NATO must "update its software", says Minister

Foreign policy – Fight against terrorism/NATO/Turkey – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1

Paris, 2 December 2019


Q. – This afternoon at Les Invalides, the tribute was held to the 13 soldiers who died in Mali last week. Emmanuel Macron said a few days ago that he’s ready to review the conditions of our intervention in the Sahel. What does that mean in practical terms?

THE MINISTER – I’d like [to share] my great sadness and the great sadness of the large audience who attended this national tribute. The President said it: freedom, alas, often carries the taste of spilt blood. Because those men died to defend our values, to fight against Islamist terrorism, and today we realize clearly that the Europeans must have a greater presence in the Sahel, by our side, than they do now. Some are already there – the British, for example – with a number of crews and helicopters too. The [German] Chancellor and the President have launched the Alliance for the Sahel to help in terms of development, alongside the G5 Sahel, whose remit is to give resources to the armed forces in the Sahel. And we’re going to provide a boost along with other Europeans, particularly when it comes to special forces. So this is the appeal we’re going to continue making to the Europeans, because we – Europeans and Africans – are neighbours. A few dozen kilometres separate us in the Strait of Gibraltar, and either we succeed together or we’ll fail together, and failure isn’t an option.

Q. – The Europeans must help us, that’s what you’re saying, through the Takouba mission that will be deployed in the coming weeks and months. Do you hope it will be significant that, after the tragic deaths of our soldiers last week, this may provide a boost, in that it says, “Help us genuinely now. We need you”?

THE MINISTER – We can sense this realization, this mobilization. And I also want to say that the countries in the sub-region are making active efforts. The heads of state and government of ECOWAS, a West African grouping, have decided to spend €1 billion to get better equipment, more effectively train the various armed forces and face up to this persistent terrorist threat.

Q. – A persistent threat. When Jean-Luc Mélenchon says, “We must find ways to bring the soldiers home quickly”, what’s your reply to him?

THE MINISTER – I think this is a time when we must avoid arguments. What matters is the security of French and European people. Those men were there to contribute to that security by combating terrorism, and once again I fear we’ll still be in those theatres of operation for some time, because not all those disruptive elements have been neutralized yet.


Q. – So Emmanuel Macron needs allies. He’s likely to come across some allies at the NATO summit in London tomorrow. In London he’s also going to meet Turkish President Erdoğan, who – let’s be frank – said some very vicious words last week, which I’m going to quote so that everyone can be aware of them. He said, aiming at Emmanuel Macron: “First of all, have your own brain death checked.” Does France still regard Turkey as an ally?

THE MINISTER – We’re all allies within the NATO alliance. We do realize, with the latest events in north-east Syria…

Q. – Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds.

THE MINISTER – Of course, and also the announcement of an American withdrawal of a number of forces, that not all the elements were necessarily discussed between allies. So what the President wanted to point out was the fact that while it’s working well in terms of interoperability of equipment and work between military personnel, there’s a political problem, the strategic discussion. A few days ago we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the Warsaw Pact also crumbled. In the face of this [new scenario], NATO must update its software. We’re celebrating the alliance’s 70th anniversary. The geostrategic context has changed.

Q. – Beyond the overall issue of NATO, with Turkey, what are you expecting tomorrow from the meeting between the French President and the Turkish President? Following those remarks, the Turkish Ambassador was summoned. Do you know anything about how things went at the Quai d’Orsay?

THE MINISTER – Our secretary-general at the Quai d’Orsay, François Delattre, rightly said that insults have no place in international relations, between governments, that we’re expecting substantive answers above all, and I think the Turkish Ambassador agreed that the occasion and the words were probably not the right ones.

Q. – The Turkish Ambassador agreed. Is that what you’re telling us this evening?


Q. – And do you therefore think we can make progress on the Syria issue with Recep [Tayyip] Erdoğan? Because in any case, that’s the issue: there’s a meeting to be held tomorrow, with Mrs Merkel, Mr Johnson – the Germans and the British –, the Turkish President and the French President. Is there still any hope of progress since that offensive against the Kurds?

THE MINISTER – We were talking earlier about Islamist terrorism in the Sahel; likewise in Syria, we don’t have the right to allow that Islamist terrorism to grow again. Daesh [so-called ISIL] has been defeated, but certain men may clearly be tempted to create new cells. That’s why it’s important to remain mobilized against the threat.

Let’s not forget that a number of attacks on European, including French, soil have been ordered from the Levant. So it’s imperative to be in combat mode against those extremist elements. (…)./.

Published on 11/12/2019

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