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Ma vie : Bill Clinton's Life at the White House (3)

Ma vie : Bill Clinton's Life at the White House (3)

Full Transcript of President Bill Clinton's Interview with Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 TV Corporation. Two excerpts in French were aired on France 3's Noon (12/14) and Night Editions (Soir 3) and TV5. Paris, Four Seasons Hotel George V, July 15, 2004. Photos © Courtesy Robin Teboul and Joël-François Dumont, France 3.

Ma Vie par Bill Clinton : Biographioe et autobiographie, Juin 2004, Éditions Odile Jacob, Paris, 25,90€. Photo @ Clinton Presidential Materials Project.My Life by Bill Clinton : Biography & Autobiography, June 2004, Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. $35.00. Photo @ Clinton Presidential Materials Project.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit former US President paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: Thank you Mr President for talking to us. It’s a pleasure to have you in France. Your wife, Mr President, Senator Hillary Clinton once wrote: “It needs a village to raise a child”. Don’t you think, you could have returned it needs an elephant courage and suffering you had been through to become president of the United States.

You are speaking about yourself as a “combat kid”, but I would say, the man coming from far away…

President Bill Clinton: Well, I say often that in American politics today – especially if you are a Democrat – you have to have a high pain threshold.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

You know, I presented quite a shock to the Republicans because I thought they found a little formula that would enable them to defeat all of my party’s people. They would say: we were week on defense, we couldn't be trusted with the economy, we'd take their tax money, and we could not be trusted with crime and welfare: all those things they said. And we beat them. And it was hard for them. They didn't like it very much, so they spent a lot of time trying to take it out on me, but it was OK: I survived it.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit former US President paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Christian Malar: Through all these affairs, Whitwater, the Lewinsky affair, do you feel you were the victim of a plot, behind which was a right-wing judge, the ultra-religious conservative Kenneth Starr?

President Bill Clinton: Well, I think I don’t like the word victim. I never thought of myself I was a victim, but I was the object of their designs.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

The Republican Party, the new Republican Party in Washington, is dominated by extreme ideological conservatives: the religious right, the vehement anti-government, pro-tax cut right, the anti-environment right. They hated me because I got in and because I stayed in.

Their first and most important value is the concentration of power. They believe that the right people should be in power, and whatever they have to do to get that objective is okay. So when Kenneth Starr did what he did, and treated me and everybody who knew me in Arkansas by one standard and let other people who have clearly broken the law off if they’d say something bad about me, that was absolutely nothing unusual in that to them. Because they think that the most important thing is to concentrate power in the hands of people who are ideologically far right.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

I didn’t feel like I was a victim, but I did feel that I had to defeat them because I saw what they were trying to do to my country and the world would be a very bad thing, and I disagreed with them.

Christian Malar: Mr President, during your presidency, you had to deal with both François Mitterrand, then Jacques Chirac, both very different from one another.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

How would you qualify your relationship with these two French presidents? You know, the French are complicated people – we are complicated people…  The French are very complicated people. (laughter)

President Bill Clinton: The French are complicated; Mitterrand and Chirac are complicated. First of all, I came to like them very much. I worked with Chirac longer and over more ground.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

I was fascinated by Mitterrand, by his history. He was a mysterious, brilliant man. I never will forget the night we had dinner here; afterwards, he took me to see the new Louvre with I.M. Pei. He was 76 years old, he did not have long to live, he had not been in good health. It was well after midnight, and we did it until a quarter to two in the morning or something like that.

President Bill Clinton meets with French President François Mitterrand. Archive Photo © Courtesy Clinton Presidential Materials Project.

Archive Photo © Courtesy Clinton Presidential Materials Project

I always learned a lot from Mitterrand. From Mitterrand, I was always trying to elicit information, history, opinions. The first two years that I was president, we managed to work quite well together. We saw Bosnia differently, but otherwise we were pretty much in sync.

When Chirac came in, even though he was from the center right, I had already met him when he was mayor of Paris and I liked him very much, liked his wife, I liked the team around him. We just got along well, and we did the whole time. Once in a while, we had a difference on the tactics of how to do this or that.

President Bill Clinton welcomes French President at the White House. Archive Photo © Courtesy Clinton Presidential Materials Project.

Archive Photo © Courtesy Clinton Presidential Materials Project

We developed a real friendship, and even when we disagreed. I think the biggest disagreement we had probably was when France tested the nuclear weapons. At the time, I was trying to get to the Indians and everybody else to give up nuclear weapons. But eventually – to be fair to Chirac and France – they joined the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

When the current Bush administration took over, they got out of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and actually have changed over 50 years of nuclear doctrine. They’re trying to develop two new nuclear weapons: a small one for the battlefield, another small one to break underground bunkers. I say small – if they’d been dropped in Baghdad, it would have taken out half the city. And America, for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, is now saying we might actually use a nuclear weapon. Of course, we’ve never said such a thing. The differences today are far more profound than when I was president.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Chirac and I became personal friends. We shared meals together, we shared stories together. He was wonderfully supportive of Hillary when she ran for office.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: François Mitterrand was obsessed with the idea of death. Are you obsessed with the idea of death?

President Bill Clinton: I was aware of my own mortality, of the fact that I would die, younger than most people because my father was killed before I was born and people talked to me about it when I was young.

So when I went on my honeymoon I took this very strange book to Acapulco, The Denial of Death. It seems almost morbid, like how could this man take this book on his honeymoon? But it was fascinating to me.

I’ve always been at home, in a funny way, with death, not afraid of it. For me, it was always a part of life. But it had some impact on my life. It made me always in a hurry, always determined to get everything I could out of every last day, every last encounter, and every last opportunity.

Mitterrand wished he could have lived to be 300 or something. I don’t blame him, I wouldn’t mind living to be 300 myself. But my relationship with death is always different. I’m not fascinated by it, but I’ve always known that it’s a part of life much younger than most people do.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: No evidence of weapons of mass destruction or of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda has been found in Iraq. Do you think that George W. Bush misled American public opinion?

President Bill Clinton: All I can tell you is that, when I was president, I never saw any evidence that bin Laden was tied to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, ever. I never saw any evidence that they had a nuclear program that went beyond the most limited laboratory work.

Now, what I did think was that there was a substantial amount of chemical and biological material, which could be converted into weapons, which had once been in Iraq at the end of the first Gulf War that had not been accounted for in the inspection process.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

So I was fine when the president wanted to go back to the UN and start the inspections and Mr. Hans Blix went there. I thought that was the right thing to do. I also thought it was the right thing for the Congress to say, ‘We give you the authority to use force if he defies Hans Blix and if he won’t cooperate so we can’t tell whether he’s got weapons.’ So I make no apologies for the fact that I supported that and Hillary did. 

Saddam Hussein never did anything he wasn’t forced to do. But I thought it was a big mistake not to let Hans Blix finish the job. We invaded that country when Mr. Blix was saying just give me four weeks or six weeks or something. It was sort of, ‘Well, he had enough time. 

America decides when he’s through.’ Iraq is a country the size of California and as we see today, there are complications in trying to govern it. The other thing I think it’s important to say, I’ve always tried to give the Bush people this: their authority to go in there derived from the weapons of mass destruction issue.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Their desire to do it has almost nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. They wanted a preemptive military strike in Iraq because they believe that by getting rid of Saddam Hussein and establishing a viable democracy in Iraq, it would be better for Iraqis, it would shake up the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and maybe spark a move of modernization, and it would increase the leverage of the US to make peace between Israelis and the Palestinians because the Israelis thought Saddam Hussein was a threat. They believe all of that. That’s why they really did it, and the weapons inspections were just a pretext, which I unfortunately saw a little too late.

As soon as the Senate voted for the president’s position, premised almost entirely on the UN inspections – all of the sudden, we’ve got 130,00-140,000 troops in the Gulf.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Christian Malar: Do you think that US criticism of President Chirac in the run up to war was justified?

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit former US President paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

President Bill Clinton: Actually, it didn’t upset me that he didn’t join the forces in Iraq. I thought the criticism of France was way over the top by the Republicans in America. Because at the very time they were criticizing France, the French army and the American army were together every day in Afghanistan training the new Afghan army. So that didn’t disappoint me.

I have to say I thought the French and the Germans made a tactical mistake in their UN position.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

I think they should have gone with Blair because that was the last chance to avoid war. Because Bush says, ‘I’ll decide when Blix is through and then maybe I’ll go to war.’ Blair says, ‘No, no, no. Let’s give Hans Blix the time he wants. Ask him how much time he needs. Let’s give it to him. Let’s not attack Saddam unless, at the end of the time he needs, Blix says the man has not cooperated and I can’t tell you that he doesn’t have any weapons.’ He tried to pass that.

The French-German position was factually accurate, but politically not so good. It was: ‘As long as we’ve got the inspection tours in Iraq, as long as Hans Blix and his team’s in Iraq, it doesn’t matter if Saddam cooperates, it doesn’t matter if we know anything because he can’t sell whatever is there or give it away. So we’ll never have force as long as the inspectors are there.’

Now, that was factually accurate. President Carter in America took the same position, but it was bad politics.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Why? Because it cut the ground out from under Blair and Hans Blix, and it gave Bush a green light in an America still reeling from 9/11.

So I didn’t have a problem with Jacques Chirac not wanting to go into Iraq, but I think it would have been better if they’d all stayed with this position that ‘Let’s do what Hans Blix wants to do,’ and say to Saddam that ‘If you don’t cooperate with Blix, then we will attack you.’ If we’d done that, I think he would have cooperated with Blix and then Bush would not have been able to go alone.

I think the politics kind of came apart. I wished at that moment that I’d somehow been a part of it because I maybe could have helped.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: Do think the Kerry-Edwards ticket can beat President Bush ?

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

President Bill Clinton: Oh yes. I think the chances are probably better than 50:50 that they will win.

Look how well Kerry did in the primaries. The Democrats picked him quickly. They thought he looked and acted like a president, they thought he had some good ideas, they thought he had an unassailable record on security issues. Edwards finished second in the primary process. He’s charismatic, smart, a quick learner. I think they’ll do great.

I think the [Democratic] convention is very important for them for three reasons.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Number one; it gives us a chance to make our case for our side, which I what I’ll try to do on opening night. Number two; it gives the voters the chance to feel that they actually know Kerry better. The real problem we’ve got with our crowd is it’s still a pretty uncertain time for America.

We’re not all that far away from 9/11. Sometimes people don’t want any more uncertainty in their lives. They say, ‘Well, maybe I don’t agree with President Bush all the time, but I like him and he’s trying, and so I hate to change.’

But this is a big opportunity for Kerry and Edwards to say, ‘Here we are, you can trust us. Listen to us and if you like us and agree with us, vote for us.’

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Then the third thing that will happen is that people will have some good ideas that have nothing to do with all this – terror and how we relate to Europe. Kerry’s got some very good ideas on the economy, on energy policy and how to clean up the environment and create new jobs, on healthcare. Edwards had perhaps the best ideas on education in the campaign. They’ve been part of their platform. So these people have something really interesting to say to America.

  • The relationship between the US and France?

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

There’s no way it could be worse, but, yes, it will be better. Again, you might not always agree with everything. Like I said, I didn’t always agree with Jacques Chirac, I didn’t always agree with François Mitterrand but we became friends and allies because we knew it was the right thing to do and because we were predisposed to cooperate.

So the Kerry position will be simple. It will be ‘We should cooperate whenever we can, we should build and strengthen institutions whenever we can. We may have to act alone, but we’ll only do it when we have to. It will be our last choice.’ The Bush position is ‘We want to make a new world, and we’ll cooperate if we have to.’ There’s a huge difference and you’ll like our position better.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: What are you going to say in your speech to the Democratic convention in Boston?

President Bill Clinton: I’m going to say two things.

First, I’m going to tell them why I think John Kerry will be a good president because I know Senator Kerry a lot better than most Americans do, and I honestly believe he’ll be a good president.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

The second thing I’m going to say is – I’m going to remind the American people that you hire a president to make choices for you. That’s what presidents do: they make choices for the rest of us we can’t make for ourselves.

And then I’m going to go through some of these choices and say ‘If you agree with President Bush, then you should support him and give him another term, and if you don’t, John Kerry’s your man.’ Once people have heard the choices I outline, I hope Senator Kerry will be well benefited.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Christian Malar: You invested yourself in trying to make peace in the Middle East. Are you optimistic about the future? You were close to peace with Barak and Arafat, and Arafat took three steps behind.

President Bill Clinton: Arafat made a mistake in not accepting that peace plan, but then a year later he said he would accept it. And then we had the Geneva accord with the Palestinians and the Israelis meeting in Geneva and taking my plan and then filling in the blanks.

So the answer is I am both optimistic and worried. Let me tell you what I mean by that. I’m optimistic: Ariel Sharon has invited Shimon Peres to join a national unity government, he wants to get out of Gaza unilaterally, he wants to also give up some of the West Bank land on the other side of this wall he’s building. Now, if that is the beginning of a process designed to trigger a response of cooperation from the Palestinians, that could be very good. So in that sense I’m optimistic.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

The other thing that I would say is the one thing that came out of the eight years of my presidency is that they know that if they work together, fewer people die: 1998 was the only year in the history of Israel when no one died in a terrorist attack. And now they know what a final peace agreement looks like.

Now it’s just a question of how long all these old people stand around and play their political games while young people die, before they do what they know what they have to do. Because everybody now knows what a final agreement looks like, more or less. It might be five degrees off. So I’m, on balance, optimistic.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit he paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

Christian Malar: You’ve done a lot for Africa. What kind of economic policies do you think are lacking in Africa?

President Bill Clinton: The main problem with Africa is that one of the legacies of colonialism is that the lines of a lot of those countries were arbitrarily drawn, and good systems for change were not really built. And now, of course, many of the countries are threatened by AIDS.  Now, having said all that, if you look at the economic performance of Uganda, if you look at the economic performance of Mozambique before the flooding, it is plain that there is a lot of talent in sub-Saharan Africa.

President Bill Clinton answers questions from Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Courtesy Photo © Robin Teboul, France 3.

My view is that we cannot have a single strategy for Africa. We’ve got to something about AIDS: otherwise, all these countries simply can’t grow. You just can’t have millions of peoples with AIDS killing all your teachers, killing all your farmers – you can’t do it. That important: that’s what I would work on. Then, we need a development strategy, which includes better education, greater use of the environment and developing of clean water, more access to development capital. It means building the systems in government necessary to have an honest economy.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit former US President paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

A lot of Africa has been held back by not good governance. It wasn’t so much corruption as the lack of assistance. Why am I doing this right now? It’s because I’ve been president, I’ve had all the publicity. Somebody needs to do work that is not interesting superficially. Healthcare’s interesting, education’s interesting, and AIDS is interesting. Even development’s interesting. It’s not interesting how you organize the government and give people title to property, but it may make all the difference to whether we can grow the economy.

We’re doing some work there in Ghana now. I intend to spend a big part of the rest of my life in Africa trying to help them. I think their potential is unlimited. They’re very smart, they’re very hard-working and they’ve been hobbled too long by systems that we can change.

Christian Malar, Editor-in-Chief of France 3 Television, speaks with President Bill Clinton during the visit former US President paid in France to present the French version of his book "My life".. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, July 15, 2004. Photo © Joël-François Dumont.

Christian Malar: Thank you very much Mr President for granting us this interview.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
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