Minister on African conflicts, cyber defence and armed forces

CAR/Mali/European Union/military programming – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence, to the daily newspaper Le Figaro (excerpts)

Paris, 26 November 2013

Central African Republic

Q. – An intervention in the Central African Republic is imminent. What will the French deployment be?

MINISTER – The situation is totally different from that of Mali. Currently, the Central African Republic (CAR) no longer has a state. Rival groups are killing each other and brutalities are being committed every day. The humanitarian situation is tragic. The country is a lawless area, at a major strategic crossroads between three sensitive regions: the Sahel, the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa. That’s a concern for our security, that of the neighbouring countries and Europe. An initial resolution has already been adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council. In a few days’ time, a second resolution will give the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA [AFISM-CAR]) a mandate to restore the security conditions in the CAR. This resolution will incorporate France’s support into the African force’s security mission. We’ll act in support of MISCA.

Mali

Q. – In Mali, the difficulties are piling up. Has the mission been accomplished?

MINISTER – We’ve moved from war to counter-terrorism. The initial goals have been achieved. The jihadists’ advance was halted and their havens were destroyed. Democracy has returned, including with the people in the north, who had candidates in the first round of the general elections, which has just taken place. The necessary conditions for development exist. There must still be vigilance about acts of terrorism, a few of which have occurred in recent months, one of them tragic for the RFI journalists.

The number of troops in [Operation] Serval – currently 3,000 – will now be reduced. But we’ll keep a 1,000-strong force tasked in particular with conducting counter-terrorism operations. The United Nations mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is being set up. I welcome the fact that the Netherlands has decided to send 400 seasoned troops with helicopters. And the Malian army is being restructured. The EU plans to extend its training operation by two years.

Africa/security

Q. – In your opinion, what should be the priorities of the summit on security in Africa being held in Paris at the beginning of December?

MINISTER – In terms of defence, the goal is to bring about in Africa a collective security concept adopted by the Africans. We’re working on two issues. Firstly, the idea of African intervention capabilities able to react rapidly to crises, in coordination with the existing regional bodies. Secondly, the maritime question. The Gulf of Guinea, from Senegal to Angola, is one of Africa’s great weak spots. Action by the African states at sea to guarantee their security is essential. France is ready to lend its assistance to put these mechanisms in place and support the Africans in taking responsibility for their own security, on which our own very often depends.

Armed forces/numbers

Q. – 34,000 posts in the armed forces are going to be cut between now and 2019. Isn’t this going too far?

MINISTER – France has, and will retain in 2020, Europe’s leading armed forces, including in terms of numbers. In 2019, we’ll have 187,000 service personnel (out of a total of 242,000 defence staff), whereas Britain will have only 145,000 and the German armed forces also fewer. Those service personnel will be equipped and trained to face up to tomorrow’s challenges. Funding for operational training will increase by more than 4% a year. These are the sinews of war. I saw it when I went to Mali, to the Ametettai valley, shortly after the fierce fighting there. Our soldiers, whose courage and fitness are exceptional, were also equipped in such a way as to be coordinated with the UAVs and Rafales supporting them.

Those are the armed forces of tomorrow: the soldiers’ capabilities, their physical courage, but also their operational training and technological capacity. Good joint-service organization is essential. To achieve this, what adjustments should we proceed with? That’s the question we must ask, rather than saying: let’s keep so-and-so many troops and then see what we can do. I wanted a coherent approach. (…)

EU/defence

Q. – What are you expecting from December’s European Council meeting on defence?

MINISTER – France’s goal is to achieve concrete progress. I’m optimistic. In the operational sphere, we’re working to implement a common maritime security strategy. It entails major challenges. Firstly, to continue Europe’s action off the Horn of Africa and in particular the future of the Atalanta mission, which is a great success of European cooperation. In the Mediterranean, we must deal with the problem of people trafficking, with illegal immigration rings and the tragedies they cause but also the risk of terrorist infiltration which they entail.

With regard to military capabilities, I’ll propose the creation of a European club of American Reaper UAV users. It could be a force for negotiation with the United States for the Europeanization of its UAVs, so that they can fly in Europe and carry European sensors. And on France’s initiative, we’re taking steps aimed at a European solution for the next generation of surveillance UAVs. In the industrial sphere, we’re working on a regime of tax incentives for projects conducted through cooperation. It’s not right for projects conducted in NATO to be exempted from VAT, when those conducted through European cooperation are taxed.

Cyber defence

Q. – France is the first European state to create legislation on cyber defence. What are the challenges?

MINISTER – France is indeed taking the lead. I’ve taken the decision to make cyber defence a national priority, because a threat exists to the state’s decision-making apparatus and to vital equipment and infrastructure. We must create the legal means to act and react, by attacking if necessary. It’s a first. Bodies of vital interest to the nation will be obliged to protect themselves and declare incidents to the state. Those measures have led to a cyber command chain linked to the operational planning and command centre. We’re going to recruit at least 400 experts on cyber threats. (…)

Military estimates act

Q. – What are the key points of the 2014-2019 military estimates act?

MINISTER – Military programming is balanced, ambitious and thorough. France must rise to the challenge of tomorrow’s threats and have armed forces capable of facing up to them. With this military estimates act, I repeat, France will remain a leader in Europe. The armed forces will continue to fulfil the three major missions of protecting the country, nuclear deterrence and foreign intervention. In the face of the new threats, this military estimates act incorporates significant changes in the intelligence sphere and emphasizes special forces and cyber defence. Our shortcomings in tactical transport and air-to-air refuelling will also be remedied. Finally, the act enables us to continue all the major industrial programmes already started. (…)./.

Published on 27/11/2013

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