Multilateralism in "major danger", Foreign Minister warns
Normandy for Peace World Forum – Sahel/multilateralism/European Union/the digital revolution – Closing speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
Caen, 5 June 2019
Seventy-five years ago, the Normandy beaches entered the history books.
And on those beaches, young people from the two hemispheres took every risk to liberate our country and our continent.
Those who fell on the field of honour that day knew that fighting the enemies of freedom is a matter for everyone. And they were ready to sacrifice everything to show it to the whole world.
Post-war international order
From that lesson in bravery, when the weapons fell silent, we wanted to create a world.
A world of law, to finally lay the ghost of war-of-everyone-against-everyone.
A world of dialogue, to prevent tensions rising.
A world of cooperation, because many of the problems faced by states require collective responses.
Gradually this ideal became a reality thanks to the efforts of those who, after two world wars, refused to see tragedy repeated yet again and wanted to build a new international order founded in particular on multilateral organizations.
Let’s not forget, on this 30th anniversary of 1989, that it nevertheless took 50 years of division in Europe to make the ideal that finally emerged from the Normandy beaches a tangible reality, so that Europe could finally be reunified and our continent’s geography and history reconciled.
Challenges to international order
But today, ladies and gentlemen – and the rumours and the discussions you had earlier show it – those institutions, those rights, that balance, those achievements are in major danger. Once again, the world is entering a period of rifts and upheavals. As if some people had forgotten that history could be tragic.
Thus, more than ever, pure relationships of power are the dominant feature of international relations. Intimidatory stances, fait accompli policies, military provocations and threats of all kinds are all worrying and repetitive symptoms of this.
Moreover, in addition to power relationships and sometimes manipulated by those power relationships, extreme terrorist violence has taken root in our daily lives. Having been defeated militarily, the groups promoting it are going back underground and trying to spread their influence from the southern Sahara to Asia.
As for the great principles and institutional pillars of international life, they are being challenged as never before. Multilateralism – this was very much the focus earlier – is going through one of the most serious crises in its history. Systemic and systematic attacks are taking place against its most symbolic institutions, beginning with the United Nations.
Herein lies, I believe, the full value in 2019 of the lesson of June 1944. Still today, the battle for peace remains the most urgent and noblest of the battles we have to fight. And still today, that battle is everyone’s business. A battle which, as you’ve mentioned during this Normandy for Peace World Forum, is still absolutely relevant.
I’d like to thank you, Mr Chairman, for inviting me to this Normandy for Peace World Forum, and also pay tribute to all those who have helped make this second forum a success.
Battle for peace
As Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, I’ve also come to tell you that this battle for peace is also the battle I’ve been trying to fight under the French President’s responsibility for two years – indeed seven years, since I was previously Defence Minister.
I’m trying to fight it pragmatically and ambitiously while retaining, as far as possible, the fundamentals that have enabled our history to be peaceful for seven decades. First of all, to make sure cooperation and law are paramount, and secondly to also make sure we organize to guarantee our collective defence, against those who would seek to threaten it or divide us.
Basically, I’d like us to be neither naïve nor cynical.
This means we mustn’t hesitate to accept means of exerting power when necessary, playing the full range of instruments we have at our disposal: from nuclear deterrence to military interventions and including economic sanctions. At the same time, we always seek to encourage political dialogue, working for development and to promote resolution methods, in an approach genuinely based on law and international cooperation.
I’ve thought a great deal about the situation in the Sahel, because it was I who, at the request of the then President Hollande, ordered the Serval force to intervene in January 2013. And I’m still responsible for the consequences and development of all that. I’m going to tell you a secret and at the same time raise some questions.
I think all the ingredients of a virtuous circle are now there to ensure that, under the right conditions, there can be peace in the Sahel. First there was an official, respectful request for United Nations assistance from a country that was under threat and was going to become a hostage. And France, which was called upon, responded to this request for assistance out of respect for international law. And the strength and courage of our armed forces enabled us to stabilize the situation. And then there was a virtuous process, because we had democratic elections that were not challenged. Then there were political agreements called the Algiers accords. In parallel – and I turn to the people who were debating about the United Nations earlier – an important peacekeeping operation, which is still there, to preserve the political agreements and ensure compliance with democracy. And there was also a European Union mission which is playing its role, a training mission to help the Malian armed forces rebuild. And then that didn’t work. There you are. In any case, things are going much better than before, but the mechanism as a whole hasn’t yet succeeded. And finally it was this consideration that led us to the French President’s request, and to spur African players to take responsibility, so that they could take action together to ensure Africans’ security is covered by Africans.
Because that’s not the comfortable position, which is to shelter behind the whole very virtuous mechanism which I’ve just described but which hasn’t developed into the version necessary. And the thinking I’m doing, which I’ve been doing with others, has led us to support the initiative of a joint force of African countries in the region to ensure their own security and boost their strength, so that it’s they themselves who ensure peace, and that’s a complete change. We must try and implement it, and it’s a complete change that is combined with the need to create a parallel development tool concurrent with military action, namely the Sahel Alliance that has been launched. So, constant development, defence and diplomacy. The three Ds must be deployed all the time, and that’s the approach we must take to ensure conflictual situations end in peace processes, and that’s what we’re currently tending towards. I wanted to share that consideration.
Battle for multilateralism
I also wanted to share, at the close of your forum, a major necessity, which is to fight to protect the achievements of multilateralism and give continuity to the action of its founders after the Second World War.
Why fight for multilateralism?
Firstly, for one simple reason: because it works. It works because it’s multilateralism that enabled us, for example, to conclude COP21 on the climate. It works because it’s also multilateralism that enabled us to put in place a global fund against AIDS. It works because it’s multilateralism that enabled us to resolve major nuclear proliferation crises – I’m thinking about the Vienna agreements, which are in jeopardy, but it’s multilateralism that enables stabilization. Multilateralism works. So we must support it and be militant multilateralists. That’s what I want to call on you to do. Be militant multilateralists, because it’s also the only solution for addressing the challenges of our time.
But today we have players, powers who are fighters against multilateralism. And the countries wanting to ensure that cooperation prevails over confrontation must rise up and ensure that democracies – which are not about confrontation but respect the fundamentals of multilateralism and want to overhaul it in order to adapt it – step up to the plate.
That’s why not long ago, together with my German colleague Haiko Maas and with the support of the French President and the Chancellor, I took the initiative in New York of what we called the new Alliance for Multilateralism, proposing that democracies meet to set out signs and guidelines, be they Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea – I won’t list them all, but this force may be respected around the world if, by any chance, it unites to define the pathways to a new multilateralism and set out all the challenges we face, through a whole series of proposals and a desire to take joint action. This will also be discussed at the G7 at the end of August, because it’s France which is responsible for that.
And lastly, the final point I wanted to mention to you in this closing speech is that Europe must play a key role in this relaunch of multilateralism. Even though there was a kind of jolt at the time of the last elections to the European Parliament, our continent is prey to centrifugal forces of division and destabilization efforts by certain powers which would like to make it their playground and their indirect battleground. Our continent is also subject to the ill wind of populism, and if this crisis is prolonged it will shape much more than our own destiny. It could undermine our sovereignty and our interests in a globalized world.
Overhauling Europe, which is the major theme of the mission the President has entrusted us with, means we must clearly defend our interests in the globalized world, not aggressively but not naively, either. Overhauling Europe means ensuring that we genuinely assert ourselves in terms of our security and can acquire strategic autonomy – even if we remain in the Atlantic Alliance – in order to emphasize that there’s a Defence Europe which can sing from its own hymnsheet. Only a few years ago, exactly three years ago, when we made the first proposals to build Defence Europe, it was generally only two of us, the Germans and ourselves. Today all the mechanisms initiated three years ago are being shared by everyone and are enabling us to assert ourselves as an autonomous strategic capability.
And then we also have to stop being naive. In order for Europe to become a regulating power, a power able, with others, to build multilateralism on new foundations, it has to stop being naive and assert itself as the power it is. This has begun to happen, probably a bit late, but [it is] starting to be respected. There’s an area, and I’ll conclude on this point, where Europe must prove it is able to regulate, innovate and ensure security: the digital revolution. As well as the promise of a more fluid and better connected world, this revolution carries unprecedented risks and threats for individuals and nations: possible attacks of a new kind on our vital infrastructure, the possibility of unprecedented human rights violations through mass surveillance, the possibility of a new kind of arms race, and – as we know only too well – the possibility of campaigns manipulating information on a very large scale to undermine people’s trust and democratic processes.
Our responsibility is to help develop regulation which allows us to find the right balance between technological progress and democratic and ethical requirements. And this is an essential factor of peace for the future. It was also in this spirit that a number of countries, on 11 November last year for the centenary of the end of the First World War, signed a Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace. Acting in this way is also a sign of this new kind of multilateralism.
Those are just a few messages I wanted to get across to you following this forum, to tell you how committed we are to peace and how much more difficult it is to win peace than war.