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Chirac and Blair Talking About Europe

Chirac and Blair Talking About Europe

Europe Day: Meeting between M. Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic, and Mr Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, with young French and British students¹. Paris, May 9, 2004. Sources: Embassy of France, Washington D.C. and.10 Downing Street, London.

Jacques Chirac: First of all, the warmest of welcomes. ‘Welcome to you, all of you!’ [said in English]. I’d like to welcome Tony Blair: it’s always a pleasure for me to be with him, which happens often. I’d like to welcome all the British students who are here and also all the French students, and the journalists.

Today is 9 May, Europe Day. Why is it Europe Day? Because, as you know, on 9 May 1950, a visionary, Robert Schuman, presented a declaration proposing the pooling of Germany and France’s steel and coal industries. Why these industries? Because they are the crucial industries for a war effort and the idea of Schuman and the Europeans of the time was to create the conditions to end war in Europe and firmly establish democracy. This is why today is Europe Day and why we are here together.

And then 2004 is also an important year, it’s the centenary of the Entente Cordiale: the end of five centuries of wars between England and France. From the Hundred Years’ War until Fashoda, we had fought each other, we’ve stopped fighting each other. That was a good initiative, a welcome one. We’re celebrating the centenary of the Entente Cordiale: and it was in fact to mark it that Her Majesty The Queen very recently paid an official visit to France. This was for us a great honour and a great joy.

2004 is also the year of the enlargement. We’ve just met together in Dublin to celebrate the enlargement of Europe, which is going from 15 to 25 members. The process of entrenching peace and democracy in our continent is continuing, I’m glad to say. So we’re having this meeting with British and French students – whom I welcome again – students who firstly take an interest in Europe, which is good, and secondly, theoretically, are bilingual, which is rare in our countries. I especially appreciate this and hand over to Tony Blair to begin the debate, before our friend Alex Taylor takes on the task of moderating it. Thank you.

Tony Blair: To begin with, thank you Jacques for your very warm welcome. Good morning everyone. Because my French probably isn't as good as yours, for the English students here I will speak in English, and first of all just let me say how delighted I am to be here and to participate in this.

As you can see, we have got a lot of cameras here taking photographs. I sometimes think the one thing we are really good for actually is to have our photographs taken, so please carry on. And looking round the room I think that people here are about the same age as I was when I was a barman here in Paris. Jacques was actually, he was Prime Minister at the time, so I have had a lot of catching up to do!

Anyway I just wanted to say two things really, first of all to say it is obviously a celebration of Europe, because this is Europe Day, and I think whatever difficulties there are in Europe from time to time, we should never forget the tremendous advances and advantages that Europe has brought all of us. And when I think of my father's generation, fighting a war in Europe, and my generation and your generation now living at peace with one another, we have our disagreements from time to time, it is true, but they are settled diplomatically. You know the advance that Europe has brought about is a fantastic thing, and just occasionally on a day like this we should remember the tremendous benefit that Europe has brought all of us.

I think the second thing is just to say it is also a celebration, as President Chirac was just saying rightly, of the Entente Cordiale, and that is not just a celebration of the past relationship between our two countries, but it is also looking forward to a future in which we are cooperating together in Europe and in the world. And I know again whatever disagreements or difficulties there are, the relationship between Britain and France is of immense importance not just to our two countries, but to Europe and to the wider world, and that is why we have got to work on it the whole time and make sure we feel the sense of hope, as well as challenge, that that brings. And I think it is marvellous in our world today that we have got so many French students who are over in Britain studying, and British students studying here in France. Well you guys are the future, one day a couple of you will probably be sitting here answering questions from the next generation, and that is how it should be. And on this day, above all else, it is a great day I think to celebrate Europe, to celebrate the bilateral relationship between our two countries, and to say let both get stronger and stronger.

Alex Taylor: Thank you very much indeed Prime Minister, and M. le Président. Can I just remind you of our three themes that we are going to be talking about today: first of all the European ideal, what does Europe mean; secondly how Europe affects you as young people in your day-to-day lives; and thirdly Europe and the rest of the world.

  • [UK / EU / Constitution / Referendum]

Question: Prime Minister, considering that you have announced that there will be a referendum on the Constitution, I was wondering what measures you are going to take to reverse the anti-European sentiment that is prevailing among a large sector of the British public, due to misconceptions and a lack of information about Europe, primarily perpetuated by the British media?

Tony Blair: I think we have got to do two things. First of all we have got to recognize that it is time for us to have a major debate in Britain in which we engage the public in a debate about Europe. Here in France there was a debate about Europe just 10 or so years ago over the single currency, but for us we have not had any referendum in Britain on the question of Europe for almost 30 years and I think it is time to do that now, and to flush these arguments out, to have them honestly with people and to say to the British people it is time to decide whether we want to be key central players in Europe, or whether we want to be at the margins of influence, and that is the choice for us. And I have got absolutely no doubt at all in my own mind that our country has got to join with others at the centre of Europe, and that is a debate we are going to have to have. And I think there will be the time to mount the campaign, I think it will be important that we explain to people exactly what is in the constitutional treaty, not the scare stories but the reality of it, to say why it is necessary that a Europe that is expanding to 25 countries, and then possibly even more countries coming into the European Union, changes the way that it works, and to make the case above all else for saying to the British people it is in Britain's national interest to be at the centre of Europe.

We are not asking people to choose Europe over Britain, on the contrary, we are saying that it is for Britain to realize that its national interest is best met as being part of Europe. And if you take a country like France, no one in France will say that there is some clash between the French national interest and being part of Europe. People in France recognize that being part of Europe is part of the French national interest, and we have got to realize the same thing in Britain. It is in our interest to be part of Europe, so let's get there, play our part right at the centre of Europe, have the confidence to believe that our country can be a great and central player in Europe and should never relegate itself to the sidelines.

Jacques Chirac: Europe without Britain is inconceivable and I can't imagine Britain being able, long term, to give priority to her love of the high seas. She will inevitably have to understand that the bulk of her interests lies in the great European entity and so I'm optimistic. And then Tony Blair is very convincing! He's going to succeed in changing the opinion, as you describe it, of our British friends, I'm sure.

  • [Secularity Act / French Schools / Cultural and Religious Diversity]

Question: Some European countries, including France, have adopted legislation against religious signs. Isn’t religious freedom threatened in Europe?

Jacques Chira
c: You are alluding to the Act which the French Parliament has just passed virtually unanimously banning conspicuous signs – I stress "conspicuous" signs – of religious affiliation in State schools. So why?

France is a country which has a social pact founded, in particular, on the principle of secularity (laïcité), i.e. the separation of Church and State. All French people are, of course, free to have the beliefs and religious practices they want, totally independently, but they mustn’t impose at school, i.e. the place where young people are educated, in State schools, their own convictions on others. We don't claim that the principle of secularity is a universal one. We aren't trying to impose it on others. But it's a fundamental principle of French law, it's an essential principle of the French Republican pact.

Since we were faced with the problem, Parliament, I repeat unanimously, wanted to make things clear and this is why we have adopted this Act. There is, of course, no question of taking issue with the religious practice of any one at all provided this is carried out calmly and in accordance with the Republic's laws.

Tony Blair: Different countries will approach these things in different ways and I think that is natural. But I think whatever differences there are over such a law, we shouldn't forget that here in France, as in the rest of Europe, we have the ability to practise religion and religious freedom in a way that many other countries in the world would be very envious of, and I just think we need always, these subjects are very difficult because if we are honest about it we are trying to balance two things: the desire for people to practise their own religion and own culture and own way of life, and the desire for society to feel a sense of common bonding together. And in all our countries today, what we are trying to work out is how do you balance diversity with integration. People are trying to get that balance right. Now I think in any one of these situations there will be very difficult issues that arise. All I am saying is that however they are resolved in individual countries, they shouldn't obscure the fundamental fact that actually all our countries today are an extraordinary example of diversity working.

When you look back and think of all the problems that there have been, it is remarkable in Britain, in France, in all the other countries in Europe that we have this extraordinary diversity now of culture and ethnicity within our societies, and whatever the individuals difficulties posed by individual laws, let's not forget how much progress we have made actually in getting people to live together, because I think that progress would certainly be the envy of many other generations before us.

  • [EU / Turkey / Shape of Europe]

Question: My question is on the ways people discuss Europe, about the ideal we want to build. Today we are seeing a debate beginning on Turkey, it's being conducted in Germany particularly by the Conservative Party, in France by the party supporting the President. The debate is very controversial, even though Turkey's accession isn't yet on the agenda. At the same time, in Europe we're seeing an upsurge of the xenophobic parties in Italy, Austria, Belgium, Holland and Denmark, and, President Chirac, the situation in France doesn't need to be restated here since everyone is well aware of it. You've said that democracy is making headway, I'm wondering what Europe we want to build, whether the discussions ought to focus only on the fears, the fear of foreigners or whether our Europe has to be white or Christian? Personally that's not what I want.

Alex Taylor: President Chirac, let the French fire first. Jacques Chirac: Following an old custom! The question is very broad, what Europe do we want? We want first of all a Europe at peace. For you, it seems totally natural for us to live in peace, for young French people to go to Britain, young Britons to France, all this is totally natural. But your grandparents experienced another situation, the conflicts I was talking about earlier between France and England weren't that long ago. The extraordinarily bloody conflicts between Germany and France were very recent. Peace isn't something spontaneous and natural. Peace has to be safeguarded by methods, principles which genuinely entrench it, that's the fundamental idea of Europe, to entrench peace, so that we never again see the time when we fought each other, with all the human, social and economic consequences which that entailed.

It was very quickly understood that to entrench peace, one had to entrench democracy. Obviously, democracies are spontaneously less warlike than totalitarian regimes and so you can’t have peace without democracy. That's the Europe we want, a democratic, peaceful Europe and so we are organizing it, we are organizing ourselves for that. Naturally, a democratic Europe presupposes respect for the Other, Europe is made up of a multitude of peoples, men, women of different origins. Every country has people originally from a lot of different places, there have been substantial population movements. So it's essential for the respect we must have for each other first of all to be, quite simply, respect for the Other, whatever his or her origin, opinions and religion.

We want a Europe respectful of the others where this is considered a natural principle with no exceptions. Today, we are seeing the resurgence here and there in Europe – you referred to it when you talked about certain political trends – xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, all concepts which are the opposite of our democratic, peaceful concept of Europe, one which is respectful of others. So that's a first point which is essential.

In this connection, you talk about Turkey's candidature. Turkey is a candidate, today's Turkey has been a secular State since 1924, Turkey is indisputably making very significant efforts to adapt to the way of democratic life recognized by the European countries, to adapt to what we call the Copenhagen criteria, i.e. respect for human rights and respect for the market economy. She has taken a very important step in this direction. She has still, admittedly, an effort to make. This is why we are waiting for the report which the Commission is going, in October, to place on the desk of the Council of European Ministers in order to find out whether, in its view, Turkey has done what's necessary to get the Copenhagen criteria really respected, not only at the legislative level, but also at a practical level, i.e. by the whole population. If this is the case, then we can envisage the opening of the accession negotiations.

Let's wait for the Commission's report, then the Council, before the end of the year, will have the opportunity to decide whether or not Turkey fulfils the conditions. If she fulfils them, the accession negotiations can begin. They will be long and difficult, we must not delude ourselves, it's not something that will happen tomorrow morning, it will take years. It will take Turkey a long time and it will be hard for her to take European standards fully on board, but she will, and it's desirable for her to do so. Then if the Council considers that Turkey doesn't yet satisfy the Copenhagen criteria which, I repeat, are to do with human rights and the market economy, well, then we'll go on negotiating and talking to Turkey so that, as soon as possible, the accession negotiations can be commenced.

Tony Blair: Well first of all on Turkey, I think what is important, as the President has just said, is that the criteria and the conditions are applied to Turkey as they would be to anyone else, and therefore what determines the speed and process of Turkey's application for European membership are the rules, the rules that we set out for all European countries, the rules that should apply to Turkey too. And I think what President Chirac has just said to you is not just the French position, I think everyone takes the same position in relation to that.

I think the question you are asking though raises the bigger issue of how we deal with the fear that there is, and that fear, perhaps it is represented in certain countries by Turkey, but it is represented in other countries in different ways, but it is the fear that are we, as our countries change do we somehow lose our sense of identity, are we altering the nature of what we are as countries. I think we should never underestimate the strength of this politics based on fear.

You can look round Europe, you can look round any place in the world today, you go to Britain where there is a real issue today to do with immigration and asylum and questions such as that, and this politics of fear is always very, very powerful. It is the one part of politics which I know, and I think any democratic politician knows, has the ability to spark something very dangerous in the political culture. And the only way of dealing with it is first of all to give leadership against it, and here if I can pay tribute to Jacques Chirac because I think he, not just in France but within Europe, has stood very, very strongly against racism and xenophobia in all its forms, and that is one thing that we have to do. You cannot ever compromise with racism, you have to defeat it, there is no compromise with it. And I think that is one aspect of it – leadership.

But the other aspect is to try to engage people in an understanding of why the world is changing in the way that it is. You see the first question that was asked to me about the fear of Europe in Britain is a question about the fear of change, and that fear of change can only be dealt with in the end by trying to explain to people how this is not part of something that people should fear, but on the contrary something that people should welcome as part of progress. And if you think about it and you think of the debate that we are having today, not just about Europe but about the nature of our societies and the way that they have changed, we have a position today that 40-50 years ago would have been unimaginable. If you had gone back even 20 years and you had said that Europe was going to be reunified, that those countries under communist rule in the east of Europe were going to come into the European Union, that we were even going to consider the question that we would open up Europe to Turkey, people would have said well that is an impossible dream. Yet today these countries from eastern Europe are inside the European Union, and as I say we are open to the possibility of Turkey coming in.

If you look at our societies and the way that they have changed, before my government came to power in Britain, we had not had a black or Asian Minister. We now have a black Minister in the Cabinet, we now have a black woman Minister in the Cabinet. In other words, society changes, and what we have got to do when we are confronted with the politics of fear is give leadership to people and explain to them this is part of progress, that actually what is happening in the world around us is that people are moving closer together and they are realizing that their differences are not as important as what unites them. And whether that is about cultural change within our society, or whether it is about change within Europe, the same message holds, and that is why it is important, and it is particularly important actually for people like yourselves who are the young people, the future in our countries, make that argument as well, because in the end you are going to have to take this forward, not just us, and there has got to be an acceptance within society and within our countries that this progress towards a world in which countries move closer together, in which we put aside differences of ethnicity or religion, we respect our diversity but we don't make that determine how our countries are run, that it is only by doing that that we are going to achieve a peaceful co-existence between the different countries of the world, the different races and different religions. So I don't doubt the issue of Turkey, like other issues, will raise fears within the European Union, but I think it is our job to go out and explain to people why racism and xenophobia offer no future, why the only future is co-existence on the basis of solidarity and mutual respect, and if we do that I think we will find that our people will ultimately respond to that, because frankly it is the only way forward in the twenty-first century.

  • [UK / European Constitution]

Question: If Britain does accept the European Constitution, what do you think will be the impact on the standard of living for people in Britain?

Tony Blair: It will be good. Obviously I hope that people do, provided we get the right constitutional treaty, I hope people do accept it, and it is not that the constitutional treaty itself improves people's standard of living, but the fact is Europe working better improves people's standard of living. Just within the two countries here today – France and Britain – we have something like €60 billion worth of trade between us. So a European Union that is working more effectively, that is good for Britain and it is good for our living standards, and it is good for our future peace and prosperity. So that is the argument that we have got to make.

And it is not about trying to take away the basic rights of the nation State, on the contrary, it is about independent sovereign States cooperating sensibly together. And so the argument that we have got to make to people in Britain is that if we want to continue with the peace and prosperity that Europe has brought us, Britain's place is, as I said before, right at the heart of Europe and that is the argument that we have got to make.

Alex Taylor: It is time now to move on to the second theme, everyday Europe.

  • [25-Member Europe / Decision-Making]

Question: Now just after enlargement to 25 States, important decisions have to be made which haven't been made by the 15. Is it going to be possible now in the short term to make these essential decisions? Are member States such as France and Britain ready to make concessions on rebates, on agriculture, to make this work because it is today and obviously is going to be affecting all of us and the new candidate countries. So are you ready to make the concessions that are necessary and is there a risk that Europe just grinds to a halt if concessions aren't made?

(...}

Jacques Chirac: When we began, we were six. At the start, you have to understand that the idea was to conclude a Franco-German agreement and it was broadened to include the three Benelux countries and Italy. We were six. That worked. And then, little by little, Europe grew. We got to fifteen. That worked a little less well, but it worked. And with fifteen we realized that we were reaching another dimension and that this could well pose problems. Let me take a totally simple example: when we were six, we had a small table with six people and we talked, I'd say, about this and that. The discussion was easy, that didn't mean the solutions were any easier, but at the end of the day, it was easy.

With twenty-five, by the time everyone's made his/her little introductory speech we have to stop because it's lunchtime, we've said nothing, there's been no discussion. We do indeed have to find new methods which presuppose preparation and a reform of our decision-making system. And that's the whole point of the Constitution – Constitution, the word is sometimes disputed. It's the rule which will allow the twenty-five of us to adapt to a system which has to be effective, which isn't the case today with the institutions as they are at moment.

I think that we shall reach an agreement on 17 and 18 June on this important reform – we shall perhaps come back to it – which concerns Parliament, the Council, the Commission and also the decisions which can be taken by a majority vote and those, on the contrary, which must remain unanimous, with the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems. I think we should reach an agreement and it's essential because if we don't reach an agreement, we risk having a paralysed Europe. And I repeat, Europe's great ambition is to entrench peace and democracy. This can be done only continent-wide. So it isn't a matter of four, five, six or ten countries, it involves the whole of Europe, the twenty-five present members and the others who, as soon as possible, will have to join them, i.e. as soon as their economic and social conditions allow them to.

So I hope that we can markedly improve the way we operate thanks to a positive decision on the Constitution next June, under the Irish presidency. Subsequently, people have to realize that, gradually, we shall have to upgrade the institutions.

Tony Blair: I fully agree with the President. I think that what Jacques said is absolutely right. We have got to try and reach an agreement on 16-17 June. As for compromises, well probably the place to make any compromises is not sitting here, isn't in public, well unless we can enter into a little negotiation in front of you all, but it may not be wise.

Jacques Chirac: It would perhaps be a better method than letting our experts negotiate together, perhaps we'd arrive at a more effective result since the young people who are here and will be tomorrow's Europe would be more motivated by common sense than our experts who are, of course, outstanding, very remarkable but who risk being a bit bound by yesterday's Europe!

Tony Blair: As always you are very wise, very wise words Mr President. Different people are experts this afternoon. But I think the real reason we have got to make the change in the constitutional treaty is that it can't work in the same way at 25. Indeed I don't know whether Jacques feels the same, but I can already see sitting round the table at 25 it is impossible to have a long discussion of an open nature on a subject because each Council would take 2 weeks to have. You have got to change the way that Europe works at the moment because it is just not practical to do it any other way. That is one issue which is to do with the practicalities of the way that Europe works. The other issue though is about the way that people have to try to come together and where there will sometimes be clashes of national interest. And there is no point in being absurd about it, of course there are circumstances in which there is an issue that matters dramatically to one country but may not matter to others. Now I think that what Europe has done, and this is the whole purpose of the European Union, is to try and find a way through.

Now sometimes those ways through will be imperfect, but usually we end up making progress. And I think therefore we shouldn't be frightened of the fact that from time to time there will be these really difficult issues, there will be very hard negotiation about them, but in the end what matters is that we keep moving forward because that is in the greater good. And I think that with a Europe of 25, and particularly if we expand Europe further, as we intend to do, Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, we have just been talking about Turkey but there are other countries no doubt in the future that will want to join the European Union, it is impossible to see that Europe working without change, and that is why this treaty is being brought about. It is not being brought about because we sat down and decided we wanted it to engage in a great legal experts discussion for days and months, and even a couple of years I think, it is not because of that, it is because we all recognize, sat round the table, that we can't make it work otherwise, and that is what is important so that Europe can take the decisions necessary to take, on subjects like economic reform which we all know needs to happen, but it can't happen unless we have got a procedure for working that allows it to happen. So that is what it is about and it is why it is so important we put to one side all the various scare stories about it and just debate the reality, and the reality is a Europe of 25 can't work in the way that a Europe of 15 works. And my view actually was that even at 15 we were finding it increasingly difficult to work effectively.

  • [Harmonization of European Qualifications / University Reform]

Question: I've got a question on the harmonization of European qualifications. We're lucky enough to have programmes like "Erasmus" so that we can move more around Europe, etc. Now, vis-à-vis the French system, what do you think, how do you interpret, for example, the demonstrations in France against the reforms of the university system? What do you think about all the difficulties of the reform of the French system. What do you think about the current difficulties concerning the MA, for example the 3, 5 and 8 year-degree system?

Jacques Chirac: The harmonization of qualifications is a necessity. It's in keeping with a historical pattern and is taking place. And whatever happens, it will take place because it's inconceivable for a country to stand aloof from the general movement. The main reform is what's called [in France] the "LMD", Licence Master Doctorat [three-tier model of higher education, with the bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate]. You mentioned demonstrations; there are always demonstrations in France, whatever the issue, that's part and parcel of French vitality, isn't it? It doesn't only have disadvantages. From time to time, it's a bit irritating, I admit. In this specific case, you will have noted that the very large majority of students wanted the system and have adopted it. So the system is being put in place and I'm particularly pleased about it.

Tony Blair: First of all I am delighted to hear that someone else has got difficulties with university reforms, since I have had a few myself over the past year, as some of you might have noticed. There are two questions really, first of all the interchangeability of diplomas and so on, which I think we should encourage in every way we can because I think what is driving that frankly in the end is globalization and the fact that employers will increasingly want to be able to take people from different countries, different walks of life, and they need to know that there is a certain standard that is shared in common. So I think that the interchangeability of degrees and diplomas, I think that will continue and should continue and we need to drive that forward.

I think the second thing is just the question of university reform as a whole, I think it is worth just pointing out that there is not a single country that I can think of, certainly in the developed world, that isn't trying to deal with this issue of university reform, because we want more people to go to university and at the same time we need the money in order to fund university education properly, and I think this will be an increasingly big debate in virtually any country in the world at the moment. And I do think, if I can say this – it is probably not a very popular thing to say with this audience – but I think it is very, very important to realize that at our universities in Europe, not just Britain and France, but all the universities in Europe, we must not let them fall behind the competition that will be coming, not just from American universities, but also increasingly from countries like China and India as well.

  • [UK / Euro / EU]

Question: When is Britain going to join the euro?

Tony Blair: I think I had better answer this one first Jacques. It is provided the economic conditions are met, as you know, that is the formula. The case can be made once it is clearly in our economic interest to do so, and I think that is sensible, because unlike the constitutional treaty, the question of the euro, obviously it is economic and monetary union, it is an economic question, so that economics have got to be in the right place. Now we keep that under constant review, but in my view we can persuade people to join the single currency in Britain provided we can make a clear and unambiguous economic case for it, and at the present time we are not in a position to do that, but obviously in time to come that can change, and as we have said we have got to keep it under review and provided the economic conditions are met, we will join. And as for the position of Britain in Europe more generally, we will probably get on and talk about this a bit later, but in areas like European defence, in economic reform, we are cooperating and working very well with other countries in Europe and we have got to keep that up. And as I say in general terms I have got absolutely no doubt at all that Britain should be a key player in Europe, it is what I have said right from the outset of the time we came to office, and I think the debate over the constitutional treaty will give us the chance maybe not just to make an argument about the treaty itself, but actually to make a bigger argument about Britain's place in Europe. And just to say to any of you here who are from Britain and share that view of Britain's place in Europe, I think this debate has got to be driven by the new generation as well as the older generation, because I think that will be a very, very important part of persuading people.

Jacques Chirac: You asked when Britain was going to join the euro? My answer is "as soon as possible".

Alex Taylor
: Thank you very much, a question here in French.

  • [Sustainable Development / Global Warning / Russia / WTO]

Question: I've got a question on sustainable development. Are there partnerships on these issues, particularly on areas in Europe, since, after all, we have a very large number of them including – but not only – the Alps, and is it European strategy to strengthen them? I know that the British are fairly conversant with these sustainable development issues, so could we envisage university partnerships or exchanges of research on methods of application?

Tony Blair: I would welcome this very much indeed, I think it is an important part of an agenda we both share. There are no differences between Britain and France on this issue, either to do with sustainable development or in particular in relation to climate change. And I think that the research that is being done in our individual countries is actually pretty clear, mind you, in what it says. I don't think the problem with sustainable development, or the environment, is any longer knowing what we should do, it is getting the political will internationally to do it. Because I think all the recent research on climate change, on economic growth, indicates that unless we make sure that that growth is sustainable, then we face a worsening environmental situation.

And the interesting thing is we are both signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, we both want that ratified by every country in the world, but even if we did everything that Kyoto wanted us to do, even if we fulfilled everything that was in the Kyoto Treaty, we are still a long way short of what the world needs in order for its climate to survive in the long term. That is why I think it is a huge issue, it is one that we should work very closely on and I think that this is classically an example where European cooperation is necessary, because this is an issue that cannot be solved by any one individual country, and the more powerful Europe is to make its voice heard in the world, the more we have got an opportunity to deal with these issues. And I remain, I said the other day when we launched a new group on climate change, working with business in the UK, I said that I thought this was long term the biggest single challenge that our planet faces, and I believe that to be true.

Jacques Chirac: I'd like absolutely to concur with what Tony Blair has just said. Development today isn't sustainable. And this can't go on. We are depleting the planet’s resources. Everyone is beginning to realize this, but many refuse to accept the consequences of the situation. We have a serious problem with global warming, with all the potential tragic repercussions.

It's not so much the warming which has consequences, it's the speed of it, in mankind's history, which is accelerating fantastically and carries with it tragic consequences. We also have an increasingly serious attack on biodiversity. People mustn’t imagine that man can live alone in nature. Man is a link in a whole chain which requires a biodiversity, otherwise he won't be able to survive. And we are probably in an era, in a century where we face a choice.

Either we will control our living conditions, i.e. adapt them so that we are more economical with nature's resources so that it can regenerate, which is no longer the case today, or the resources can no longer be regenerated because we are overusing them. Or we're moving towards a final catastrophe.

Consequently, we have to be well aware that sustainable development is a fundamental imperative for our society today. So there are a number of measures to take, Tony Blair talked about the Kyoto Protocol, we are both very actively championing it. Today, we still need another country [to ratify it] to be able to implement it. Right now it isn't perfect, as Tony Blair said, but at the end of the day it's nevertheless an important step in the right direction. There's one country missing, in actual fact it's Russia. We have to convince Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Of course, this requires a degree of goodwill on her part, her arguments are understandable, it also demands a degree of understanding on the European Union’s part, particularly with respect to the excessive demands we want to impose on Russia for her entry into the World Trade Organization. Russia must join the WTO and then, we'll have, of course, an extra reason to ask her to sign the Kyoto Protocol, which I'm convinced she will.

  • [World Solidarity / Poverty / UN Environment Charter]

We should, in this sphere, also be taking far stronger international action. Later on we shall, I imagine, probably be talking about world solidarity, help for developing countries, the poverty which is growing in the world at the same time as the egoism of the rich countries. But there’s the whole problem of sustainable development in the developing countries which is also essential and for this we need to convince a number of our partners, including our American friends. There needs to be an international law, without which we won't be able to move forward, this is why we are supporting the creation of a World Environment Organization at the UN and the establishment of a global law in this sphere. A law which will, of course, have to be discussed, assessed, but which imposes standards. We can no longer, in the world as it is, with globalization which has to be controlled, humanized, live without global standards.

  • [French Environment Chater]

So those are the reasons which prompted France, in particular, to draw up an environment charter which will, I hope, be passed before the end of the year by the French Parliament even though, in these matters, there are always fears or criticisms, as there always are when you change something. We shall have a constitutional environment charter which will guarantee environmental rights. I believe it's the great reform of today's world, it will be the one you will be taking responsibility for, and you will be among the last generations to be able to do so, you will win or we shall all lose.

  • [Europe / Rest of the World]

Alex Taylor: I suggest that we now move on to the third part of our debate, since there are a lot of questions on Europe and the rest of the world.

  • [Iraq]

Question: Whatever your views on the war in Iraq, it seems to me that it was in the interest of both countries to have a war approved by the UN. Do you think that the failure in this sphere is due to our failings in our bilateral diplomacy, or due to insurmountable differences in our interests regarding Iraq?

Tony Blair: Thank you for that question. I think we have just got to accept there was a fundamental disagreement, there is no point in concealing that. I think what is important now however is to make sure that we try and reach an agreement inside the United Nations for the proper and full transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people after 30 June. And I think what is important is that whatever disagreements there have been about the conflict, we are in the situation we are in now and it is in the interests of everybody that Iraq stabilizes and becomes a prosperous and democratic country. Now there is a process that is being organized and handled by the UN representative, Mr Brahimi, he will present his proposals soon. We actually are in discussion, along with other members of the UN Security Council, as to how we can now find a way forward, a political process that involves this transfer of sovereignty and that has the blessing and support of the United Nations Security Council. Now I happen to think that is important. So whatever the problems of the past, well we know those very well, they are there, but the problems of the future will be determined by whether now we can take the necessary political steps to make sure we come to an agreement on this, and I hope that we can because in the end that is in the interests of the Iraqi people, it is in the interests of the region and it is also in the interests of the wider world. Because if the situation is not stable, and there is not support there in Iraq for a proper political process, then that instability will have a consequence right across the world. So the past is the past, but the future will be determined by what we are doing now within the United Nations to make sure that this process works.

  • [EU Foreign Policy]

Jacques Chirac: I'd like to start by following up that answer because there's been a lot of talk about this difference of view within the European Union on Iraq, I shan’t go back over it. But it has broadcast an incoherent picture of Europe at the foreign policy level and people have concluded that there is no foreign policy. I'd like nevertheless to draw attention to the fact (...) that Europe has made substantial headway in this sphere. Today Europe speaks with a single voice in all the major international negotiations, which is extremely important and innovatory.

Secondly, Europe is constantly having summits at which it discusses, talks to its major partners, these are the European Union summits with Russia, China, the United States, Latin America and here too, Europe talks with a single voice. Europe has very important cooperation agreements through which it demonstrates solidarity with the countries of Africa, the Caribbean, Pacific, Mediterranean countries, and others. So a real European foreign policy has been gradually forged and must not be masked by a difference of views on the single Iraq problem, even though this was a strong difference of views. Moreover, this Europe has a face, Mr Solana embodies it, and as a result of the constitutional reform, Europe will have a common foreign minister to carry out all the tasks I have just talked about. Europe participates as such in the Quartet for Israeli-Palestinian, Middle East affairs, speaks with a single voice whenever these problems are raised. I just wanted to say that Europe's positive achievements on the international front mustn't be masked by a difference of views on a specific problem.

  • [Iraq]

Now, on Iraq, I agree with Tony Blair, I believe it is clear today that a very large majority of Iraqis find it hard to accept the peace forces which they regard as occupation forces. So it's very urgent genuinely to transfer – and do so unambiguously – sovereignty and powers to an authentically-Iraqi authority, recognized as such by the Iraqi people.

This is indeed the purpose of the proposals of M. Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy. This presupposes the creation of a government of technocrats, in the good sense of the term, of course, which M. Brahimi is proposing. This could organize, at the end of this year or beginning of next, a general election from which a democratic Iraqi government could emerge which would genuinely have to be responsible for dealing with all the problems, without any interference, and be able to ask for the ending of the international force's mission, if it deems this necessary and when it deems it necessary. So we have here a problem which is going to be considered at the UN, under conditions which everyone knows aren't easy. France will take part in this debate, that goes without saying, and the UN's role will also, to my mind, have to be substantially strengthened. It will have to take real political control of the whole of this process leading towards, what will, let's say, be a reunited, rebuilt Iraq – that's a great ambition. At any rate we have to hope for this, it's our goal. This is what is at stake in the coming weeks, particularly at the Security Council, as Tony Blair said.

(...)

  • [EU / United States of Europe / US / Multipolarity]

Question: With all the countries which have come into the European Union and those who could well join, do you think the European Union can become the United States of Europe, so as to counterbalance the United States of America on the international stage?

Jacques Chirac: There are two questions here, the question of the structure and then the political question.

The structure: Europe hasn't set in train a process designed to imitate the United States. A long time ago, there were big arguments about whether the EU should be a federation or a confederation. Today this argument has been practically resolved and the concept of the European Union is one of a federation of nation-States – i.e. every State agrees to transfer to the EU a number of elements of its sovereignty, but does so voluntarily and keeps what it deems essential or necessary, in what is, I acknowledge, an ongoing process of development. So you can't compare the process which led to the creation of the United States with the development of the European Union, they are two different processes. Secondly, I believe one must absolutely not – it would be a grave error – believe there's competition between the United States and Europe (...). Fundamentally, it would be a mistake to believe it, for one simple reason: we can clearly see today that the world is moving slowly but surely towards a multipolar world. In thirty years, fifty years, you will have a world made up of major poles and Europe will be one of them.

Today's Europe already has a Gross Domestic Product roughly equivalent to that of the United States, 450 million inhabitants, it's the world's leading trading power. It's a centre of power which is gradually growing stronger and inevitably this is in fact why Britain can't not be in Europe, otherwise she will be bound to have identity problems. So we’ll have a multipolar world, with a major pole centred on China, without any doubt, a major Indian pole, probably one day a pole centred on Latin American, that's the way things are moving. If we acknowledge this, we have to accept that this multipolar development has some great advantages. But it also conceals dangers, men being men, of conflicts or even wars between these major poles and you can imagine, given the nature of today's weaponry, what conflicts between these major poles would mean. This is why the utmost must be done to organize, to reject unilateralism and organize multilateralism, i.e. a way of organizing the world such that there’s the necessary authority to avoid the conflicts between these major poles.

But, let’s take the worst scenario, if these conflicts were to occur: obviously, we’d have two of these poles which had the same origin, the same culture, the same respect for the same values: Europe and the United States. Consequently, whatever happens, the transatlantic link between Europe and the United States is a necessary link which must in any case be respected and safeguarded because it’s absolutely necessary. Having a strong link in tomorrow's multipolar world is in the fundamental interest of both sides of the Atlantic. Today, everything which can clumsily jeopardize the existence and solidity of the transatlantic link – which I might add presupposes mutual respect which isn't always the case – is dangerous for the future of both Europe and the United States.

Tony Blair: There are two things that I would like to say. The first is that Europe, even as we expand to 25, is a Europe of nation States, and particularly for these new countries frankly coming in from central and Eastern Europe. Some of them have just won their democratic freedom back, so they don't want to give that freedom up. And I think the French and the British view of Europe in this sense is very, very similar, it is one of the things I have tried to say to people in Britain, if you take a country like France, France has a very clear sense of its own nationhood, of its own esprit, but it believes that in a modern world that nationhood is best served by being part of Europe, that is the thing that makes Europe work. So these countries, I don't think there is any sense in which people want to create a United States of Europe, what they do want to create however is a powerful European Union that is capable of representing the collective national interests of those member States. And the reason why I think this is very, very important in today's world is that we are obviously, both Britain and France, strong and powerful countries, but as Jacques Chirac has just been saying, the world is changing.

The most interesting things that are happening in the world today, if you leave aside all the conflicts and the problems that hit the news headlines, the most interesting thing is what is happening in countries like India and China. There you have two countries whose economies are developing at a vast rate. In India they are now turning out, just in science and information technology, almost a quarter of a million graduates a year, just in science and technology. In China, if you look at that east coast of China and the development there, the economic growth is phenomenal. By the year 2020, China will be either the largest or second-largest economy in the world.

So you have got a world that is undergoing change and incredibly quickly. The other thing that I think is fascinating about the world today is the speed of change. Things happen, it is like watching a video with your finger on the fast forward button, that is how the world moves today, it moves with extraordinary speed. And the reason why I think it is very important that Europe has a strong capability of acting collectively is that in this world we are having to do more and more things together.

All the world trade rules are being negotiated with Europe having a single point of negotiation. And in this different world that is developing, the relationship between Europe and the United States is vitally important, and it is important that it is a partnership, now this may seem strange for me to say because obviously we are very, very strong allies of the United States in Britain, and that alliance is one that we treasure and we value. However, I believe that Britain has to have a strong relationship with the United States, but it also has to have its strong European place, and that both are actually important for us. And in a way what my country considers important, in other words both relationships, is almost a symbol if you like of what Europe needs. Europe needs both to have a strong capability itself, and to be capable of forging a strong partnership with the United States, for all the reasons that Jacques has just given, to do with values, to do with origin, to do with interest.

Because if you look 10-20 years ahead, if you think of yourself in 20 years’ time, the world in which you are going to live is a world in which there will be the power of China, the power of India, probably the power of Russia as well as it develops its natural resources and has that vast land mass there, and into that world it is essential that Europe is able to hold its own and to have the right relationship and partnership with the United States of America. And that is why I totally agree with what Jacques Chirac was just saying a moment or two ago, whatever the differences have been, either within Europe or between Europe and the United States of America, it would be the most foolish thing to do to ignore the vast areas of common interest that there are. And whether you are looking at the issues to do with international terrorism, or security, or how we deal with the trouble-spots in the world, the common interest we have in resolving these problems is immense, and it dwarfs any differences that there are between either our countries within Europe or between Europe and the United States of America. So the position that I want to see is a Europe that has the cohesion and strength to be able to be a strong partner, not a rival but not a servant either of the United States of America, that is able to hold its own in the world and that is able with the United States to tackle the problems of common interest. And I believe that whatever differences there are on issues that are as I say in the newspapers and hitting the headlines, for perfectly understandable reasons at the moment, that basic truth is what should motivate us, because it is the single most important thing in my judgment in making our world safe.

  • [Africa]

Question: President Chirac, France has always maintained good relations with Africa. Today with the European Union, should this cooperation be left as it has always been or isn't it far more necessary to broaden it in order to establish a common European policy for Africa?

Jacques Chirac: When you go to Africa, you see a situation which doesn't make you proud of being from one of the world's great countries. Africa is a continent, which in every respect has a rich history – the first humans were born and came from Africa – with a great culture, the great African empires have made a huge contribution to world culture, and is today in a tragic and dangerous situation. Tragic because there is dire and unacceptable poverty there. Dangerous because that can't continue. If the rich nations go on ignoring Africa, they will get some serious surprises, irrespective of the fact that they are trampling under foot the principles which elsewhere they claim to defend, i.e. the moral principles of human solidarity.

Tomorrow in Africa you will have a billion men, women and children, of whom nearly 800 million will be under 20 years old, of whom a vast majority are surviving without education, without the necessary minimum in terms of basic comfort, water, sanitation, without access to training, without the means to combat disease, all sorts of diseases starting with AIDS and many other problems as well. Do you really think this can go on indefinitely? It's shameful, in the strongest meaning of the word, for today's world, the rich world, the globalized world to tolerate situations of this kind. What's more, the fact that people can lack moral standards is understandable, but they have no sense of danger because this situation will explode. If we give these 800 million young people no way of decently integrating into tomorrow's society, in one way or another, they will explode, they will take what we don't want today to recognize is theirs or give them. So it's very, very dangerous.

  • [Underdevelopment / Millenium Goals / ODA]

This poses more generally the problem of under-development. We claim to be achieving the goals we set together at the time of the Millennium, three or four years ago at the UN. Today, because of under-development a billion men, woman and children are living on less than $1 a day. And half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. At that time we had set goals, we had all agreed – we're very good at making speeches – at the UN, to cut poverty by half by 2010 or 2015. Naturally, we haven't taken any measures to do so and we know perfectly well today that that won't happen.

The total effort for official development assistance in the world – I'm no longer talking just about Africa – is around $60 billion, that's the world's collective effort, i.e. that of the rich world, $60 billion for official development assistance. For the purposes of comparison: world military expenditure stands at $900 billion a year – $60 billion for development assistance and $900 billion for military spending, half of which for the United States. This is, I repeat, a genuinely altogether aberrant, incomprehensible, morally unjustifiable and politically very dangerous situation.

The World Bank has explained to us that just to keep the promises made at the Millennium [summit], we should add 50 billion to the 60 today allocated to official development assistance. Naturally, we're not doing so and won't do so.

How can you explain to a young person form Nigeria or Mali, today, in his tribal hut, listening to the radio, that a few months ago the US Congress allocated an extra $85 billion for the war in Iraq, i.e. this single item of extra expenditure is more than the total amount the whole world is spending on development? It's incomprehensible. It's intolerable. It's the real scandal of our time. It demonstrates total ignorance of the elementary principles of solidarity.

  • [France/UK/IFF]

So we must try and do something. Among the countries which are a little more sensitive to these problems than the others there are Britain and France. We are making an effort with respect to official development assistance, an inadequate one, but we are making it, to the limit of our resources. And we are also trying to take initiatives. A few months ago, Tony Blair made a strong and intelligent proposal for an "international finance facility". This is an intelligent major new initiative. Of course, France immediately gave her support and I hope we are going to be able to implement this finance facility initiative which will make it possible to provide more money, in an intelligent way, to development. We’ll see.

  • [International Tax System / Development Financing Working Group /Africa /G8]

France has also taken an initiative. People talk about globalization, this globalization which, in fact, is resulting in the rich growing richer and richer and the poor becoming no wealthier. It’s very clear, moreover, that the reason the rich are getting richer and richer is because the others aren’t getting any richer. Confronted with this situation, a number of measures have been envisaged, inter alia, taxing international transactions linked to globalization. Globalization has considerably increased capacity for trade. This is a very good thing, it’s progress. Trade is, of course, progress. But, given the colossal size of the profits generated by globalization in the financial sphere, they could be taxed a little bit, very lightly, it would be barely noticeable and would bring in a lot of money. Unfortunately, in the past an initiative was presented by a distinguished American economist called Mr Tobin, who proposed the Tobin tax. The Tobin tax didn’t work. Moreover, before he died, he himself recognized that he’d made a technical error. The principle was sound, the method didn’t work.

France has set up a working group with leading figures, in particular from the international financial institutions, to put forward a proposal – and I hope we’ll be supported by our British friends – for in some way or other bringing in – I’m not prejudging any technical solution – an international tax system enabling us, on top of our international development assistance, to provide the resources we need, at least to fulfil the Millennium commitments.

As I said earlier, Africa is obviously a priority here. When we talk about development, we’re talking about official aid but there’s also a second aspect – there are even three – direct foreign investment in the developing countries, which isn’t insignificant. I spoke about $60 billion of official development assistance, direct investment in the developing countries stands at $143 billion. This isn’t insignificant, but when you look at the breakdown you notice that of this $143 billion of investment, 53 billion goes to China and 7 billion to the whole of black Africa. That shows you that, here too, something is wrong.

I’m not, of course, saying the Africans haven’t got efforts to make, particularly as regards good governance. They have made a start with what is called NEPAD, which we British and French and others have supported, and consists in replacing a culture of assistance by one based on partnership. It’s a big step forward and requires an effort from the Africans especially as regards good governance. But it’s vital today for the human tragedy of insufficient development resources, their injustice, to be brought home to everyone. So it’s essential to humanize and control it.

Tony Blair: I think if I can just say to you, first of all I think that Europe should adopt a strong policy towards Africa and I just offer you very briefly these thoughts about it.

The first is that if the situation in Africa were happening in any other part of the world then the world would be mobilized to do something about it, and that is I think the rather shameful truth about the situation there. And as a result of all the various problems that Africa has, it is the only continent in the whole of the world that has actually gone backwards rather than forwards in the past few years, and actually the life expectancy of people in Africa has fallen, rather than risen again, alone of all the places in the world.

Now the point that I would make is this, that the way to help Africa is of course through aid and assistance, but it isn't just aid and assistance. There is conflict resolution, there is opening up our markets towards African goods, which is why the World Trade Organization talks are very important. There is making sure that Africa internally opens its own markets up for internal trade. There is the question of governance, although we should accept the fact, and be glad of the fact, that actually in Africa over the past few years there have been many changes, democratic changes of government for the first time in many African countries, so that has been one sign of progress. But the truth is we need to tackle the African problem as a whole. We could put in as much aid and assistance as we want, but unless we are also tackling the issues as I say to do with conflict resolution, investment, trade, HIV-Aids and other health issues, then we are not going to be able to deal with it as a whole.

Now the final point I would make though is this, it is a broader point and it comes back too I think to the relationship between Britain and France and what we can do together. The truth is on Africa we have been working extremely closely together, and indeed I have said for our G8 Chairmanship next year, the two priorities for the British Presidency in the G8 will be Africa and climate change, so those are the two things upon which we will work very closely together, our two countries. I have set up a Commission on Africa to report back for the G8, upon which Michel Camdessus, the very distinguished former Head of the IMF and advisor to the President, is going to serve. And the idea will be to try and get a plan of action for Africa.

But the final point that I wanted to make is broader than Africa, and it is this really. The danger that I see in the world today is this. We have a group of issues which you can loosely call to do with security and terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, all that type of thing, and particularly after 11 September the United States perceives rightly that these are major issues, indeed we all, all of us in all our different countries suffer the dangers and problems of terrorism and it is a new and rather frightening phenomenon of this terrorism. And I don't know the details in France, but certainly in Britain we have had to put the whole of our security on a different footing and it makes the difference to people's lives now. So you have that group of issues and the problem is we in the developed world feel very strongly about these issues, but then in a different part of the world there are a whole range of other issues that people are deeply concerned about, and those are issues that are what I would say you could loosely say are to do with justice, and my view is that there is an agenda which Britain and France could share, and the European Union certainly can share, which is about dealing with these issues of security and terrorism in a firm and strong way, which we need to do, but then broadening the agenda so that we are also dealing with the issues of justice, the issues that concern people about the Middle East peace process, which in my view is probably the single thing that is causing more tension between the Western world, and not just the Arab world but between the Muslim world and the rest of the world. We should be dealing with issues to do with Africa and the obscenity of literally three million people dying, children dying under the age of 5 from preventable causes.

We should also be dealing with the issues to do with climate change, the issues in other words that are issues that aren't simply about security but are also in the narrow sense, but are also about a broader concept of how the world should live together that deals with what people perceive to be real injustices in the world and that are the grounds often in which terrorism and extremism and fundamentalism breed.

So that is what I really think we need to do and that is why I feel so passionate not just about Britain and France and Europe working together, but also Europe and the United States facing up to these issues together, that I genuinely think this is something of a race against time, I have to say to you, and whatever different perspectives Jacques and I would have on some of these questions, I think the urgency of them is something we both agree on very strongly. And we don't have much time in my view to put together that agenda properly, so that we are dealing with the issues of security and terrorism, but at the same time we are saying it is not acceptable to have the situation continue in the Middle East as it is, it is not acceptable to have millions of people die in poverty and do nothing about it, it is not acceptable to have our planet degraded so that future generations face a spoiled environment and do nothing about it, and that any intelligent world leadership at the moment would realize that both sets of issues have got to be dealt with, and if you dealt with both sets of issues you would actually find a huge unifying common ground that could mean virtually everyone of good heart and good faith comes together.

Jacques Chirac: I’d like to add one thing. Firstly, there are many more common points than differences between Tony Blair and me or between Britain and me, I’m glad to say.

He’s raised an essential issue and I’d like to link it to the question asked earlier by the student who, among other things, referred to the reaction vis-à-vis Turkey. In his question he’d talked about respect for the Other. We also have to realize that nothing is more precious than peace and you mustn’t forget that every time you cause humiliation, in some way or other, you automatically create aggressive reactions and behaviour which are dangerous. Respect for the Other is in fact today, I believe, the key not just to development but also to peace in the world and this is what we’re most committed to. (...).

  • ¹ Source of English transcript of Mr Blair’s contributions: Downing Street


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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