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Franco-German Brigade

After the plan for a European Defense Community collapsed in 1954 (owing to French opposition to West Germany's membership) and West Germany's entry into NATO the next year, Franco-German military cooperation was very much an open question. With Charles de Gaulle's accession to power in 1958, France's position began to crystallize. For Germany, the French desire for a more influential and independent role seemed possible only at the expense of Germany's position in the alliance.' It was clear to Konrad Adenauer that Germany's security lay with the United States; Germany would not play junior partner to France's world-class power ambitions.' The opportunity to moderate this division came in January 1963, with the signing of the Elysee Treaty and, with it, the first phase of FrancoGerman military cooperation.' Unfortunately, this effort was to have little effect, coming as it did when French participation in the NATO integrated military command was being increasingly called into question by De Gaulle. With the rupture between France and NATO in 1966, Franco-German military cooperation fell into a state of dormancy.

On 19 June 1987, Helmut Kohl proposed the formation of a joint Franco-German brigade, which was followed by the announcement by President Mitterand of the formation of a combined Franco-German Defense Council. Kohl's proposal envisioned a brigade composed of equal numbers of German and French troops, with the command initially French and then rotating between the two countries. The brigade would presumably be available for operations agreed to by the two nations through a command relationship was not initially specified.

The brigade was to be composed of combat units, as opposed to support units, and thus would be expected to carry out combat missions. The question of mission was the first of the unresolved issues. The brigade must have a realistic combat mission if it is to avoid becoming simply a parade-ground unit. One suggested mission would be to function as a "Rhine brigade" to assist in the crossing of the Rhine by French forces stationed west of the river in the event that French authorities decide to commit their forces to battle." Alternatively, mention was made of a "fire brigade" mission, in which the forces would be available for employment throughout the Central Region in support of committed forces.

German brigades generally contained some 3500-4000 soldiers, while the French, who did not use the brigade in their combat organization, have some divisions with as few as 6000 men. The French unit to be used as a building block was the regiment, which, with some 800-1000 men, approximates the size of a German battalion. The brigade initially consisted of two battalion-sized units from each country. France supplied a light armored battalion equipped with AMXlORC wheeled reconnaissance vehicles and a motorized infantry battalion equipped with wheeled armored personnel carriers. Germany furnished a motorized infantry battalion and an artillery battalion. Combat support (air defense, engineers) and service support (supply and maintenance units) were divided between the two countries. The brigade totalled some 4000 soldiers.

Initially, the German Army Staff viewed the creation of the joint brigade with skepticism because it involved major practical problems. Different laws, traditions and military cultures had to be taken into consideration. Due to the underlying political motivation, this project was nevertheless pushed so forcefully that the Franco-German Brigade could report its operational readiness on 17 October 1990.

The Brigade has a binational headquarters, with most of its personnel being providedby the nations on a rotational basis, as well as a binationally mixed logistic support battalion. The Brigade comprises two French and German battalions each. These units are based at three locations in Germany near the French border. French and German are equally used as working languages. For the first time in military history, a brigade was setup which not only cooperates on operations but is permanently established in peacetime. Despite many problems, which have all been solved by now, the Brigade is fully operational. It demonstrated its efficiency during the SFOR operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.




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