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Shangri-La Dialogue 2013 Fifth Plenary Session
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence, France

As Prepared:

Dear John Chipman,

Dear Dr Ng,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Let me first express my gratitude to our hosts, to you John, to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and more specifically to the Government of Singapore, for their hospitality. Let me also express my congratulations for the success of this twelfth edition of the Shangri La Dialogue!

Two decades after the Cold War came to an end, the times are now gone, when some could believe in the advent of a unipolar world. Drawing every conclusion of this is still an emergency. In our globalised world, no nation, however powerful it is, can hope it will solve problems on its own. Our times; times of relative powers, call upon us to realise how important our common security goals are.

1. – Because our States, whether European, American or Asian, are confronted to similar threats which know no boundaries: terrorism, as displayed by the events of the Sahel Belt; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the acuteness of which are still reminded of by Iran and North Korea on a daily basis; cyber-attacks, not to mention anti-satellite attacks; but also piracy, energy insecurity, organised crime and drug-trafficking, the extent of which compels us to adopt a conception of security that is significantly broader than before.

Having been the world’s major haven for economic growth over the last 30 years, Asia-Pacific remains a strategic stake for France, because of the tension factors it conceals beyond its declared stability goal. As an Indian and Pacific Ocean coastal power, France, having established singular links with a certain number of these States, cannot turn away from them, whatever the duress of geography, the impact of budgetary constraints or the erroneous presuppositions about an exclusive economic dimension that the Euro-Atlantic relation would assume.

This assessment is provided again by the new White Paper on Defence and National Security, which was decided upon by President François Hollande. The impressive dynamism of the Asia-Pacific area – which all the concerned players are rightfully proud of – is still vulnerable. Just like Europe, Asia-Pacific is faced with three major types of threats and risks.

- First of all, the so-called threats of force, because the risks of inter-states conflicts have not disappeared, especially in these regions where sometimes long-lasting geopolitical disputes have not faded away and are food for tensions or conflicts. Numerous countries have increased their defence spending and modernised their armed forces, even if the regional security architecture is struggling to be implemented. In the years to come, the Asian seas will be hosting a large number of military ships, and particularly submarines. We should already be working at putting in place the necessary confidence-building measures

Probably more significant: the nationalist claims, which have a sad echo for us Europeans, who suffered so much from them; may appear today as as many threats of conflict and hindrance to overriding principles like the freedom of maritime movements, and more generally, to global economy .

To face these threats, it is necessary to rely on one’s own forces, but also to devise collective prevention and security tools.

- The second type of threats are those that were given rise by the risks of weakness. As one could see in Mali, in Somalia or in Afghanistan, the inability of some states to exert control over their territories may give rise to regional insecurity and foster the settlement of terrorist groups, against a background of piracy and illegal trafficking of all kinds.

- Lastly, the interdependent threats and risks accentuated by globalisation. These threats may include the temptation of nuclear ballistic or chemical proliferation or even, the development of offensive IT capabilities by certain powers. At any rate, at a national level or together, there is an urgent necessity to better control the material and immaterial flows that are likely to affect our security: terrorism, piracy, organised crime, illegal drugs and arms trafficking.

In this perspective, Asia is necessarily considered as a whole, because the problems Asia is confronted with cannot be contained by land or sea borders. This is why these problems directly impact the interests of Europe as a whole and of France, in particular. This is an era of interdependence. The strategic stakes concerning the China seas are related to those of the Indian Ocean. Prosperity in the Pacific partly depends on stability in the Indian Ocean. The 2013 French White Paper on Defence and National Security acknowledges this: geopolitical tensions, nationalist rivalries but also Asia’s prosperity and growth concern us directly; a major crisis in Asia would have very serious implications for Europe. Our security is also at stake in Asia-Pacific.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

2. – All this is reasons why France is intending to remain firmly committed to fostering security for the Asia-Pacific areaYour security interests are also ours.

A global stake requests a global answer. In terms of security, France is intending to remain a fully pledged player, with no exclusion. This is the conclusion of our White Paper, which insists on the significance of Asia-Pacific in our defence policy.

France is a power of the Indian Ocean and of the Pacific Ocean. France owns territories in this area – some of which recently expressed their wish to remain within our national community – and there are an increasing number of French nationals in this area who need security and protection. But beyond that, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, as a nation that is loyal to its commitments, France is intending to contribute to regional security in every dimension, alongside its allies and partners.

a) This is the spirit in which we have been firmly deployed in Afghanistan for ten years to counter terrorism. The decision to draw back our combat troops at the end of 2012, along with a friendship and cooperation treaty with the Kabul authorities for the decades to come, does not at all alter our determination to counter terrorism.

Countering Al Qaeda and their branches, which are active today at the heart of Sahelian Africa, remains a priority for us and for Europe’s security, as clearly demonstrated by our operation in Mali.

b) Counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is also one of our priorities for the region. North Korea drew attention with further ballistic provocations and a new nuclear test, which was made even worse because of a worrisome enrichment programme.

Just like with Iran, whose silence can only reinforce heavy suspicions on the military purpose of its nuclear programme. The international community can accept neither the extension of these proliferating activities nor their potential dissemination to third countries.

Today, North Korea alone bears the responsibility of the sanctions hitting her. Our cooperation must be reinforced, as its purpose is to deprive North Korea from prospects for its proliferating equipment.

Some neighbouring countries can play a key-role, here. On this topic, our cooperation can be bilateral or fit into broader structures like this particularly fruitful PSI initiative.

c) These terrorism and proliferation threats are complemented by the increasing scale of the risks related tocyber threat. This is one of the major priorities of our new White Paper, and no one should doubt France’s determination to protect its interests and networks, to include offensive IT capabilities, when need be. In this field, we are willing to strengthen our cooperation patterns so as to protect our systems and also identify and counter the State and non-State aggressors, whose acts are a threat to our institutions and our societies.

d) Piracy also remains an endemic disease on numerous seas throughout the world. It has been a long time since France has taken its share of responsibilities in the Indian Ocean, as illustrated by the model cooperation run by the coastal States of the Strait of Malacca. Also, I know that the South-Asian States are producing efforts to counter that threat to freedom of navigation. From a broader perspective, freedom of movement at sea must be full, in conformity with international law.

Confronted with the risks and threats surrounding us, the first prerequisite for success is indeed the determined will to face it and make all the necessary efforts, in strict compliance with international law. Like in Mali, like in Libya, like in Afghanistan, France had no rest until it implemented this same will and determination to act. It has just proved to do so and decided to preserve its defence effort at significant levels, despite finance and budget crises. France will not lower its guard.

This is also the reason why France is intending to participate in reinforcing the sovereignty capabilities of Asia-Pacific States. Like highlighted in our latest White Paper: “the international order requires every State to provide custody for the territory it has sovereignty over, not only on behalf of its people, but also on behalf of the international community. When faced with threats as well as risks, the State is the first line of defence, the first level of response. If this level is inefficient, if it is shaken up, the problem to deal with immediately gets a new and much less controllable dimension”.

3. – Consequently, France structures its defence cooperation policy around several lines:

- First of all, intensifying its political-military dialogue with which we can establish confidence relations, exchange our experience and knowledge of the regional and international context;

Military cooperation so as to help our partners have an efficient defence structure, and therefore facilitate coordinated action with our forces, to include common exercises;

Cooperation in terms of armament and defence equipments, including the technological and industrial aspects. This cooperation pattern that France wants to reinforce with the countries that confidently share our values in a sustainable and consistent way, must contribute to the autonomy of action and to the defence capabilities of our partners.

Lastly, promoting regional security architecture and confidence-building measures: in this respect, the political will to make a regional cooperation structure like ASEAN an institution seems to be a basic line. If the road is still long, ASEAN, a pioneer in terms of multilateralism and common security, sets out the example. In this respect, France supports the ASEAN Code of Conduct on maritime security to be expedited shortly.

France encourages this pragmatic initiative. This is why it is open to any initiative aiming at developing confidence among States, who, beyond their common interests, often remain prisoners of bilateral disputes. France is intending to develop long term partnerships with all institutions, like ADMM+; that contribute to guaranteeing the security of their regions, but also that of their member-States.

Therefore, I believe several paths could be trodden:

- In terms of arms-control, the major step forward was the passing of the Treaty on arms trade. For the first time, the States accepted an instrument that establishes control standards for arms transfer and countering illicit trafficking.

- Secondly, numerous countries are participating today in counter-maritime piracy, and therefore securing the flows. In this perspective, France is considering today applying to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

- As regards cyber security, along with its major partners in the Asia-Pacific area, France wishes to initiate or reinforce the dialogue that this threat makes more essential than ever.

- Lastly, we cannot forget that reinforcing defence cooperation in Asia-Pacific must include reinforcing ourinteroperability capability for humanitarian assistance as well as for natural disaster relief operations. Significant progress was achieved in South Pacific. Wiser from this experience, France is willing to contribute to any further consideration on this key issue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Politics find their legitimacy on bilateral and multilateral dialogue. About the Cold War, Raymond Aron said that it was an “era of unlikely war and impossible peace”. I am still convinced that, if wars and crises do remain a possibility, in Asia maybe more than elsewhere, peace and development however remain a requirement. Through defence cooperation, our responsibility, France’s responsibility, like that of the Nations present here, is to foster our exchanges to transform risks of conflicts into reassurance process, in order to avert and contain destabilisation factors. It goes without saying that the Shangri La dialogue brings an invaluable contribution to this structure.

Thank you for your attention,


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