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Defense policy/New Year greetings to the armed forces

Published on January 22, 2015
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic

Paris, January 14, 2015


I have already been on this magnificent aircraft carrier, to commemorate the landings in Provence. I decided to return for my New Year greetings to the armed forces. But it so happens that I speak to you now at an exceptional time, a time of trial for our country.

We have been victims of a terrorist attack on our own soil, during which the terrorists killed 17 people.

Journalists, because they were journalists. Police officers, because they were police officers. Jews, because they were Jews.

Once again I pay tribute to the victims and express my sympathy to their families and friends for their dignity.

In the face of the ordeal our country has experienced, the French people reacted. The solidarity, fraternity and unity of their response are a source of pride for our nation and have been admired by the whole world. I also want to pay tribute to the exemplary behaviour of the gendarmerie and police who, with courage, bravery and professionalism, neutralized the terrorists and day by day ensure the security of our fellow citizens.

The gendarmerie and police will be reinforced, indeed have already been reinforced, by the armed forces. It is an internal operation on a huge, unequalled scale. The Vigipirate Plan has been raised to an unprecedented level. Ten thousand troops are being deployed nationwide to protect the most sensitive locations: schools, places of worship, synagogues, mosques, churches and temples.

The pace of deployment is also exceptional, unheard-of. In barely three days the number of troops has risen from 1,000 – the level on Monday when I took the decision – to 10,500, which will be the level this evening. Never in our recent history has such a deployment taken place with such speed.

Our defence forces have shown that they perfectly fulfil one of the goals set out in the Defence White Paper, which is to protect our country.
Our armed forces thus have the capability to carry out in a short space of time – a few days – that mission of protecting our compatriots, while remaining distinct from the police and the gendarmerie. Cooperation must be perfect, and it is. That is indeed what I see, since our civilian and military forces have shown themselves to be remarkably responsive and complementary in every respect. I wanted to congratulate you on this today.

We must respond to attacks from within – the ones which took place on those three dreadful days: on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday –, attacks from within which may be sponsored from further afield, since well-known terrorist organizations claimed responsibility for them.


But at the same time we must also ward off threats from outside, and they are numerous. That is what lay behind the decisions I took in France’s name to react immediately to the terrorist incursion into Mali. That was on 11 January 2013. It is also what lay behind my decision in the summer to join the coalition seeking to strike at Daesh [ISIL] in Iraq.
At the same time as being able to operate either on the ground, as with Operation Barkhane, or in the air, as is the case in Iraq, we must also support in the best possible way those who are fighting the jihadists in the front line. That is why we have supplied military equipment to the Kurds of Iraq and are helping the opposition forces in Syria that are fighting Islamic State.

Nonetheless I continue to regret, and you are my witnesses, that the international community did not act quickly enough to stop the massacres in Syria and prevent the extremists from gaining even more territory.

The international community should already have started to take action in late August or early September 2013. France was ready; the orders had been given; everything was in place. A different path was preferred. We can see where it has led.

Time is an important factor in the fight against terrorism. Waiting is dangerous; precipitous action is risky. So France makes judicious choices. It cannot intervene everywhere.

Yet that is what we are asked to do.

There are so many threats, so many dangers, so much terror, in Libya, in Nigeria, but France cannot and does not wish to take part in action that does not have the backing of the United Nations; nor does it wish to act alone or in haste or rashly, since soldiers’ lives are at stake. That is why we also operate in the political sphere so that the international community can find the conditions which allow for a settlement of these conflicts.

But when we do intervene, when we do take action, we must show great determination.


The Charles de Gaulle leaves on a deployment this week – is in fact already being deployed. When our aircraft carrier weighs anchor, it is a meaningful act. It is a commitment. The Charles de Gaulle is an instrument of strength and power; it is the symbol of our independence. It embodies France’s political, military and diplomatic capability.

Today’s Middle East situation justifies the presence of our aircraft carrier. Thanks to the Charles de Gaulle, we will obtain valuable information and intelligence. We will be able, if necessary, to carry out even more intense and effective operations in Iraq.

The aircraft carrier will work closely with the coalition forces. It will give us full projection capabilities at any time if tensions increase. The mission you are undertaking could hardly be more important.

In the international context I have just described, with the attack that has been carried out on our own soil, you are, in a way, already on operational duty.

I have full confidence in you, in the crew that serves on the Charles de Gaulle. I know how skilful the pilots, mechanics and seamen are. You are part of a long tradition. Our country has always thought that carriers have a role in strategy. That was first glimpsed by visionary thinkers during the First World War. Since then, from one generation to another, France has made sure that it always has that resource at its disposal, the remarkable vessel on which you serve.

France is one of the few countries in the world capable of deploying a full-capability carrier force with a catapult aircraft carrier.

With over 34,000 landings since it was commissioned, the Charles de Gaulle is an illustration of how our country’s industrial and technological expertise can be used for its self-defence. It is also an illustration of the skill and expertise of all the crew who serve on it.

The reason behind the decision I have taken, with the Defence Minister, to have the carrier weigh anchor is the one I have just described to you. It gives us influence on the international stage.

The mission now beginning is thus a response to terrorism. We are at war with it and so we must bring to bear the military resources best suited to countering the threat.


Our country, your country, devotes considerable budget resources to the defence effort. We can see the result of this today. First, women and men who are well trained, well prepared and well led. Second, intelligence resources capable of meeting the challenge of cyber defence – a major issue –, high-tech equipment and the aircraft carrier itself.
Third, a constantly maintained deterrent, available at any time, of which the carrier force is a major component.

In the navy, there’s what is called the “spirit of the crew”. “Spirit of the crew” is a fine expression. It applies to all the armed forces, but it is also valid for a nation and a people. Together, we too are a crew.

What does “crew” mean? It means joining together men and women who each bring their skills, their expertise, their qualities, their backgrounds, their life stories, their diversity.

France has to be a crew. But in order to serve the armed forces, there has to be a continuous military commitment; in such circumstances we need to mobilize all the help available, starting with those on active service. For I hardly need tell you that there can be no armed forces without the men and women who serve in them.

That is why, with the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister – though it is my responsibility as Head of State and Head of the Armed Forces – I am extremely mindful, in the circumstances I have just described to you, of staffing levels in the armed forces and hence to the planned restructuring.

The exceptional situation in which we find ourselves must lead to a review of the pace of reductions in forces that was scheduled over the next three years under the Military Estimates Act.

This pace must be reviewed and adapted. I am therefore asking the Defence Minister to bring me proposals before the end of the week, taking account of budget imperatives, of course. I am convening a meeting of the Defence Council on the subject of manpower on Wednesday and I will take an immediate decision.

That is why the armed forces you make up are so vital. That is why, at this particular time, I wanted decisions to be taken so that France can be sure that its defence is ready and you can be sure that we trust you to protect us and to intervene wherever you are called to do so.

There are those on active service and there are also the reservists. I want to emphasize their role too. Reservists are valued by command staff. In a world full of tension, it would be hazardous indeed to deprive ourselves of the skills and profile they offer the armed forces.

So I would like arrangements for the use of reservists to be improved so that all those who have a particular skill can bring to our armed forces everything they have to offer the nation.

Such exchanges benefit everyone: the businesses the reservists come from; the armed forces, enriched by their contribution; and of course the people themselves, for whom time spent in the armed forces is an unforgettable experience.

Serving France is what you do. Serving France is not just a mission for service personnel or civil servants alone. All citizens must be able to do something for their country, wherever they are, wherever they come from, whatever their background. Everyone can help in their own way to put France back on its feet, to protect it, to make it a better place.


Civic service is a marvellous idea. I have announced that it should be universal. It will be offered to all young French people who ask.

Our compatriots do not lack community spirit. They even overflow with it whenever they are asked. The potential is vast, and that is something else I have been proud to see.


Let us take the example of the fight against Ebola, that terrible disease.
Volunteers came forward spontaneously to support the action we were taking. I want to congratulate all those, service personnel and civilians alike, who have unreservedly committed themselves since this dreadful epidemic began – especially in Guinea, which I visited and where I was able to see that the armed forces – the armed forces once again – are there to deal with a scourge.

My thoughts go in particular to the men and women in the health service. They are devoting all their expertise to the fight against the virus. Their remarkable action has been commended by the international community.

Africa is facing up to that scourge, but also faces other threats and other dangers.


I mentioned our action in Mali; it is not over yet. Two years ago, we decided to intervene, firstly to halt the jihadist offensive, scale it back and ensure that Mali’s territorial integrity could be restored. That has been done. But at the same time we must continue, with UN forces, with the Malian army, to enable reconciliation and the country’s development and, above all, prevent any resurgence of terrorist groups.

That is why, thanks to you, operations have recently been carried out which have prevented terrorist attacks. Last year, in 2014, our troops neutralized some 200 jihadists, including some important leaders.

But the scope of our action has also been extended. It now covers the Sahel, from Mauritania to Chad, to strengthen countries in the region against the threat of terrorist groups who have in many cases fallen back into places where we are unable to reach them, especially in Libya.

Our troops in Operation Barkhane, commanded from Ndjamena in Chad, are now fully operational. On the ground as in the air, they are working in perfect harmony and in close cooperation with the armies of friendly countries.

Our special forces, to whom I also want to pay tribute, have played a vital part from the outset and done a remarkable job.

We can see the dangers of that whole region at the borders. I am thinking of what is happening in Libya and in Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram is ravaging villages and whole towns. Here too, we must ensure that the countries themselves, African countries, can provide for their own security. We must support them.


Sometimes we also have to intervene when there is a risk of massacre. Who do people turn to? To France, always. In the Central African Republic, Operation Sangaris was launched 13 months ago under a unanimous Security Council resolution.

Operation Sangaris was a success, if I may say so, although it hurts me to say so: not because it did not succeed – there were massacres, people were killed – but there would have been even more if we had not been there. We were able to achieve our objectives and were followed by an African force which has now been replaced by a UN force.

So I have decided to scale back our presence in the Central African Republic from 2,000 troops today to 1,700 in the spring and 800 in the autumn.

That reduction will take place as the strength of the United Nations mission increases to 12,000. I can therefore say that in the Central African Republic we have done what we said we would, thanks to you.

We have restored a measure of calm and peace to the country, one of the poorest in the world, even though much still remains to be done.
I congratulate the members of the armed forces whose coolness contributed to that. On a proposal from the Defence Minister, a special contingent of the Légion d’Honneur and of the Médaille militaire will reward those who particularly distinguished themselves in the theatre of the Central African Republic.

Africa is not the only continent where our armed forces are involved. Around the world, 20,000 service personnel are permanently deployed beyond our borders, half of them in external operations.


Yesterday, under Article 35 of the constitution, Parliament unanimously – unanimously – authorized an extension of our forces’ mission in Iraq.
Parliament’s confidence in the government to act reflects its confidence in you.

It conveys the image of France as a country that rallies around its armed forces in order to assume its responsibilities. The fight in Iraq will be a long one, and many people might suppose that it is far removed from what we’re experiencing. Not so: it is the same fight, because if we manage to combat terrorism in Iraq, as we have done in Africa, it is also in order to ensure our own security.

In Iraq, through the action we are taking from friendly countries like the Emirates and Jordan or close maritime zones – the aircraft carrier will play its role –, we can complement the forces of the coalition of which we are one of the main protagonists and, through Operation Chammal, already achieve the first results.

Daesh, a terrorist group which is occupying part of Iraq, is being rolled back; but the job will have to go on for as long as it takes. The goal is to restore Iraqi sovereignty throughout the country.

But I’m not forgetting, either, all the other missions carried out by our armed forces abroad to preserve our interests, protect our citizens and fight drug trafficking and piracy. Those are the missions of our armed forces: to protect our territory, work for peace, defend our interests, ensure France’s independence and fulfil our commitments to our allies. Those are the things you do.


Means and resources are necessary in order to perform all those missions: that is what the military estimates act is about. I have undertaken to respect the figure of €31.4 billion contained in it, a figure that is ring-fenced.

It is more than just a figure: it is what enables our armed forces to operate, what equips them; it is a set of budget allocations and exceptional resources. Those allocations and resources will be strictly maintained so that we can achieve all the objectives I have set for our armed forces. That’s how all the projects provided for by the Military Estimates Act in 2015 can become a reality. I am thinking of the order for 12 MRTT refuelling aircraft for the air force, the launch of the major Scorpion project for the army, the upgrading of 11 ATL2s and the order for offshore support and assistance vessels for the navy, and 100 or so vehicles for our special forces. Everything will go ahead as planned.

I have asked for the new financing mechanism to supplement our defence allocations to be implemented this year. I am referring to special-purpose entities. They will make it possible to acquire materiel under more flexible and more fluid conditions so that the resources our armed forces need can be brought into service quickly.

The operational effectiveness of our military hardware is also an asset both for our defence and for French industry.

Because it is a virtuous circle: if we make good hardware and good equipment for our armed forces, the hardware and equipment you use, we can also export it to those countries we choose and which choose us, and hence secure jobs in our defence industries. By ensuring that our defence industry is among the most efficient and effective, we also encourage exports of productive goods and capital goods for civilian industry, which in turn helps to strengthen France’s economy.

I know that for several years, and despite our budgetary effort, you have been asked to carry out reforms which sometimes call for many adjustments and modifications and changes of habits. But that does not apply only to the armed forces. It is happening everywhere in society, though it is true that it is a particularly sensitive issue for the military.
Concerning that equipment and those reforms, I should like to say here that the equipment will be maintained and the reforms will be carried out. But a few conclusions also need to be drawn: there have been failures. One is the Louvois system, the scars of which have not yet fully healed, and I applaud what the Minister has done to come up with solutions. The process for replacing the flawed software is under way; it should enter the initial operating phase next year and come into general use thereafter.


I cannot accept that our service personnel should experience any delay or any error in their pay. Too much is asked of you for there to be the slightest negligence in that respect. If mistakes have been made in the past, they must be put right.

I should also like to mention the conditions of military service. With the minister, I am mindful of how they may be improved in the framework of the High Committee for Evaluation. The Supreme Council of Military Service holds meetings and I am always mindful of its conclusions.
It so happens that the European Court of Human Rights has asked France to review its rules on the right of association of military personnel – which means your rights. After holding a series of consultations, I have decided to take up the proposals put to me by Bernard Pêcheur, member of the Conseil d’Etat [supreme administrative court which also advises the government on legislation], and take steps that will be enacted in law. The rights and duties of service personnel will therefore be preserved, while at the same time safeguarding the prerogatives of command staff. Legislation will soon be introduced to incorporate this step forward on personnel’s representation into the Defence Code.

There is also everything that is done for veterans and their associations, for whom there is a Minister of State. Veterans’ rights need to be consolidated: they will be. The criteria for issuing a veteran’s card will be extended with the introduction of the new “external operations” card on 1 October. I am mindful of the support given to injured personnel, partners and spouses and seriously disabled war veterans; here again, measures will be taken to improve their situation.

I should also like to insist on the compensation owed to the Harkis and improvements in measures to deal with a number of family situations. Again, that is part of the nation’s duty to veterans.


I should like to end with a thought that involves us all. We in France are committed to values: values of liberty, democracy, pluralism, dignity and gender equality. That is why we are the standard-bearers of an ideal all over the world. That is why we want to live together, with those values of the Republic. That is also why you carry out a number of operations.

That is your mission. You act on behalf of the values of the Republic, and where those values are attacked, undermined or called into question by terrorists, we must be able to defend ourselves. That is the role of the police, the gendarmerie, the judiciary; it is also the role of the armed forces when the threat comes from outside.

A great nation is one which has robust institutions. The armed forces are such an institution and they serve the Republic. They are therefore a factor of national unity. The people of France know that they can count on the armed forces to ensure our independence and our defence; they are convinced that force may be a last resort in order to promote the ideal we all believe in, even if the force of law must be sought in each case.

France must act against jihadists, fundamentalists and terrorists. It must act for itself and for the world and provide assistance to countries which ask us for it, within the framework of international law and with a mandate from the United Nations.

In Sunday’s extraordinary demonstration of popular spirit, our people sought to express conviction, strength and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, liberty and laïcité [secularism] (1). The people of France have said very clearly that in order for our country to live in peace, democracy and freedom, we need journalists to speak and write, cartoonists to draw, police officers and gendarmes to protect them and service personnel to defend them, all united in defence of the values of the Republic.

It is because that is where we now stand and because we are convinced that the values we uphold for our country are essential – for us, for Europe and for the world – that we must come together and unite around that which gives us our identity and our independence and makes us unique. There can be no independence or freedom or democracy that do not require protection by armed forces. That is why, under these circumstances, at this time when there is so much emotion but also so much hope and so much determination to get the better of our fears, I express to you all the gratitude of the nation and all my confidence for the missions with which you are entrusted.

Long live the Republic, and long live France!./.

(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.

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