France's vision for NATO

Now, as in the past, we need a strong, mutually supportive, and adapted alliance.

Peace can never be taken for granted, and the first responsibility of any government is security. That is why France wishes to contribute to a political organization of the world that averts perils.

It wishes to help in the exercise of a shared responsibility within the framework of strong, legitimate, and accepted international institutions, particularly through reforms of the United Nations and its Security Council. It is working for a managed globalization that serves people in harmony, justice, and solidarity. It is working to build a political Europe capable of meeting its international responsibilities in the service of peace.

The Atlantic Alliance has a central place in this project. For 10 years, France has been involved in the effort to adapt the alliance to new realities while preserving its original mission. That is why at Wednesday's North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Riga, Latvia, I shall reaffirm the preeminent roles of the Atlantic alliance – a military organization, guarantor of the collective security of the allies, and a forum where Europeans and Americans can combine their efforts to further peace.

The threat of generalized war in Europe has disappeared, and NATO has been profoundly remodeled and adapted. It has been enlarged to include the new democracies. It is building a trustful relationship with Russia, a relationship we must constantly strengthen because preserving peace on the European continent means first avoiding the creation of new fault lines.

In this same spirit, we want to see a partnership between NATO and Ukraine, and we hope that the alliance will welcome the candidate states from the western Balkans once they are ready.

NATO can't lower its guard

Because we live in an age full of promise, some people infer that the time has come to reap the dividends of peace and go back on our commitments.

That would be a grave error in my view. Lowering our guard would mean ignoring the threats of terrorism, aggressive nationalism, and the desire of certain states to engage in power politics in violation of their international commitments. Now, as in the past, we need a strong, mutually supportive, and adapted alliance.

The first imperative of the alliance is the credibility of its military assets. Consequently, we have begun to transform them to enhance their effectiveness and reaction time. In Riga, the NATO Response Force will be declared fully operational. With this capability, the alliance will have an unequaled multinational instrument.

It is essential for each member state to agree to an appropriate defense effort. The Europeans have relied on their American allies for too long.

They must shoulder their share of the burden by making a national defense effort commensurate with their ambitions for the Atlantic Alliance and also for the European Union (EU).

This is a mark of the solidarity that links the two sides of the Atlantic. This is what France, one of the leading contributors to the Alliance, is doing through its Military Estimates Act, which authorizes defense spending for several years. The aim is to ensure the ongoing modernization of its strategic force – in compliance with the principle of strict sufficiency – as well as of the equipment, rapid-response capability, and deployability of French conventional forces.

Adapting the alliance means enabling it to work smoothly and on an equal footing with other international organizations whose mission, sphere of competence, and means are clearly established, particularly in the areas of reconstruction aid, humanitarian assistance, and civil security. The international community's success in resolving conflicts will be the product of such cooperation, without needless duplication.

Adapting the alliance also means providing a political framework for our action. France welcomes the adoption of a global political directive, called the Comprehensive Political Guidance, that sets out the political directions of the alliance's transformation for the next 10 to 15 years.

A 'contact group' for Afghanistan

The same goes for the operations that the alliance has engaged in to further international peace and security. I am thinking first of Afghanistan. France has been present there since 2001 and currently commands the Kabul region.

To bring about the conditions for success, we must act in the framework of a comprehensive strategy, a reaffirmed political and economic process. We need to establish a contact group encompassing the countries in the region, the principal countries involved, and international organizations. This group, which could be modeled after what now exists in Kosovo, will give our forces the means to succeed in their mission in support of the Afghan authorities, and refocus the alliance on military operations.

Adapting the alliance means strengthening its capacity for joint action with other powers. We must further strengthen our relations with countries that are members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. And we must be able to confer with other troop contributors from outside the alliance in the event of crisis.

This expanded dialogue and consultation in individual situations must not distract us from the alliance's central mission. Such dialogue must remain confined to practical matters and focused on situations that may require military intervention by the alliance and its partners. The UN must remain the sole political forum with universal authority.

Taking the EU into account

Lastly, adapting the alliance means taking into account the new reality of the EU, most of whose members also belong to the Atlantic Alliance. I am pleased that the Europeans are beginning to purchase joint equipment such as the A400M (multipurpose heavy transport aircraft) and the Tiger attack helicopter. We are also working with Britain on a joint aircraft-carrier project.

There is progress in the pooling of our assets, particularly strategic transport and officer training. We must now think of giving a permanent dimension to our collective command and operations instruments through the Operations Center set up in the EU.

This development is necessary because the EU's involvement in peace support is growing. A stronger "Defense Europe," more effective and more certain of its assets, enhances alliance capability as a whole and contributes to global equilibrium. Defense Europe and NATO are complementing each other to the benefit of both. Where Europe is better placed to act, for geographical or historical reasons or by the nature of the action, the EU is taking on its share of the responsibilities as it should.

For instance, the EU is properly playing a major role in the western Balkans, to which it has offered the prospect of membership. The EU also took over peacekeeping responsibilities from the alliance in Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In Kosovo, it is preparing – as an initial step – to send a police mission that will constitute a key component of the international presence at a critical period, when the future of the province is at stake.

In Lebanon, it is the Europeans who, at the request of the entire international community, have formed the backbone of the new United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, whose credibility is essential to prevent a further spiral of violence.

This development calls for a more- substantive political and strategic dialogue between the US and the EU. It probably also implies closer relations between NATO and the EU. France is ready for this but wishes the EU's voice to be heard within the alliance. That implies in particular the possibility of EU members consulting among themselves within the alliance.

Such a development will contribute to an ever-stronger and mutually supportive alliance in which North American and European allies will be able to formulate their objectives together and continue to work, side by side, for international peace and security in accordance with the principles and objectives of the UN Charter.

Jacques Chirac is president of France.

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