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

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence of France speaks in the final session of the Shangri-la Dialogue 2012.

Dear John Chipman,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

As a recently appointed Minister of Defence, I am glad and particularly honoured to have this opportunity to address this distinguished audience of the Shangri-La Dialogue. This event emerged itself over a few years thanks to the IISS of London, but also thanks to the incomparable efforts, commitment and hospitality provided by the Singapore authorities. Let me express my deep gratitude, not only for the opportunity they offer to participate in these high-quality discussions, but also for their friendship.

For us French and European people as well, Asia-Pacific and more particularly South-East Asia are an integral part of our safety environment. Anything that contributes to increasing safety in Asia-Pacific is beneficial to world stability, since this region carries weight in the world’s business, and will carry even more weight in the future. Within this structure, Asia-Pacific plays a pivotal role: its maritime ways, which are as vital as they are narrow, are like a bridge between Asian nations – i.e.: almost 60% of the world population – that provides indispensable access to North-East Asia, whose economic activity represents more than 60% of the global GDP.

The new American “pivot toward Asia” doctrine is a brilliant illustration of the place of this region, which is now key to the balances of today’s world and in defining our security interests.

Asia-Pacific, a strategic stake for France, common challenges

France has had a historical presence in Asia, which underpins our numerous relations and partnerships. I had the opportunity to highlight this with quite a few of my counterparts here. As an example, let me just mention our continuing role and responsibility in keeping watch on the Korean War armistice.

France is not discovering Asia; France identified Asia as an area of strategic interest a long time ago, which was reaffirmed in the latest White Paper in 2008. For my Government, it is high time to draw the political consequences of this.

This area is indeed a strategic stake for France, which is and will remain a power in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. My presence here today, two weeks after having taken up my post is the symbol and demonstration of this. I came her to affirm that France firmly intends to remain committed to fostering security in the Asia-Pacific area.

Today, Asia is in a fantastic economic, political and strategic process, all the players of which are, rightly, particularly proud of. Most major current security challenges are to be concretely expressed here, and here, we will also be able to imagine common solutions together. Let me get back over these security challenges that we, Europe, Asia and America, are faced with together.

Globalisation of our economies, integration of exchange flows and technology transfers, movements of people between our regions, all this confronts us with converse threats, today, which are as many obstacles to a harmonious development of the whole region:

  • terrorism and radicalism hardly know any borders and strike both in Asia and in Europe;

  • organised crime, drugs and human beings trafficking, smuggling hit your societies and your economies as they hit ours;

  • natural disasters, like the 2004 and 2011 tsunamis, or the disaster that hit the Irrawaddy delta in Burma, are seriously putting a tough test on our countries;

  • proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their vehicles is a threat to peace and international security, sustained by the two major crises we are facing now, and by Iran and North Korea;

  • some non-state or sometimes – presumably - state players may be tempted to use the increasing role of cyberspace as a new battlefield, both discreet and mobile, where certain actions directly threat our institutions, our societies, our security interests;

  • piracy, an endemic, indeed recrudescing plague, hits numerous seas and strongly impacts commercial flows and the principle of free traffic on the seas;

  • finally, some unresolved territorial disputes, about the content of which I may not comment, have a negative impact upon regional stability.

Out of all these challenges, because of her territorial and military presence in the Pacific and Indian oceans, because she has been maintaining dense relations with the major players of that region for a long time, France is intending to remain a fully-committed player for security and stability in Asia. If Historyand a painful past sometimes drove us apart, our common interests – let me insist on this – assemble us today. Your security interests are also our security interests.

A French will to participate in security in Asia/Pacific

Ladies and gentlemen,

For a long time, France has been facing up to her share of responsibilities to counter these threats and take up these challenges. She has been doing it in the world, she has been doing it in Asia-Pacific, through her political positions, her bilateral partnerships, and her civilian and military presence. A global stake requests a global response. In terms of security, even more than in a recent past, France is intending to be a fully-committed partner, with no debarment. It is high time to transform words into action.

This is the state of mind of our determined commitment to Afghanistan over ten years, to counter terrorism. This decision to pull out our fighting troops at the end of 2012 does not reduce at all our determined struggle against terrorism and fundamentalism, and our full commitment to foster stability in that country, in a new guise. We will remain in Afghanistan over a longer period of time, but in a different way, to help and support the Afghan security forces conducting their own security: we will do so within ISAF until completion of its mandate in 2014, through training programmes, as well as through the implementation of our bilateral cooperation and friendship treaty, signed last January 27th.

Today, struggling against Al Qaida and its network remains a priority for us like, hopefully, for each nation present here in this room. However, Al Qaida is not the only threat, as demonstrated by the Mumbai and Bali bomb-attacks, which everybody still remembers.

You are aware of the commitment of France, and more broadly, of the European Union, to counter piracy in the Indian Ocean, like illustrated by the model cooperation lead by the Malacca strait neighbouring countries. I am also aware of the significant efforts made by the South-Asian countries to counter this threat to free sea-traffic.

Counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is also a priority for this region. Therefore, as you know, France is more than ever determined to seeing the heavy suspicion about the military aspect of Iran’s nuclear programme finally cleared up and Tehran stopping violating the 10 resolutions by the Board of Governors of IAEA and 6 resolutions of the Security Council, which impose the necessary gestures to restore confidence.

In this respect, North Korea represents the other major challenge. Of course, France will support the Six-party talks, but this diplomatic process must give concrete results: clarity and international control over the programmes, especially these enrichment operations which still remain mainly unknown, stop ballistic or nuclear provocations, stop North Korean proliferation activities, especially the dissemination of sensitive technologies to third countries. Our common interest still remains that Pyongyang reintegrates the international community and subsequently give up their long range missiles and nuclear tests programmes.

France, Europe, joined forces to help and support to their Asian partners on the occasion of every natural disaster. This commitment will not weaken, like we hope we can count on your solidarity in case of similar crisis. Let me remind you of the significant means that were deployed on the occasion of the 2004 tsunami that had so harshly hit the region, like in Aceh or in Sri Lanka.

Out of all these issues, cooperation between our states remains a priority, whether in terms of bilateral cooperation or commitments to broader frameworks like the 'Proliferation security initiative' (PSI), which is particularly fruitful.

In a more significant way, this regional and global cooperation must be underpinned by common structures and standards. France’s role is not to come up with the various solutions to bring to the various sovereignty disputes existing in Chinese South Sea, for instance. They must be solved through negotiations in the framework of international law, in a spirit of self-control and dialogue. But it is our responsibility to remind the main principles that are underpinning our common international and legal order, in Asia or elsewhere. And I am referring to the Montego Bay convention particularly, which specifies the principles of free navigation and maritime law enforcement.

My goals regarding my action in the Asia/Pacific are quite clear and practical:

  • resolutely carry on with counter terrorism and proliferation;

  • reinforce our help and assistance to maintain free sea traffic and free access to maritime areas;

  • develop our bilateral military and defence cooperation;

  • promote a real cooperation between our industries, with this end in view.

Establishing a regional security structure

Ladies and gentlemen,

In its diversity, Asia is naturally one. The issues affecting her can only be contained by land or maritime borders. South China Sea is no strategic stake, if one does not take into account its broader regional environment.

Prosperity in the Pacific partly depends on stability in the Indian Ocean. Most conflicts in the Asian area are interconnected today.

Beyond already existing inter-state efforts, the political will to institutionalise a regional cooperation structure like ASEAN seems to be a basic road to follow in this context. More than ever, as a pioneer of Asian multilateralism, ASEAN gives the lead. Numerous initiatives and ideas to establish an Asian defence community, among others, are a token of that dynamism.

France strongly supports these pragmatic initiatives. Therefore, she will continue increasing her links with the countries of this region, not only those with which a fruitful strategic partnership has been built up, but with all of the member-states. She will continue supporting the concrete actions these initiatives will be able to establish, whether they are maritime confidence-building measures, or rapid deployment mechanisms in case of humanitarian crises.

For all these reasons, today, we, the French, are willing to participate in establishing a regional security structure in South-East Asia. France is very pleased that the United-States have renewed their commitment to ensuring stability of the region through a close partnership with their allies and the countries of the region. But security and stability can be maintained in a collective way only. Because Asia’s security is also the key to Europe’s security and to global prosperity; we must establish this security structure together, in a way that is far from any out of date “containment” concept. Together, we must establish foundations for this, which will necessarily root in the great principles governing international security.

Last year, in this very forum, my British colleague repeated that the security structure in Asia/Pacific was still in a growing phase. With all its dedicated organs, ASEAN is undoubtedly a basic step in this process. However, it cannot be the final result. As for France, she is intending to establish and develop long-term partnerships with every institution that contributes in safeguarding regional security, as well as with each of their member-states.

In this respect, France wishes that each major regional player, including the most powerful, may take on their responsibilities and reassure their environment, abiding by the main principles that govern the international system, which we are all very attached to.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We no longer are in a context that was formerly described by a Singapore Prime Minister as “benign neglect” by Europe toward Asia. Simultaneously, it is advisable that Asia, in turn, does not consider Europe as a secondary partner.

Asia/Pacific will be an increasing commitment area for the EU and its member-states, among which France is intending to play her full role. In this part of the world, which is characterised by a complex network of bi- and multilateral relations, and crossed by the influence strategies of the great powers, my country is intending, more than ever, to be a natural political partner, free from any dispute with the States of the region.

In 1968, philosopher Hannah Arendt reminded that 'the opposite of violence is not the absence of violence, it is politics.'

Politics recognizes and organises this diversity of human communities through bilateral and multilateral 'dialogue, in which its legitimacy roots. There was a saying about Cold War that it was an “era of improbable war and impossible peace', to quote Raymond Aron. But I am still convinced that, if wars and crises are still likelihood, in Asia as elsewhere, peace is not only possible but is also a requirement for everybody. Undoubtedly, the Shangri-La Dialogue adds a significant contribution to this edifice.

Thank you for your attention.

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