France back to the NATO structure: the cultural shock.

When French President Sarkozy decided to have France back within the NATO structure, many, at least in France, spoke about the French renouncement to its cherished independence and declared that France had sold its sold to the USA. The purpose of this post will not be to look again to this recent past, but to write down some comments on a very interesting article, titled “France in the NATO. The French Military Culture and the Strategic Identity in Question” and written by Anne-Henry de Russé.

Sorry, but it is written in French language. Nevertheless, I hope that this post will give you a good insight of this paper.

In the very first pages, the author already states that, being apart from the military structure more than 40 years long, the French military has developed a peculiar culture, characterized by a form of independent way of thinking and operating, which could be put at stake.

From his point of view, combined operations make converge the different national culture, much more the membership in an alliance. To support his statement, Mr de Russé refers to the expeditionary culture of France versus the Clausewitz influence in the US culture. French officer, he seems to strongly favour the French military culture, in which autonomy and polyvalence of the soldier are cultivated at the highest level.

The author stresses as well the danger of a strong NATO culture, which could encourage a decrease in the defence budgets.

A little bit further he thinks that the presence of a French general at the head of Supreme Allied Command Transformation would help for broadcasting the French concepts. Vice versa, the French people would acquire in NATO a planning culture as a complement to their conduct of operations natural inclination.

P. 28, Mr de Russé promotes what he defines as the French indirect approach against the direct approach, main feature of NATO culture. At one moment, as well, he wonders whether the orientation to a stronger interoperability will have an influence on French defence industry.

Really, this article is worth being read quietly, because he leads us to check again our impressions on NATO, and it conveys a good idea on the thoughts of a French officer who could be summoned up to an assignment in the NATO command structure, even it does not really fit with NATO countries way of doing business, in which nations are doing as if they always were compliant with NATO standardization agreements, while doing, anyway their own business.


Funding of multinational operations: a need for a radical change.

Might it be the NATO or EU, the countries taking part to multinational operations always meet the same problem, based on the motto: “the costs lie where they fall”. To the attention of newcomers, it means that a country, which sends troops upon request of an international organization, will pay twice for his contribution.

Firstly, his national defence budget will be charged with the supplementary costs caused by the deployment of troops abroad. For some countries, it can reach several hundreds of millions of Euros per year.

Secondly, if mission fails or situation worsens, the government of this contributing nation will run into political danger, as the casualties or some collateral damages could make the public opinion to reject the current foreign policy and lead to the loss of the next elections.

Therefore some countries have deliberately chosen to travel in Business Class while on operations: they select carefully the region in which they will operate, they implement such caveats or give such tasks to their forces deployed there that any casualty is avoided as far as possible, and if possible, you offer troops for the most media-friendly jobs. However, I will not put shame on any specific country: there is a sort of unofficial task sharing as, depending on the national interests having lead to the decision to deploy, one or the other country will be once very active, or the other time will just have a symbolic presence, the latter case being used when there is a need to give a token of solidarity.

Because of Afghanistan, far away from most of European countries’ areas of interest, source of daily casualties, countries are always more reluctant to contribute. The painful force generation process for EUFOR in Chad is still the worst example of an operation decided at the political level, without the political will to see it up and running.

Sooner or later, EU countries will have to think over the issue of cost sharing. I can only support the idea that the country, which pays, decides as well. Current Athena program, designed to share the costs that cannot be nationally identified is far from being sufficient to encourage Nations to contribute, mainly in areas of great danger or great logistical issues.

Some members of the EU Parliament have already worked on the topic. However, only very few countries are ready to go forward on the topic:

-A development of Athena principles to the whole operation would definitely reinforce the role of the EU Parliament and therefore would be regarded as an intrusion within national sovereign issues.

-If Europe proposes you to take over all the costs, it becomes much more difficult to refuse to commit national units. Another pretext is to be found.

Nevertheless, the latest financial crisis has left most of European countries is such a situation that their defence forces could be forced to gather their efforts and resources (or at least some of them) in order to face budgetary cuts imposed by their governments.

This could make a good opportunity for European Defence to wake up.


Latvia & Lithuania concern on French arms sales to Russia

In Euobserver.com of 25th February 2010, A. Rettman wrote on Latvian and Lithuanian call for tighter EU rules on arms sales (click here). He says that both countries were thinking to the French sale of RoRo ships to Russia. Those sales have apparently raised some concern in their countries.

Although their have of course the right to express such a way to their Ally, there is some contradiction, or they tried to support awkwardly Georgian government. Anybody looking at a map of Baltic Sea would easily understand that Russia does not need and will never need an amphibious force to invade those countries. Secondly do they trust or not the US protection and the NATO. If they do: no need to protest; if they don’t: no need of NATO.

In fact they simply felt like Georgia: at the mercy of the former suzerain, and this fear should be respected, because of the extend by which they suffered during those scores of Soviet domination.

However one should compare only what is to be compared:

-Kaliningrad is internationally recognized as a Russian territory, what the harbour of Sebastopol is not.

-Baltic States have no region, which wants to cut links off. In contrary to Georgia, they did not attack anybody.

-Baltic countries belong to both the NATO and EU. Georgia not.

-Baltic countries are fully democratic states, what Georgia could not fully implement yet.

Therefore, although all of those four States belong to those former small Soviet republics, their respective situations cannot be compared at all.


NATO and the UK: the impossible agreement on European Defence.

While reading in detail the report of the group of experts on a new strategic concept for NATO, lead by Mrs Albright, I felt as if I was dreaming. Indeed, page 25, the experts dared writing: “The new strategic concept should recognise that the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon is designed, among other purposes, to strengthen Europe’s military capabilities and command structures”.

My extreme surprise was provoked by the comparison between this statement and the government program endorsed by the Britsh Conservatives and their LibDem allies. I just remind you that this agreement does not contain one word on European Defence. Clearly, it means that both parties could not reach an agreement on this point, and by such it will remain pending as long as the situation remains as such.

Frankly, it will not change. The coalition will be complicated enough for every day business, they will not need additional conflicts, all the more that those conflicts are conceptual ones and are not the result of some campaign stances or programs. To have more details on this point, everybody can refer to the conservative manifesto, which states: “we believe that NATO, whilst in need of reform, should remain the cornerstone of our defence. Matters of enormous national sensitivity, such as defence procurement, are better dealt through inter­governmental bilateral and multi­lateral negotiations, rather than through supranational institutions.

We will therefore examine resources currently spent on bureaucratic and wasteful EU defence initiatives and spend the money on our servicemen and women. As part of that we will re­evaluate our position with the European Defence Agency as part of the Strategic Defence Review.” (I already made use of it in a previous post).

However, in order to have a more accurate approach of the current British policy as for the EU, or Common Security and Defence Policy refers, I would rather read the speech, very interesting by the way, that Mr Liam Fox, the new British Secretary for Defence made on 11th February 2010. He then said: “With the Lisbon Treaty we have what is now called "Common Security and Defence Policy" - an arcane change in the nomenclature, you might think, but in the detail lay the foundations of EU integrationists leaning away from NATO”.

Obviously, Mrs Albright, who hence pleaded against duplication must be looked at as an ‘integrationist’.

Therefore I cannot see any significant and real progress regarding European Defence, within the few next years:

-Conceptually the UK conservative Secretary for Defence, Mr Liam Fox, is against. As former member of the conservative shadow cabinet, his position opinion is for sure the valid one within the whole party.

-The LibDems, the other party of the coalition, is not strong enough to amend such a view.

-Being one of the two European nuclear powers and the European country spending the most on Defence, it is almost impossible to build a credible defence in Europe without or, worse, against the UK.

For these reasons, the nice statement of the group of experts will for sure remain a wish for a couple of years if not more.

Otherwise, we should resign ourselves to build up a European Defence without the UK, making use of the Reinforced Structured Cooperation, as foreseen by Lisbon Treaty. But, who would be able to do so?


NATO concept: Further discussion on ecological correctness

Two persons expressed their concerns on my statement criticizing the fact that Mrs Albright expert group mentioned the climate change as a geopolitical issue. I do appreciate those comments as they encourage me to think it over, may be a little bit more.

Indeed, like any citizen, I take into account ecology in my daily life. We buy only the fruits of the season; we sort out glass, paper, boxes, garbage, newspapers, bier cans, batteries, etc. Personally I would be happy if the defence forces could support as well fair trade, sustainable development. However, I only mean that in any geopolitical paper one can read, there is always one sentence on the climate change. In French we say ‘tarte à la crème’. This expression originates from the old movies where, for any gag, you had sooner or later inevitably, a custard pie to be thrown at someone’s face.

Therefore, my comment is, from a purely military and tactical point of view: if there is a vital threat, it is to be addressed. If you address it, you dedicate assets. And once you have the appropriate assets, you solve the issue. This report mentions this issue. And so what? The authors of the report don’t really care about the way to solve it. Simply because nobody is really willing to address the issue and dedicate the necessary assets. As there is no real consensus on the level of the threat, everybody is waiting for it to be solved by itself, or simply to disappear from world’s opinion concerns.

I was born in Brittany, where already in the 60’s, environmental crisis was a reality: remember the Torrey Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz, the Olympic Bravery, the Boehlen, the Gino, the Tanio, the Erika (read here). Hence, nobody was taking care of Brittany. Now the situation is much better, it has been “only” phosphates for 30 years.

Again, thank you for your comments that I fully support. Ecology is paramount. However, anybody who considers it as a parameter to take into account in a geopolitical study, should as well assess how it could be addressed properly and specifically. Or if it is only one parameter among others, we should take it as minor one of secondary importance. We should not forget that Groenland gets it name from Greenland, that less than some 10,000 years ago Finland was covered with glaciers, and finally French revolution was probably ignited by several years of bad crops.

Therefore, I persist in thinking that, in this report, the mention of climate change was only a rhetorical vehicle to give to NATO expert group some political correctness.


NATO concept: can we stop with the political ecological correctness?

Included in the Group of Experts report on the new NATO concept, I could read the usual sentence that any politician should use, in order to be sure that he will not be to much contested: “In the current day, uncertainty is magnified by such factors as: … the accumulating consequences of environmental degradation, including climate change”.

Great. And so what? Should the military transform their armoured brigades in Green brigades in charge of protecting Amazonia, should the USA change their nuclear submarines into offshore control service? Nobody will ever propose anything concrete on this topic. The only countries that may adapt their tools are countries for which internal policy is driven by ecology and that have no ambition as for foreign policy refers.

I mean those countries in which the military action can be showed only when the military is taking care of children in a Third World village, and most important, is in no case involved in combat operations. More precisely, as war is a bad and dirty thing, those armies which are conceived to have in any circumstance the role of the good guy, while larger powers are the bad guys who make use of their weapons.

However, nobody will deny the need for the defence forces to contribute to defence of environment, by patrolling in their waters to check the tankers, or cleaning the beaches when polluted. In any case, that is not new: since the 19th century (at least) armies contributes to all those tasks, for instance by giving a hand for the crop, cleaning the beaches of Brittany in the 70’s, or fighting against the flood in Germany in the 90’s.

Therefore, my conclusion is such statements belong to the pure political correctness and the best proof of the report, is that it does not really give a clue of the way to adapt our defence systems to environment protection.


NATO: the impossible reform of the military capabilities

Thanks O. Kempf and his blog, I could get some insight in Mrs Albright’s report on NATO 2020. Well, the group of experts is really impressive, as they encourage the NATO to do all what it could not achieve in the past 20 years.

Depending on the time available I will try to demonstrate that the reform of the NATO that the group of experts is promoting will surely fail, or at least become reality not earlier than in 2040. When writing ‘reality’, I mean an effective ‘reality’, not the reality of the political statements. That is a different organization, with less headquarters, stronger defence forces within the European countries. In a way, a defence organization which gives our nations the tools to implement their policy.

Although the conclusions of the expert start like the homework of a college student (“the world has changed significantly since 1999”; for sure, it will be of great help to Mr Rasmussen), page after page it becomes more interesting.

For the time being, let us focus on the military capabilities. In a subsequent post, I will look at the political organization.

The main quote I will use is that one: “The primary limiting factor hindering military transformation has been the lack of European defence spending and investment.
Contributing to the problem is the fact that, in the past twenty years, European defence spending has been consumed disproportionally by personnel and operational costs. As a result, European national forces generally do not have nearly enough transformed forces.” (P. 38)

Indeed, I fully disagree with that belief that Europe does not spend enough on defence. In contrary, I support the statement that the money was and is not properly spent. Let us have a look at the defence expenditure of European Union countries (including the UK). Every year, the EU state members spend 200 billion Euros for their defence (Source: EDA). For what result? Out of 1.800.000 soldiers, a maximum of 80.000 is deployed. What the hell the other soldiers are doing all year long? Simply they guard borders that no enemy will cross within the next 20 years, because those very countries will not and will never accept to put down their armies, still largely inherited from Cold War time, and build up lean and expeditionary forces.

A good example is Poland: a few years ago, in 2002, they bought, with a strong US support, F-16. Against whom? Russia? Impossible, the same year, the NATO-Russia Council was set up. Since then, the Polish F-16 have not been deployed yet.

As well, I don not support at all the promotion of Research and Development that is expressed throughout the report: currently, only the USA would take profit out of it through programs like the Joint Strike Fighter, for which only a very few countries, mainly the UK can really get access to the most sensitive data.

Thirdly, regarding current needs in Afghanistan, the NATO asks regularly for more boots on the ground. Well, you do not need high-tech, Robocop style soldiers for those missions. You rather need well-trained troop, ready for patrolling in villages. The issue is that such soldiers do not match with the US technologic approach of military operations.

Therefore, the proposition for a greater effort in R & D or for more versatile and lean defence organizations is not the expression of an operational need. This is the expression of a US desire to see the European build a system, which fits to their own objective, including their industrial development, like in the F-16, the JSF and now the ballistic missile defence.