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Europe: Germany And France Push For Defense Industry

  • Roland Eggleston

Munich, 28 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Germany and France are acknowledged as the powerhouses driving the economic and political integration of Europe. It has now been disclosed that they want to be the driving forces in a powerful European defense industry.

German officials say the idea is to build on the technologically-advanced French arms industry to create a European enterprise which can challenge the United States and Russia as a potential supplier to the world arms market.

In particular, France would like the European countries of NATO to adopt a policy of "Europe first " when buying new tanks and other weapons. At present NATO relies largely on American weaponry.

The Franco-German proposals for developing a powerful European arms industry were discussed by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac at their December 9 summit in the German city of Nuremberg.

They were part of a wider discussion on a common strategic concept for Europe. The defense discussions were confidential and came to light only at the weekend when the French daily "Le Monde" obtained a German copy of the ten-page document.

German officials in Bonn told correspondents that in fact there is little that is controversial or new in the document. They said it will probably be presented to the NATO allies in Brussels tomorrow and may be published on Thursday.

According to German officials, the main goal of the document is to stress the importance of the Franco-German partnership in the defense and security of Europe. Paris and Bonn are pressing strongly for a restructuring of the NATO alliance. They want the Atlantic partnership with the United States reformed in a way which gives Europe a greater role.

Other experts say another goal was to smooth over the tensions created by the French defense reforms in January last year. Germany was taken aback when France announced it was changing the role of its armed forces and was streamlining its defense industries. The French reforms drained funding from several joint arms projects which were popular in Bonn. Some planned projects were canceled. Others, such as joint development of a military satellite, were slowed-down. One commentator at the time spoke of "heartburn" in Bonn over the French move.

In response to these tensions, the document discussed by Kohl and Chirac is said to stress that the security interests of the two countries are "indivisible." It says the two governments see their countries faced by the same dangers.

The one possibly controversial issue is a reference to nuclear weapons, which Germany has renounced. According to "Le Monde" the document says France and Germany "are ready to open a dialogue on the role of nuclear deterrence in the context of a European defense policy".

But diplomats said this is also nothing new. France has several times suggested that its nuclear forces could be part of the European defense mechanism -- so long as they remain under French control. In particular it has had discussions with Britain, the only other European nuclear weapons state. France's previous moves have aroused little enthusiasm in other European countries and diplomats say they are not expected to arouse any interest this time.

But experts believe there might be interest in developing a common European arms industry, although perhaps not to the extent that France is seeking. The proposal for a policy of "buy European first" is likely to meet objections from Britain and Holland which have previously insisted on the right to continue buying American weapons, especially when they are cheaper.

One expert described the European arms industry as being like an oriental bazaar. "A buyer has to go up and down the street visiting one shop after another to find what he wants. In America one goes to one store and gets it."

Not quite correct but close. In the United States there are two serious manufacturers of tanks. In Europe there are ten. In the United States there are just five companies producing missiles. In Europe there are eleven. It is the same with other major weapons.

France would undoubtedly be a major player in a common European arms industry. President Charles de Gaulle's obsession with independence from the United States in the 1960's led to the creation of a powerful defense industry. France produces aircraft carriers, war planes, tanks, artillery, missiles and other weapons of the highest technical quality which are French-made down to the last screw.

Germany cannot match this know-how although its tanks are highly-rated as is its military shipbuilding. The Daimler-Benz aerospace operation, DASA, could presumably also make a major contribution to an all-European defense industry.

Some co-operation already exists. France already co-operates with the British defense industry in several areas, particularly in military electronics. They work together in the production of rockets, satellites and aerial intelligence equipment. But, generally, this co-operation is at the level of individual production companies. There is no government-level agreement on overall defense co-operation.

Small groups of European countries co-operate in other areas -- for instance Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy are going ahead with the development of a new fighter aircraft, the so-called Eurofighter. But that example also illustrates the problems in Europe. Rather than join the consortium, France is going ahead with its own new fighter, the "Rafale."

So a case can be made for developing a common European defense industry based on existing co-operation and capacities. But experts say that before it can get off the ground there are a mountain of political problems to be solved. Not the smallest of them will be national vanities and jealousies.