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New Year greetings to the armed forces

Published on January 6, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Saint-Dizier, January 4 , 2011

I’ve decided to pay my first visit, as this new year begins, to the armed forces and meet you at the Saint-Dizier air base. It’s a sign of my commitment, as Head of the Armed Forces, to the women and men who have chosen to serve their country and defend their fellow citizens. (…)
My thoughts go first to the families of those who have died serving France.

In 2010, more soldiers made the supreme sacrifice: 22 men were killed in action or on active duty in theatres of operations. I pay my respects to their memory and express at once the Nation’s sadness, admiration and gratitude towards these men who gave their lives for France. (…)

We owe the many wounded our special attention too. I was keen to honour them at the last military parade I presided over at the Invalides (1). Indeed, at the Institution nationale des Invalides (1) I met soldiers wounded in combat who are fighting another battle in the rehabilitation room, a profoundly admirable battle. I saw their courage, their efforts to erase or ease the consequences of injuries. (…)

ARMED FORCES’ ACTION/AFGHANISTAN/LEBANON/COTE D’IVOIRE

Ultimately, the armed forces are there to conduct operations. As I speak, over 12,000 troops are being deployed in overseas theatres under the operational command of Admiral Edouard Guillaud, Chief of Defence Staff, to whom I want to pay special tribute. My attention focuses most particularly on three theatres.

In Afghanistan, where Alain Juppé has just been, 4,000 French soldiers are engaged alongside our allies. Let’s be clear: their mission will be completed when the Afghan authorities are in a position to ensure their country’s security alone, allowing a stable Afghanistan, at peace with itself, to rejoin the international community. The gradual transfer of operational responsibilities to the Afghan forces is under way. Progress is being made on the security conditions essential for allowing the economy to develop. Of course, there’s still a long way to go, and – let’s not hide from the truth – this mission is still very dangerous, not to say bloody. But your efforts aren’t in vain. Little by little, methodically, persistently, our forces are reducing the enemy’s initiative on the ground and making a return to normal life for the Afghans more likely by the day. There can’t be spectacular results. There can’t be a decisive battle. Peace is built through sustained daily efforts. It requires patience, perseverance and courage. I stress that. At stake over there, in Afghanistan, is global security and consequently the security of the French here, in France. Because to leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban would be to accept the existence of a sanctuary for terrorists, a sanctuary with no purpose other than to export religious totalitarianism, and from which our compatriots would be directly threatened. My duty is to prevent this.

Elsewhere, faithful to her tradition, France is playing her full role in peacekeeping and upholding international law. She is present in southern Lebanon. Lebanon is a sister country to France. Even though that theatre is no longer one of violent combat, what we’re doing with our Lebanese friends is contributing directly to the stability of the country and region. This is a very demanding mission for our contingent of 1,400 troops. Five soldiers have lost their lives there in the past year.

Finally, the protection of our nationals is a priority mission for the armed forces. Today it’s the main concern of the 900 men of the Licorne force in Côte d’Ivoire. There’s no ambiguity there, either. It’s not for our soldiers, France’s soldiers, to interfere in Côte d’Ivoire’s internal affairs.
They operate by virtue of a United Nations mandate. Together with the Ministre d’Etat I’m personally following the situation on the ground in real time and keeping a very close eye on the safety of our compatriots. I call on all the parties to respect the Ivorian people’s choice. The Ivorian people’s choice was clearly expressed. It was expressed sovereignly. Nobody has the right to scorn the Ivorian people’s decision and jeopardize the return to peace and security which all Côte d’Ivoire’s inhabitants have the right to. The challenges we must face go far beyond the case of Côte d’Ivoire. The truth is that those challenges concern the whole of Africa: one billion inhabitants.

The African States are still young. They’re building – each in its own context – democratic life. And the first requirement of democratic life is respect for universal suffrage. Côte d’Ivoire has long been an example of this. If she were to exclude herself from the democratic world, we’d have reason to fear for the whole of Africa. And that’s why the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the United Nations are insisting so much on respect for the Ivorian people’s will. All the States in the region know the benefits of democracy, its undeniable contribution to that development they so need in order to ensure the advancement of their peoples. The President of Côte d’Ivoire is called Alassane Ouattara and he’s been chosen by the Ivorians.

ARMED FORCES’ MODERNIZATION

I’m conscious that maintaining such a level of operational activity is a genuine achievement – all the more so because for three years you’ve been engaged in an unprecedented reform whose scale and importance are absolutely huge. (…)

It’s an ambitious project – launched long before me but picked up again by us in 2007 – which was specified by the White Paper and the Military Estimates Act and enables our armed forces to adapt to the demands and threats of the 21st century. The political choice I made with the government and Parliament consisted in making defence a priority.

Anyone can see this priority from the figures. Let me remind you of the figures, to show the political responsibility I take for that choice:

- €377 billion has been programmed for the period 2008 to 2020 – that is, for the duration of two Military Estimates Acts.

- In 2009 and 2010, despite the tremendous budgetary difficulties we encountered as a result of the crisis, the annual instalments of the Military Estimates Act were strictly respected. And the defence budget evolved at a faster pace than the general budget.

- In 2011, bearing in mind the exceptional revenue that’s expected, this will still be the case.

In the future, it’s my intention that defence remain a priority. Whatever our difficulties, however harsh our choices, that will be the case – quite simply because the missions entrusted to our armed forces are vital for the country, and quite simply because our armed forces need the best equipment in order to fulfil their missions.

In order to achieve this we’ve had to make choices, and we’ve made those choices. I take responsibility for them. We decided to reduce troop numbers by 54,000. We got rid of regiments, closed bases and decided on compensation for the local authorities impacted by those closures. These decisions weren’t easy, but it was the price to be paid for having an efficient defence capability. (…)

You understood perfectly that your operational capabilities were at stake. It’s better to have slightly fewer troops and more equipment, and modern equipment. France isn’t a country like any other. France is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. France has a role on the international stage. That requires a fully operational army. (…)./.

(1) a complex of military buildings (museums and monuments) in Paris which includes the Institution nationale des Invalides, a hospital and home for war veterans.

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