European Intervention Initiative

BERLIN/PARIS (Own report) - German government advisors are praising the French government's new military policy document ("Revue stratégique") and are calling for accelerating the expansion of German-French military and arms cooperation. With this document, Paris is opening itself up "to cooperation in Europe, to a degree previously unknown," according to the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), thus offering the possibility for rapid progress in the formation of European armed forces. France, however, has to "show that it can let loose, i.e. cooperate without having to dominate." The DGAP is also calling on the French arms industry to open up. In this field, ambitious cooperation projects are only making slow progress, such as the KNDS - a merger of the German tank producer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) und Nexter Defense Systems. KNDS is supposed to develop a replacement for the Leopard 2 and Leclerc battle tanks but internal rivalries are slowing the project. Observers are placing their hopes on the development of a German-French jet fighter, which could enable Europe's arms industry to become "independent of US companies" and achieve "European autonomy," according to the DGAP.


Strategic Culture

Last Friday, the French defense ministry published its new "Revue stratégique", a document outlining the basis for France's future military policy, particularly concerning its upcoming military planning law (Loi de programmation militaire 2019-2025). On the one hand, the document declares that the - national - "safeguard of a complete and balanced armed forces model is indispensable" to guarantee "France's national independence, strategic autonomy and freedom of action."[1] On the other hand, however, it attaches great importance to a "stronger Europe" that can effectively defy "common challenges." According to the document, "France seeks to strengthen the European defense," and this also demands "a strategic culture shared by the Europeans." This would mean that "at the beginning of the coming decade, the Europeans" must have a common defense doctrine and must be able to "jointly intervene credible manner." This demands launching a "European intervention initiative" ("Initiative européenne d'intervention"), according to Paris' Ministère des Armées.

"Let Loose"

German government advisors appear positively surprised. With this document, Paris is opening itself up "to cooperation in Europe to a degree previously unknown," and is clearly becoming "more pragmatic," the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) declared.[2] The French armed forces are indeed "overstretched," and even though they can still initiate operations on their own, they can no longer finish them alone. Owning up to this "reality" opens new "areas of action" for multinational cooperation on the continent. Macron's "idea of a new European intervention force, to be mustered according to the respective mission conditions" is motivated by "pragmatism." European countries with the "will and military capacity," could join "outside the EU and NATO's tight decision-making structures." If "Berlin and Paris reach an agreement," both "could vigorously advance in 2018 and win over other Europeans, to join in forming an operational European defense," the DGAP anticipates. However, the German think tank is demanding from France a wide-ranging abdication of its power: Paris must "show that it can let loose, i.e. cooperate without having to dominate."

The Industrial Base

However, the DGAP did express its displeasure concerning the provisions reached by the Revue Stratégique on France's arms policy. Since some time, it has been clear to Paris that "its national industrial base" in the arms industry "could not be maintained," according to the statement issued in Berlin. Yet it hesitates to assume "the clear consequences" and "accept becoming dependent on other countries, including on their industrial sector."[3] Albeit, Berlin seeks to keep its own arms production industrial base as intact as possible. Currently, the struggle to see who will succeed is being waged by means of large-scale company mergers.

Europe's Standard Battle Tank

One of the mergers is that of the German-French KNDS holding company, founded in December 2015, under the even parity control of the German tank producers Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and its French counterpart Nexter Defense Systems. Like Airbus, KNDS was founded to create a dominant tank manufacturer on the European continent. The objective is to concentrate the arms industrial capacity, and conquer a strong slot on the world market - particularly in relationship to US competition. KNDS plans to develop a successor to the German Leopard 2 battle tank and the French Leclerc, Main Ground Combat System, (MGCS), as well as to design a 40 - 60 kilometer minimum range Common Indirect Fire System (CIFS) artillery weapon. The projected timeframe for completion is between 2030 and 2035. The new battle tank and the new artillery piece should become Europe's standard weapons.

Internal Rivalries

A rapid development is being hampered by internal power struggles. Thus KMW and Nexter are not ruling out that they may compete against one another in up-coming arms projects. For example, it is conceivable that KMW will bid, with its boxer model, for the British military's planned acquisition of several hundred tanks, while Nexter will also bid with its VBCI.[4] This internal rivalry leads also to a relatively sluggish development of the company. For example, at London's Defense and Security Equipment International, in mid-September 2017 - nearly two years after the KNDS founding - KMW and Nexter made a joint appearance for the first time at an arms fair. Efforts to buy the Volvo subsidiary's, Renault Trucks Defense, is making rather slow progress. That company would provide KNDS with important technology and fit in well with Nexter, but could also strengthen French influence in the overall company. In late September, KNDS finally submitted a bid for Renault Trucks Defense - after months of hesitation.

European Autonomy

More arms projects are planned. Last July 13, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's President Emmanuel Macron announced that Germany and France would jointly develop a successor fighter jet to the Eurofighter and Rafale. The decision was celebrated by the DGAP as a "revolution for Europe's arms industry." It sets a "benchmark for the future" of the entire industry, because "military aviation (...) is the key industry" and especially "in terms of its turnover and innovation performance." "With this project," Berlin and Paris "are salvaging the possibility for Europe to maintain an autonomous arms industry and not be dependent on US companies," says the DGAP. "This brings European autonomy a step closer."[5]

The Airbus of the Seas

At the same time, Berlin is not so happy that Paris is not cooperating exclusively with German companies. Just recently, Macron and Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni agreed that Italy's Fincantieri would begin preparations to take control of France's STX-France docks. Thereafter, Fincantieri/STX is due to merge with Paris' Ex-DCNS Naval Group, which would create a naval company that would dominant Europe's market. Berlin has been striving for years to create an "Airbus of the Seas" - to no avail. German battleship constructors were unable to insure a dominant share of the market, through mergers with their French rivals. ( reported.[6])

Europe's Standard Assault Rifle

In another field, with a sales success in France, German weapons manufacturers could make a European breakthrough under their own steam. Last September, Heckler and Koch won the contract to deliver more than 100,000 HK416 assault rifles to the French military. The HK416 will replace a French-made weapon. They have also been supplied to the Norwegian military as well as to special forces of several other countries. The fact that the HK416 and the HK433 - which Heckler and Koch would like to have the Bundeswehr accept as the successors of the G36 - could eventually dominate the continental market, becoming Europe's standard assault rifle.[7]


[1] Revue stratégique de défense et de sécurité nationale. Paris, octobre 2017.

[2], [3] Claudia Major, Christian Mölling: Pragmatisch und europäisch: Frankreich setzt neue Ziele in der Verteidigungspolitik. DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 13, Oktober 2017.

[4] Vincent Lamigeon: Comment KNDS veut devenir l'Airbus des blindés. 21.09.2017.

[5] Claudia Major, Christian Mölling: Eine Revolution für Europas Rüstungsindustrie. DGAPstandpunkt Nr. 6, Juli 2017. S. dazu Deutscher und europäischer Erfolg.

[6] S. dazu Wer das Kommando hat.

[7] S. dazu Der transatlantische Schusswaffenmarkt.