing parties. This neutrality is a positive one, which can be understood as objectivity of the action as for the national goals of the participating parties refers.
Indeed, most of the current so to say multinational units are in fact national units with an international flavour. All of them are designed to keep the capability to set up a purely national headquarters and to lead an operation, even if one or the other participating nation withdraws for an operation. For instance, at the ARRC (Allied Rapid Reaction Corps) the commander and the chief of staff will always remain British officers five of the eight branch chiefs are Brits, a sixth one being an American officer. In contrary, in Eurocorps, the responsibilities as well as the burden, is fully shared between France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg (in the order of the contribution) and very soon Poland.
In contrary, Eurocorps owns a unique structure in which the different nations are completely interwoven. You can see on Eurocorps website (here). This confidence mechanism prevents any single nation to confiscate the use of the force for its own purpose. One could say that such a system hinders dramatically the efficiency of a force a makes it unusable in real war. May be. However, I do not think if we really can choice. None of the European Nations is currently able to take the lead on behalf of the others. The example of the Napoleonic wars, where France owned the exclusive leadership within the ‘Grande Armée’, or the example of WWII, when the Wehrmacht was leading alone the units provided by their allies in the campaign against the Soviet Union is definitely over.
The cuts in Defence expenditures of our countries are a good illustration that the ‘Splendid isolation’ or the ‘Great nation’ syndromes should belong to the past. At least, this is the opinion of the European Parliament that our Nations (with the significant exception of Great Britain) claim to reinforce, by disbanding the WEU assembly. Mr Kuhne, then Member of the European Parliament (Germany- SPD), proposed in a resolution on ESDP, “to place Eurocorps as a standing force under EU command and invites all Member States to Contribute to it”.
This proposition was passed with a very large majority of 500 votes on 5th June (here). This peculiar point on Eurocorps was not a matter of discussion. When referring to Mr Kuhne on the German position on this matter of a European army, at that time, Mr von Wogau (Germany- CDU) was the chairman of the subcommittee for Defence and Security.
Already at that time, German views on a potential European Army where not so much different than today.
Therefore I would say, may it please or not, at least in the minds of our German allies, there will be a European Army, and Eurocorps will play a role.

PS: 13-02-24 : Link to a more recent article explaining why Eurocorps will not be committed in Mali

PS: this is the cover page of a book written by Mr Couraud, editor: Editions Hirlé.


Western European Union coming to its end. Was it really opportune?

On 31st March O. Kempf, wrote on his blog (here), that the WEU was coming to its end.
Of course, the author expressed his strong regrets and in his analysis assessed that this decision was not totally opportune.

I fully support his assessment, firstly because he is very competent in all geopolitical issues, secondly because the press statements of WEU member nations do not match.

As a first approach I do not see this as a major decision of our governments: most of the WEU had been already since a while handed over to the EU Council, as the Secretary General of the EU was double hatted SecGen of the WEU. Torrejon is the best example of this transfer of authority. The only remains of the WEU was the parliamentary assembly, renamed lately ESDA.

1. Statement of the French Government (here)
France and its partners have decided to withdraw from the WEU as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty and the progress of the European construction, as the EU has taken over all the functions of WEU.

2. Statement of the German Government (here)
The German federal cabinet has decided to withdraw from the WEU. Continuing with the WEU would create duplication with the EU structures. Dissolving the WEU means that the place to discuss about European security is the EU.

3. Statement of the Spanish Government (here)
Firstly Spain speaks on behalf of all the contracting parties.
NATO and the Lisbon Treaty are the basis for collective defence. Spain will make sure that the discussions between the national Parliaments will go on, based on the protocol n°1 of the Lisbon Treaty.
I suppose that the Spanish Government refers to the article 9 (page 203 of the Lisbon Treaty).

4. Statement of the British Government (here)
The WEU role was essentially symbolic referring to collective defence. The current work of the parliamentary assembly is not the cost of 2 millions Euros a year for UK alone worth. And the most important: “Given the inter-governmental nature of CSDP, we believe, however, that this remains fundamentally a matter for national parliaments. There is no reason and no case for the European Parliament to expand its competence in this area”.

An easy conclusion is that Germany has a very federalist approach, while the UK relies on the inter-governmental relations, agreeing with Spain, only on the role of the NATO, while France and Germany simply ignore it.

Obviously the role of forum that the Parliamentary Assembly of the WEU was playing was not that stupid, as it could help our nations getting a common approach on defence matters. Indeed, for the time being, the European Parliament, in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty plays no role in the issue as Defence and its budgets (of course) remain purely in the national field of competence.

Therefore, I join O. Kempf: we know what we loose, not what we gain. Having met Robert Walter several times, I really think that he will strive maintaining an inter-governmental parliamentary structure. Isn’t he a UK –conservative member of the House of Commons? In any case, the UK will never (at least in the next decade) support the German federalist approach.

EADS versus Boeing

One could think that the recent events regarding the bidding process for the famous MRTT supposed to be purchased by the US-Air Force was a new proof of the war between Boeing and EADS. French President, Nicolas Sarkozy made even a statement about this.

Of course there is no problem between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed Boeing and EADS are the best friends in the world, and I have a proof.

A few days ago I got the opportunity to meet some people of Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS, and they offered me a gift. This splendid ‘Dauphin’ in die-cast, produced by Eurocopter and bought by the US Coast Guards.

Looking more carefully at the box, I could that this toy was made in China, and that it was a ‘Boeing Officially Licensed Product’.

I really think that EADS public relations service should be either strongly reinforced or at least be more coherent in its policy.