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The Vedrine report: a full and objective inventory of France’s relations with NATO

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Hubert Vedrine has the merit of asking the right questions about certain excesses of the Alliance’s military strategy that went against the interests of France and Europe. His recommendations to control them are clear but sometimes expressed in a form that is too diplomatic to alert an unsuspecting public.

After a comprehensive history of France’s relations with NATO (pages 1 to 6), Hubert Vedrine seeks to assess the benefit (pages 6-10) that France drew from coming back to integrated military command. The decision to return was made by Nicolas Sarkozy and criticized by the opposing parties at that time (left, green). This analysis, which Vedrine emphasizes is made with only short hindsight (3 years), focuses on France’s influence in NATO (positions, operations, strategy and industrial interests), on the effect on Europe and on France’s diplomatic image.

To Hubert Vedrine this return has made NATO structures more French, with French participation increasing from 242 to 925 military staff and the provision of important positions including one of the two “supreme” commandments with the Secretary General : the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT: Supreme Allied Commander Transformation).

It highlights the most tangible benefit of this return, the reform of NATO: “France has played a leading role since 2009 to prioritize, overhaul procedures, reduce the number of agencies from 14 to 3 (hoping for a 20% savings), reduce the command structure (staff reduction of 35% in 2013), decrease from 11 to 7 the joint staff and thus make savings, and prepare a move to the new headquarters in 2016”.

In contrast, he found the influence on the strategy understandably more mitigated. Despite the success in November 2010 at the Lisbon summit against the advice of Germany and with U.S. support for it to be “reaffirmed that the Alliance strategy is based on nuclear deterrence” France “agreed for NATO to decide to develop a capacity to defend territories and populations against ballistic missiles, based on an extension of theater defense program (ALTBMD: Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense).”

Hubert Vedrine said that this decision was validated by François Hollande at the Chicago summit with reservations: “the principles to which France remains committed regarding ballistic missile defense: the complementary and not substitutable character of missile defense for nuclear deterrence; adapting the system to the threat; political control by the Allies; cost control; the need to preserve the BITDE (Industrial and Technological Base of European Defense); and finally cooperation with Russia. ”

This part of the report reflects Hubert Vedrine’s doubts on France’s reserves being effectively taken into account by its partners and in particular the United States.

To express these doubts, he asks and seeks to answer 5 questions (page 7):

  • “Until what stage of development will missile defense be complementary to the dissuasion; from which point will it undermine its credibility?
  • Given the huge investments of American industry (nearly $ 10 billion per year over the past decade), what is the share set aside for European industry in the manufacturing of elements of the early defensive system?
  • Is a unified European position possible regarding strategy and industrial interests?
  • Now presented as designed to counter an Iranian ballistic missile threat, what is the justification for this system if the risk was under control?
  • Is the Chicago Declaration credible (paragraph 62): “The NATO missile defense is not directed against Russia and it will not affect Russian strategic deterrent capabilities”? ».

These five questions hold the answers within them: it is a major strategic mistake to accept the deployment of a ballistic antimissile system in Europe. Hubert Vedrine does not state it in those terms but his answers inevitably lead there. I personally consider that the strategic goal of this program is to prevent the achievement of the European entity from the Atlantic to the Urals that de Gaulle wanted.

Hubert Vedrine, for his part, is very clear especially on the impact on relations with Russia: “It is not convincing, at least in the eyes of Russians who believe -sincerely or not, or to make a pledge- that the completion of this program (Phases 3 and 4 of the EPAA) corresponds to a breakdown of strategic equilibrium. Whether we approve or not, this policy hampers the Alliance’s Russian policy and that of each of the Allies. French politics (and of other countries) towards Russia should not result from a domino effect, but be defined as a whole.”

He concludes his analysis by a judgment that I totally agree with: “Even back within NATO, France has so far only just been able to preserve, in the texts, nuclear deterrence, without affecting delaying or modifying a major U.S. military-industrial complex project since the Reagan years (already partly installed in Japan, Israel and the Gulf), and has a potential strategic upheaval.”

* * *

The second part of the report is devoted to a very complete and accurate state of the art of the Alliance, NATO and European defense. Although Hubert Vedrine emphasizes the vitality and dynamism of the Alliance (pages 10-12), he notes the limited and fragile progress, the let down hopes of European defense despite 25 years of effort (pages 13-19 ) which is of no surprise to an analyst of diplomatic and defense issues.

* * *

The third part is devoted to recommendations (pages 19-24). They are unsurprisingly in line with his analysis and express high levels of intact voluntarism from Hubert Vedrine who doesn’t want France to suffer without reacting, like many of its European partners, from the excesses initiated by the United States in accordance with their strategic interests. He wants France to be the watchdog and guarantor of Europe’s interests in the Alliance and its military organization.

He expresses this conviction by three powerful words that make up one of the major parts of his report: “Vigilance, requirement/demand, influence” which we can only agree with.

For Hubert Vedrine:

  • “Vigilance means that we will ensure that it remains a military alliance, refocused on collective defense and with the least politico-military action;
  • Vigilance also on the defensive nature of the Alliance and its foundation: nuclear deterrence;
  • Vigilance on the conceptual and theoretical risk of “phagocytosis”. Our army must preserve its own ability for threat analysis, reflection and prediction of scenarios and even planning, which has been the case until now without “relying” on NATO and European structures;
  • Vigilance yet on industrial and technological issues. “Significant reduction in the U.S. military budget “will make the famous American military-industrial complex even more offensive to its competitors, including Europeans on European and global markets.”

Faced with these risks, Hubert Vedrine recommends that the French authorities promote “Europeanization of the Alliance” design and implementation “of an industrial strategy French, and European, in NATO” and “persevere more concretely being more demanding in the construction of a European defense.” Hubert Vedrine believes that the time is appropriate because “all point to there, circumstantially, some U.S. availability or demand for an increased role of Europeans in the Alliance.”

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Hubert Vedrine concludes his excellent report which I wholeheartedly adhere to with an assertive statement addressed to the French President: “The transformation of foreign policy and U.S. defense policy, and the uncertain evolution of an unstable multipolar world, make it more necessary and less impossible for Europeans to play a larger role in their own defense until they take charge of it mostly by themselves, whilst remaining allies of the Americans. This policy should be lead simultaneously, within the European Union, NATO and ad hoc groups, according tactics tailored to each case and each compound and anticipating deadlines. This is a bold and uninhibited policy of increased influence in the Alliance that will facilitate France’s European efforts. Maintaining a certain level of ability is of course essential to its success.”

General (2S) Jean-Bernard PINATEL