By Jeff Maisey
If the world seems like a dangerous place these days it is.
The challenges facing the United State of America and its NATO partners range from the potential threat of a more aggressive Russia and North Korea to cyber crime, hybrid warfare, and terrorism.
French Air Force General Denis Mercier is NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Transformation based in Norfolk.
I recently talked with General Mercier about the role ACT Headquarters is playing as it assesses and projects future threats and develops strategies to address them.
Here is our conversation.
You have been instrumental in bringing Patrouille de France to Norfolk in late April for several air demonstrations in conjunction with Norfolk NATO Festival and the centennial anniversaries of Naval Station Norfolk and America’s entry into WWI . As a French fighter pilot, will the occasion also be a moment of national pride for you?
Yes, but it has nothing to do with national pride. In fact, the French Patrouille de France has come this year to the US for a tour to be part of the 100-year anniversary of entry into war of the US forces. This is a way for France to recognize the engagement of the US forces.
Beyond that I was keen to have the Patrouille de France coming here in Norfolk. I am a French officer. I am very proud of what they do.
This is an expression of the Transatlantic link, which is symbolized by the presence of the only NATO headquarters, which is my command, here in US. So this is a way to say Europe and the US are always together. This is a demonstration of it.
I use the Patrouille de France not for only national pride, but to the value of NATO and the Transatlantic link we continue to strengthen.
You mention the bond between the American and French people. As you know, France was instrumental in helping our American Revolution succeed. America returned the favor in the World Wars of the 20th Century. I’m wondering if you might comment on this unique relationship between our two countries that has endured for over 250 years.
The American Revolution was inspired by the Enlightenment in France. Then, in turn, the French Revolution was inspired by the US Revolution.
Not many people know is that when the jail, Le Bastille, was destroyed during the French Revolution, only one piece of it remained, which was the key of the prison. And this key of the prison has been brought to the US in order to say, “You have inspired our revolution,” and this key is at Mount Vernon. This is the only piece of Le Bastille remaining, which is a good demonstration of where this country found its roots.
After that there was the commitment of the US forces in the First World War and Second World War. The US really paid a debt for that.
I remember a quote from one of the Lafayette Squadron pilots, the first American to fight in France. This guy was Kiffin Rockwell. He was an American hero. He died during the First World War in France. He said, “I do not feel that I fight for France alone, but for the cause of all humanity – the greatest of all causes. I feel I owe a debt to Lafayette and Rochambeau.” It is an expression of the commitment of these young US guys and the recognition they had for what France had done for the liberation of this country.
The US forces in the First and Second World Wars more than paid their debt. We are very grateful for that, and we keep being really grateful and this is why the Patrouille de France wants to visit.
NATO is the only international forum in which we have the US and Canada and the European nations and partners talking about security issues. This is so important.
Let’s turn to current events. When Russian-backed rebels invaded Crimea in Ukraine, US Gen Breedlove expressed concern about the emergence of hybrid warfare. I am wondering if this is something ACT is tasked to address. Is the perceived interference of Russia in Western political elections also a form of hybrid warfare?
Hybrid warfare is not only the use of military force but the use of many other factors in order to achieve some of the goals. Interestingly enough I read recently some papers one of my predecessors wrote at ACT before the Ukraine crisis – James Mattis. James Mattis described what could be hybrid warfare and what NATO could do. I believe at this time NATO should have more listened to him. But this is the value of my headquarters. To have always people thinking ahead and look at what could be a future crisis, and how to deal with that.
In fact, in a hybrid scenario which is likely to happen in many different forms where there is no one nation or organization that has all the keys.
We cannot imagine a future crisis will be solved only by military, political or one nation. So we are working a lot on that. We have a concept called the Comprehensive Approach which describes what are the different factors we need to put all together for more stability.
As you mention, ACT is looking forward to anticipate future threats to security and world peace. How is ACT looking at potential future threats from North Korea and China as well as the nature of the conflict in Syria?
Thank you for that. In fact, NATO is more focused on the Euro-Atlantic area. However, as you mentioned, because of the globalization of the world today we cannot think that we will find all of the signs that will lead to a crisis in the Euro-Atlantic area itself. Which means we need to broaden our scope and to see what is happening even in Asia because everything is interrelated today.
I’m used to saying that we are shifting from a complicated to a complex world. Complex means we have so many parameters that we need to deal with a future crisis differently. This is why it is so important that we do not limit our strategic assessment to only the Euro-Atlantic area.
Regarding Syria, the key question is what is the role of projecting stability, and NATO is working a lot on that. We have a partnership with many nations and we look at how we can do more things in the future.
Do you project a time when NATO and Russia have improved cooperation again?
In fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO opened the Partnership for Peace initiative, and Russia was a member and still is a member. There were regular security conferences that talked about security issues. This is still existing because there continues to be a need to talk to Russia. Russia is not an adversary, but Russia is a potential threat because it has recently violated international laws. But we need to continue to talk with them.
It could not be a return to business as usual with them as long as the Crimea issue is not resolved,
Do you miss flying as a combat pilot?
Well, yes, I do. The thing is the US Navy has been very kind with me and I have had the opportunity to fly the Hawkeye and this year a couple of flights on the Super Hornet with landing on an aircraft carrier. It was the George W. Bush.
I am an Air Force pilot. I’ve never done that before. It was a great experience.
Apart from that, I have a US pilot license so I keep flying here in the US.