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Defense policy

Published on May 22, 2013
Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defense, to the Franco-British Council

London, May 16, 2013

(Check against delivery)

Lady Blackstone,

Cher Christian de Boissieu,


Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

It is a great honour and a real pleasure for me to open this 2013 Franco-British Council Annual Defence Conference, which has become one of the traditional events in our bilateral relationship.

Let me first thank Lady Blackstone, as well as Professor de Boissieu, for their opening remarks and for inviting me here, giving me the opportunity to talk to you this morning. I hope this speech sheds light and provides food for thought that will be useful for your proceedings today. I would also like to express my gratitude to Ambassador Émié and his staff who have spared no effort in hosting this panel of qualified representatives from the military, political, industrial and academic worlds, whose diversity alone illustrates the broad spectrum of our cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

On 29 April, I introduced the new White Paper on Defence and National Security to our armed forces. I am aware that its guidelines were awaited, in Paris of course, but also in London, with a certain degree of impatience, not to say concern.

There are various reasons for that.

Firstly, our British partners were expecting the White Paper to confirm the options underpinning our bilateral cooperation in the framework of the Lancaster House treaty, be they general guidelines, like maintaining our expeditionary capability – including high intensity conflicts – or more specific projects, such as the development of a joint missile industry.

But, in my view, the expectations of British officials went beyond these anticipated confirmations. The British Ministry of Defence feared that a French disengagement might entail new cuts in the British defence budget, with the risk of a vicious circle leading our two countries to an inevitable military decline.

As regards our major strategic guidelines, I think that the White Paper provides clear, credible and responsible answers. Faced with the risks and threats all around us, the first key to success remains, more than ever, a strong will to confront them by agreeing to make the necessary effort. This is why, despite the budget pressure we are enduring, we will not give up critical capabilities. So when it’s the turn of the British Ministry of Defence to defend its ambitions in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, it will be impossible to object to French disengagement.

France will, indeed, maintain its defence effort, over the short- and medium-term, and mobilise €364 billion between now and 2025, €179.2 billion of this by 2019. In that way, the French defence budget will remain the second-largest military budget in the European Union, with an average 1.8% of GDP dedicated to defence by 2020, in NATO standards.

That was a real challenge because two sovereignty requirements had to be reconciled: our budget sovereignty, at a time when the financial crisis has weakened our public finance and is imposing a strict control of public spending no one can avoid, not even the United States; and the sovereignty stemming from our strategic autonomy as regards defence, when the level of threat and uncertainties has not gone down since 2008. The budget squeeze was all the more urgent because, despite the need to reduce public spending, it was necessary to take into account the rise in acquisition costs of modern equipment and the maintenance of old equipment – and this double movement was threatening to stifle our armed forces. We had to safeguard and ensure the long-term survival of a defence tool that could be threatened by this, in order to continue having effective armed forces, always adapted to the security stakes as well as to France’s international responsibilities. We have taken up this challenge.

Probably even more important for our bilateral cooperation is that the White Paper specifies three missions which are essential for French defence: the protection of France and French citizens, nuclear deterrence and overseas intervention. I believe the last two are particularly significant for our bilateral relationship because they testify to shared ambitions.

Indeed, as soon as the White Paper was initiated, President Hollande reaffirmed, as did Prime Minister Cameron last month, the desire to maintain our effort to support nuclear deterrence and its two components, underpinned by a successfully completed simulation programme. Given the growth and the preservation of certain arsenals, the resonance of the proliferation crises, recent developments have demonstrated how necessary it is to maintain such an effort, which remains the ultimate guarantee of our protection against attacks or threats aiming at our vital interests. With the Lancaster House treaties, we have started a totally unprecedented chapter of cooperation between us on nuclear issues. We are pursuing it with determination. In this respect, I note with satisfaction that the White Paper sets out rather precisely, as President Hollande had called for, the relationship between nuclear deterrence, on the one hand, and overseas protection and intervention missions, on the other.

Furthermore, an overseas intervention capability provides our defence with the essential strategic depth. This is why France will maintain the capability, on its own or alongside its partners and allies. With a new armed forces model, France will devote itself to do this more efficiently and probably more realistically than in the past. I wanted a few simple but innovative principles to be at the heart of our choices: strategic autonomy is safeguarded, because we want to be able to operate on our own or, in a determining way, within a coalition; coherence of the model with the diversity of possible conflicts, including high intensity ones; a differentiation principle, because we will fund the most expensive capabilities only where they are essential, so that we are always sure that our soldiers have the right equipment at the right time and are adequately trained; finally, a principle of pooling for rare and crucial capabilities. We, French and British, who are already pooling several significant capacities in the framework of the Lancaster House treaties, are already familiar with this last principle: this concerns several important areas of our defence. I am thinking of the nuclear area, to the naval air projection and the missile industry, to name but a few examples.

This commitment is important for the French armed forces, but also for the British armed forces with whom we work very closely in relation with the CJEF build-up, and I was able to see with my friend Phil Hammond during the Corsican Lion exercise. The British soldiers have to be sure that their French comrades-in-arms will remain at the level of excellence recently demonstrated in Libya and in Mali.

Lastly, like the United Kingdom, France has noted the change in threats and in the necessary capabilities to address them. So the White Paper shows a particular effort to strengthen our capabilities in the field of intelligence, cyberdefence – including in its offensive aspect -, and of our Special Forces. Here again, for our British partners this is a guarantee of an effective partnership commensurate with the common ambitions highlighted by the Lancaster House treaty.

But, beyond the guarantees provided by the White Paper, let me briefly return to the expectations we sensed from the British with regard to this French strategic document.

This expectation expresses a key element of our bilateral relationship: we are now in a de facto solidarity situation. For centuries, France and the United Kingdom played a zero-sum game. For centuries, when France was getting weaker, the United Kingdom, thanks to a turnaround effect, would get stronger; and vice versa. This situation started changing in the 20th century, due to the rise in threats and the emergence of powers that could be superior to ours.

Today, it is clear to everyone that anything which weakens either of our two nations inevitably affects the other, in the very short term. We have expressed this, almost with the same words, in the Chequers Declaration, when we are reminded that "we could not imagine a situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened ".

The wording is right, but this statement of fact covers a broader scope: we are inextricably linked when faced with all the major current financial, political, strategic and military developments.

We are linked by our characteristic combination of ambitions and constraints. France and the United Kingdom are the two major military powers in Europe and have a determination and a capability to deploy in overseas operations that few countries in the world possess. Particularly, a first-entry capability, thanks to our respective military assets, our institutions, the skill and valour of our armed forces. Simultaneously, we are faced with the same pressure exerted by the financial crisis. And we react similarly:

- we commit ourselves earnestly to the adjustments of the size of our armed forces, which are sometimes very serious, but always necessary. In 2009, it had been decided to cut 55,000 positions over the period 2009-2015. The 2013 White Paper considers a further cut of roughly 24,000 positions to meet the requirements to cut public spending and streamline public services. This restructuring will be carried out with the constant concern that they affect the operational units and our ability to act as little as possible;

- we are working on streamlining our capability choices. As I said previously, we will not fund the more expensive ones when they are not necessary. We cannot afford to produce technological and costly wonders, in a limited quantity, that we could not use for lack of funding and training. The details of our choices will be published at the end of our next military estimates law, but I can already say that we will not renounce our critical capabilities. Our two countries have begun a period of efficient spending, which does not rule out maintaining a capability ambition that we bear particularly in the framework of our bilateral cooperation;

- we choose to reinforce this effort on a few absolute priorities – intelligence and cyberdefence – and to maintain deterrence, the ultimate security guarantee and a factor in technological excellence. And it’s no coincidence that we’ve decided to cooperate on technologies related to certain aspects of deterrence.

Lastly, we are inextricably linked given our international environment. In less than two years, we were confronted by two major crises on Europe’s doorstep. In Libya, France and the United Kingdom were in the vanguard of an operation that was subsequently conducted under the aegis of the Atlantic Alliance. Four months ago, France started a military operation in Mali with immediate logistical support from the United Kingdom, whom I want to warmly thank here. This operation must be taken over, as soon as possible, by the United Nations forces and the trainers of the EUTM Mali mission. Because we all know that, after a tough but successful military engagement by French troops, we must make this post-war period and the security and political transition a success, since we know that the terrorist threat in the Sahel has not disappeared. A few weeks ago, we had a bitter demonstration of this in Libya. Quite honestly, it is the whole of the Sahel area, from Western Africa to Somalia, including Libya, which remains a common zone of interests for our two countries and for Europe.

These two interventions remind us that we are faced with a strategic environment that is both more unstable and more uncertain than in the past. And this comes at a time when the American effort is being refocused towards Asia, which leads us to take more responsibilities, at the very time when threats are growing closer. France and the United Kingdom must be at the forefront of European strategic reinforcement; but I will get back to that.

We must also take full advantage of our common views on the major international crises. The points we agree on are numerous and significant. In particular, I’m thinking of the situation in Syria, and of the proliferation crises. And, when we agree, we have a very significant power of influence and leadership at European and world levels. We must develop this strategic potential.

In a nutshell, London and Paris are characterised by a shared awareness of threats and a common will to shoulder their responsibilities. Of course, military interventions must remain an exception and must not prevent us from finding new solutions and better organising all our tools for external action. The fact remains that our particular credibility and influence derive from the determination that we can strongly express and from our ability to intervene militarily when necessary.

This is where our defence cooperation comes into play. Indeed, objective solidarity does not necessarily mean political decision-makers are aware of this solidarity. Today, this solidarity is reflected by the Lancaster House treaties. It is embodied in several concrete deeds, which display our will to deepen this unique partnership.

Firstly, I’m thinking of the presence of Sir Peter Ricketts on the White Paper commission. This participation – which I know was highly valued by all the members of the commission – is a token of confidence – never expressed before, as far as I know – which fully fits into the rationale of Lancaster House. I do believe mutual participation is necessary in endeavours as important as our respective strategic reviews.

Besides, although the bilateral meetings must no doubt resume a more regular pace, the work and progress of our cooperation has never stopped. Let me just mention the excellent operational dynamic around the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. The CJEF is a very powerful tool that brings our armed forces together and covers all the areas of our military cooperation. At this stage, we’re on course to make this force operational in 2016. We must carry on working in this direction. This autumn, exercise Joint Warrior 13-2 will take place, with a predominant role for the air forces. I am sure that, just like Exercise Corsican Lion, which I attended last autumn, it will demonstrate the improvement in our cooperation.

As regards capabilities, progress is slower, and it’s true that, for obvious reasons, the White Paper postponed certain decisions, especially in the area of missiles.

Let me commend the patience and constructive spirit that prevailed on the British side in this respect. Today, the decisions made by the President of the Republic, passed on to the British authorities and confirmed in the White Paper, enable us to consider a new dynamic in the very near future. This is an illustration of the proactive implementation of this pooling principle I was referring to. The decision regarding the anti-ship missile was difficult. I made it because the programme it underpins for our industries and our bilateral cooperation seems to me essential. I have no doubt that, when time comes, the British government will be motivated by the same political will in its own national decisions.

Moreover, our common capability projects were not all dependent on the orientations of the White Paper, and many of them have made satisfying progress. Last July, Philip Hammond and I signed a memorandum of understanding on future combat UAVs and tactical UAVs. Meanwhile, teams from both Ministries of Defence are working together and furthering numerous other capability projects: Satcom, naval mine warfare, A400M, and a few others, under the authority of the High Level Working Group, chaired by Philip Dunne and Laurent Collet-Billon, who are here today. It is in the very nature of capability projects to be slow, but the progress in this field is significant.

Now, we must draw up a progress report, and give new impetus in various areas:

- At the operational level, we must move onto a new stage of trust and increased intelligence-sharing. Our whole cooperation is at stake, and especially our officer exchange programme. We are aware of the difficulties this might represent, but we are expecting London to carry all its weight to tip the scales in order to find solutions. I discussed this yesterday with Philip Hammond and I know he is convinced of the significance of this challenge.

- At the capability level, as I was saying a few moments ago, the confirmation provided by the President of the Republic regarding missiles enables us to boost the formative work we began in this field, with, for instance – and I welcome it – the imminent start of work on the FASGW-ANL, and the updating of the SCALP/Stormshadow missiles. Other projects will follow, and this is the mandate I wish to entrust our teams with.

This is the working programme for the coming months. Now, if I may, I would like to set out a longer-term prospect. First of all, I think it’s useful to recall that the defence treaty was signed in 2010 for 50 years. When I see what has been accomplished in two and a half years, I can only be optimistic.

The strategic environment I was describing earlier contains many uncertainties, but also one strong certainty: France and the United Kingdom, and more generally Europe, will have to take increasing responsibilities for international security. In this framework, Franco-British cooperation serves as an example, and the Franco-British effort counterbalances, to a certain extent, the excessive caution displayed by some Europeans as regards defence. Our bilateral cooperation must therefore continue and develop, not as a goal in itself but as a driving force open to others, to increase Europeans’ ability to take control of their security and destiny.

As far as I am concerned, I believe this effort must be focused on our operational, capability and industrial reinforcement, along the following lines:

The reform and operational reinforcement of the Atlantic Alliance. The French desire – expressed in the Védrine report and confirmed in the White Paper – for an active, pragmatic and newly self-confident commitment within the Atlantic Alliance has made a certain bilateral rapprochement possible. We have noticed in particular that our respective situations and interests within NATO are quite close. We each have an equal share, and we both agree to a significant investment effort in national capabilities which may be used by the Alliance but which we want to use autonomously for our own needs. So we have an objective interest in working together for the reform of NATO in the sense of operational effectiveness and smaller, efficient structures. We have been working in that direction over the past months and we will carry on doing so, to strengthen what is at the heart of our Alliance: interoperability;

Reinforcing the CSDP. I know we don’t necessarily share the same political views on this matter. France will maintain its ambition to boost the European enterprise, and we expect some support from the United Kingdom in this regard. I am convinced this approach is possible, because we are driven not by ideology but by realism. I want this French effort to boost Defence Europe – which I have been striving for the past year to implement – to be pragmatic and concrete: a Europe that can act and launch operations, as it did to counter piracy or to rebuild the Malian armed forces; a Europe that pools its capabilities and develops projects that are useful for us all, like, for instance, in-flight refuelling; a Europe that consolidates its defence industry, since there can be no significant defence effort that does not benefit our European industry. We share these three main priorities with the British side, and I personally have made sure that we act in total transparency. This pragmatism should guide us all, in both London and Paris.

The increase in European military capabilities and the reinforcement of the EDTIB. We must be proactive in this area, and I think the December 2013 European Council will enable us to identify interesting ways forward, be they in the capability or industrial fields. I believe we should make EDTIB more competitive and better structured, and this calls for a shared effort to define its broad outlines. We must also find innovative solutions to remedy the capability shortcomings we have identified. In this respect, I would ask our British friends to focus on the example of EATC, the structure for managing our strategic and tactical transport, which is likely to take on a new dimension in future, with in-flight refuelling, an ad-hoc structure – neither EU nor NATO – which displays great effectiveness, pragmatism and flexibility, while respecting the sovereignty of the member states. We’d like to work with the United Kingdom to strengthen this project.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am a pragmatist. I want to show realism. But also political determination. In Mali, as in Libya and Afghanistan, France shed its blood in the name of collective security. Let me emphasise again that, faced with the risks and threats that surround us, the main condition for success remains, more than ever, a determination to confront those risks and threats while agreeing to the necessary effort.

We share this determination – inherited from the history of the 20th century – with the United Kingdom. France intends to maintain this determination, despite our harsh financial constraints. Our new White Paper embodies this ambition: to express openly and clear-sightedly this strong commitment, which is integral to our vision of France’s role in the world. To do this, we can draw on the progress made by Franco-British cooperation, which seems to me ever more useful and necessary in order for Europeans to shoulder their own responsibilities.

I wish you an excellent day and fruitful discussions.

Thank you for your attention./.

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