The Emergence of a New European Map: France, the U.S. and the Future of Europe

7/4/12: On Tuesday, June 26, 2012, the Hudson Institute hosted a lunchtime talk of former senior military officers and civilian national security policy makers to discuss security developments in Europe and Afghanistan.

Among the guests were Lieutenant General (retired) Jean-Patrick Gaviard, French civilian strategists Olivier Zajec and Murielle Delaporte, and American analyst Robbin Laird.

Robbin Laird, who organized and moderated the discussion, said he has been seeking in Second Line of Defense and through these discussions to give voice to the warfighters, such as General Gaviard. He also had been trying to provoke people to think more deeply about the implications of the Euro crisis, the Arab upheavals, Afghanistan, the decline in NATO defense spending, and other central issues often neglected by U.S. policy makers in Washington, who all too often just converse and comfort one another with misleading bromides.

The discussion touched on several important issues.

Recent developments do not easily fit into the typical models for the future of Europe. The Iraq invasion, the Afghan engagement and the rise of Iran as a key regional player along with the discontinuity associated with the Arab spring work together to create a new global chessboard.

Disaggregation is the most likely outcome of the current Euro crisis.  But this disaggregation will be followed by new forms of re-aggregation, even in the face of economic and political pressures within Europe and global pressures outside of Europe seeking to influence European outcomes.

A challenge facing European and U.S. elites is how unprepared they are for strategic unraveling. Threats to the European core such as Muslim fundamentalism, Russian energy policy, and Chinese eco-imperialism will reshape European history.

The so-called Pacific Pivot is a statement by the Obama Administration of a movement from Europe. But the commitment of resources to such a strategy are not evident.  It may be more about drawing down from the Middle East and Europe, rather than a strengthening with new resources the Pacific presence by the United States.  It may well be an aspirational statement covering a strategic withdrawal.

Europe is essentially on its own in a fundamental sense as key European countries sort through the disaggregation of the Euro zone and address the reshaping political and economic map of Europe. Can European forces then be in a position to address the new strategic challenges? After the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the French army will have to redefine its goals and even scope. And the French military needs to take steps to ensure that it does not lose the skills it has painfully obtained in Afghanistan. Credit Image: Bigstock

But rather than a strong America underwriting European expansion of the 1990s, the U.S. is not able or willing to underwrite the next phase of European development in the 21st century. Even if the Romney Administration replaces the Obama Administration, the turnover in Congress – which will be significant –- underscores that rather than a new American strategy challenging Europe, it will be difficult for Washington to have an effective strategy from the outset.  There is no going back to the past, whether Republican or Democratic.

Europe is essentially on its own in a fundamental sense as key European countries sort through the disaggregation of the Euro zone and address the reshaping political and economic map of Europe.

One could easily see a new scenario develop in which the United States aligns with the countries of northern Europe, which are determined to retain needed military capabilities such as the F-35, in defense of their interests in the Arctic region, but the United States needed a well-developed and effective Arctic strategy to achieve its goals for the region.

The rest of Europe will have to face the troubled Middle East, where Western influence is on the wane.  The map is being redrawn as a result of Arab upheavals, the growing Russian military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, and the failure of Western policymakers to be able to act upon the many discreet security developments there with an integrated framework that understood the deep connections between Europe and the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

In France and the other countries of Europe, attention is fixated on the euro and it is increasingly difficult to persuade elites and publics that Europe needs a strong and advanced military even at the expense of social spending in order to have any diplomatic or economic weight in the international arena.

The missions in Afghanistan and Iraq have led European countries to adjust and innovate their military strategies, and their armed forces have shaped significant innovations to move forward, but funding and commitment remains a key challenge.

Can European forces then be in a position to address the new strategic challenges?

France and other European countries must renew their military technologically and advance military cooperation.

A vibrant issue in France regards the uncertainty around the new Socialist administration of President Francois Hollande and what changes the administration will implement in the country’s foreign and defense policies. And capabilities matter; it is not just a question of Summit declarations and self hugging.

The main concerns in France regard the uncertainty of Hollande’s agenda, the risk of budget cuts for the military, and the difficulties of reintegrating soldiers into French society after Afghanistan.

While Hollande’s agenda on national defense is unclear, the administration has made clear it plans to keep France’s nuclear forces at current levels. France will not soon follow the Obama administration on the road to nuclear zero. The French military noted a Gaullist attitude within the new chef-d’état and therefore all are wondering what will be its consequences.

France’s role in NATO is also in play.

Hollande has confirmed that France will remain integrated in NATO, but French analysts believe that this position may change in the future. Hollande refused to back down from his election pledges to remove all French combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012.

There are also suspicions that the new French government might seek to revitalize efforts to create an independent European defense identity after the EU overcomes its current economic and identity crisis. And would this come at the expense of NATO?

Even more significant, how would/should an independent European defense be built in the face of the Euro crises, the patent reluctance of the Germans to operate out of area, tensions between Britain and France, and the inability of the French government to address Northern Europe concerns and foci.

The next Franco-American crisis could well be in the area of missile defense.

Incoming French officials indicated that they would accept the current missile defense capacity but are unenthusiastic about spending a fortune to build a comprehensive system to protect all Europe’s populations. They feel comfortable relying on France’s independent nuclear deterrent, and want to avoid suggesting that missile defenses could reduce the need for its continuation. U.S. officials hope that by offering French companies BMD study contracts, and by supporting French ambitions in Africa, they might secure Paris’ acquiescence to construct the next phases in the planned NATO BMD architecture.

But Hollande’s opposition appears partially philosophical. Moving forward, it will important for the United States to highlight how missile defense supports Europeans as well as Americans.

There is also concern that the Congressional insistence in ending MEADS will undercut the most trans-Atlantic of all land based missile defense programs currently underway.

German and Italians are deeply concerned that after the program has been virtually paid for, that the U.S. Congress is pulling the plug on the U.S. contribution to the program.  This is especially odd to the Italians and Germans involved because MEADS fits into a U.S. Army expeditionary requirement and can benefit significantly from F-35 targeting capabilities.

France can more easily cooperate in military affairs with the United Kingdom than with Germany, which has a more limited strategic perspective and an aversion to using military force.

For example, Germany refused to support Sarkozy’s plan for a Mediterranean Union. Cooperation with Germany in security affairs is difficult also due to diverging security perception and priorities.

But cooperation on political issues is easier with Germany than with Britain, which still does not consider itself wholly in Europe. So the new French government will struggle to make Germany more like Britain.

Meanwhile, French soldiers in Afghanistan most prefer fighting with the Americans, which share the high skills of the French and British soldiers and have extensive technological capabilities.

The end of the French military commitment in Afghanistan could lead to a reduction of the French military budget, a change in national defense strategy, and the new role for French military forces in Europe.

After having fought the insurgents in Afghanistan for ten years, the French military forces have been focused on fighting terrorism and pursuit of counter-insurgencies. The Ministry of Defense will have to rethink the scope of the French military and develop new strategies for homeland security and as the French military returns to its expeditionary roots.

But clearly having to operate at the distance, which Afghanistan requires, has seen the French enhance expeditionary logistics and support capabilities.

How will these capabilities play in future approaches and strategies?

The challenge of further technological advancement is another issue that the French army will have to address. With a reduction of the military budget, technological advancement and innovation will be even more difficult for the French army than for the French Air Force.

After the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the French army will have to redefine its goals and even scope. Other European countries must also revise their military strategies and acquire new technological capabilities.

Of immediate concern is that the French government and French society may not know how to reintegrate thousands of troops and soldiers arriving from Afghanistan within the French society.

They have found fighting in Afghanistan a logistical, medical, and personal challenge.

The mission in Afghanistan is unusual for France because French military missions historically have taken place only in Europe or Africa. Along with the war in Algeria, the war in Afghanistan has imposed the highest French losses in human and capital resources.

And the logistic challenges relating to the war in Afghanistan have been much more challenging, and can be compared in magnitude only to the preparation for World War II.

The French military needs to take steps to ensure that it does not lose the skills it has painfully obtained in Afghanistan.

These include new tactics for fighting insurgents, reducing battlefield casualties, making greater use of helicopters and combat aircraft, and new technologies such as night vision and improved forward air trafficking.

The Ministry of Defense will also need to manage a logistically challenging return of French military equipment to France under extreme environmental conditions and in cases when budget cuts are already disrupting the withdrawal plans.

For France, security in North Africa is very important, and the French people are likely to call on any government to intervene in any crisis there to keep them safe.

But Germany and other many European states are often not concerned by such crises. North and East European countries worry about Russia in the Arctic, while the rest of Europe is preoccupied with the economic crisis.

Although France wants to see stability in the Mediterranean region and Africa, French forces would find it difficult to intervene there without U.S. support since the rest of Europe will not provide sufficient logistical and other resources.

It might be possible to secure German support for post-conflict reconstruction in North Africa, but the experience of post-Kaddafi Libya is not encouraging in this regard.

So France might need to apply what it has learned in Afghanistan to the evolving environment in the Mediterranean.

The forthcoming Strategic Inflection Points Report 2 which will be published later this month deals with the Euro crisis and its consequences.  The first SIP report dealt with China and the impacts of its projected hard economic landing as well as the reactions to a nuclear Iran in the Middle East.

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