Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence




Letter from the Defence Attaché, French Embassy (28 March 2001)

  As you have been told by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday afternoon, the paper issued by The Daily Telegraph the same morning could completely mislead its readers about the French vision on the EU/NATO relations. Please find herewith attached the script taken during General Kelche's interview, where the Select Committee will find a fairly different vision of what the DT pretends.

  I remain at your disposal for any comment you would like about this question as well as about any other Defence related issues.

Vice-Amiral Sabatié-Garat

Defence Attaché


General Kelche Transcript: rough, edited

  It has appeared to many Frenchmen that the Anglo-Saxons have been backtracking on EU defence ever since Nice, with Lord Robertson publicly insisting that the Alliance retains an effective veto over EU defence, and the Prime Minister telling the Canadians that there would be no separate EU planning structures.

  General Kelche: "We have always said that we do not want to duplicate NATO assets, but if Europe wants to assume its responsibilities in the field of defence, it must improve its key capabilities. European ambitions remain limited, today, to coping with Petersberg tasks. We already have the European forces for this. We are not going to earmark some of our forces as exclusively European. The same forces will be used in a NATO or an EU framework. There are improvements to be made in this field: we have identified them".

  The controversial issue is defence planning. "European politicians need to know what is going on. They need to be able to select among various options and then conduct operations, both from a military and political point of view. These are reasonable ambitions.

  I do not see how this could damage the Alliance. On the contrary, the US Congress has been asking us, for a long time, to do more. It would be silly for them to discourage us precisely when we make efforts in this field . . . The debate might well hinge upon the capabilities which will enable European defence to be autonomous.

  There are two kinds of planning: Pre-decision planning, and planning after the decision has been made. I cannot imagine any European military not being able to propose a variety of options to politicians. The European approach consists in trying to start managing crises as soon as possible, using all means, including non-military approaches. So why should we have to go through NATO to select an option?"

  Although the EU will therefore have to be capable of military planning, the General denies that the EU will need to build a huge planning organisation in Brussels.

  "We simply need to use existing capabilities, mainly in the European countries. But if a heavy crisis were to emerge, why should we not ask the Alliance for assistance? We can easily ask NATO to help with planning. Similarly, we can ask individual European countries to do the same. When things get bad it is always better to have two sources of advice. Then you can compare them, and reflect. There is no need for exclusivity.

  After decisions have been taken about how to act we move on to operational planning. The operational commander can ask the troop contributing nations to come up with planning. If the action is to be conducted with NATO assets, it is clear that the operational planning will be done by the NATO European chain of command. But if it is a very small operation, why should we bother SHAPE with it? Any European country is capable of planning an operation using 10,000 troops. When we were planning Operation Alba with the Italians we did not involve NATO.

  This is not a military problem. It is simply common sense."

Q:   How big will EU Military Planning Centre be?

  "Need to understand how it works. The politicians say, `OK, we've studied the options and choose this one'. Political instructions will go to the EU MS. There, a small team will send directives to the European countries, and requests to SHAPE. The same team will receive the results, study them, and either recommend them or not. I could not tell the President that he should commit troops to an operation if I were not sure that the planning had been done properly. In more complex crises, I would be pleased to have access to help from NATO. But, as the consumer, I would examine what was on offer and decide whether I liked it or not. Planning is a mechanical process. You get the result you ask for. But if you change the parameters, the answer will change. So, whoever does the planning, the Europeans will have to define the parameters. That is vital.

  If they agree that the result conforms to the requirements, they will sign up to it. This is exactly how it works in the Alliance already. It is not the whole structure that decides. In the end, it is the CHODS. So there is no fundamental problem."

  General Kelche said that he was not yet sure whether or not there was going to be a quarrel with the Americans over defence planning. "We'll have to wait, explain things over again. As I have just explained, I don't see any grounds for a quarrel."

Q:   UK cooler than other Europeans about defence. Will this change after the election?

  "We have come a long way. Look at where we were 18 months ago. We have made considerable progress at 15. Without the UK this would not have been possible.

  The Alliance has worked well for 50 years. We are not going to give up on it now. We simply say that we need a better balance. If Europe becomes more serious about improving its capabilities it will earn the right to greater influence within the Alliance.

  When we ask Americans, especially in the new administration, whether they believe that future crises will be Article 5 contingencies, they always say that they expect non-Article 5 crises. This is common sense.

  Then we ask them, `if there are non-Article 5 crises, will you still come?' The answer is `no'. They are sincere. I understand them. So all that we are trying to do is to give both Europe and the US greater freedom of action. The Europeans will be capable of managing a crisis if the Americans decide not to come. Or, the Europeans could start managing the crisis, using their own, not necessarily military, assets. If the situation does not improve they could decide to conduct a military operation to resolve it. At that stage there would have to be discussions with the US. The Americans might say, `you began handling the situation, you carry on'. There is no question of a right of first refusal. If the EU does its work properly, it will be able to start working on crises at a very early stage, well before the situation escalates. Where is the first refusal? NATO has nothing to do with this. At a certain stage the Europeans would decide to conduct a military operation. Either the Americans would come, or not. If they want to come, they will always be welcome. They are powerful. We recognise that there are things we cannot do without them, today. Later, we must be able to act alone. Europe is an enormous economic power, but not yet a mature military power."

Q:   Any sympathy for UK military who have reservations about European defence?

  "I have never heard of any of them express reservations" But, when you have a system that works well, in a sphere as sensitive as defence, you should always be cautious. You know what you have, and you know what you might lose if you change the system. But we are not talking about change. We are talking about reinforcement. What are the risks? We want to reinforce the Alliance.

Q:   How can we persuade Turks to lift their block on work on Berlin Plus?

  "We are worried about this. We have wanted to organise the EU-NATO relationship, in the defence field, for a long time. The Turks want more assurances, and greater involvement than they have so far been offered. The EU has made various proposals, and the ball is now in NATO's court. NATO is incapable of hitting the ball back and sorting this out. Everyone is trying to convince the Turks that their position is not productive. I hope that they will succeed, but I have no miracle solutions. EU decisions have to be taken at 15, not 16. It is as if NATO were told that Alliance decisions were to be taken by non-NATO members. No one would agree to that. Either you belong or not. It is obvious that if a major crisis were to arise in Europe, especially in Southern Europe, the Turks would be consulted, and informed of what was going on. They would be associated with the action. We couldn't say that it was simply the affair of the 15. European security is everybody's affair."

Q:   So will EU be forced to declare itself operational, if the Turks do not lift their block?

  "Of course. Go­teborg will probably be too soon. But at Laeken, certainly. We have our own timetable. If everything is blocked in NATO, it is not our fault. It is clear that by the end of this year the EU must declare that it has an operational capability. Otherwise, we will simply be held hostage by the Turks. Everyone, including France, must try to persuade the Turks to be more co-operative. Otherwise, we will reach the end of the year without agreement with NATO. This will not be the fault of the EU."

Q:   How can European MoDs persuade politicians to increase defence spending?

  "I am not certain that we need to increase expenditure . . . maybe I shouldn't say that. What is important is that each European nation should look very closely at its expenditure, in order to increase efficiency. The more common projects we have, the more effective our defence spending will be. Some nations will move faster than others, but we are all moving more or less in the same direction, economically."

Q: Ever tempted by the British solution of buying American kit, to increase value-for-money?

  "A nation's defence capability is not exclusively based upon its Armed Forces. It also has to be able to equip the troops, and to have some freedom of choice over procurement. There are limits to buying off-the-shelf. We have an armaments industry in France, and there is also a European armaments industry which must be preserved. Technologically, it is doing very well. The only problem is that it is sometimes more expensive than the American equivalent, because production series are smaller. So, if we could get together more, on European projects, it would be easier and better."

Q: Are you tempted to buy missile defence from the Americans?

  "We need to know what the new administration intends to do. They have announced that they will do nothing without serious consultation with their Allies. Until we know what the project is, how they are going to create this capability, which is no longer referred to as National Missile Defence, it is difficult for us to say much about it. The US timetable is now looser. They have started an overall reflection on this issue. We await their decision with interest."

Q:   Is the idea of extending the shield to cover Europe credible?

  "To do what? Against what? Where is the threat? Would it work? 100 per cent? Could it be bypassed? What would it cost? How independent would it be? Where would the money come from? Which budget? Would we buy this instead of conventional equipment? It's hard to say. These issues are far too important for us to make quick decisions. It's a major question.

  "This would mean abandoning non-proliferation regime. It is a hard decision. Until we know more we cannot proceed.

  "Even on the threat, there is no common view. There is a distinction between a risk and a threat. A threat encompasses both risk and hostile intention. This distinction is lost on the Americans. For them, any risk is a threat.

As France professionalises the Armed Forces, how can you avoid the current difficulties facing the British Army?

  "We are watching what is going on in the British Armed Forces very carefully. This is a serious and interesting experience. The size of the Armed Forces is roughly comparable, and we have had many exchanges on this. But this is a sociological question. We cannot simply transpose the British solution to France. The problems are different, so the remedies should also be different. I think that what is important for the French forces is to maintain the quality of its public image, which is very high. No other organisation in France, except perhaps the Paris Fire Brigade, enjoys similar respect.

  "The second key to recruitment is retraining personnel leaving the Armed Forces. We need to convince the mothers of the long-term advantages of a military career. Soldiers without civilian qualifications are the most important here. When it comes to retraining, those who have a purely military skill need priority. They do the toughest jobs, and yet without help will leave the Army with nothing. If that happens, they become negative agents for the Army.

  So, thirdly, everybody who leaves must have a positive attitude towards their time in the Armed Forces.

  "It is not a question of pay. Nobody joins up for the money. They join up for the way of life. Take a data processor. An NCO will earn one third what he would as a civilian. But he will stay because he likes the Army and enjoys the life. Otherwise he will leave. This is the logic of a professional army."

  Equipment is also important, according to General Kelche.

  "A professional soldier will look at what the nation gives him to do his job. Do we believe in him and in his mission, or not? If he only has old equipment, he will assume that neither the government nor the military leadership cares about him. He will ask himself what he is doing in the Army, and will quit.

  "The adventure, for us, will really begin in 2002, when the forces will be entirely professional.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 April 2001