A Conversation with French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian (Livestreamed)
On July 6, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted France’s Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian for a discussion centered on France’s defense priorities, as well as the future of U.S.–French cooperation in confronting security challenges. GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried began the event by welcoming participants and emphasizing the significance of the events timing. Donfried praised the longstanding partnership between the French and the United States, as well as Le Drian’s oversight on French missions to combat terror at home and abroad. Donfried, speaking from her experience at the National Intelligence Council and the National Security Council, stated Minister Le Drian “is one of our go-to partners” and that Le Drian is known for being “someone willing to go out, take risks, and do the hard work.” The discussion was moderated by Kevin Baron, executive editor of Defense One.
Minister Le Drian began by underscoring the importance of U.S. and French relations. Le Drian stated that the partners are linked by destiny since the founding of the U.S., and though this relationship has at times been challenged, it has always persevered. Today, the world is less stable than it once was, risks and threats have increased and have been emboldened by the globalizing world. Le Drian emphasized that it is his conviction to strengthen ties to appropriately take on the challenges of today.
Watch in FRENCH
Le Drian outlined three major security challenges in his opening remarks, the first of which was Jihadist terrorism, most notably to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). This challenge must be addressed in a communicative dimension in addition to a military dimension, as the propaganda war has played a significant role in perpetuating the conflict. Le Drian reflected upon the terrorist attacks which took place in France in January, and most recently in June, stating external and internal security are inseparably linked.
The second major security challenge Le Drian emphasized was WMD proliferation, highlighting that all tools are being used to confront this challenge. As evidence of his nation’s commitment to limiting WMD proliferation, he reminded the audience that France was willing to intervene in Syria to punish Bashar Al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
On Iran, Le Drian indicated that France will remain vigilant in monitoring nuclear weapons development. He made clear he hopes for a nuclear deal to be reached, however, he stressed Tehran cannot act to destabilize the region.
Shifting topics, Le Drian addressed the risks posed by failed states, describing them as a “hot bed” of wars and crisis. In particular, he stated his concern with the Horn of Africa, the Central African Republic before France intervened, and Libya. Le Drian expressed his concern with the threat of Jihadist extremists in Africa and the Middle East, and spoke to France’s commitment in combatting these threats with Operation Barkhane in the Sahel and France’s significant contribution to the campaign against ISIL in the Levant.
The third challenge Le Drian spoke to is posed by the resurgence of threats of force; he warned of the dangers of ignoring international law in Ukraine and Asia, particularly in the China Sea. Le Drian condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea and stated “the Ukrainian crisis has revived the specter of conflicts between states in Europe,” all while Russia pursues military modernization, and gesticulates the role of nuclear weapons. Reaffirming France’s Article 5 commitment stating that it applies for “all allies, for all allies,” Le Drain made it clear that France is ready to intervene on behalf of its allies by sea, air, and land.
Le Drian concluded his remarks by stating that while the United States and France face a wide range of security challenges the two nations must remain in total solidarity. He described the very old relationship between the U.S. and France as a “solid pillar on which we can lean”. Le Drian stated that cooperation has significantly increased since 2013, with U.S. support for French operations in Africa and French support for U.S.-lead missions in the Levant. The U.S. and France may at times have different priorities, but instead of undermining cooperation it allows both sides to be complimentary, ultimately strengthening our relationship. Le Drian remarked that “the future of Franco-American relations is rich with opportunities.”