Interview with François Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Luxembourg
The European: Minister, Luxembourg is rightly recognised for the role it plays in the international community and its contribution to European security by its strong commitment to the EU and NATO. Defence is at a turning point in every country in Europe. Behind the veil of the pandemic, the world is changing and there is much evidence to indicate an acceleration of geopolitical transformation. What is Luxembourg’s reaction to these developments?
François Bausch: Geopolitically, we have witnessed over the past years several phenomena: the continuing rise of China, an aggressive Russia seeking to play a stronger role in the world, an unprecedented rise, since the 1930s, in mostly right wing populist movements, and the continuing, ever stronger impact of global environmental and demographic changes, increasing instability in Europe and its neighbourhood. Luxembourg is affected by this transformation both directly as a country – for example through an increased occurrence of local natural disasters – and as a member of the EU and NATO. The Luxembourg government considers that more international cooperation is needed in this situation and that we need to better combine military and non-military means through an enlarged security concept putting more emphasis on non-military means and green defence.
The European: This is an essential part of your “3D Foreign Policy”, isn’t it?
François Bausch: Luxembourg indeed follows a so-called “3D Foreign Policy”, a common and comprehensive approach, integrating diplomacy, development cooperation and defence policy. Luxembourg pursues in this context a very ambitious aid policy, spending 1 % of its GDP on development and humanitarian aid. Women, peace and security are important topics given our commitment to pursue a feminist foreign policy.
The European: What were the highlights of this policy in past years?
François Bausch: Regarding sustainable development, Luxembourg played a key role as EU Council Presidency in the negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement. On the defence side, I have triggered a debate among EU defence ministers on climate security. Efforts have been undertaken to start reducing the ecological footprint of Luxembourg’s armed forces, and Luxembourg has been instrumental in setting up a circular economy working group at the European Defence Agency. I am sure that ethical considerations are of key importance, in particular if we want to remain credible in the promotion of our fundamental values worldwide. In this context, I am convinced that the next US administration will take a leadership position, as did the US in past times. For Luxembourg, it is of utmost importance that all our endeavours serve to keep our world, but also space, a peaceful domain. We should therefore develop meaningful capacities for our common defence as well as for society in general.
The European: You mentioned some key factors of Luxembourg’s defence policy. Could you evaluate the importance of satellite communication?
François Bausch: Satellite communication and air mobility remain areas of major focus for Luxembourg Defence. In addition to this, we are currently working on a national space-based earth observation program, called LUXEOSys (Luxembourg Earth Observation System). This national earth observation satellite, to be launched in 2023, would allow Luxembourg to have access to high-resolution imagery and create additional cooperation and partnerships with allies and institutional partners.
Satellite communication systems is a field where the Luxembourg army has been developing its skills and expertise for over 10 years. Furthermore, Luxembourg launched together with Luxembourg’s SES company a joint venture called LuxGovSat, providing secured satellite capacities to governments and institutional partners using our national satellite, the GOVSAT-1. Besides the commercial aspect, Luxembourg Defence owns a certain percentage of satellite capacities, which are used in partnership with allies or as a support to the operations of international organisations.
The European: What are the concrete illustrations for this kind of support?
François Bausch: Let me start with the provision of these secured satellite capacities and services by Luxembourg to the “UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali” (UN MINUSMA) since March 2020, aiming to strengthen in-theatre connectivity between the MINUSMA HQ in Bamako and various remote locations. It includes the deployment of a mobile military team integrated in a multinational contingent. This contribution falls within the above mentioned “3D Foreign Policy” approach. I am confident that our contribution is adequately supporting MINUSMA but will also bring significant improvement to the reliability and security of the network using our national government communication satellite, GovSat-1.
Furthermore, in the space domain, we are analysing future opportunities together with our allies. One of the ideas we are exploring is the potential development of capabilities for space situation awareness capability, which could be linked with a weather payload to cover crucial shortfalls from a defence point of view. Here, space situation awareness is, from my point of view, one of the crucial capabilities to keep space peaceful. It will definitively be a focus of the space-defence community in coming years and could be an additional area of focus for Luxembourg Defence.
The European: Air mobility is key for any military force ….
François Bausch: … yes, I mentioned it already as a focus. Luxembourg has invested in high-value transport airplanes for its own use and in support of our partners. By being a member of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) and by participating substantially in the Multi-national A330 Multi Role Tanker Transporter (MRTT) fleet. This is our commitment to pooling and sharing these scarce enabling capabilities in Europe. We have recently welcomed our Airbus A400M, which will be operated within the common Belgian-Luxembourgish fleet. This asset is a key contribution to European air mobility, as this state-of-the-art military transport aircraft can be used for both strategic and tactical airlift. Furthermore, Luxembourg, through a mechanism allowing an exchange of flying hours among the members of the EATC and the MCCE, gets access to a multitude of different air transport capacities from those partner nations.
The European: Are there any partnerships with civil aviation?
François Bausch: In addition to these pure military capabilities, our partnership with the Luxembourg air transport company, CARGOLUX, provides easy access for our partners through the EATC and the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE) to large commercial strategic air transport capacities.
The European: Allow me, Minister, a question regarding NATO. What is the specific nature of your government’s cooperation with the alliance?
François Bausch: The main driver for the development of new activities is Luxembourg’s willingness to contribute to capability development enabling our defence to do more for its own security, within the European Security and Defense policy (CSDP) in a way that also benefits NATO and our allies. These new capabilities are built around different lines among which the improvement of our space capabilities, in light of European and allied shortfalls.
The European: Could you give a concrete example?
François Bausch: Let me start with NATO. We deliver the sustaining of mission connectivity for NATO-HQ and several of its agencies. The locally based offices of the NATO Support and procurement Agency (NSPA) are connected thanks to the SATCOM services delivered by Luxembourg Defence and we are also providing secure satellite connectivity to other NATO actors through the NATO Communication and Information Agency (NCIA).
We largely support NATO’s surveillance reach and capability framework. NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) capability consists of air segments, ground segments and support segments. To support its missions, AGS needs satellite capacities. Therefore, Luxembourg responded to essential NATO needs in the area of joint communication with a full end-to-end service, thus enabling the alliance to respond to current and future security challenges.
The European: An indeed enormous contribution to NATO’s operational capacities. Do you have similar arrangements with the EU?
François Bausch: We have to find innovative ways to fulfill our defence commitments and to remain a trusted and useful partner for NATO and the EU.
The EU’s Capability Development Plan (CDP) provides a full capability picture that supports decision-making processes at EU and national levels regarding military capability development. Space-based information and communication services are clearly identified as a priority together with earth observation and satellite communication for space situational awareness and Positioning, Navigation, Timing (PNT).
The European: Luxembourg also provided Covid-19 assistance to the European Space Agency in Piedmont with a mobile lab (B-LiFE) and real-time transmission.
François Bausch: B-Life was again a creative opportunity to support partners with a real added value asset.
Healthcare professionals and the Piedmont regional government in Italy were using the satellite enabled mobile Biological Light Fieldable Laboratory for Emergencies, known as B-LiFE, to scale Covid-19 screening operations. It was deployed to one of the worst-hit regions in Italy in order to support large-scale testing. B-LiFE deployment was cofounded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Luxembourg Directorate of Defence and led by the Université Catholique de Louvain with the support of the Belgian Civil Protection.
The European: This is most interesting. What was the role of SES and LuxGovSat?
François Bausch: Indeed, we were very operational. The mobile laboratory relied on an end-to-end satellite-enabled connectivity solution put in place by SES.
The role of Luxembourg Defence was to support the efforts engaged by the ESA, SES and LuxGovSat, and to provide the B-LiFE mission with the necessary equipment and secure satellite connectivity on our national GOVSAT-1 system to ensure safe processing and transmission of data.
The European: Minister, I would like to conclude our conversation with a view to your troops. The regular participation in international engagements is highly respected. How are you reforming them?
François Bausch: Luxembourg’s armed forces face, like many European forces, increased challenges which result in a multiplication of roles as we discussed earlier. That means that we need more, better equipped, better trained and more flexible troops.
The government has adopted an ambitious recruitment plan for the armed forces. We have set up an air component, we have invested in satellite communication and trained our armed forces therein and we have equipped our forces with observation drones. Last but not least, we just finalised a cyber defence strategy.
The European: Minister, I am most grateful for this conversation.
The Interview was led by Hartmut Bühl.