The Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale (IHEDN) and Egmont hosted a conference on “The French White Book on National Defence and Security: A contribution to the European Council on Defence?”. The event took place on Friday 14 June 2013 at the Palais d’Egmont, and engaged in a discussion between Francis Delon (Secrétaire Général de la Défense et de la Sécurité nationale), General Wosolsobe (Director-General of the EU Military Staff), and Professor Jolyon Howorth (Yale University).
The new White Book on National Defence and Security was released on 29 April 2013. It is the fourth White Book and it updates the latest one of June 2008, taking stalk of recent evolutions:
– The economic crisis and the strained pressure exerted on national defence budgets
– The Arab Spring
– The increase of Asia’s defence spending
– The dangers related to cyber attacks
As the EU is currently undergoing a deep political and economic crisis, Francis Delon claimed that there was a need to strengthen all solidarity mechanisms, including in the fields of security and defence. In this perspective, France invited a German and a UK expert to participate in the elaboration of its White Book. The overall ambition of the White Book was to combine the current budgetary situation with the major geostrategic changes. The book does not contain any major surprises or changes; it mostly confirms previous trends and positions; Francis Delon reasserted that the White Book was inscribed in European defence and in the Euro-Atlantic Alliance, which all formed a community of fate.
The December 2013 Council will focus on three elements:
– A political chapter: it is the occasion to re-launch a European dynamic, although Francis Delon warned against the danger of limiting talks to general formulations that would avoid getting into the core debate on European defence and capabilities.
He called for a step by step method to identify the necessities of Europe in terms of capabilities.
– A capability chapter: the Council needs to engage in a real exchange of views on Pooling and Sharing (P&S). Mentioning strategic airlift, air-to-air refuelling and communication satellites, there is a need for a discussion on the possibility to make these capabilities available at one of the different levels (national? European? NATO?).
– An industrial chapter: Francis Delon argued that a limit shall be put on fratricide competition between European companies. He also asserted that there was a need to ensure that European Research & Development does not end up benefitting to external actors.
General Wosolsobe sustained that the White Book would contribute to the December Council by offering a clearer perspective for priorities and by providing a more pragmatic view on a number of issues. He invited all EU Member States to write their own European chapters of their defence White Books, an exercise which he considered would be useful in terms of overall convergence and coherence of EU security and defence, but also for the strengthening of P&S.
Jolyon Howorth focused on two main aspects of the White Book: the mechanisms of cooperation and the strategic range. He talked about the “risques de la faiblesse” related to the White Book’s definition of the Atlantic area and Europe’s larger neighbourhood extending to the Sahel as core strategic priorities. Yet, he underlined that France’s partners did not share the same vision in this respect. Raising the questions of NATO’s and Europe’s roles outside the Euro-Atlantic, Jolyon Howorth referred to the paradigm shift that Libya constituted, arguing that the case of Mali served as a confirmation of the new European paradigm; one where the Common Security and Defence Policy is at risk.
Can the White Book pave the way for a European White Book on Security and Defence?
Views somehow converged. Francis Delon and Jolyon Howorth agreed on the fact that a European White Book was likely to be reduced to the lowest possible common denominator. Thus, what would ultimately be its added value?
General Wosolsobe, on his part, argued that a good option would be to have a series of Defence Councils at regular intervals, which would allow EU heads of state to set up timeframes, deadlines, and benchmarks to support progress in the field.
You can find the French White Book on National Defence and Security here