Arab Spring – Libya/UNSCR 1973 – French policy/external military operations – European External Action Service – International action/French priorities – France/world role
Q. – You began your tenure as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs at the beginning of March 2011 in the midst of uprisings that have shaken the Arab world to its core. How should France act and react in the face of this upheaval? What is France’s current “Arab policy”?
THE MINISTER – I did indeed step into this role at a fascinating yet difficult time for the world and for the Arab countries. The “Arab Spring” is a major turning point in history, perhaps comparable in scope to the fall of the Berlin Wall. France’s line of action has been clear and explicit here: we support, even as we monitor, the democratic movements that have emerged and continue to emerge in the Maghreb and the Middle East. The collective desire for freedom is an opportunity for the world that shouldn’t be wasted. The upcoming generations in this part of the world have high expectations even as they struggle with really tough problems, like unemployment for instance. It is incumbent upon us and upon our European and international allies to encourage partnerships, both economic and cultural, and to offer our knowledge and expertise where appropriate.
France is proposing robust initiatives within the framework of the European Union with precisely these considerations in mind.
Of course, I also believe we should act in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect because the people who are now breaking free of these chains should be the ones to decide their own future.
Q. – You were the driving force behind Resolution 1973, passed by the United Nations Security Council. This resolution authorized the use of military force on Libyan soil in order to defend civilians against attacks by the Libyan army. Could you walk us through the reasoning behind your position? Was this a case of a “responsibility to protect” which is one of the duties of the international community?
THE MINISTER – It is true, France played a crucial role in obtaining the necessary authorization of the Security Council. The sole motivation for our action was to stop the authorities in Tripoli from slaughtering the Libyan people. We felt that it was time for the international community to assume its responsibilities and meet our human, moral and even legal, obligations. We shouldn’t forget that at the 2005 World Summit, heads of state and governments from all over the world accepted a basic tenet: the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians. When the authorities of a state fail to do this, or when they themselves violate this principle, the international community has a responsibility to take action, and that means using force when necessary. This is what the Security Council did in passing Resolutions 1970 and 1973, with the latter one authorizing the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians.
By acting immediately after Resolution 1973 was passed, we prevented the massacre of thousands of civilians in Benghazi, where Colonel Gaddafi had promised carnage and bloodshed. So where Srebrenica symbolized our inability to act, Benghazi marks our determination to do so. This initial mission is an undeniable success in this respect. Something has changed in the international order. We have dealt a heavy blow to that which all dictators defend: the dogma of non-intervention and the right to remain indifferent.
FRENCH POLICY/EXTERNAL MILITARY OPERATIONS
Q. – What is France’s policy concerning external military operations? What would you say to those who accuse us of double standards in choosing when and where to intervene?
THE MINISTER – Every country writes its own history. It’s an ongoing process and many countries manage the transition to democracy while respecting the will of their citizens and without repressing them. I commend those countries, particularly in Africa, which have established workable democratic systems.
Yet there are other realities, places where the struggle for freedom is violently repressed by the governments in place, with clear violations of populations’ fundamental rights. When basic human rights are violated or when the rights of citizens are flouted and the situation is no longer acceptable, we state this clearly and we work with our allies to exert pressure. In Libya, an extreme case, the dictator decided to wage war on his own people, including those fighting for democracy there, and to use the weapons of war against them. When intervention is necessary to prevent such massacres, France is ready to assume its responsibility and to act within the legitimate framework of authorization by the United Nations Security Council.
EUROPEAN EXTERNAL ACTION SERVICE
Q. – What does the recent establishment of the European External Action Service mean for the diplomacy of other nations, and for French diplomacy in particular? Do you believe that the strengthening of European diplomacy comes at the expense of national foreign policies and decisions?
THE MINISTER – We are acutely aware of the rapidly changing balance of powers in the world; emerging powers want a place at the table and if we in turn really want to continue to have a say in world affairs we must join forces with one another, acquiring with that the ability to act at the European level. The European Union, which is the foremost economic power in the world and is home to half a billion people, should be in a position to play a consequential role on the international stage. Because it is only at European level that we will have the same diplomatic weight as China, India or Brazil. Real answers to the turmoil arising in our own Mediterranean neighbourhood will come when we are able to mobilize all the instruments of the EU’s external action.
To fully appreciate the difficulty of this task, it’s worth bearing in mind the nature of European diplomacy. To the extent that each country retains its own diplomatic sovereignty and ability to defend itself (decisions are made unanimously) it is important first to try and distil a common vision of our collective interests. Then we can take action by making our national diplomacies and the EU instruments work together. The role of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is to help us achieve this. The EEAS was not created to serve as a 28th diplomatic corps, working in parallel to or in competition with the other 27 diplomatic corps!
This unprecedented adventure will modify the way our diplomatic corps works and it already poses challenges we need to meet head on. For instance, we should send our best people to the EEAS (as we have already done in the person of Pierre Vimont, who is the new EEAS’ Secretary General). We also need to create a genuine, joint diplomatic culture within this institution; and of course we must rise to the occasion and provide the diplomatic service with the proper tools for reflection and decision making so that for each major issue, a shared European interest emerges even while we ensure our national interests have also been taken into account.
This doesn’t mean of course that we shouldn’t remain honest and lucid with ourselves. This new institution will take time to settle into a comfortable and stable rhythm and it cannot replace the political will of the Europeans. It is a tool that allows Europeans, provided they are willing, to create a powerful Europe. A common European resolve still sometimes seems far. France however, is committed to making this a reality, because Europe must be able to make its voice heard, protect its interests and play its part in the balance of power throughout the world.
INTERNATIONAL ACTION/FRENCH PRIORITIES
Q. – As Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, what are your priorities and the main projects to which you are committed?
THE MINISTER – When I arrived at this ministry in March, I outlined five main priorities for France’s international actions:
support for the transition to democracy in the southern Mediterranean rim and the renewal of activities of the Union for the Mediterranean, an anticipatory move that makes sense in light of the Arab spring: tomorrow, responsible democratically elected governments in this region will be a reality, and that’s when the logic of this approach will be fully appreciated,
progress with European integration, especially in the political realm,
development of our main strategic partnerships – Brazil, China, the United States, India, Russia, etc.,
increased cooperation between nations, which will allow for more effective joint management of major economic, environmental or development challenges, especially within the framework of the French Presidency of the G8 and the G20,
bolder action for Africa, a continent in the future of which I have great faith.
Since my investiture as Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, the world has been marked by crisis, like the tsunami in Japan and the upheavals in the Côte d’Ivoire and in Libya. These calamities have demanded my full attention. Yet I have not lost sight of the priorities I just outlined. On the contrary, addressing these issues has never seemed to me more necessary than now, in the wake of current events. The disaster in Japan has shown us how important international solidarity is and just how interdependent we are as nations; France is protecting the population and the forces fighting for democracy in Libya; and we are making every effort to facilitate the democratic process in the Côte d’Ivoire now that Laurent Gbagbo is no longer in power.
In the coming year, France’s actions abroad will continue along these lines. I know that our voice is being heard in the world, because our diplomacy, guided by our president, is a source of action and of sound advice. We should therefore trust in the ability of our diplomacy to make initiatives and to act.
Q. – What is your view of the place and role of France on the world stage, particularly this year with the presidency of the G8/G20?
THE MINISTER – One word encapsulates and guides all of our policies, and that word is responsibility. We have a responsibility to countries in crisis, whether that be Côte d’Ivoire, Libya or Afghanistan: this responsibility extends to the poor countries of the world where we have a duty to show solidarity with even the most destitute among them. Finally, we have a responsibility to promote a more equitable globalization, one that is better regulated and better governed by multilateral organizations.
France’s dual presidency of the G8 and the G20 is best understood from this vantage point. We are ready to listen to all our partners, because we seek to continue the work of previous summits and we want to act in concert with all our partners. We are also committed to moving forward, and that is why our president has formulated such an ambitious agenda.
The G8 presents us with challenging and pressing issues: support for the transitions to democracy in the Arab world, greater partnership with Africa, issues concerning the use of internet, the strengthening of nuclear safety and of course, showing solidarity with Japan.
As far as the G20 is concerned, our goals include the improved coordination of macro-economic policies, reform of the international monetary system and efforts to control wild fluctuations in the price of commodities. Equally pressing on the agenda are topics like economic development by way of innovative financing, and the reform of global governance to adapt to the requirements of the 21st century.
I am firmly convinced that the G8 summit to be held in Deauville on 26-27 May and the G20 summit in Cannes on 3-4 November of this year will allow us to make progress in all of these areas./.
¹ A quarterly bilingual English/French magazine published by the French Foreign and European Affairs Ministry, in partnership with Editions Grasset.