Berlin Strategy Conference

Address by the Netherlands minister of Defence, J.A. Hennis-Plasschaert, on the occasion of the Berlin Strategy Conference, 28 May 2013 in Berlin.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Military cooperation is no longer a choice, but a necessity!

Some of you may recall I addressed this very same issue earlier this year, at the Munich Security Conference. But it is a crucial message, which I will repeat as often as necessary to overcome political and practical obstacles.

And today’s conference provides an excellent opportunity to reinforce this message. In fact, this year’s themes - sovereignty, security and responsibility - are the main elements of that message.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some say Europe is at risk of becoming irrelevant. But as I said in Munich, it is up to us to turn the corner. It is up to us, up to Europe to assume more responsibility for its own security.

We cannot sit back and relax. If we want the United States to remain the indispensable partner in European security it has been for over 65 years, we have to carry our share of the burden, including the risks.

And Europe can only deal with current and emerging threats, if we work together. First and foremost within Europe. But also with the US as well as other like-minded countries.
Now, some say “easy to state but difficult to achieve”. I tend to disagree. To be perfectly clear, I disagree! Actually, we are in an excellent position to do so.

Most European nations have been working together for decades. Most European nations share a history of joint military operations, in or with NATO and at an unprecedented level in ISAF.
Ladies and Gentlemen, It is high time to take our military cooperation to the next level. For many reasons we should strive for greater military cooperation. Financial austerity will remain an issue for all of us in the years to come.

Besides, we should always spend our taxpayers' money wisely. But most importantly, we can only make up the military shortfalls - identified by NATO as well as the EU - if we are to develop joint approaches. This means closer political cooperation. This means breaking new ground with respect to planning, acquisition, training and logistical support. It also means to seriously align our collective requirements and national priorities.

If we are serious about preventing further gaps in essential military capabilities in Europe, we should end the current practice of making military investments in splendid national isolation. Rather than counteracting each other, we should complement each other. This is of crucial importance in order to enhance our ability to act.

Only then will we be able to truly commit ourselves to the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. Only then will Europe be well positioned to be a convincing provider of security, in its immediate region and beyond. And only then will Europe be a reliable and capable ally.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Every single European nation is both indispensible and responsible for European security.
Whether or not Europe becomes a convincing provider of security does not depend on some, but on all nations.

For they must all provide Europe with the military capabilities to act. There will be no such thing as a European army.

We do not have a NATO army either. What we do need is courage. What we do need is leadership and long-term commitment. What we do need is a pragmatic bottom-up approach enabled by powerful top-down guidance. Political proximity is a vital condition. And the same goes for our armed forces.

You need armed forces that have operated according to the same standards for a long time.
If we want to achieve tangible results, we need military leaders who know each other and each other’s national contexts. I have to say, though, that our armed forces are - in general - remarkably well aware of this notion. It is at the political level rather that we find obstacles to closer cooperation.

Against that background, I consider the Declaration of Intent, to be signed by Germany and the Netherlands later this afternoon, of the utmost importance. Building on an extensive and rock solid relationship, both at home and in countries as far away as Afghanistan.

The German and Dutch armed forces are ready to take their cooperation to an unprecedented level of integration. It entails the harmonization of requirements, procedures, education and training.

And yes, it will take time. But it is dogged that does it! As I said, it involves long-term commitment. At every level! It involves sincere determination to succeed. It involves commitment that reaches well beyond budgetary constraints and the push for efficiency. I am convinced that today's declaration will result in a deeper cooperation between our two countries…and that it will help to create and maintain the capabilities Europe needs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Our responsibilities do not end there. At the European level and within NATO we need to work together in a coordinated and integrated manner, tackling the most critical military shortfalls first.

By doing so, we will create capabilities in an efficient manner, while increasing military effectiveness at the same time. Furthermore, we need to remain fully interoperable…not only with European allies and partners, but also with the US.

At the end of this year, in December, the European Council will provide us with the opportunity to underline the importance of these principles, as well as to promote the harmonization and further elaboration of policies at the European level. About time, as I believe that it is high time we took the next step!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
For Europe to become a convincing provider of security, we also have to consider the third theme of this conference: sovereignty. In Munich and elsewhere, I have repeatedly emphasized that a narrow definition of the concept of sovereignty is the main political obstacle to closer military cooperation. International military cooperation is - still all too often - perceived as a limitation to sovereignty and national control…and, admittedly, a factor that causes emotions to run high. Perfectly understandable, as the lives of our men and women are on the line. I said it before. As a consequence, however, we are - all too often - undermining our efficiency and effectiveness. The question we have to ask ourselves is…should we really fear the loss of sovereignty?

Or should we define the concept of sovereignty in a less traditional way? And thus change our perspective?!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have to redefine sovereignty.  If we need to guarantee our sovereignty with military means, cooperation is vital. When we consider our armed forces working effectively within the EU, within NATO, enhancing our ability to act in times of crises, we can only conclude that international cooperation is beneficial to our sovereignty and security.

In other words: national sovereignty requires nations to act together. It requires nations to act together in order to improve the usability of our armed forces. And in order to deploy shared capabilities swiftly and smoothly, reliability is crucial. Through NATO and the EU, or in a coalition of the willing, nations have to be able to deploy shared capabilities.

After all, international cooperation can only be effective if partner nations are trustworthy and predictable in their responses. Saying ‘yes’ to military cooperation means saying ‘yes’ to participation in military operations. Reliable partners do not pull back shared capabilities during a crisis. This would create political havoc and could threaten military partnerships. This approach, however, has not yet been generally accepted. Parliaments tend to get increasingly involved, pushing for a variety of conditions under which our armed forces should operate.

Now, let me be clear. This is not an appeal for less parliamentary involvement. On the contrary, I would say. But taking into account the perspective of ever closer military cooperation, we do need a new approach.

Therefore, we should not be afraid to critically address political decision-making processes.
And we need to engage our members of parliament in this debate. Being a predictable and reliable partner requires regular political consultations…within and between parliaments as well as between governments.

All of us should feel ownership when it comes to enhancing our strength, maximizing the use of our capabilities and optimizing our joined operations.

And I am convinced that a structural dialogue will result in a different approach to political decision making, without diminishing the indispensable role of parliaments when it comes to committing soldiers to military operations.

Having said that, I am also convinced that political courage will remain as important in the future as it is today.  Taking responsibility will always ask for political leadership. Security matters!

Ladies and gentlemen,
To conclude, I would like to stress that yes, there is a strong case to be made for greater military cooperation. Increasing cooperation is vital if Europe wants to become a convincing provider of security. Increasing cooperation is vital if Europe wants to remain a reliable, capable partner to the US.

Let us act accordingly!

Thank you.