"Les relations franco-britanniques au sein de l'Alliance Atlantique"
Intervention de l'Ambassadeur de Grande-Bretagne
Sir John Holmes
Rouen, 15 octobre 2002

Professor Capet,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for that introduction and your kind invitation to come and speak to you today. I know that the Government's organisation for education and culture, the British Council, has been pleased to collaborate with the University of Rouen on previous seminars organised by Professor Capet. I am delighted to continue the tradition and to strengthen cooperation between the University of Rouen and the British Embassy.

You have given me a very specific task – to talk about the relations between France and Britain within NATO. I will do my best to avoid the politician's trick – that is, I will try to answer the question you have asked, rather than one I would like you to have asked. But I want to put relations in the broader international context. So I hope you will forgive me if I briefly describe how the UK sees the strategic context, in particular how it has changed since the end of the Cold War; how France and Britain have responded to those changes; and, briefly, what I think the key issues in our relations and in the transatlantic security relationship.

The strategic context first. The context for security issues, particularly in Europe, changed significantly with the end of the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, nations in the EU and NATO were less preoccupied by threat from the East and became concerned with a proliferation of crises, apparently of lower intensity, but arguably of greater complexity: Kosovo, Bosnia in the 1990s, Afghanistan and terrorism today. These crises require more flexible responses, bringing together the full range of economic, diplomatic, political, military tools. They also required greater flexibility in military forces. We no longer needed static forces built to withstand a massive onslaught from the East, but quick response, projectible forces that can hit hard and fast when they need to.

The EU and NATO changed in response to the new strategic context. NATO started the process with its new Strategic Concept and interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. It will continue at the NATO summit in Prague in November when it will welcome new members; adapt its tools to deal better with the threat from terrorism; and start the vital process of reforming its structures to become a more flexible, more deployable organisation. And for those of you asking what purpose NATO serves after the end of Cold War, it is precisely this – NATO's security guarantee underpins the security of its members; and its military structures ensure the interoperability which allow Europeans and Americans to work together militarily. It is also increasingly a key forum for the US, Europeans and Russia to discuss security issues.

But Europeans also recognised that we needed to do more to meet their own security needs. We started by trying to strengthen the CFSP. In the Balkans we saw that while the EU was reasonably well placed on economic/financial front, we had some way to go on the political/diplomatic and particularly military front. Europeans lacked the decision-making structures, and above all the military capabilities needed for modern military operations. In Kosovo, for example, success depended too much on military might, and in particular the air power, of the US. 80% of strike sorties were flown by the US. Europeans provided nearly 80% of the troops in Kosovo, but had great difficulty getting a small fraction of the troops they had on paper to the right place at the right time when the time came to deploy.

This is the background to the St Malo Franco-British Summit in December 1998. The central vision behind St Malo was that the EU needed "to be in a position to play its full role on the international stage". Our foreign and security policy objectives had to go forward together: European defence and CFSP had to be mutually reinforcing.

As St Malo said, for the countries concerned (incl. Britain, France and Germany) collective defence remains for the foreseeable future the responsibility of NATO. "L'Europe de la défense" not "la défense de l'Europe". The transatlantic link remains fundamental to our security and to the effective management of large international problems, and NATO is where much of that relationship effectively resides. NATO will also continue to play a vital role in crisis management, particularly crises of a major scale (e.g. Kosovo).

However, the key point is that where NATO as a whole is not engaged, it is right that the EU should have the ability to decide itself to engage, and the ability also to take military action.

For Britain, St Malo was the recognition that Europeans needed to do more for their own security; to improve their military capabilities; that EU international voice needed to be more coherent; and, crucially, that this could be achieved without undermining NATO and the transatlantic link.

For France, St Malo was a recognition that European defence had to be tackled with NATO as a partner, not a rival, even if France remained outside the integrated military structure after the failure of reintegration efforts in 1996 – and even if, to be honest, some at least in Paris retain the ambition of the EU taking over prime responsibility for defence in Europe from NATO in the long term.

Why take this initiative with France? Because agreement between our two countries was a pre-condition for delivering a credible European policy; and because, despite our differences, we have similar ambitions of global diplomatic and military reach. We also knew that while necessary, UK/French agreement was not sufficient. A credible European defence policy had to be supported by all EU member states, not least Germany.

Improvements in European military capabilities are the key test for ESDP. As countries who have forces deployed together in the field – in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan to name but a few – we know that you don't send an institutional diagram to a crisis. It is only by improving our military performance that we will both strengthen the EU's CFSP and NATO and so give us more effective, flexible European crisis management tools.

For us links with NATO are also crucial. We need to know that in a crisis we can rely on established relations based on trust whose mechanisms have been well tested during peacetime. Not so that NATO can tell the EU what to do, or vice versa, but so that when a crisis emerges NATO and EU responses reinforce one another – that co-operation between the two is part of the solution, not part of the problem. We have made a good start, but we need to finalise them: this means in particular final agreement to the arrangements which will allow the EU to have automatic access to NATO's assets and capabilities, particularly its operational planning capabilities at SHAPE in Mons. We insist on this not because of some blind attachment to NATO but because it would be folly to duplicate large-scale, effective assets which NATO already has and in which Europeans already play a very large role.

What has this meant for relations between France and Britain in NATO? We have always been close partners in the Atlantic Alliance, sharing the same broad objectives of ensuring the Alliance continues to adapt to the modern world and continues to provide the ultimate security guarantee for its members. But that is not to say relations are always straightforward.

Some still see Britain as an unstinting supporter of the US in NATO, too concerned to maintain US interest in Europe to worry about developing a serious European identity; and so keen to try to show that NATO remains "relevant" that we want it to take on ever more responsibilities.

For some France is a semi-detached and quarrelsome partner, picking and choosing the bits of NATO it likes while benefiting from the security guarantee that NATO provides.

The facts are different. We have been the two European nations most closely involved in crisis management in NATO, particularly in the Balkans. We share a similar vision of the sort of organisation – lighter, more flexible, more deployable – we want NATO to become. And our visions for the crucial relationship between the Alliance and Russia is perhaps the closest of any two members of the organisation. We will not always present what we do in the same way, given the different domestic politics in Britain and France. But on the substance, our co-operation is deep and, I have to say, often insufficiently recognised in both Britain and in France.

It is of course hard to discuss relations in NATO without also addressing our relations with the United States. These have become all the more important after 11 September, but there are also strains over things like steel, Kyoto and the International Criminal Court. Criticising America too easily becomes a favourite, rather patronising European sport – just as deriding European ineffectiveness can become an easy game in Washington. But it is an easily forgotten truth that the transatlantic partnership is crucial to the security and interests both of Europeans and the US. And it is a positive force in international relations. As the events in Bosnia between 1992-95 demonstrated, it is not only Europeans and Americans who suffer when we are divided.

This does not mean we have to agree with all aspects of US policy. Not even the closest allies can agree about everything. But a global partnership is only possible if we recognise that what binds us together is much more important than our differences – whether in terms of fundamental values, or the huge flows of trade capital and people going in both directions every single day of the year. It means that an international role for Europe must be more clearly welcomed in Washington; and that Europe must deliver on its promises, and regard Washington more clearly as a partner than a rival.

NATO will, I believe, remain a key element of relations between Europeans and the United States. It is the forum for discussion and co-operation on key security issues. Even when we work together outside the NATO framework, as in Afghanistan, it is based on the co-operation and interoperability built up over 50 years in NATO. The institutional security relationship, expressed through NATO, remains a key part of the broader transatlantic partnership. It is in all our interests that it should remain in good health.

What does the future hold for Franco-British co-operation in international security beyond NATO? Let me offer some personal thoughts on the key areas of European common foreign policy and defence.

On the first, we have to be realistic: foreign policies of individual EU nations won't disappear overnight. But we're making progress towards more common policies, if not yet a single policy in all areas. As countries with strong foreign policy traditions, Britain and France have particular responsibilities in making common European policies possible. We have largely achieved this in the Balkans, most obvious success story. For example, in Macedonia, the EU, working closely with the US and with NATO, played a central role in encouraging political reform and, we hope, preventing another Balkan conflict. Through Javier Solana, Europe also played a key role in brokering a deal between Serbia and Montenegro – which we believe has prevented a split which could cause instability throughout the Balkans.

In the Middle East, the special relationship between the US and Israel gives US diplomacy a dominant voice, whether or not the Americans or we like it, and complicates separate EU diplomacy, but we are nevertheless playing an increasing, and increasingly valuable, role. In Africa, we are also making progress. A region in which there have been historical differences between France and Britain is now an area of cooperation.

But the key question for me is whether EU member states have the political will to deliver a genuinely credible CFSP. This remains the challenge, both on institutions and on substance. We need to build up the role of Javier Solana further and find the right set-up to combine the diplomatic weight of the bigger countries with equal participation in decision making for all. This is a task for the Convention on the Future of Europe – I warn you it will not be easy, not least to define the right role for the European Commission in all this.

On the substance, it will remain difficult to come up with credible initiatives in the key areas. For example, can we one day have as coherent a policy towards Central or South-East Asia as we do today towards the Balkans? And are we ready to pay the financial price of a greater regional and broader global role? More questions than answers, but that is the challenge before us.

On the security/defence side too, the challenges are clear. The EU will not become a "superpower" (as the Prime Minister said in his speech in Warsaw last year) or a serious "pôle" in a multipolar world (to use the French expression) if we are not ready to fund our ambitions and improve our capabilities. That means reforming our militaries; changing the way we spend our defence budgets and what we spend them on; and taking a hard look at the amount we spend. Everyone can and must always do better, but for example Britain and France have professionalised their armed forces and spend around 20-25% of their defence budgets on equipment and about 12% on R&D. This is not the case for all Europeans. We cannot hope to match US defence spending, and, without the extent of the US' global responsibilities, probably do not need to. But we clearly must do better than at the moment.

Finally a word about what could well turn out to be the key security challenge of the 21st century – weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. This is a broad and increasing threat, with a number of countries pursuing chemical, biological or nuclear programmes, often in direct contravention of international commitments they have freely taken in – in other words, they are cheating.

The most urgent case is that of Iraq. I will not say more about that now – I do not want to respond to all your questions in advance. But I do say this: Iraq's refusal to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions, in particular its illegal WMD programmes, must be dealt with, and not dodged. And I am convinced that it is of the greatest importance that the international community – and Britain and France in particular as permanent members of the Security Council and as EU partners – reach a shared analysis of the way forward, and act together. This matters, both in the context of Iraq and more widely. Every case is different and calls for different responses. Iraq represents a pressing and urgent case. But if the international community cannot agree a way forward in this case, it will be all the more difficult to agree a common way forward in the other cases that will, I have no doubt, arise over the coming years.

The point is that Britain and France have a crucial role to play in the development of the defence and foreign policy in the EU. When we agree we can drive forward the European debate. When we disagree, the EU is blocked. The EU can and must play a greater role in international relations and security; Britain and France are key partners in bringing that about. That was the judgement we made at St Malo, a judgement confirmed by the progress we have made over the past four years. Together we now have to work with our EU and international partners to deliver a credible EU military capability and the coherent European foreign and security policy of which it is part.