Judy Asks: Why Shouldn't France Lead European Defense?

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Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe's role in the world.

Stephen F. Szaboexecutive director, Transatlantic Academy

France and Britain are the only two serious military powers within the EU. Both have a strategic sense of the world and possess regional expertise beyond Europe as a result of their imperial traditions. Europe needs both countries if it wants to be a serious defense player as neither alone has sufficient military capabilities to support more than very limited operations. Yet national powers will pursue national, not European, interests when committing their armed forces. Only a European authority will be able to speak and act for Europe. While France and Britain should take the lead in creating a European defense policy, defense forces, and defense industry, they should know that taking unilateral action as France has just done in Mali won’t work. Presenting European and U.S. partners with a fait accompli is not the right way. That won’t prod Europe into acting together. Only when one or both of the most serious military powers demonstrate that they recognize that national security can no longer be obtained at the national level will Europe begin to be a serious defense power.


Comments (2)

  • Eberhard Rhein, Brussels
    Agreed that neither France nor Britain should confront EU partners - how many of them are serious? - with a fait accompli. But Mali was a very special case. The urgency to intervene did not allow for proper consultation. And who would have joined?? Certainly not Germany.
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  • Jerome Spinoza
    Your point about the need for French and UK leadership in European defence matters deserves support. Nevertheless, it is unexact and unfair to say that "unilateral action as France has just done in Mali won’t work". This operation has been launched at the request of a sovereign African state, Mali, within international law (UNSCR 2085) and has benefited from unanimous support (read conclusions of African Union extraordinary summit in Abidjan and EU Council of 17 January). And before, for nearly one year, as African head of states and France warned about risks in Mali and pushed for international commitment, leading to the adoption of three UN resolutions, the EU Council has been supportive to this approach.
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