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Government statement on foreign policy

Published on March 24, 2009
Speech by François Fillon, Prime Minister, to the National Assembly (excerpts)

Paris, March 17, 2009

Because our foreign and defence policy is the nation’s concern, I’ve come here before you seeking the confidence of the majority to serve the cause of a certain idea of France in the world.

Since, yes, this debate can’t be confined solely to the issue of NATO, which is only one aspect of our diplomacy and security.

While in the past the Atlantic Alliance was the democracies’ response to the Soviet threat and therefore one of the ideological and military symbols of the Cold War, it’s now only one structure among others. It’s no longer and is not the expression of a global policy!

Our withdrawal in 1966 at the height of East-West tensions was a shock. But in 2009, our return [to the integrated military command] is merely an adjustment which consequently isn’t causing any agitation in the concert of nations.

Our full participation in the Alliance structures is just one means among others of giving our country the capacity to address the challenges of our time. (…)

The interdependence of security, economic and ecological issues marks the historic caesura of the twentieth century.

It’s the result of the end of yesterday’s bipolar world, extension of the market economy and increased pace of the development of information and communication technology.

This interdependence signals the end of the monopoly of power and progress so long held by the Western nations.

The spectacular emergence of China and India is the zenith in this political and economic rebalancing.

This globalized, complex world only increases the legitimacy and necessity of our international role.

In exercising it, we believe in the equal dignity of nations and freedom of peoples to determine their own future.

In the face of tyranny, we are championing human rights.

Confronted by creeping uniformity, we are defending the diversity of cultural and linguistic heritages from Dakar to Quebec.

We are countering temptations to pursue hegemony with international law and multilateralism.

Confronted by today’s major challenges, we are arguing in favour of a reorganized, more balanced and better controlled globalization.

Through this French universalism we are also defending our national interests. (…)

And we are collectively orchestrating these objectives.

Our interests go hand in hand with Europe’s.

They tie in not only with those of our most loyal allies, who include the United States, but also with those of our other partners with whom we maintain relations of trust. (…)


Our policy is wholly autonomous, both at strategic level with our nuclear deterrent force which protects our vital interests, and at diplomatic level.
From our armed engagement in Yugoslavia to that in Afghanistan, from our categorical refusal to take part in the second Iraq war to the Franco-Egyptian initiative to help Gaza, France has acted and will always act in accordance with her convictions.

When we resume the dialogue with Syria – so greatly criticized on some of these benches – or with Libya, when we ask, before the Bali conference, for binding commitments to cut CO2, and when we take the initiative of intervening in the crisis between Russia and Georgia, we’re taking our own decisions and acting in accordance with them.


This independence of line and action, the hallmark of France, is consistent with our resolute choice of solidarity.


First of all solidarity with the European Union, to which every French president has continuously committed himself, with an identical goal: to make Europe not just an economic area, but a genuine political force.
Under Nicolas Sarkozy’s leadership, the French EU presidency revealed Europe in a new light.

Yes, Europe can influence and carry weight in world affairs.

Yes, Europe has a singular destiny provided it seizes it courageously!
Europe deserves the more stable institutional organization given it under the Lisbon Treaty. France is convinced that Europe can’t remain an economic giant without claiming a leading diplomatic and military ranking.


Secondly, solidarity with our allies, and particularly American allies.

From the Cuban crisis to the first Iraq war, from the Euromissile crisis to 11 September 2001, France never abandoned her friendship with the American people.

France, ally but not vassal, loyal but not submissive, fraternal but never subordinate: that’s the nature of our relationship with America. (…)

Several crucial issues demand that we jointly inject a new momentum.


First of all, there’s Iran.

It’s our absolute duty to prevent nuclear contagion. And for this we must defend the international non-proliferation regime.

At the Security Council we have strengthened sanctions, and at the same time pursued our offer of dialogue with Tehran.

Today, the United States is going along with us in this firm but open approach.

The Americans seem to be moving towards the idea of a frank and direct dialogue with Tehran which we have been defending for a long time.

With North Korea, the Iran crisis has brought the nuclear issue back onto the front burner, a nuclear issue exacerbated by the development of medium-range ballistic missiles.

This nuclear issue has to be resolved by the controlled sharing of civilian nuclear technology.

But its resolution also requires a responsible attitude on the part of those possessing nuclear deterrents.

And with this in mind, we are asking both the United States and China to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, as we ourselves did 11 years ago. We support the relaunch of negotiations between the United States and Russia in order to achieve, on both sides, strictly minimum deterrence.

Finally, we are calling for the immediate opening of the negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.


Secondly, there’s Afghanistan.

I have defended in this very place the necessity of France’s commitment in that country, which was the training and support base of international terrorism. (…)

Bringing security to Afghanistan, rebuilding her infrastructure, reconciling the Afghan people, providing that State’s legitimate authorities with the wherewithal to achieve its full sovereignty, this is our strategy.

To do this, we want to end an exclusively military management of the Afghan crisis.

We need an overarching political approach and the United States now seems alive to this.


Finally, we have, with our American partners, the key issue of the battle against climate change.

At France’s instigation, the European Union has achieved a very ambitious agreement.

But Europe can’t act alone. With its new administration, the United States at last seems to be waking up to the extent of its responsibilities vis-à-vis the next generations.

With the Copenhagen summit, we’re going to need now and this year to take decisions and act!


France is also expressing solidarity with the Mediterranean area.
The Union for the Mediterranean project signals our ambition to kick-start close Euro-Mediterranean collaboration.

We want to disavow, disarm those calling for the clash of civilizations.
We reject the rationale of the fanatics.

We refuse to see things solely in black or white.

Between the West and East, France is and will remain a mediator.

Wholly independently and despite the criticisms, we have resumed the dialogue with Damascus. Because we believe that Syria can make an important contribution to peace in the region.

She showed this in Lebanon, with the conclusion of the Doha Agreement.
She can help us convince Hamas to see reason, i.e. inter-Palestinian reconciliation and negotiation with Israel.

From the first day of the Gaza crisis, President Sarkozy sought a way out of the conflict, his approach motivated by the need for balance and justice.

This crisis and its tragic track record show that there won’t be any military solution to this conflict.

France affirms that Israel has to be able to live in peace, within recognized borders, and that Palestine must be able to live in freedom, enjoying her full sovereignty.

In this region, the deadlock will be overcome only through courageous political compromises.

It’s in this spirit that President Sarkozy has proposed holding a spring summit to relaunch the peace process.


France also maintains solidarity with Africa.

We believe in the future of this vast battered continent. This is why we remain one of the main providers of official development assistance.

We have committed ourselves in Darfur, bringing security to the camps in eastern Chad. With Bernard Kouchner, we persuaded our European partners to support us in deploying EUFOR, the largest-ever European Union military operation. Mark of its success: the United Nations has just taken over from this European force.


Solidarity, finally, with the United Nations Organization.

For France, international law is the expression of a universal morality. It’s the source of a legal order in the face of violence.

In the space of half a century, successive UN interventions have covered up the failures of the League of Nations.

Nevertheless, France considers that the international governance born in the post-war period only very partially addresses today’s issues.

We support the process of reforming the United Nations Security Council, we are arguing in favour of its enlargement.

We proposed the G8’s initial enlargement to the G14.

We played a key role in reforming the voting rights in the International Monetary Fund.

Finally, we consistently argue for Africa to be more adequately represented in the IMF and World Bank.


With the European Union, France has taken the lead in efforts to build a genuine international financial regulation system.

We want to correct the causes of the current crisis. (…)


Our security is no longer decided at our borders and the spectre of certain mutual destruction no longer hangs over our continent.

Yesterday’s bipolarity has given way to a multiplicity of players and the spreading of risks. France and Europe are no longer threatened with invasion.

But that doesn’t mean their security has been achieved for good. New threats, exacerbated by the conflicts particularly in the Middle East, have arisen: global terrorism which exploits and hijacks Islam, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The USSR has become Russia and come round to the market economy.
The Soviet empire has come apart, its satellite States have been liberated and joined the European Union, and some of them even the Atlantic Alliance.

The United States has withdrawn 80% of its forces from our continent which it no longer deems a priority in the light of interests encompassing Asia and the Middle East.

The UN, as I said, has grown stronger and Europe become more robust.


With all these transformations, NATO is no longer the organization some people are talking about. (…)

In 1966, the Americans were imposing on NATO the graduated response doctrine and they did not envisage any sharing of the responsibilities.

Remaining in the integrated structures meant risking finding ourselves committed to conflicts which weren’t ours.

In 1966, 26,000 US soldiers were on French soil and there was no prospect of the Alliance being reorganized.

In 1966, France had had operational nuclear weapons for two years and our strategy of deterrence and action was prompting us to rethink the terms of our autonomy.

This autonomy was, however, never conceived as a mark of neutrality or defiance vis-à-vis the Atlantic Alliance of which we have always been a member.

And, moreover, the withdrawal had barely been decided when we confirmed through several agreements our desire to go on working with NATO: 1967 Ailleret-Lemnitzer and 1974 Valentin-Ferber agreements.
In 1983, the first Atlantic Council meeting was held in Paris since 1966.
In 1991, France contributed to the drafting of the Alliance’s new strategic concept.

Since the 1990s, we’ve participated in all the operations in Bosnia, where France, for the first time, took part in a NATO operation.

From 1993 onwards, still acting on François Mitterrand’s decisions, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff was for the first time authorized to speak in the NATO Military Committee on peacekeeping issues.

From 1994, he was authorized to do so on the subjects of adapting the Alliance’s structures, cooperation with Eastern Europe and non-proliferation.

In 2004, over 100 French troops were assigned to the Mons and Norfolk Commands.

Today, our troops are operating with NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
We are the fourth-largest contributors of troops to NATO.

And we are present in virtually all NATO’s committees.

So imperceptibly the facts on the ground and political will were recreating our growing participation in NATO’s structures.

Today we need to take the last step.

This last step, the opposition claim, will weaken our independence, which of course it won’t.

You’d have to have little confidence in France to think for an instant that she could be tied down by her presence in a committee. And what’s more you’d have to be pretty ill-informed about the way NATO operates.

Since the 1974 Ottawa Declaration, nothing and no one has disputed the autonomy of our nuclear strategy, which isn’t negotiable.

Everyone knows that participating in NATO implies no political automaticity and that Atlantic Council decisions are unanimous.
Need I remind you that Germany refused to go into Iraq alongside the Americans and that Turkey refused to serve as a support base for that same conflict?

Do I need to stress that even under Article V of the Alliance Treaty – the one on collective defence in the event of aggression against one of its members – each nation decides on the means it intends employing?

We will maintain the independence of our nuclear deterrent and our freedom of assessment when it comes to the deployment of our troops.
We will not place any standing contingent under Allied command in peacetime.

These three principles are, moreover, laid down in the White Paper, which no one in the Alliance has contested. (…)


The real question, to my mind, is why take this decision now and in order to do what?

Why now?

Here we are at the heart of one of the key principles of foreign policy: the art of making the most of current circumstances.

Four events are pushing us to rejoin NATO’s integrated command.
First, the French European Union presidency restored meaning to Europe’s political action and diplomatic autonomy, as the Georgia crisis showed.

Secondly, the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty must act as a lever to increase the European Union’s efficacy and influence.

Thirdly, the arrival of a new US administration whose potential must be seized as fast as possible, before old habits regain the upper hand.
Fourthly, the redefinition of NATO’s strategic concept, which dates back to 1999.

These are the circumstances militating in favour of a French initiative.
What do we want to do in NATO and what do we want to make of NATO? This is the second important question.

Our nation intends to persuade others to share its convictions.

For France, NATO must in the first place be a defence instrument designed to protect its members. Above all, it must be a military alliance, based on common values, not a sort of Western spearhead acting everywhere and on everything.

Beyond that, it serves international law and can’t be the tool of unilateral interventionism.

We want to defend the consensus rule in the Atlantic Council which ensures our positions are taken into account.

We want to streamline and simplify the present structures.

We want, in the Berlin Plus framework, to give the European Union the power genuinely to use the Alliance’s capabilities.

By rejoining NATO’s integrated command, we want our country to have broader influence on the definition of strategies and conduct of operations.


We want Russia in particular to be treated as a partner.

In May 1997, it was in fact in Paris on France and Germany’s initiative that NATO and Russia signed the founding act on mutual cooperation and security.

France – with her German partner – believes in the necessity of respecting Russia. This great European nation has to feel the need to contribute to global stability.

Ever since the eighteenth century, this vast country has always been a key to European stability.

As with the United States, we have special ties with the Russian people who twice, in August 1914 and 1944, helped save France.

At times dialogue and collaboration with Moscow are difficult, but they are essential and can in no case be confined to a tête-à-tête with the United States. France and Europe must play their full role.

Our relations with Russia must not be upset by over-hasty enlargements of the Atlantic Alliance. This is why, with Germany, we opposed the decisions providing for these enlargements at the last Atlantic Council. In return, ladies and gentlemen, Russia must respect these countries’ independence, which she has herself accepted.

We share responsibility for our continent’s stability and security.
We are both threatened by the risks of nuclear dissemination and development of ballistic weapons. In the face of this potential threat, it’s together, together with Russia that we could conceive of a compatible anti-missile defence system, on the understanding that for France this would never be anything but a complement to our nuclear deterrence policy and in no case an alternative.

From the Atlantic to the Urals, we must together craft a new continental security pact.


France is taking her full place in NATO to give Defence Europe its real dimension.

Why here is Europe still lagging well behind what it should be, despite the progress achieved?

The reason is simple, and everyone knows it, it isn’t new: for our main European partners, a step further towards Defence Europe has always been viewed as a step backwards in NATO.

Europeans don’t want to have to choose between Defence Europe and the protection the Americans afford them through the Atlantic Alliance.
This fear inhibits initiatives.

Well, we want to dispel it.

We want to put an end to this zero sum game consisting in setting Defence Europe against NATO and NATO against Defence Europe.

We want to lead Europe out of this blind alley by going to persuade our partners where they are, i.e. in NATO! And it’s difficult to say, as I’ve heard all through this morning, that our full participation in NATO is going to weaken Defence Europe at the very time when every European Union country is welcoming the decision we have just taken.

However bold this decision may be, ladies and gentlemen, it isn’t wholly new. (…)

Between 1995 and 1997, Jacques Chirac officially launched an initiative designed to return France to NATO’s integrated command in return for France being given the Southern Command and the strengthening of the European defence pillar.

The initiative, as we know, failed.

Today, President Sarkozy is restating this ambition, convinced that today’s conditions lend themselves to it and that we must act now.

They lend themselves to it because the United States at last recognizes the usefulness and legitimacy of a more robust Defence Europe.

They lend themselves to it because every day Europe is shouldering a few more of its responsibilities.

The French EU presidency saw several decisions taken.

At Hervé Morin’s instigation, a directorate for civil and military planning will be set up in June.

It will be able to call on a deployable component. Variable geometry capabilities projects, such as the creation of a strategic airlift fleet and launch of a military observation satellite programme, are under way.

The 23 civilian or military operations we’re carrying out together at this very moment with the other European Union countries prove that Europe is capable of making its voice heard and deploying its strength.
This is the case today in the Gulf of Aden, faced with the pirates. I want to point out that it was France and Europe who took the first initiative to intervene to end the Dark Age practices which are endangering maritime traffic in that region.

This is the case in Chad, where we enabled the return of 40,000 refugees.

This is the case in Georgia, where Europe is watching the situation.
And it could finally be the case when it comes to securing Gaza’s borders. (…)

40 years after the 1966 decision, the fact that we are still here talking about General de Gaulle’s heritage arouses in me a feeling of pride and immense gratitude for the man of 18 June¹.

But throughout his life the General distrusted established situations.
Circumstances dictate actions.

Actions have to anticipate future situations, not reproduce those of the past. The only things which count are France’s rank and interest.
Yet nothing does more to curtail our ability to impact on our world than nostalgia.

The political situation has changed, and so let’s take the initiative!
We are taking it in Europe, we are taking it at the UN, we are taking it at the G20 and we are taking it in the Atlantic Alliance. (…)./.

¹ “Appeal to all the French” which General de Gaulle broadcast on the BBC on 18 June 1940.

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