Official speeches and statements - November 29, 2019
Before anything else, I want thank the NATO Secretary General for coming to Paris, in preparation for the London summit. It’s his third visit here, to Paris, each time so he can have discussions and the necessary coordination. And I also want to thank him for expressing his condolences to the French nation for our 13 soldiers who died in Mali at the beginning of the week.
The London summit is set to celebrate the Alliance’s 70th birthday, but we agree that it also has to provide the opportunity for a genuine strategic discussion between us on what the Atlantic Alliance and its goals and means of action signify today. For me there are three priority issues we discussed together for over an hour, and which I’ve also been able to discuss with several other European leaders over the past few hours and days.
The first fundamental issue is how to ensure peace and stability in Europe. This is the initial, historic, vital purpose of the Atlantic Alliance, which was created, let me remind you, in 1949 to anchor the United States to Western Europe and protect it from the Soviet threat. The world has changed, the Iron Curtain has collapsed. A few days ago we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Warsaw Pact has disappeared. The Alliance, for its part, has remained standing as guarantor of our collective security. This involves returning to a few essential issues regarding this today. Firstly, a clear-headed, robust, demanding dialogue. I accept that I’ve been pushing for reinjecting momentum into this dialogue. I also accept doing so without ever being naïve or subservient in any way. Our Alliance has a history; it also has a geography. So the relationship with Russia can’t be something which is unthinkable for its members, because Russia is geographically part of Europe. I very deeply respect all our European partners’ security concerns and interests, and I share them completely. I’ll always defend them as a matter of priority. And I also know what this means in terms of their history. They know. This is the purpose, for example, of our concrete commitment to NATO’s deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic countries and the Black Sea, which is constantly being reaffirmed. We are, and will remain, uncompromising when our sovereignty or that of our partners is at stake. But has the absence of dialogue with Russia made the European continent safer? Is it in the interest of European stability not to tackle the issue of frozen conflicts head-on and to let the situation in Ukraine drag on? I don’t think so. It’s in the interest of peace and stability in Europe, in this respect, for us to hold a Normandy summit right here, on 9 December, with the [German] Chancellor to make concrete progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. And it’s because I believe in stronger European sovereignty that I think we must also build a new architecture of trust and security in Europe, which involves clarifying our relations with Russia, setting out our conditions. For the same reasons, in the interest of peace and stability in Europe—which, let me remind you, is the prime objective for me—, we’ve got to start discussing arms control. We talked at length on this point. These issues are covered by several multilateral treaties. Historically, they were also covered by bilateral treaties between the United States of America and Russia. We had the opportunity to express our regrets about America’s decision to end the so-called INF Treaty. Today’s treaties between the United States and Russia, negotiated during the Cold War, no longer exist. The United States denounced the INF Treaty, but let me remind you that it’s our security that’s at stake, that of the European allies. And we can’t remain in a situation where, having tried as much as possible firstly to avoid Russia violating these treaties, then America’s decision, all we could do is observe that we’re no longer covered by that bilateral agreement. That’s why it’s also, in my view, absolutely essential, as part of our work and in our discussions next week, to tackle this issue head-on within the Alliance, first and foremost in the dialogue between Europe and Russia, in order to recreate the conditions for our security in the real world, in other words, today’s world. And the new generation of agreements I’d like, which will replace the INF Treaty, must be the focus of very major work and of coordination within the Alliance and especially between the countries of Europe, but it requires involvement by the Europeans in this future treaty. We can’t delegate our security to a bilateral agreement in which no Europeans have a stake. And secondly, it also involves more effectively protecting certain European countries. Some countries, like Poland, weren’t protected by the INF Treaty as they should have been. And in the framework we’re building, I’d like us to take all security interests into account, in particular those [of the countries] on the border and closest to Russia. On this issue—we may come back to it during the questions—there’s been a lot of reaction in recent days following the French response to President Putin’s letter: I prefer to be clear on this point. First of all, France did the courtesy of sharing with all the allies its reply to President Putin; not every ally did the same. I think that’s a good approach. Secondly, we absolutely didn’t accept the moratorium proposed by Russia, or the offer of a moratorium. But we thought that, as a basis for discussion, it mustn’t be dismissed off-hand, because it was a basis for discussion and because what was proposed reflected the end of a treaty and nothing else. Let’s be serious. This too is about Europe’s security.
The second major subject we must resolve, in my view—not only at this summit but in the coming months—is precisely how NATO organizes itself, and in the face of what risks. NATO is a collective defense organization, against what? Against whom is it deployed? Who is our common enemy? What are our common issues? This question deserves clarification. And as you can see, it’s an eminently strategic question. Is our enemy today, as I sometimes hear, Russia? Is it China? Is it the Atlantic Alliance’s role to identify them as enemies? I don’t think so. The common enemy of us all in the Alliance, it seems to me, is terrorism, which has hit each of our countries. It’s against terrorist groups that French soldiers are fighting in the Sahel, and we’ve had to suffer the losses I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. France is engaged in the Sahel to serve our collective security. This—taking action for your allies’ security—is what being equal to your military and operational responsibilities means. But clarifying this issue means having a common definition of what terrorism is, who the terrorist groups are and how to take coordinated action against them. I also say this very clearly: proclaiming your commitment to collective security isn’t enough. It has to be demonstrated. A genuine alliance means actions and decisions, not words. So I’d like us to have a genuine discussion between allies about our concrete commitment to the fight against terrorism, both in the Sahel and the Levant, where the military intervention carried out a few weeks ago by Turkey in north-east Syria raised real issues that we must also face head-on.
And this is the third challenge I’d like to discuss at the summit, and basically it concerns the allies’ rights and duties in relation to one another. An alliance also means solidarity between allies. If it has any meaning, it firstly means not taking decisions which have a direct impact on the security of the others, alone, without consultation or coordination. I respect the security interests of our Turkish ally, which has had to undergo very many terrorist attacks on its soil. But you can’t say on the one hand that we’re allies, and demand solidarity in that regard, and on the other hand confront your allies with the fait accompli of a military intervention that jeopardizes the action of the [Global] Coalition against Daesh, of which, I remind you, NATO is a member. So I’d like us to do some real work in London, and hold dialogue with Turkey too, between allies, both on this issue and on the compatibility between the acquisition of arms systems, the S-400, and NATO’s anti-aircraft defenses, because interoperability between our armed forces is our organization’s most indisputable military added value. I welcome the statements the Secretary General has made in recent weeks on this point regarding our Turkish allies.
Secretary General, you and our allies know they can count on France, its commitment and its army to defend their security. That’s what makes France a reliable ally. And it’s also what justifies France being a demanding ally which, at key moments, asks that strategic questions be raised and duly discussed. Our military has a very practical knowledge of what it means to be allies on the ground. And so when the heads of state and government meet, we must be equal to those who put their lives on the line for our security, tackling the challenges we actually face, all of them. And it’s because I very deeply believe in the relevance of our alliance that I want to tackle them—without forgetting any of them—today, as we’ve done, and in London, and in the coming weeks and months, through the work of the in-depth strategic review we intend to launch.
Thank you again, Secretary General, for being here in Paris today, and above all for the excellent discussions and dialogue we’ve had together.
In Mali, France is waging a battle, a tough battle, a battle against men and groups seeking to destabilize the region’s states and organize themselves so they can subsequently destabilize us.
France has been fighting in Mali since the previous French president decided—and he did the right thing—that France would come to the aid of a state which was threatened with destabilization due to an advancing column heading for the capital. France has been fighting—in the framework of Operation Serval, then Operation Barkhane—against terrorism, against jihadist movements, against all those trying to impose their law, destabilize partner states and seize areas which, from experience, we know will threaten our security at home if they become areas of lawlessness.
But when I say France is fighting I’m speaking figuratively, because it’s men and women who are fighting; it’s officers, NCOs and soldiers who know what war and combat are; they all enlisted to serve their country, aware not only of the dangers and the risks they were taking for themselves but also of the burden that lay on their shoulders in terms of defending the nation.
Very often, when we use the terms "commitment" and "defending the nation", they sound a little theoretical. On a day like today, they’re everything but theoretical, because 13 men have died in a combat operation. The Minister for the Armed Forces will have the opportunity, in reply to the questions that will be asked during this session, to say more about the circumstances of those deaths.
For the time being, to the families of the 13 French soldiers, to their brothers in arms serving in regiments that tirelessly defend France in external operations, and to their friends, who sometimes shudder at the thought of them being so far away, I want to express the government’s gratitude, the very great sympathy and the huge sadness we all share today.
Basically, there are few words, and they’re always a bit clumsy—mine will probably be too—to express the gratitude of a nation in which, thanks to the commitment of men and women, we can debate, not agree with one another, be in disagreement, but live without being under pressure from foreign destabilization or an enemy. That’s a huge privilege we all experience. We don’t experience it merely thanks to the strength of our institutions or the huge qualities of those who represent the nation and are involved in government; we owe it to men who enlist, who fight. We owe them a debt of gratitude and, I want to say, admiration, which we all share, I’m sure, and which is infinite.
The use of armed forces is always political, always. It must reflect goals that are set by the political authority and must correspond to France’s interests as defined by governments and by the French President, of course, because that’s the meaning of a democracy and of our institutions.
Those political goals have been affirmed and reaffirmed: to prevent the destabilization of states which are partners and friends, and, with the support of many European partners and states in the region, to ensure we secure stability and security in order to guarantee development. It’s a very long battle and its military dimension is only one aspect of it, as we know very well. I’d even say the military dimension not only allows us to achieve definitive victory but is also essential. Without a military presence, without an ability to confront the enemy, disrupt its routes, its weapons caches and its regrouping, we can’t guarantee the also-essential work of political stabilization and economic development.
That’s the political goal the President has set out, in close agreement with the states concerned and all the countries in the region, in the framework of operations involving not only France’s bilateral partnerships but also regional cooperation, or conducted under the United Nations’ control. That’s our country’s goal. That’s its interest; I’m saying what I think. It’s the reason why French women and men are fighting in the region.