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Interview with General Jean-Paul Perruche

Image credit: EuroDéfense

Image credit: EuroDéfense

Over the past year, the Senior Editors of European Geostrategy have been undertaking a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this interview, Alexander Mattelaer talks with General Jean-Paul Perruche, President of EuroDéfense-France and Associate Researcher at the French Ministry of Defence’s Institute for Strategic Studies of the Military College, about French defence policy, the Common Security and Defence Policy, land power, strategic autonomy and nuclear deterrence.

AM: One of the most striking features of the latest French Livre Blanc is that the option of an integrated European defence is labelled as ‘illusory’ (p. 61). What can explain the French disenchantment with its European partners?

J-PP: The 2013 French Livre Blanc does not express disenchantment but pragmatism. It confirms (p. 61) the French ambition to build a credible and effective European defence but acknowledges the difficulty in achieving it. A fully integrated European defence must be linked to integrated European political leadership. That would imply that a federal system exists and we are still far off it, although it may stay a long-term objective. However the only way for declining individual European nations to maintain their power and influence in the twenty-first century world is through more union, and pooling and sharing to give them the critical mass. This can be achieved within the European Union (EU) by making gradually converging national policies more and more and in reinforcing interdependency.

AM: Given the disappointment of a lack of a European response to crises such as Libya and Mali, do you think the idea of a ‘Europe de la défense’ is still important to France?

J-PP: Yes, indeed, the lack of a European response to crises such as Libya and Mali reflects in reality the lack of a ‘Europe de la défense’. What has been achieved since 2000 with the Nice Treaty resulted in an embryonic ambition, organisation, structures and capabilities: a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) embedded in the CFSP that is not competent for collective defence, low levels of expected strength and capabilities provided by EU Member States and no permanent operational chain of command. Two obstacles prevent the EU Member States from building up an effective ‘Europe de la défense’: the lack of responsibility in defence due to the dependency culture inherited for over sixty-five years of American leadership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on the one hand, and the divergence of individual defence policies defined exclusively within national frameworks on the other. The combination, and rather intersection, of twenty-eight national policies cannot lead to a single European defence policy. The EU defence requirement has to be considered from a top-down approach as well.

AM: In many European countries, defence reforms are dealing heavy blows to army structures in particular. How do you assess the future relevance of land capabilities for providing security to European citizens?

J-PP: The current scope of potential threats and risks facing European citizens (terrorism, proliferation, illegal migration and trafficking, cyber security, etc…) does not make clear the role of land forces in ensuring their protection. Nevertheless the recent crises in Libya, Mali, Syria or the Central African Republic show that external crises may have direct or indirect consequences on European security. In most cases land forces are and will stay key to ensuring a lasting safe and secure environment in destabilised countries. Anyway, to take account of the diversity and uncertainty of threats, land forces will have to be adaptable, rapidly projectable and able to operate in international frameworks (NATO, EU, United Nations…). The difficulty will be for each individual nation to design the size, performance and equipment of its army, but this exercise would be facilitated if a European framework would exist.

AM: France sees the American pivot to Asia as a signal to enhance European security responsibilities in the neighbourhood, yet the British appear to be willing to engage the Asian region. Do you see a European division of labour on security responsibilities, with the British more interested in global projection tasks and France taking the lead in Africa?

J-PP: The United Kingdom (UK) and France will certainly try to keep their global power status as long as they can; therefore I do not believe that a geographical role and task sharing would be realistic between the two countries. In the spirit of the Lancaster House Treaties both will strive to keep their full sovereignty. Therefore their engagement in external operations will be dictated by their interest. The UK and France should be able to play a shared supporting role as soon as possible either in different theatres or in the same one. As part of an effective CSDP we might imagine a pre-identification of European countries for possible engagement in relation to their regional or thematic interests but this has not yet been agreed by the UK!

AM: We hear much about the need for European ‘strategic autonomy’, but what capabilities would this really require? What would be the cost?

J-PP: Autonomy implies to rely first on its own assets and capabilities; in defence it means technological autonomy, the capacity to produce key equipment for armed forces, autonomy of supply and logistics but also leadership, the ability to decide, to plan and to launch operations. In the EU case, strategic autonomy starts from an identification of common interests, common objectives in foreign and defence policy, the development of an appropriate organisation and capabilities to reach these objectives. Nuclear deterrence is part of it but so too is a significant set of efficient rapid reaction forces; for the future, satellite communications, cyber technologies, remotely piloted aircraft systems, surveillance and strategic lift seem the most essential capabilities to get. It is achievable within the current defence budgets of EU countries only with the condition that they reinforce integration and eliminate the unnecessary duplication between Member States’ defence planning.

AM: At the risk of being provocative: how do you assess the evolving role of nuclear deterrence in delivering European security?

J-PP: Nuclear deterrence reduces significantly the risk of having major war on ones territory and it will continue to do so until all nuclear weapon systems have disappeared from the world. It is worth observing that all big or emerging powers (except Brazil) are nuclear. Although only the UK and France have this status in Europe, it is doubtless that their nuclear deterrence benefits the defence of other European countries owing to geographical and political reasons. A transfer to the European level is not imaginable until an integrated EU exists, but from my perspective, the nuclear disarmament of these two countries would make Europe more and not less vulnerable. Therefore while working possibly for a ‘global zero’ option, other European countries should support the British and French deterrence as long as the conditions for global disarmament are not filled. Consequently, it is important that France and the UK maintain their partnership and financial efforts to keep their nuclear deterrence credible.

Vol. 5, No. 41 (2013)

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