Sign Up

Renewing the Transatlantic Security Partnership

Why do both the United States and Europe need a transatlantic alliance?

March 22, 2004

Why do both the United States and Europe need a transatlantic alliance?

2003 was a difficult year for transatlantic relations in general, and for the Franco-American relationship in particular. But quite aside from the problems over Iraq, many observers on both sides of the Atlantic are worried about what they call the "continental drift" and the weakening of the transatlantic link. In this Globalist Document, French Minister of Defense Michèle Alliot-Marie explains her views on this issue.

It is something of a paradox that France should sometimes be stigmatized in Washington as a strategic adversary of the United States.

To listen in some quarters, France is supposed to be trying to develop a counterweight to the United States — especially through European integration.

Nothing strikes me as being further from reality than this summary vision of Franco-American relations.

Let us consider objective facts, indisputable social, economic and strategic realities:

France — like the United States — is a country rich in its ethnic and religious diversity. We share for the most part the same values and an identical wish to see democracy and human rights promoted through the world.

Our economies are increasingly interdependent. France, after the United Kingdom, is the second-largest direct investor in the United States. And a fact often forgotten is that French companies employ more than 650,000 Americans in the United States.

France is also one of America’s foremost partners in high-technology sectors, in space for example.

Above all, France is America’s oldest ally. So many of our soldiers have died side by side, and in a few months we will be commemorating together the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings.

France is still today a major partner of the United States on security issues — within NATO and outside. To shoulder its responsibilities, France has made a major effort to modernize its armed forces, which is reflected in the defense budget.

In the interests of efficiency, we have to work together on clear-cut bases. The real question in my view is the following: Hasn’t the time come for all people who share the same fundamental values to sit down and discuss how to deal together with all these problems?

We want our democratic model to become the norm in the world. But we know that democracy can’t be decreed. And for the graft to take, it has to take into account the historical and socio-cultural realities of countries where it is being implanted. So let’s discuss together how best to promote it.

Terrorism is a great threat to world stability and development. The fight against its perpetrators is a national and international priority.

France suffered from terrorism far earlier than others did, so it has gained some real expertise here. The cooperation between our intelligence services clearly reflects our common concern.

But anti-terrorism efforts will succeed only if we also address the causes of terrorism, namely the sense of frustration in the face of injustice and poverty.

The humiliation is exploited by fanatics. So let us work together to eradicate blind violence, but also its roots!

The United States is the world’s foremost power, and we are pleased it is a friend and ally. France definitely does not seek systematically to counter the United States in the world — or to diminish its influence.

We simply want to promote our vision of things, as we respect that of others. So let us discuss how to make the most of today’s globalized world, while preserving the Earth’s diversity — which is an asset for all.

We should be listening more to the Arab-Muslim world: the sense of injustice and humiliation is really very widespread. It is being used by terrorist networks.

So it’s up to us to show consideration for its civilization, which is very old, understanding for its problems, which are very real, determination to resolve collectively the Israel-Arab conflict — and resolve to help the Arab world enter modernity.

We must help moderate Muslims counter the rise in a radical Islam that has come about through the bankruptcy of many states and the exploitation that’s been made of this by power-hungry fanatics.

That is our common responsibility to meet together, but each with our own cards, as this is a complex and sensitive problem.

The Atlantic Alliance is important for us. It is our collective guarantee in a world full of uncertainties. We must continue to adapt it so that is remains an effective instrument in the service of our common security.

The accelerated development of Defense Europe will strengthen the Alliance because it shows that the Europeans are determined to shoulder more of the responsibility.

The UN is our common home. It is not just an organization like any other. It is the international norm of reference. It is also the place for dialogue and collective action. So it is up to us to make it work better, by adapting its composition and missions to the new international realities.

The world is becoming multipolar. The word should not be considered politically incorrect or hostile to the United States.

Who can fail to see the emergence of China, India and Brazil? Who can ignore European integration — or the place of Russia?

These poles of influence are not necessarily antagonistic. The multipolar world must be one of partnerships. And we must make sure that the privileged link between the European and American poles of influences is maintained. Let’s say quite simply that the sole alternative to the multipolar would be chaos.

When you consider the enormity of the task ahead to manage our planet more rationally and more justly, the energies of us all will not be too much. Each part of the world — every country — must contribute.

More than others, the United States and Europe — which gave birth to democracy and human rights and which are the most advanced technologically — have a special responsibility. Transatlantic cooperation is necessary for world equilibrium.

Faced with the difficulties the United States is encountering in certain parts of the world, it needs the support of its European allies.

On its side, Europe has no interest in seeing the United States lose credibility in the Middle East and then adopt a more isolationist policy.

American withdrawal from the international scene could be very detrimental to Europe, as has been the case in the past.

In a more global perspective, the world needs a Western alliance. A power like China, India or Brazil is not going to invest in Africa or try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So let us reinvent the transatlantic link, so as to give direction to the current reorganization of our global world.

Recent progress on non-proliferation with Iran and Libya shows that a plurality of approaches can bear fruit in the complex world we live in.

A certain flexibility in the roles devolving to each of us will let us combine for the best the means at our disposal. There can be room for differences without their indicating disloyalty or a desire to undermine the other.

We must maintain a trusting, permanent dialogue in order to anticipate crises together and the means to master them. We can never have too many channels of communication.

France wants this. It still believes in our old alliance.

Drawn from French Minister of Defense Michèle Alliot-Marie's speech to CSIS in Washington, D.C. on January 16, 2004.

For the full version of her speech click here.