General de brigade aerienne Daniel Gavoty is a decorated veteran who has flown over 4100 hours in combat aircraft. As head of the Space Bureau for the French Joint Chiefs of Staff, he sees space-based observation, communication and navigation systems as exceptional tools for the construction and support of a credible European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

“The Council of Europe has established its determination to undertake an autonomous decision-making role in relation to the prevention of conflicts and the management of crises,” says Gavoty. “At the Cologne and Helsinki Summits of 1999, Heads of State and Government made it clear that the Council would have to have the power to order military action on behalf of the EU in the event that NATO was unwilling or unable to do so. By extension, it is clearly of vital importance that Europe retain its own space-based security and defence capabilities.”

Shining light on the ESDP

Until recently, questions of security and defence were largely off limits in the European debate. But a common ESDP is now more openly recognised as a necessity in the completion of European integration, giving the Union the power to autonomously mobilise both civil and military forces. The Petersberg Declaration of 19 June 1992 specified the tasks for which, under a common European defence policy, European states would make military resources available. They are:

  • Humanitarian and rescue tasks;
  • Peace-keeping tasks;
  • Tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking.

“The Member States have consistently noted their determination to obtain the necessary operational capacities for carrying out the Petersberg tasks,” says Gavoty. “and space applications are an important part of this capacity. They offer the best means for understanding any given situation, including the acquisition, processing and diffusion of strategic information.

“Thus, to be credible and effective, EU defence organisations must have access to space technologies providing quality information on a permanent basis. Moreover, the current geostrategic context, characterised increasingly by instability, unpredictability and the emergence of new risks, makes the military use of space an essential asset for strategic independence, whether on our own continent or in the rest of the world. From this point of view, space constitutes a fundamental element in the development of a European security and defence identity.”

Challenges to surmount

Gavoty believes the consolidation of the Union’s security and defence capacities should be based on a policy of voluntary co-operation. “The framework for this co-operation,” he says, “which remains to be defined, would once and for all allow a space-faring Europe to address defence in a serious way.

“An ambitious and realistic plan for realising this goal would have to include: the definition of the Member States’ individual and common space needs, in each operational field; the joint development of corresponding programs, with the support of the Union; and the coordinated use of EU space capabilities, according to rules adaptable to a variety of political and operational contexts.

“The definition of common EU needs attainable through European co-operative programmes remains the starting point of any constructive process.”

Gavoty cites the ‘Besoins OpÈrationnels Communs’ (BOC) initiative as a first step in such a process, combining the capabilities of existing French, German and Italian earth observation satellites to provide rapid and secure information delivery to partner countries. “This initiative must be extended,” he says, “under the direction of a European Space Task Force, encompassing all the space disciplines applicable to security and defence.”

A new Space Agency?

“In the medium term,” suggests Gavoty, “the creation of a specialised structure, a ‘European Space Agency for Security and Defence’, could lend important impetus to the process. This group, working in close coordination with national military authorities, would guide European defence-related space activities, starting with the definition of common needs.”