Center for Strategic Decision Research

Paris '07 Workshop

Opening Address of the 24th International Workshop on Global Security

General Henri Bentegeat


General Henri Bentegeat
EU Military Committee

General Henri Bentegeat (left) presents the opening address of the 24th International Workshop on Global Security.

"The number of major international players is increasing, which is creating new obligations;
military action has reached its limits, and new approaches are required"

It is a great privilege to speak at this forum, which addresses every year, in a thought-provoking way, the main security and defense issues on both sides of the Atlantic.

I am delighted that my friend, General James Jones, will also be speaking to you. The fact that he is a great patriot and military leader, a man of conviction who is also thoughtful, and a man who spent time in France during his formative years makes him one of the best assets for a strong transatlantic relationship. He and I have gone through turbulent times in a spirit of mutual confidence and comprehension.

Today I have no plans to present a general policy expose nor do I intend to give you an exacting presentation on European institutions. Everything has been said or will be said here on our security environment and the challenges raised by the Near and Midlle East, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Africa. Based on my experience of the past five years, I am going to call your attention to the increasingly complex prevention and management of crises.

          As one of my staff members put it when I asked him if we had made progress, “We were on the edge of the abyss one year ago but we've taken a big step forward since that time.” All joking aside, the game is undoubtedly getting more complicated, for three reasons:

          1. The number of major international players is increasing, which is creating new obligations.

          2. Military action has reached its limits and new approaches are required.

          3. Military operations are getting more and more complex to run and manage, a fact that our political and military leaders must take into account.


Five years ago, it was believed and acknowledged that the great strategic balances of the past had become permanently obsolete. There was only one very large political, economic, and military power—the United States of America. Whether this fact was viewed with joy or regret, no one could deny that, as the sole major actor, the U.S. had the advantage of exhibiting the values of democracy and freedom. This undisputable predominance affected the credibility and functioning of old and well-established institutions, such as the U.N. and NATO. 

Since that time, however, the international landscape has become considerably more complex. On the political scene, Russia and China have reaffirmed in various ways their intent to be involved in the most sensitive issues. Militarily, Japan’s rising importance and India’s emergence have confirmed that these two countries have gradually evolved and now hold a leading international role.

International organizations are also assuming new responsibilities.  The U.N. is deploying over 100,000 men in more than 60 peace-enforcement operations and its modalities for action include quick combat interventions, as was the case in Congo. On the African continent, the African Union is becoming an indispensable actor in spite of its current lack of capabilities.  In the Middle East, the Arab League is taking on a major role.

As to the Western world, NATO and the EU are evolving and adapting. While other speakers at the workshop will talk about the evolution of the Alliance, I am going to say a few words about the EU’s adaptation.

ESDP, sometimes called “The Defense Dimension of the EU,” or “Europe de la Defense,” has become a reality. It was born in 2003 with the approval by the European Council of a document called the “European Security Strategy.” Since that time, the European Union has organized 16 missions or civilian, military, or civilian/military operations in Europe, Africa, and Asia, four of which were military peacekeeping operations or operations for imposing peace, with or without the involvement of NATO’s collective capabilities. Today, the European Union is conducting its own reform in order to create better synergy between its capabilities for civilian and military action. A few years ago, Henry Kissinger was wondering which phone number he should call in case he needed to call Europe. Today, for this particular need, world leaders are well aware of Javier Solana’s phone number.

The multiplication of actors has made crisis management more complex. Of course, the U.N., NATO, and the EU have similar objectives: maintaining peace and defending freedom and democratic values. But the multiplication of crises and the arrival on the political scene of new actors with different visions of the world as well as different interests makes a close EU/NATO partnership even more necessary if both organizations' efforts are to complement each other without competition or duplication.

          In order for this partnership to develop efficiently, several principles must be respected:

• Autonomy of decisions within each organization—that is, no European caucus within NATO and no preemption of European decisions by NATO

• Rejection of dogmatisms born out of irrational fears

We have no reason to fear that NATO’s military power will overwhelm the EU’s limited military capability. In the same way, we should not be afraid of developing the EU's capacity for action. This capacity is neither being built against the United States, a major and indispensable ally for European security, nor is it a threat to NATO, a unique military alliance that is indispensable as well. Finally, we must resolve the dual and difficult question of the reunification of Cyprus and the place of Turkey in Europe.

On these bases, EU/NATO complementarity must be organized in an atmosphere of trust and transparency. The recent multiplication of contacts between military staffs and the exchanges at the secretary-general level underscore the mutual willingness to develop this partnership in a pragmatic way. This is all the more important now that military action has reached its limits.


Undoubtedly, the most obvious sign of military action having reached its limit is the exhaustion of available resources. To be more specific, there is a dramatic shortage today in the number of deployable ground forces, in particular, with helicopters and strategic and tactical air transport. All international organizations are affected. As far as NATO and the EU are concerned, whose resources come mainly from the same pool, we must recognize that either the “transformation” has been insufficient or European nations are unwilling to spend money in faraway adventures that receive little public support.

Nevertheless, we should not go too far in excoriating the Europeans.  Today, France and the United Kingdom deploy 12% of their ground forces in operations, compared with 15% for the United States. Although there is a difference, it is not that large. Still, how can we not remember that, in 1991, 500,000 men were deployed in Kuwait during the Desert Storm coalition? And how can we ignore the sharp reduction in defense spending in Europe following the end of the Cold War? 

The European Union has been accused of not making a great enough effort to increase European capabilities. This accusation is unfounded.  The EU has initiated and continues to develop a capability development process that is thorough, modern, and rigorous, especially through the European Defense Agency. This has made it possible to increase force interoperability while decreasing weaknesses through better cooperation and integration. But defense budgets remain a national prerogative, and many governments take advantage of the NATO security umbrella to limit their effort.

Even setting aside the resource problem, we must acknowledge the limits of purely military action, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have all become aware of the fact that it is impossible to stabilize a crisis area without a reconstruction effort. Attempting to eradicate violence without a global approach to the crisis as well as a clear understanding of its origins and roots would be illusory.

          In this regard, I would like to underline the essential structural difference between the European Union and NATO. NATO is a military alliance, the most powerful one in world history, and it is also the indispensable instrument of the transatlantic link. The European Union is not a military alliance; it is a community of nations that has initiated a European integration process and whose means of action are considerably more diversified than NATO's. These means include commerce, development, finances, justice, police, environmental, and, since 2003, a limited but credible military action. This potentially provides the European Union with a unique capability to act simultaneously on all levels of a crisis to prevent or manage it.

          Therefore, limiting the EU’s role in the management of crises to that of civilian complement to NATO military action is unreasonable. It can be done, though, and we are preparing to do so in Kosovo and in Afghanistan. However, recent experience shows the advantages of being able to manage a crisis in a centralized and integrated way.

          Of course, the EU does not have the vocation or the means to manage all crises. But when crises don't require a large military engagement, we should keep in mind and utilize the EU’s potential to be a complete actor.

As I already mentioned, the international landscape is getting more complex and military action has reached its limit. For those of us who are military leaders, however, the increasingly difficult conducting of operations has become our biggest worry.


Many factors—asymmetric war, multiple nations, growing recourse to legal intervention, the media, the desire to win the hearts and minds of the people—are directly affecting the success of our operations. The asymmetry of modern conflicts has been well documented in many forms: military asymmetry, when a regular and powerful army is assaulted by ill-equipped groups without uniforms; mode of action asymmetry, when our firepower is paralyzed by suicide bombings or civilian crowds of women and children; and behavioral asymmetry, when our publics demand that we use our force in a perfectly controlled way while our adversaries have no qualms about resorting to the most abject violence. Military powers are constrained by the obligations placed upon them to proportion their military response to the adversary, to spare civilians, and even to respect the environment.

For reasons of political legitimacy, multinational operations have become the norm. But incorporating multiple nations tends to decrease the efficiency of the force. Cohesion and interoperability are difficult to achieve. Multiple national caveats and rules of engagement seriously complicate the task of the force commander. I was even told recently by a major NATO commander that, after 40 years of service in the military, he had discovered a new form of command—the “bargaining” command.

The conducting of operations is also hampered by the growing recourse to legal intervention in the military arena. Those who participate in an operation are now responsible for all their actions, as evidenced by the creation of the International Criminal Court. While an omnipresent legal system is a fundamental protection for all, it can have an unwanted result among military leaders who may, as a result, feel inhibited and unable to take risks. Such risk is particularly severe concerning the treatment of prisoners without clear legal status.

Finally, when they instantly deliver to the “tribunal” of public opinion any action taken by our armed forces, the media also contribute to inhibiting military leaders. The Internet and the multiplication of cell phones make information control very difficult—though there is a gain in transparency, the operational consequences of leaks can be devastating.

Other challenges on the ground, for example, the balance between force protection and the presence of forces among a population, are also difficult to meet. How can we win a country's hearts and minds if we stay in our bunkers? How, in some cases, can we show the conflicting parties that we are impartial while needing to stay close to local leaders?

I would not go so far as to say that our soldiers are being placed in unbearable situations. Our elders who fought in World War II tell us they saw much worse. But we do need to be aware that the new constraints that place a burden on the conducting of operations elicit diverging national attitudes that are not due to military leaders’ actions but reflect political choices that correspond to national parliaments’ ways of thinking and reacting. Although this may be regrettable, we must accept it as a fact of life in a democracy.


The growing complexity in the management of international crises requires that all civilian and military leaders make a great effort of humility, conviction, and competence. Decisions to engage forces must also be well thought out and concerted, with a clear vision of the final goal. A global strategy must also be defined and a coordinator selected. Finally, our political leaders must have a precise idea of the military means that are necessary and of the contributions our partners will be asked to make.

All of you know well that a long road must be traveled before we can reach the ideal scenario. A while ago, American and European positions regarding conflicts were contrasted by invoking Mars and Venus. Perhaps we need Minerva or Athena, the goddess of reason, today.

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