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40th Anniversary of the French Policy Planning Staff

40th Anniversary of the French Policy Planning Staff

Published on November 14, 2013
Speech by Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, November 13, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I’m very happy to be here and to meet you all here at the BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France), and I want to thank very warmly its president, Bruno Racine, for hosting this debate.

I also want to thank my fellow panelists, three distinguished experts of international relations with whom I will have a debate tonight on the international order – or disorder.

I believe it is a good thing to hold this debate on the 40th anniversary of the CAPS (the French Policy planning staff), about which I would like to say a few words:

- As soon as I assumed my functions as head of the Quai d’Orsay, I decided to give this very peculiar service its full place at the minister’s side. The various directorates of the Quai d’Orsay are full of very competent and very dedicated people. They know how to quickly produce elaborate, enlightened positions on any given foreign policy topic. But I also want to make sure – and this build on my own ministerial experience and approach – that our thinking is not stovepiped but rather transversal, that we are able to distinguish major evolutions from day to day noise and able to take a step back, to second-guess our own certainties, and that we are anticipating both crises and opportunities. And that is what I am expecting from the Center.

- Beyond its role of analysis and planning that has been its “raison d’être” for 40 years, I decided to add a strategic dimension to the job description of the CAPS. Not because I wanted to change the acronym but because we are not only pure minds or intellectuals. Analysis and planning must produce recommendations – that the minister then takes into account or not. But it is very important to look at the future and that analysis would always produce recommendations. To anticipate is not only to forecast, it also means to act in order to get the future you want. That is the reason why I added an "S" to the previous acronym C.A.P. in order to have it become the "Center for Analysis, Planning AND Strategy". And when the CAPS sends me memos that do not include this strategic dimension, my reaction is generally not good. Its director Justin Vaïsse knows well what my two flaws are: first, I read everything that is given to me; and second, I tend to write quite undiplomatic annotations when I’m not satisfied.

This summer, as you may have heard, the government launched a far-reaching planning exercise about our country in 10 years, in order to define our priorities of today. CAPS has been fully engaged in this exercise and I want to thank them warmly for it.

Some of the dynamics which will shape this world belong to the long term. We will discuss them tonight and have to keep them in mind, even if they are obvious – like the growing importance of Asia, of countries in the South, and the emergence of new powers. Other dynamics are happening under our eyes. I’m thinking, in particular – and it will certainly be one of the themes we discuss tonight – of the changing role the United States wants to play in the Middle East, and of the implications of this new posture for crisis resolution. I wanted to take the opportunity of the anniversary of the Policy Planning Staff to do some live planning exercise on some of these current and future trends. Before debating them with the great experts who are here, let me say a few words on this particular topic which has global implications.

The United States gives the impression of no longer wanting to get drawn into crises that do not correspond to its new vision of the national interest. Those who want to withdraw from regions they see as non-strategic are getting more influential. At least, that’s how several recent political episodes might be explained, such as the decision of not using military strikes after the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, in spite of previous declarations.

The root causes of this posture make it look as a durable trend. It is based on the decision – a perfectly understandable one – to refocus American foreign policy on what is perceived to be its core interests, especially economic ones, many of which are now to be found in Asia. It is also most probably based on the new energy landscape. And I am deeply convinced, from conversations I had with current American officials, that it also stems from a very deep trauma following the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan – which carried an extremely heavy human and financial cost for disappointing results. Hence one should also add the current mood of isolationism that permeates public opinion.

This choice, which is, I repeat, perfectly understandable, has many consequences, given the importance of the United States, because nobody can take over from the Americans, especially from a military point of view. Given the power of the United States, an American “disengagement” – if this would be the proper way to qualify it – is a global disengagement, with the risk of letting major crises fester on their own. And one of the questions that we might address tonight is: How will this posture, if it is confirmed, shape our future, how to act consequently, and what type of implication does it have for European and French decisions?

Let me be clear. We fully understand the American reluctance to send troops on the ground again, to the Middle East in particular. And we need to be intellectually honest: in many cases, if the US adopted the opposite attitude, we might consider it unhelpful for the interests of the region and our interests. That is not what this is about. What this is about, rather, is avoiding the strategic vacuum which may thus be created, mainly in the Middle East, and which may be enhanced by the perception among actors that for the US, the true priority lies elsewhere from now on. I can hear this concern voiced daily by several partners of France, who are increasingly factoring in their calculations, planning and analysis, the possibility that they will be left to their own devices in managing crises – in spite of the global reach of these crises.

This situation has already produced its first effects:

- It introduces uncertainty and fuels competition among regional actors. Given the absence of real alternative alliances for most of the traditional US allies, this competition falls more and more often into a clash of identities, including of a religious nature ;

- It further destabilizes fragile states like Lebanon or Iraq, a country which seems to have reverted to the worst period of its recent past;

- It fuels questions and sometimes suspicions, or even encourages conspiracy theories about the real intentions of the United States;

- It retroacts on the global credibility of Western powers, which give the impression of being unreliable and divided, but also on the credibility of the international community in general. The impression of Western indecisiveness certainly does not translate, as some would have us believe, into a spontaneous self-reinforcement of international norms, but on the contrary into their erosion. That’s what we witnessed on Syria, for far too long, at the UN Security Council.

In this context – which we need to understand and avoid passing judgment on, but also seems to be a fact, possibly a lasting one – what does France want, what can it do? At least three things:

- First, it will continue to assume its responsibilities. It is France’s policy to try and steer the course of history to the extent of its capabilities, whether in Africa – yesterday in Mali, today in the Central African Republic – or in the Middle East, in the Syrian tragedy or on the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. France does not shy away from crises: it adapts to the new world and does not forsake its responsibilities. We try to bear a message, to bring some coherence, to provide capacities that are not immense but are real. And by the way, any observer can measure the extent to which, in this period of strategic uncertainty, France needs to be able to rely on its own independent analyses and intelligence, as well as diplomatic, and military means. Our credibility rests on these capacities;

- Second, we have to build up global governance for the shattered world of today and tomorrow. For France, this means at least two long-term undertakings for which I believe we’re opening the way. First, reforming the multilateral system, starting with the UN Security Council, even if it is an incredibly daunting task because it requires the agreement of the members of the Security Council themselves. Second, reorienting and relaunching Europe. Our message reflects the same ideal in both cases – that of a rules-based globalization and international system;

- Third, if we want to reach this objective, or at least to get closer to it, we need to take the world as it is. We all say, by convenience, that we live in a multipolar world. I think that is not entirely correct. If I describe the historic evolution of the past decades with a very broad brush, there was a very long period during which the world was bipolar (US-USSR), there was a relatively short period of time, after the fall of the Berlin wall, when the world was unipolar under the hegemony of the United States. We hope that in the future, it will be multipolar, in an organized way. But I belong to those who believe that the world is now "zero-polar" or, to be more grammatically correct, “apolar”. Which means that there is no single power, or powers, sufficiently dominant to impose solutions. This explains, in part, the multiplication of lasting crises. We need to learn how to change this situation in order to go towards an organized multipolar world but also take advantage of the multiplication of actors, which is a factor of uncertainty or even instability, but also opens up new opportunities for cooperation, especially for a country like France which features characteristics of both great powers and middle powers. I would like to give a few examples that illustrate the way I believe we can enhance our approach.

- The Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa, which will be held on December 6 & 7, will not be only about celebrating the proximity between our country and the African continent. Rather, it is our ambition, jointly with our African friends, to define together the best modalities to help Africans manage the crises erupting on their continent, both politically and militarily. By adding issues of development – because one cannot separate questions of security and development – as well as climate change, France stresses the necessity of adopting a broad vision of security, which should certainly not be limited to armed interventions that we regard only as a last recourse.

- Let me give another example: with emerging countries, we need to negotiate together the right balance between their right of catching up economically on the one hand, and the necessity of sharing the burden in the realm of collective security and the preservation of global public goods on the other hand. This will require us to cultivate with each of them whatever convergent interests we have. I’m thinking in particular of the Asian regional powers that wish to diversify their partnerships in order to escape an excessively exclusive bilateral relationship with China. Our cooperation with Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to further the goal of universal healthcare coverage has been very positive. We intend to multiply this type of initiatives with partners such as Singapore, Malaysia, or Vietnam on maritime issues or sustainable development.

- A third example: climate change negotiations. As you know, France will host the UN conference on climate in 2015. It will be a major milestone for the world and for our diplomacy. If we want to succeed, we have to shatter the old stovepiped channels of negotiation. Together with my colleagues who deal with development and environment issues, we want to put an emphasis on what we call the "positive agenda" – all the concrete initiatives from all origins, especially those stemming from the South, but also from the private sector, from local governments, from international organizations that have a direct or indirect on the reduction of Co2 emissions. All of these initiatives do not belong to the main channel of negotiation itself. But if we support them and if we highlight them, we will foster the creation of a new model of development that populations really support because they’re interested in them, thereby prompting in return positive change among governments.

My conclusion, however provisional and incomplete, is that the era of exclusive diplomatic clubs and of compromises without witness is largely over. But that of a regional and global governance that would be fully effective is still to come. This is we must try and create a dense fabric of new types of cooperation - cooperation with old powers, but also with new actors; cooperation on new issues, but always at the service of a holistic vision of solidarity, development and security.

It is by linking together all of these multiple partnerships can create a sort of collective safety net in the face of destabilizing actions or shifts by some actors. That is, I believe, the rationale behind France’s action.

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