Shaping a Way Ahead for the Defense of Europe: A French Senate Report Considers a New Approach


2013-10-09 By Robbin Laird

Over the years, I have worked often on the practical side of European defense.

When dealing with the last decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a key theme was the challenge of dealing with Euro Missiles.

Then the collapse of the Warsaw Pact posed the question of dealing with a power vacuum in Eastern Europe, which was met by the expansion of the European Union and of NATO.

(For example, see my book published in 1991 entitled The Europeanization of the Alliance or

The Soviets, Germany and the New Europe

It was not at all certain whether NATO expansion was the way ahead for the defense of Europe or whether the transformation of the European Union into an organization dealing with security and defense was in the cards.

Another key element of the question of European defense was what kinds of forces and what kinds of means where to be built, trained and deployed for what European missions. 

In the wake of the Libyan and Mali operations, it is clear that those European states which have deployable military means and are willing to use them are looking for new approaches to defend both themselves and Europe. Credit Image: Bigstock
In the wake of the Libyan and Mali operations, it is clear that those European states which have deployable military means and are willing to use them are looking for new approaches to defend both themselves and Europe. Credit Image: Bigstock

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the expansion of NATO came Western defense consolidation and the emergence of Lockheed Martin, a new Boeing, and EADS.

All were to have a key role to play in shaping capabilities to be used by Europeans in facing the challenges of the 21st century.

Now with the Euro crisis upon Europe and uncertainty about the next phase of European development, what will be the European response to defense and against which threats?

Notably, with the recalibration of American forces and the dynamics of change in the Mediterranean and the Middle East along with the return of Russia and the Arctic opening, it is clear that Europe faces significant challenges.

The Bosnian conflict and the Georgian war brought armed conflict back within the heart of Europe.  The growing means of Middle Eastern powers as well as the specter of weapons of mass destruction in the region keep pressure on Europe to consider the means for its own defense.

In the wake of the Libyan and Mali operations, it is clear that those European states which have deployable military means and are willing to use them are looking for new approaches to defend both themselves and Europe.

For France, with regard to NATO, the Libyan operation was an interesting step ahead.

This was the first large-scale operation by France working with NATO since rejoining NATO.  This was the first use of the Tiger combat helicopter off of the Mistral. 

This was the first use of a new precision-guided weapon in operations to destroy Libyan armor and other ground equipment (the Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon).

This was the first time the French flew in combat with an Arab partner using an advanced version of the Mirage 2000 for ground strike missions.

This was the first use of the new reconnaissance pod on the Rafale, which played a major role in the operation.

With regard to Mali, the French military was relying on coalition partners for support but shaped a lead role which seems crucial for a rapid intervention operation.

As Murielle Delaporte has argued:

French forces entered  at the beginning of the operation first with air power directly initiated from French air force bases and then rapidly with massive air-ground force. As a result, they have been forming a «21st century caravan» approach (as one French convoy commander refers to it), where logistics and operational elements had to be combined simultaneously into a single force.

There is no classic approach to the rear and the front.

The forces are expeditionary and carry their capabilities with them, adjusting their capabilities as they transition to the next phases of the operation. From the beginning, the French intervention was not seen as an isolated event, but as one designed to clear the path for coalition forces to take over the mission.

For France, the North African region, in many ways, is as significant as is Mexico for the United States.  And in a region of close proximity with high strategic consequences and many foreign nationals living there, ongoing engagement is a reality.

Regional support is absolutely key to prolong the deterrent effect of the French initial military action.

It has been made possible by the months of preparation, which took place before it occurred ahead of schedule, as is the one of the international community via the United Nations and/or other organizations.

The latter has been slowly, but surely picking up with a growing number of allied countries’ logistic and support assets being gathered to help French and African armed forces’ sustainability on a theater where vast elongations and the ability to hold a difficult territory are the key challenges.

Transport aircraft and tankers have been sent early on by the United States and European countries, while the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command  played its role in providing needed assets.

From a French prospective, the goal has been to start reversing the balance between supported and supporting forces as early as April in order to prevent the “Afghanisation” of the conflict feared by some, but in a secure, responsible and coordinated manner, as well as to avoid a strictly national involvement according to the principle “First to enter, first to leave”, as recently stressed by the French chief of staff in front of the French National Assembly defense commission.

Clearly, neither Libya nor Mali are traditional NATO-led operations nor harbingers of EU coalition forces mobilizing decisive force to shape an outcome.

And with the Euro crisis accentuating rather than attenuating differences among key Euro players, European defense understood as a collective force seems further away than in 1991.

So what is a realistic way ahead for European defense? 

A recent French Senate report has addressed this question and suggests a path to the future.


The report starts from the assumption that “Europe of defense” is a conceptual dead end.  It is a “conceptual mish-mash.”

Another dimension of the problem is that the industrial cooperation, which has been envisaged to underwrite European defense, has not happened either.

“There are fewer cooperation programs today than there were 10 years ago, and fewer 10 years ago than there were 20 years ago.”

The report argues that there is clearly a need for shaping critical mass which comes from the combination of resources.

And in addition to traditional threats there are a series of new threats, which have emerged which, include “cyber-attacks and technological exclusion.”

What is needed, the report argues, is the formation of a “breakaway group” which would drive the shaping of consolidated operational forces.

There is a need to “create a breakaway group open to countries that are willing and able to push the agenda and move towards a common European defense system.  This breakaway group, the “Defence Eurogroup” would be based around the expeditionary capabilities of the United Kingdom and France, and would also include Germany.

“Its aim would be to provide the European Union with the military capability it needs to operate outside its own borders, even without the support of the United States.”

It is also important to build on the existing Franco-British defense treaty, including the creation of a joint expeditionary force and, over time, to include Germany and other European partners such as Italy, Poland, Spain and other willing participants in this treaty.

This “Defence Eurogroup” will provide a platform for participating states to coordinate their operational resources, capabilities and industries, and to develop a genuine “European White Paper. ”

It will also provide an expeditionary force and a new military headquarters, responsible for the planning and execution of operations and equipped with its own intelligence-gathering resources.

In effect, what this proposal comes down to is recognizing that only some states are prepared to shape expeditionary capabilities appropriate to the 21st century.

The focus needs to build upon those states willing to work together to shape collaborative expeditionary forces.

To be clear, the Senate report builds for a very clear understanding that the way ahead is not articulating a politically correct architecture, but building from real capabilities for European forces to work together in collaborative undertakings.

And in this regard, the working relationship between Britain and France is seen as a key foundational element to such an approach.

But what is not as clear is whether the focus is upon the capabilities and getting those to dovetail or whether the emphasis is really upon European projects and arms programs.

The second is not the same as the first.

Indeed, one could note that the coming of the F-35 to Europe is a key part of shaping expeditionary capabilities and a project which addresses the overall air-naval expeditionary forces shaped by the evolution of airpower would make sense.  But this would really be about capabilities not classic European systems.

Clearly, the core capability, which needs to be shaped, is C2 within a viable expeditionary force.

And an expeditionary force if it is to operate in challenging conditions needs missile defense or an ability to shape an attack and defense enterprise.

In other words, how does Europe shape a 21st century expeditionary force and not a 20th century peacekeeping engagement force?

There are clearly some industrial dynamics which have enhanced European collaboration capabilities to support expeditionary forces.

In the case of MBDA, the building of the common Meteor missile allows collaboration across the entire spectrum of European air forces, whether Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed or Saab.

At the heart of the Meteor program is an integrated development team led by the prime contractor, MBDA.  The missile was developed to meet the operational requirements of 6 partner nations and for 3 very different combat aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale and the Gripen.  It is also compatible with the F-35 weapon bay.

Frequently, a multi-national program is more of a problem than a solution.  In this case, the challenge of building for multiple aircraft and partners at the same time, has given the MBDA team a leg up on the 21st century.  To design and build the missile, a comprehensive model was developed; this incorporated the various aspects of a successful missile, ranging from aircraft characteristics, to radar system performances, and the various operational scenarios,/operational styles of the different aircraft and air forces.

This has meant that MBDA has forged a very robust model for development, which is then at the heart of the production of the missile itself.  The missile is software upgradeable so that changes over time will be written into the code in the model and directly incorporated into production runs.

Another example is the case of the A400M where the common supply chain allows for shaping common logistics approaches or the commonality of the aircraft can allow shared training approaches as well.

The A400M program like the F-35 program is built for multi-national training.

In the A400M case, there is a core or central training facility at Seville, which develops the core competencies and approaches and defines best practices.

The Seville center – like Eglin in the F-35 system – can operate as a hub for national training facilities, and national facilities can then replicate, link or incorporate via virtual links, systems and approaches with the capabilities of the multi-national training center.

But overarching the question of the evolution of European defense is the broader question of the evolution of Europe.

How will the European map evolve in response to the Euro crisis?

As Harald Malmgren and I argued in Defense News:

Europe’s new map will pose significant strategic consequences for core NATO states.

The Nordic states will anchor defense and security policies for the decade ahead and this will have implications for European states serious about defense but will, in turn, force change on their part as well.

A state like France may have to craft a policy that follows Germany on currency and the Nordics on defense.

The Nordics seek ever-greater energy independence, a course that France can pursue with its nuclear energy capabilities but a course that clashes with German preferences.

Unlike Germany, France is a nuclear power and relies on nuclear energy to allow greater independence from sources such as Russia or the Middle East.

In defense, France will follow the money and will have to work with those European states investing in defense, which is neither the U.K. nor Germany.

This means the French forces’ ability to work with Nordic states would become important in the years ahead. French airpower built around the Rafale would have to find ways to work with states like Norway whose airpower will be rebuilt around the F-35.

In other words, the French senate report has identified a practical way ahead, but is France ready for the consequences of success? 



For the first four pieces in our series on “The Changing Global Context: US and European Approaches and Options,” see the following: