French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian visits the US from July 3 to 6
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the United States from July 3 to 6, honoring American WWII veterans and attending Independence Day celebrations marked by the passage of the Hermione in New York before meeting with a number of U.S. officials in Washington, D.C.
On July 3, Minister Le Drian awarded more than 20 American veterans with the Legion of Honor for their contribution to the liberation of France during WWII. Standing beside the Hermione, an exact replica of the Marquis de Lafayette’s 18th century ship, the Minister reminded these veterans that "the friendship that unites France and the United States is one of the oldest and strongest friendships," drawing its roots from the Revolutionary War and continuing on through today.
The passage of the Hermione through New York was a highlight of the weekend, and the Defense Minister celebrated the Fourth of July on the ocean, viewing the vessel as it sailed past the Statue of Liberty during the Naval parade.
On July 6, Minister Le Drian traveled to Washington, D.C., where he had the opportunity to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, at the Pentagon. The two officials discussed several crises on which France and the U.S. are working together, notably counter-terrorism efforts in Africa and the Middle East. Secretary Carter commended France for its "commitment in the fight against Daesh (ISIL)—a campaign that requires sustained, long-term effort."
Before leaving the U.S. the Minister had the opportunity to meet with U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and gave a lecture at the German Marshall Fund on the future of French-American cooperation on defense and security. At the German Marshall Fund, he spoke about the priorities of both France and the U.S. in defense missions abroad, noting that "the long-standing close relationship between France and the U.S. is a solid base on which we can both rely" and that "the close cooperation our two military forces shows that we share a common view of threats."
Speech at the German Marshall Fund on the future of French-American security and defense cooperation
Washington, July 6, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Dear Karen Donfried,
Allow me first of all to tell you how delighted I am to be your guest here today at the German Marshall Fund. I know that this institution is crucial to American strategic thinking. It embodies the vitality and richness of transatlantic relations. That’s why I am especially happy to meet with you today to discuss the future of security and defense cooperation between France and the United States.
Our two countries have been bound by a common destiny since the very birth of your country. I was in New York two days ago to celebrate American Independence Day. On this occasion, the Hermione, a replica of the frigate of the young Marquis de Lafayette, who had come to lend France’s support to your fight for independence, made an especially symbolic port call.
This sometimes turbulent relationship of friendship and solidarity has never wavered during times of hardship. Since we now have a key role to play in the face of the challenges and threats posed by an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world, we must, more than ever, strengthen our cooperation. This is my belief and my goal.
Since I took office in 2012, I’ve witnessed a deterioration in the international environment, along with increased risks and threats. These dangers are certainly not new – our White Paper on National Defense and Security 2013 identified them – but their scale, their gravity and their simultaneous nature has, I believe, taken us all by surprise.
We are now facing three major challenges.
The first is related to the threats that are being exacerbated by globalization, starting with jihadist terrorism, which I would call the “second generation” of jihadist terrorism, following that of Bin Laden.
The terrorist organization Daesh - the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” - has gradually conquered whole swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Its goal is to establish a terrorist State in this region that is already fragile and unstable. It has established a regime of terror, victimizing entire populations. Its gruesome propaganda forces the world to bear witness to barbaric acts designed to swell its ranks and expand its capacity to cause harm. The communications battle that’s being played out is therefore just as critical as the military confrontation on the ground.
As you know, France has been directly affected on several occasions by this upsurge in terrorist threats on its own soil. But the attacks in January in Paris, in June in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, have – beyond the grief and disgust experienced by the French people in the face of these barbaric acts - further strengthened my belief that external security and internal security are closely linked. France must therefore be determined to combat terrorism, in all its forms, on our national territory as well as abroad.
Another threat exacerbated by globalization is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Proliferation remains a major threat to peace and international security. France is actively committed – with all of its tools, be it diplomacy or intelligence in particular – to combating proliferation. Two years ago we were ready to take military action as well to sanction the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against its own people. With respect to Iran we’ve now reached a turning point with the finalization of negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on the country’s nuclear activities. France will ensure that an agreement is robust and credible and therefore verifiable so that Iran will not be in a position to acquire nuclear weapons. If an agreement is reached, we will remain vigilant in order to ensure that the lifting of sanctions does not enable Tehran to step up its destabilizing actions in the region.
The second challenge relates to the increased risks associated with the weakness of states. What I mean by this is that entire regions are becoming, due to the lack or failure of governments, chaotic breeding grounds where crises, civil wars, transnational threats - starting with terrorism - are unfolding. I’m thinking of Libya, the Horn of Africa, or the Central African Republic before our intervention, among far too many other examples today.
The third challenge relates to reemerging “threats of force,”. They are characterized by rising military expenditure coupled with assertive power politics by States liable to flout international law, in Asia, in the South China Sea in particular, but also on our own doorstop, in Europe. A European country, Ukraine, has lost part of its territory. Borders were breached on the European continent by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The Ukrainian crisis has revived the specter of interstate conflicts in Europe. At the same time, Russia is continuing, at an unrelenting pace, its military buildup, modernizing both its conventional and non-conventional systems. Russia’s nuclear posturing – carried out in a more rash and unrestrained manner than during the Cold War - is troubling. Russia openly wonders about the independence of our allies, our Baltic allies in this case. It might be tempting to downplay this saber-rattling, but the fact is that it prevents the resumption of cooperative relations with France and the EU that we would like to see.
In the face of this new strategic environment, France is assuming its responsibilities and our armed forces are extensively deployed in numerous theaters of operation.
These operations are first and foremost aimed at responding to armed terrorism in Africa and the Levant. In Africa, in the Sahel-Sahara region, 3,000 troops are deployed in Operation Barkhane on a continuous basis in five countries in an area as vast as Europe, in order to combat the armed terrorist groups. In the Levant, France was one of the first countries to get involved as part of the international coalition. We are the largest contributor of air assets after the United States. We have also mobilized a significant portion of our maritime assets, as well as our special forces. We must continue our efforts, because as we see every day through our action in the Sahel, links are developing between the terrorist movements. Daesh in particular is trying to expand its control over the ruins of the Libyan state and destabilize new and fragile democracies, such as Tunisia, which was just recently targeted by terrorism.
France is also engaged on NATO’s Eastern flank, assisting the Alliance’s collective defense with reassurance measures in favor of our Eastern Allies. Although we mobilize, on our own territory, between 7,000 and 10,000 soldiers following last January’s attacks, we continue to fully fulfill our commitments to our NATO allies. Because Article 5 is a commitment of all allies towards all allies.
We make available assets from all our forces: land, air, and sea. Our AWACS aircraft carry out monthly patrols. To name but a few, our maritime patrol aircraft and our frigates took part in joint efforts to gather intelligence, ensure deterrence, and be ready to intervene if necessary on behalf of threatened allies. For the first time this spring, we deployed 15 heavy tanks as well as infantry in Poland. In 2016, as in 2014, we will again participate in the the Baltic Air Police. In 2014, 5,000 troops were involved in carrying out these reassurance measures.
NATO remains the cornerstone of European allies’ territorial security. France therefore fully supports its efforts on the eastern flank. It will participate in the future spearhead force (VJTF), and will be a Framework nation for the force in 2022. The Atlantic Alliance, our Alliance, must remain flexible enough to meet all challenges, and we certainly plan on making the case for this flexibility at the next Warsaw summit in 2016.
The French military is also mobilized to prevent unacceptable humanitarian disasters. By standing between opposing groups in the Central African Republic, French forces, now reinforced by the EU and the UN, helped restore normalcy and state powers, especially in Bangui, although this process admittedly remains fragile and some areas are still dealing with predatory militias and criminal gangs. In Guinea, French forces helped stem the Ebola epidemic that wreaked havoc on West Africa.
In this complex international environment, and in the face of numerous threats, we, the United States and France, must stand together and join forces in the areas of defense and security.
The close and longstanding defense relationship between France and the United States is a solid pillar that we can lean on. While it has always been intense, our cooperation has grown even stronger since 2013. The French intervention in the Sahel, first with Operation Serval and then with Operation Barkhane, always enjoyed American support in key capacity areas. And we stood with you in the Levant, making the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier available to the Coalition early this year.
The rapprochements between our militaries show above all that we share a common threat assessment. Indeed, there are no differences between us when it comes to strategic interests, and I am convinced that there will be none in the future.
On the other hand, our priorities may not be identical, which is natural. The threats on Europe’s doorstep that jeopardize European security first and foremost are not necessarily a priority for Washington, which might not want to be on the front lines in certain theaters. I’m thinking of the Sahel for instance. That makes perfect sense and is perfectly understandable. Washington neither wants to, nor can do everything with respect to international security.
That is precisely why we have a mutual interest in the Europeans’ strengthening their defense. Like the U.S., the Europeans must be able to rely on strong allies able to meet challenges through national commitments (Serval, Sangaris), EU operations and missions, or ad hoc coalitions (in Libya, the Levant).
It is my deep conviction that the U.S. has everything to gain when it comes to maintaining and expanding autonomous capacities for action in Europe, just as it is in the U.S. interest that Europe retains a strong defense industry. There is in fact a direct correlation between a nation’s determination to invest in defense and its sense of having a military and industrial apparatus that serves its own strategic vision.
France has consistently maintained this for years. Despite the current economic situation, in which the budgetary effects of the crisis are still being felt, our security situation called for stepping up our defense effort. That was what our President decided. As part of the updating of the military programming law, staff reductions will be eased by several thousand and the defense budget will be increased by 3.8 billion Euros for 2016-2019.
This realization is in fact collective. France is not isolated: 17 other NATO countries are planning to increase their defense budgets. These are positive developments. They must be welcomed. Any allied European country that spends more on defense helps boost our common security. That’s why we join you in supporting the commitment taken by the Allies in Newport. Allocating 2% of GDP to the defense effort and devoting 20% to research and investment is a goal France has had for several years, and it’s included in our military planning law. We’ve reached almost 2% of GDP and we’re well above the 20% objective.
As I said, we may differ on strategic priorities. However, far from weakening us, these differences enable us to develop a complementary approach to crisis management. It is this pragmatic approach that we must foster, because it allows us to shoulder our responsibilities and defend our common interests within an increasingly close partnership.
But pragmatism must not prevent ambition. We must be ambitious and strengthen the complementarity between our forces even further.
I am thinking of areas in which our two countries have a permanent military presence. Many don’t realize that this is the case for the Asia-Pacific region – an area of interest for the United States and France, as more than a million French nationals reside in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions.
In addition to its interests all around Europe’s borders, France is one of the rare European countries that does not limit its efforts to nearby challenges, but is present throughout the world, including in the Asia-Pacific.
For us, freedom of navigation and respect for international law are not just abstract legal principles; they are the conditions in which we operate. They are what allow our planes and ships to contribute on a daily basis to the region’s security, and to our defense partnerships with countries such as Australia, Malaysia and Japan.
We must also continue to expand our defense cooperation in areas that represent new challenges for our militaries – cyber defense and space, inconspicuous but essential areas of cooperation in which we have made considerable progress in recent years.
The future of the French-American defense relationship is full of opportunities, as you see. For my part, I will continue to strengthen and expand that relationship. My productive meeting with my colleague Ashton Cartier made it clear just how much we share this ambition, and I am sure that our two countries will be committed to making it a reality.
Thank you for your attention. I’m happy to take your questions.