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Changes in Europe and America : A French View

Changes in Europe and America : A French View

"Changes in Europe and America: A French view" with Jean-David Levitte, Ambassador of France to the United States,  at the Center for Strategic International Studies of John Hopkins University (transcript). Washington, October 12, 2004. Source: Embassy of France in the United States.

  • Presider: David Calleo, Director, European Studies

David Calleo: Having the French ambassador here every year or so has become an old tradition for European Studies at SAIS. I think it goes back at least three decades, and it reflects the aim I suppose of all area studies programs: to learn how other people see the world, what they think should be done about the world's problems. And since France has a very broad view of the world, a long experience and great influence around the world, has profoundly shaped the Europe that we study, the Europe of our time, it is certainly worthwhile to pay attention, and to be grateful we should say that France is not only a country that knows her own mind, but is not afraid to speak it, above all to her friends. And despite all the regular storms and stressed, or perhaps because of them, our friendship, the cultural sympathy between us, is something very deep and long standing.

French views are also worth hearing at SAIS, because they are always so well presented. France does us the -- here in Washington pays us the compliment of sending us ambassadors from among her very best diplomats, and certainly that tradition is amply filled by the incumbent.

Jean-David Levitte was born in 1946 in Moissac in Southwestern France. He has a degree in Law, and is a graduate of the Institute of Politics, of political Science, and the National School of Oriental Languages, where he studied Chinese and Indonesian.

He joined the Foreign Ministry in 1970, and served in Hong Kong, and then Beijing, and then returning to Paris he was assigned to the Foreign Ministry's Economic Affairs B"ureau, and after a year was transferred to the office of the president of the Republic, where he worked the first time from 1975 to 1981. In 1981 he was posted to the permanent mission of France to the United Nations, as a consular; returned to Paris in '84 to become deputy director of the West Africa Section of the Foreign Ministry, and then deputy executive assistant to the foreign minister then, Jean-Bernard Raimond. He was appointed ambassador and permanent representative of France to the United Nations in Geneva in 1988, and remained there until 1990. He returned to Paris that year to become director of the Asia South Pacific Section at the Ministry, and then head of cultural, scientific and technical relations.

Monsieur Levitte as a career diplomat was a former diplomatic advisor to President Chirac, from 1995 until March 2000. He then became the permanent representative of France to the United Nations from 2000 to 2002, and from there came here to Washington in 2002.

He is speaking tonight on "Changes in Europe and America: The French View" -- just what we need. Welcome, Jean-David. (Applause.)

Jean-David Levitte: Thank you very much, David. And it's always a great pleasure and privilege to be at Johns Hopkins University, at SAIS, with my good friend Professor David Calleo.

Yes, David, I will speak about Europe, but maybe I should start with something which happened far away from Europe and the United States in Afghanistan.

Last Saturday, for the first time in history, the Afghan people was invited to vote -- select their president. And I want to start with Afghanistan, because I consider it a major success. And it is a success for the United States, it is a success for the international community, and first of all it is a great success for the Afghan people themselves. It reminds me what we did -- you and us and the international community as a whole -- in Cambodia more than 10 years ago when together we negotiated for two years to put an end to the Khmer Rouge rule through elections organized by the United Nations. At the time it was the Paris Accord implemented with success. And now the Khmer Rouge are history -- a nightmare, but behind us -- and the Cambodian people have their own government, elected through elections.

That's exactly what happened in Afghanistan. For 25 years and more, we had in Afghanistan the Soviet occupation, then the Taliban rule. Then 9/11 and a process. And it is really history, and it is good as a starting point for our conversation tonight to ask ourselves what helped us to succeed so well in Afghanistan. And I see three explanations for this success. The first one is certainly the unity and the determination of the international community as a whole. It started, as I said, with 9/11. On 9/11 I was, as David said, the French ambassador to the United Nations. I saw the destruction of the Twin Towers from my office. I was during that month of September the president of the Security Council, and we knew what we had to do. We had to change international law, because it was a defining moment. And what we decided in one hour unanimously was first to decide that such an act of international terrorism should be considered as an act of war; and, second, that those who committed this act should be of course punished through international law, but also the states which sponsored these terrorist networks, through hospitality offered to the terrorist networks, through training, equipment, financial aid. This Resolution 1468 was adopted in one hour unanimously and it paved the way to the war in Afghanistan. We were together united. And France participated fully in this war with thousands of troops. We still maintain today important contingents of troops, special forces on the border with Pakistan to try to eradicate the last elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban together with and under the leadership of American troops and special forces. But we have also ISAF; that is, the NATO force under U.N. mandate which is in Kabul and around Kabul to maintain law and order and to help the Afghan people to rebuild their country. And this NATO force is led today by a French general, and we have an important contingent of troops in Kabul. That's number one: unity and the determination of the international community to bring a better future to the Afghan people while eradicating the terrorist groups and the Taliban.

The second reason in my view for such a success is our capacity to transfer immediately the responsibilities and the sovereignty in the hands of the Afghan people themselves. Even before the fall of Kabul, we had organized the Bonn Conference in Germany, and we had selected among all of us -- the U.N., the U.S., the Europeans, and of course Afghan actors -- an interim president, President Karzai, and the sketch of a government. So the day Kabul fells in the hands of the newcomers, the new Afghan forces and the coalition forces backed by the U.N., the Afghan people had a sense of empowerment. The Taliban were out, but President Karzai and an interim government was there. And it continued with a big assembly, the loya jirga, which negotiated for weeks, in a very lively way I must say, a constitution for the Afghan people. And on the basis of this constitution adopted by an Afghan assembly, the U.N. was in charge of organizing the electoral process, which was such a huge, huge success. And that's number two.

Number three, right from the beginning we had a clear idea of what we wanted to do -- a comprehensive plan to bring about democracy through elections but also to rebuild the country, and of course number one to establish security, a reasonable degree of security, through Operation Enduring Freedom led by the United States and ISAF in Kabul and around, led by NATO and today a French general.

So in my view these are the reasons for such a historic success. Now, of course nothing is perfect in this world, and there is a lot to do in front of us in Afghanistan. First, we have to organize free and fair elections, local elections, and elections of the National Assembly, parliament, next spring. And for that we have to maintain security to continue to eradicate the Talibans. They wanted to stop the electoral process. They were not successful, to say the least. We have to continue, and we have to also -- and that's the number one priority probably tomorrow -- eradicate also the drug, the poppy cultivation. Otherwise Afghanistan will become a narco-traffic state. We know what we have to do, and we will do it together.

I wanted to start with Afghanistan, because it's good to remind ourselves that we were together on 9/11, after 9/11, and we were very successful in Afghanistan. So in comparison what happened in Iraq: How come we are so successful in Afghanistan together, and how come the international community is still today so divided about Iraq? In fact, it started when? It started with a brilliant, important speech by President Bush in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 12th of September 2002. He proposed to the world to disarm Iraq, if possible without the use of force, through U.N. inspections, and if need be with the use of force. Everybody applauded. We had a goal: to disarm Iraq. And we started immediately to work hard on a resolution of the Security Council. It took eight weeks of good, hard work to adopt this. Resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously in November. That was our road map for a success story in Iraq.

So far, so good. At that moment I was transferred to Washington, and I discovered that the mood in Washington was somewhat different with the one in New York. End of November the U.N. inspections were deployed all over Iraq, and they immediately started to try to identify the stocks of arms of mass destruction, to clarify the ambiguities and the contradictions that we had about all the informations that we had in stock in the U.N. and from different agencies.

At that moment the U.S. started the massive deployment of American troops around Europe, and it was in a way a good idea, because it was sending to Saddam Hussein a very powerful message. This time it's serious business: no cheating -- no more cheating. If you don't comply with the U.N. inspections you will have to be confronted with the consequences; that is, the use of force.

But to send this powerful message, probably 50,000 troops would have been enough. The moment 300,000 troops were deployed around Iraq I felt -- and you felt probably in Washington -- the strong pressure to use them soon, fast. And the mood in New York was not at all the same, because the more American troops you had around Iraq, the more Saddam Hussein was cooperating with the U.N. inspections. And the more he was cooperating, the more results we had, the more clarifications we had.

You remember probably that for instance the U.N. inspectors asked for the destruction of missiles Al Samoud 2, because their range was going beyond what was the limit stressed by the U.N. And the Iraqi army destroyed these missiles.

So the mood was, thanks to the U.S. determination, the U.N. inspections are getting results. Day after day, week after week, we know better what is the situation on the ground. So let's continue this good work with the U.N. inspections. So that's the divorce if you will between the mood in Washington and the mood in the Security Council in New York. So you know what happened -- no need to go back.

And what I want to say today is that what is at stake today in Iraq is of major importance. Of course for the Iraqi people themselves they have the right to express their views about their own future, as the Afghan people just did last Saturday. What is at stake also is of major importance for the whole Arab and Muslim world, because Iraq would set an example, a good or a bad example. But even more important in our view as Europeans I would say that what is at stake is probably in Iraq the future of the relations between the Muslim world and the West. So we cannot fail in Iraq. And when I say "we," it is you and us. And France is prepared to help.

We have said time and again -- and I will repeat it today -- we will not send troops in Iraq, for one good reason: we don't think that to add more foreign troops to the existing contingents with the multinational force will solve the problem. On the contrary, it would reinforce the feeling of occupation at the very moment we should give the Iraqi people, as we did for the Afghan people, a sense of empowerment. But what we have proposed is to contribute to more security in Iraq through the training of gendarmerie -- that is a kind of military police. It is a French specialty, together with few of our European countries, and probably that is the best way for France to contribute to more security for the Iraqi people, which is obviously the number one priority today.

Now, one word about Europe. I want to say these words, because from time to time I read in American media that France, together with Germany and few others, would like to build the European Union as a kind of counterweight to American dominance. That is not true. Why are we today building the European Union? Well, just think what was our situation only two generations ago. After the Second World War there was a strong feeling of animosity, hatred, in Europe, and especially between the French and the Germans. For centuries our people were fighting each other. France invaded its neighbors time and again. We were invaded time and again. And great leaders decided that once and for all enough was enough, and what we had better things to do than to fight each other through wars. We had better things to do, and it was to make war impossible in Europe. That is the goal of the European Union: to make war impossible in Europe.

We started by pulling together our coal and steel industries, because guns are made of coal and steel. Then we added our nuclear energy, because bombs could be made of nuclear energy. And then we discovered that it was a great success story, and we could add to these developments a common market. And again it was a great success story. And through this process, all these years, we engaged into an enlargement process. We were six founding countries, but in '72 we enlarged our community, our family, to three newcomers, the U.K., Ireland, Denmark. Then we expanded to 10, 12, 15 countries. And during that period the common market was such a success that we needed a common currency, not to compete with the dollar but simply when you have a common market you need a common currency. Just think would the situation in the United States if you had one currency for Texas, one for California, one for New York State and New England. It wouldn't work. We had 15 currencies -- we needed one. And that is the reason why we have today the euro.

And this year, 2004, has been a year of two miracles for the Europeans. The first miracle is our expansion to 10 newcomers, most of them being Eastern Europe countries who only 15 years ago these countries, most of them, were part of the communist bloc. And three of them, the three Baltic states, were even part of the Soviet Union. And today they are part of our family of democracies and full members of the European Union. It is truly considered from a European perspective a very moving miracle.

But the second miracle came with the treaty, the constitutional treaty, our constitution. And I say it's a miracle, because we are not where you were in Philadelphia in 1787. You were starting a new country from scratch, but with one common idea, the enlightenment philosophy, a common will, independence, a common language, English. And the Founding Fathers had roughly a good idea of what they wanted to do and not to do. If you consider the 25 countries of the European Union all involved in this constitutional process, we had and still have roughly 2,000 years of different histories, cultures, and as I said more made of wars than peace, 21 different languages, different legal traditions with some countries with many constitutions -- France more than 20 constitutions in our history. Some countries without a constitution, at least a written constitution -- the U.K. And from all these different perspectives we had to agree together, 25 countries, on one text. The result is quite impressive. It's rather thick -- this thick. If you compare with your Constitution this thick it's not a major success. But if you compare with all the European treaties that will be replaced by this constitution, it is a great success.

Of course now it has been adopted by the 25 governments, but we need to get the approval, the ratification, either of the 25 parliaments or 25 people. In each country it is the sovereign choice of the country to decide whether the constitution will be approved by the parliament or a referendum. In France next year it will be a referendum. And during this period of course we will continue our move forward in terms of economic growth, reforms, but also expansion of the European Union towards newcomers. And you know that Bulgaria and Romania hope to join us in 2007; Croatia is on the way; Turkey will be notified -- a very important decision by the European Council -- in December. So all this shows a real dynamic. And the dynamic is still the same: We want to make war impossible forever in Europe.

Let me conclude these introductory remarks with a few comments about our relations, the French-American relations because, as David mentioned in a very diplomatic understatement, we've been through a kind of diplomatic storm. The weather is much better now, but still not exactly what I would call Indian summer. And we still have a lot to do. But let me present to you what is the situation in our relations as I see it.

If you look at the foreign affairs problems, of course we had a major difference of views about Iraq. Now we have to work together as I said. But, beyond Iraq, I see only reasons to celebrate our cooperation. We are together in the war or fight against terrorism, strongly united and determined to win this fight or war. Second, we are together, as I said, in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, where American and European troops are side by side to rebuild or build a country and see peace throughout the Balkans. We are together in Africa, to help African countries to rebuild after a period of deep crises. We are together in Haiti. And I could go on with this list. I see only one issue on which we had a strong problem, Iraq. All other issues were a matter of full cooperation in the best spirit of friendship.

But beyond foreign policy it's very important for you to understand that France is a major economic partner for the U.S. France is the second direct investor in the United States, after the United Kingdom, but before Germany or Canada or others -- or Japan. It represents 650,000 American jobs -- that's important. And even more important in our view: our shared values, liberty, democracy, market economy. We helped a little in your war for independence. In turn you saved us twice last century at the end of the First World War and at the end of the Second World War. And on the 6th of June this year we commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day. And for 60 million French it was a unique opportunity to tell so many American heroes who risked their lives and lost their lives for our freedom and the democracy in Europe. Thank you, America, we will never forget. And tonight I thank you. (Applause.)

David Calleo: Would you like to field your own questions, or should I do it?

Jean-David Levitte: Well, the floor is available to any questions. Or maybe you have a different rule?

David Calleo: Yeah. No, I think we can do that. There's a man back here in a blue jacket -- he's about to ask you a question.

Jean-David Levitte: Sure, any questions. Yes, please?

Question: How closely has the French Embassy and the French government been following the reporting of Bill Gertz of the Washington Times? I'm wondering if you found anything inaccurate in his reporting about the secret dealings of France and the Saddam Hussein government of Iraq before the war.

Jean-David Levitte: Yes. And frankly I will not comment on this or that journalist, but I want to say very clearly tonight that as a French ambassador I consider that during the last few weeks we've been a bit too much as -- France -- the punching bag of the electoral debate. I am a great admirer of American democracy. I am fascinated as an observer to follow the debates and the campaign, but I cannot accept to see France, the French citizens or French companies used as a tool in the campaign.

What you have in mind is an important U.N. program, oil-for-food. Oil-for-food was established at the request of the United States to feed starving Iraqi people, 22 million Iraqi. We together imposed sanctions on Saddam Hussein to impose disarmament on Saddam Hussein. But we discovered after four or five years that the real victims of this situation were the Iraqi people. So together we decided to impose on Saddam Hussein the obligation to sell his oil through a process monitored by the U.N., and then all companies from all over the world were invited to compete to feed the Iraqi people. That is oil-for-food -- that is the meaning. So American companies, as you can read in your favorite papers today, participated fully either in the sales of oil or in the sale of wheat or drugs to help the Iraqi people survive. And it was a good program. Now, was it perfect? Of course not. It was very difficult to feed 22 million Iraqi people with a number of controllers on the ground from New York, from the U.N.

Just imagine, for instance, during the Soviet era as if this plan had been established not in Moscow but in New York. From faraway we had to monitor the situation on the ground. And I think it's fair to say that the United Nations did their best. Was it perfect? Of course not. And Saddam Hussein of course cheated -- he cheated all the time. But it's very unfair to single out this or that citizen without even mentioning that this citizen denied having cooperated with the program or with Saddam Hussein. So I ask for more fairness in American media for not only France, but all those who are mentioned in your media. If you mention them, give them a chance to present their side of the story. You are a great democracy. You are also an example for the world in terms of free press. And it's important to maintain the highest standard in terms of presentation of very sensitive issues. And we have nothing to hide. And we had in Paris a few days ago, on the 7th of October, Paul Volcker. If there is a man in the United States who is respected by everybody, it is Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. And he is in charge of an inquiry. And this inquiry is mandated by the U.N., with the support of the United States. And he was in Paris to meet all those he wanted to meet. So let's give a chance to this inquiry, and let's not bash on this or that citizen, company or country without hearing their side of the story.

Yes?

Question: Thank you very much for an interesting talk. What I wanted to ask you about was your views on the Sudan. I'm interested to hear generally what those view are, but also more specifically whether or not you think that the situation there might eventually warrant some kind of intervention by the Euro Corps or by Europe in and of itself without the United States.

Jean-David Levitte: Yes, what you have in mind it's not Sudan, which is a huge country, but Darfur, I think, because you know that the American administration, the Bush administration, devoted a lot of time and energy to trying to solve -- and with success so far -- 30 years of conflict between the north, which is Muslim, and the south which is more or less Christian. But then erupted another crisis in Sudan in the western part, in Darfur. Here you have Muslim nomads and Muslim farmers, and through history difficulties of living together for these two populations. And it is true that the situation today in Darfur cannot be accepted, and we are fully involved on the effort of the international community -- in the Security Council, elsewhere -- to curb the violations of human rights, massive violations of human rights in Darfur. During months we had 200 French soldiers deployed on the border between Chad and Darfur to protect the refugee camps. During weeks we had rotations of our military planes to feed the people on the border, to help them. And we are fully on board with all the international efforts.

Now, should we send European troops or American troops? You have to know that the African Union has decided to send troops in Darfur -- observers and troops and policemen. And they want to make it the first success story of the new African Union. So it is very difficult to tell them, Hey, you are not good enough to try that. Let's go as Europeans or Americans -- we know better or we fight better. So what we will do, you and us, is to help the African Union forces -- police, observers, monitoring mechanism -- to succeed by providing logistical help to the Africans, because the Africans want to solve this problem themselves. And we have I would say a moral duty to help them to succeed. If they don't, then we'll go back to the Security Council and see how we can do a better job. But let's give a chance to the African Union to solve this problem with our logistical and financial support.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, I'm from WTOP Radio, the only station here. Given it's fair to say that relations between President Bush and your president aren't exactly warm, and polls showing that the level of antipathy that the French public in general have toward not the United States in general but perhaps its foreign policies, could you comment with just our elections three weeks away -- President Chirac has said virtually nothing about the upcoming election. How does he feel about he Bush-Kerry match-up, and what do you -- (laughter) -- I'm pretty sure I know what your answer will be, but can you comment on that? And how is your government sort of positioning itself in the event of a win by either candidate?

Thank you.

Jean-David Levitte: First, it is the privilege of each American to choose his or her president. And I'm not an American, and I have nothing to say in the electoral campaign.

Second, what is important for two friends and allies like the United States and France is to make sure that whatever the choice, your choice of the American people, we'll be in a position to work well together. That's my job, and that's also the job of my counterpart, the U.S. ambassador in Paris, Howard Leach. And this is the job also of the French government, but also the U.S. administration. And that's what we do. And during my introductory remarks, I did my best to explain that if we had different views about Iraq on all the other issues we worked well and we continue to work well. And it is important after November the 2nd to continue to do an even better job, if possible.

Now, let me say a few words about the feelings of the French about the American people, because time and again I read or heard on your media that there is a lot of anti-American feelings not only in France, but all over Europe. I don't think it is true. I mentioned the emotion that was perceptive, that was so visible and audible in France during the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of D-Day. And I think here you had the true feelings of the French people for the American people. We love the American people, and it's not a new development; it started with your war for independence. Lafayette was a perfect example of our feelings for the American people.

Now, one day Colin Powell said the United States and France have been in marriage counseling for more than 200 years. And it is true. We have two strong personalities. The American people have strong feelings, the French people have strong feelings. But it is a marriage, yes, and this marriage is strong. We have stormy weather from time to time, as I've said, but we are sharing the same values, and we have to build the 21st century together. We are confronted with the same threat: terrorism, the spread of arms of mass destruction. And if we are convinced of one thing, not only in France but in Europe, is that we will succeed only if we can maintain this close alliance which helped us to win the fight against communism during the decades of the Cold War. And today we have in front of us a new challenge, and let's succeed in confronting this new challenge together. So that's the mood in France.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for your speech. You mentioned that the only thing that the United States and France don't agree on is your war in Iraq. Perhaps you could also mention a couple of words about the WTO disputes between Airbus and Boeing.

Jean-David Levitte: Yes, of course. But you know we are two big market economies. And when I say two, it's the European Union on one side with Airbus and America on the other side. And there is a fierce competition, not only on planes, but on everything. That's market economy. And it's good for consumers, because the prices are going down. But in this globalized world what we need is good rules for the market economy, and precisely we have the World Trade Organization for that. So if Boeing considers that Airbus is benefiting too much from loans, subsidies, advance payments, they can start a discussion in WTO. That's what was done by my good friend Bob Zoellick a few days ago. Immediately his good friend Pascal Lame for the European Union launched a procedure against Boeing, because Boeing wants to build a new plane, the 7E7, with a lot of subsidies -- if I'm correct, $5 billion coming from Japan, because part of this plane will be built in Japan, but also from Washington State and Seattle city. So all this will be discussed quietly between professionals in WTO. That's the rule of the game. But it's a fair competition, and we have good rules and they will be implemented.

David Calleo: Let me ask the people in the back, if you would like to sit down, there are lots of seats up here. You look uncomfortable swinging around back there.

Jean-David Levitte: Yes.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your talk. Condoleezza Rice famously said during the whole fracas over a war that a global balance or power, or a multi-polar world led to the tragedy of World War I. Would you share that opinion? And, if not, do you see the future pole within the continent of Europe coming from Paris or Brussels?

(Laughter.)

Jean-David Levitte: What you have in mind is the French view about the slow emergence of a multi-polar world. We didn't invent that concept. And I'm sorry to say that in front of Professor David Calleo, but Professor Joe Nye, the dean, the former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, invented the idea of a multi-polar world, and it's there. It's there. We have in terms of economy -- and economy is so important -- America as a big pole with NAFTA; the European Union as another big pole and in a position to compete well. Airbus versus Boeing is a perfect example. But who can deny that Japan is also a powerful pole? China emerging fast, and tomorrow India, and maybe others will follow -- Brazil or Mercosur.

So in economic terms this 21st century is already organized as a kind of multi-polar economic world. Is it a disaster? No, it is not a disaster, provided we have good rules with WTO. Otherwise it would be the law of a jungle. In military terms the U.S. will be by far the dominant power, and it will last. And we don't want to compete as Europeans with the United States of America. What we want to achieve in Europe is a foreign policy supported by a defense instrument integrated. Why? Because it's very important to understand here that our parliaments don't want to put more money in defense. And for one good reason I explained that we are building a unity -- a union which makes war impossible in Europe. So why should we put more money at the moment when we don't see any more threat? But it's important to prepare for the future, the long-term future. And it's important also to have the European Union in a position to help -- to help beyond Europe, to help when need be. And for that it is a fact that if you go to the French parliament or the British parliament or the German parliament or the Slovene parliament, and if you say we want to build a defense for the European Union, then they are ready to play. They are ready to put in more money.

We don't want to build a huge defense system. What we want is to be in a position to do what we did last summer in the Congo for instance. In the Congo there was an emergency. The peace process in the Great Lakes region was on the verge of collapse. The U.N. had no troops available immediately. The American troops were occupied elsewhere. Who could do the job? And Kofi Annan said, Well, maybe France could help. And we said, Not alone. And then we come to our European partners, and we invented a European operation which was a success story. That's precisely what we have to do, what we have to prepare for.

Does it mean the end, the collapse of NATO? Of course not. Time and again I read that France, Chirac, wants to destroy NATO. If that was true, how can you explain that France is in charge of the two NATO operations which are now underway, the one in Kabul, Afghanistan, where you have General Py, a French general, in charge of this NATO operation; and the one in Kosovo where another French general is in charge, General de Kermabon, is in charge of this NATO operation. These are the two NATO operations, main NATO operations, under way. Why do we have these responsibilities? Because we have many troops on the grounds, and because there is a rule of rotation, and we are part of this rotating rule. We don't want to destroy NATO. NATO will remain the cornerstone of European and transatlantic security for the decades to come. That's our strong conviction.

But we also need to confront later crises here and there. A European force ready to act without delay: that's what we want to achieve.

Now last, but not least, you have the global problems -- AIDS, poverty, climate change, and so on and so forth. And here you don't have a bipolar world or a multi-polar world -- you have a global world. And we all know that to solve these global problems we need international institutions in good shape. And I say that because it's important in this country to understand that the U.N. is not your enemy. The U.N. is at your disposal to help. And you are very influential inside the U.N. You are by far the most powerful actor inside the U.N. institutions. And you need the U.N. when you want to solve the AIDS problem or the poverty problem, or the global problem of climate change, and so on and so forth. So that's the French world about the multi-polar world. And I hope that having heard me you will consider that this is not an act of aggression against the United States of America.

Yes?

Question: Mr. Ambassador, I had a question about Turkey. It seems to me that the French government is split on this thing, I think Minister Sarkozy and the prime minister, Raffarin, being against it, when President Chirac and I think Dominique de Villepin are for it. And it seems to be the same in the Socialist Party. What is the official position of France on the accession?

Jean-David Levitte: President Chirac said time and again -- and for 30 years now -- that France is in favor of full membership of Turkey in the European Union. Having said that, we have to look at the facts, and Turkey is not a little country. Let's put aside the question of Islam, because that is not the question in this debate. First, Islam is the second religion in France. We have five million Muslims living in France. Second, most probably other Muslim countries will join the European Union before Turkey -- for instance, Albania -- Albania is a Muslim country -- no debate -- no debate because Albania is a small country and it's easy to absorb the shock of the expansion towards Albania, like Bulgaria, and so on.

Turkey is a different story. Turkey has now more than 70 million inhabitants. The process, if the discussion goes well, will last for 10, 15 years. It's not an anomaly. It's always a very long process when you want to become a member of the European Union, because you have to follow what we call the Acquis Communitaire -- 300 laws and so on. So it's a long process. But at the end of this process Turkey will be by far the most populace country of the family -- probably 100 million inhabitants. And if you look at our constitution, the one I mentioned, it means that according to the rules set by the constitution, Turkey alone will have half of the minority blocking power. That is let me explain it in American terms. It is as if California alone could have half of the votes required in the House or the Senate to block any decision. So it's not a little problem.

Money -- money is important too in our daily life. The first evaluation shows that the cost of membership of Turkey will be as important as the 10 newcomers -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and so on and so forth together. That's another big problem. So these are the problems which will have to be addressed.

We have now the recommendation of the commission. The council of head of state and government will meet mid-December to decide. And if they decide to open the door to the negotiating process, then a negotiation will start. And my concluding remark on this very important issue is that you should give time to time. What seemed impossible only 10 years ago is now a fact of life. What seems to be difficult today -- membership of Turkey -- maybe will slowly evolve and become a fact of life. I say that -- just think of the euro. Just 15 years ago nobody was considering the euro as a possibility for a long-term future. Now 300 million Europeans have the euro in their pockets. So time is of the essence on European affairs.

Yes?

Question: Yes, thank you. I'll be happy to ask you a question about the religion freedom, both in Europe and the U.S. It seems like we both recognize it of course, but we have a different way of implementing it -- not only implementing it, but even from the role it has in the political arena is much more significant than in Europe. And in your views, what can we do to actually help both Europeans and Americans understand the difference in the issue instead of keeping on criticizing each other about it?

Jean-David Levitte: Yes, I think it's very important to organize quiet dialogue on this societal issues. You mentioned religion -- I could add the death penalty. You have the death penalty -- not everywhere in the United States. We should accept that. I say that because in Europe it is criticized. But we forget that only 20 years ago also we had the death penalty -- in France and all over Europe. So who are we to give lessons to our friends in America.

It's the same thing for religious freedom. It is as important in Europe as it is in the United States, but we have different traditions. And for France you have to understand that for centuries we had religious wars -- massacres between Catholics and Protestants. And when we decided to become in a rather brutal way a republic, we decided also to adopt a separation between the state and religion. Before that the religion of the king was the religion of all citizens. After that, being a republic, we decided to protect the religious freedom of all minorities, and we were the first country in Europe to give not only religious freedom but equal status as citizens to the minorities; that is, the Protestants and the Jews at the time. But we had a big debate about school, because the programs were based on Christianism, Catholicism. So slowly we separated these two and we adopted one century ago, in 1905, a law of strict separation of religion and public schools. Public schools no religion -- religion being a private matter.

And then it worked well, but we had a problem, because slowly in two generations an important Muslim minority coming from Maghreb countries -- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia -- became an actor, and we had in our schools around 2,000 -- not much -- but 2,000 girls wearing veils. But this was the most obvious problem. But there were other problems. For instance, the parents said, We want separate classes for boys and girls. And for us teaching boys and girls together is a basic principle of our public schools. It's equality. And the parents wanted only female doctors for their girls, and no gym for their girls, and so on and so forth. So what was at stake in this debate was the very basis, foundation, of our public schools, our republican values.

So President Chirac decided to establish a commission with all the religions represents, and unanimously this commission decided to recommend the reaffirmation of our law of 1905 -- not change, but reaffirmation. That is, in our public schools no place for religion. And it was adopted in the form of a law massively by 90 percent of the two chambers, the Senate and the House.

And it works. And we have to do a better job in France in terms of integration of our Muslim minority. We know it. It is a big challenge for French society, simply because in only two generations -- less than two generations -- we have this massive immigration, with concentration of Muslim population in impoverished suburbs. To compare with the United States, it is as if in 40 years or so you had the immigration of 25 million Muslims in the United States -- just to give you a comparison with our population. And we have problems with some elements of the second generation Muslims, and we know what we have to do is to offer them a better future; that is, a good place for Muslims in France, for Islam in France -- almost. We have now an overarching organization representing all the Muslims in France. We are building schools to train French imams, because so far we are importing all our imams, and those coming from Algeria and Morocco and Tunisia are the most extremist -- not because these three countries want to create difficulties in France, but they don't want to have these imams at home. So they offer these imams to the French republic. And we prefer now -- and we will do so -- to have schools to train French imams with great knowledge of Islam of course, but also our republican traditions, and so on and so forth.

Now, living in the United States I know how important religion is in your daily life. Just to give you -- and that's my final comment on this question -- a comparison. If I read correctly your polls, 40 percent of American citizens are going to church or mosque or synagogue once a week. In Europe -- not only in France, in Europe -- it's only 5 percent. So we are in a very different situation. We have to accept that as a fact of life, and we have to engage into a dialogue to better understand how come we are so different sharing the same values.

Yes?

Question: Ambassador, two questions for you, if you will allow me. I'm wondering if you see any lessons learned, the United States on the one hand and Europeans should draw from the Iraqi chapter of the relationship, and if you have any concrete suggestions of what --

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte: Can you speak a little louder?

Question: And if you have any suggestions what the United States and Europeans should do in the future to avoid such disagreements?

And the question number two is if you could comment on the current development in Russia on the President Putin. And I'm wondering whether your government is ready to evaluate its policy toward Moscow. Thank you.

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte: Thank you very much. Of course we have to do a better job in the future, and try to prevent this kind of clash which happened on Iraq. We all know that. If I had to draw a lesson from this bitter experience, I would say the lesson is let's hear in a better way the views of the other side. It's very important that we can organize our dialogues, and not only between the U.S. and France, but between Europe and the United States, in a better way. When I described this divorce during winter and first few months of 2003, I considered it a disaster, such a situation. And there was a moment when the dialogue was not possible any more. And that's where we have to draw a lesson. The lesson is as friends and allies we can never accept to be in such a situation unless there is an imminent threat. Of course if there is an imminent threat against the U.S. or France you have no time for consultations. You have to react. Everybody understands that.

Our view is that in spring 2003 there was not certainly imminent threat. Maybe you can disagree on that, but the lesson we draw in France from this frustrating moment is that dialogue and dialogue is absolutely key to solve our differences as true friends and allies.

Now, on Russia, let's understand from where Russia comes and what are the problems of Russia. We are old democracies, and we still are in the learning process. Russia was a democracy only between 1905 and 1917 maybe. And you can discuss that. But they have no long-term experience of democracy. So they are discovering, inventing their own way to implement democratic values. And they are doing so while they are confronted with two problems: the first one is that the state structure generated from the communist rules and days collapsed, and Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Putin, had to deal with a situation where you had practically no state and no budget for the state. And so the first priority -- not only for Putin, but for the Russian people -- is to rebuild the state structures.

The second difficulty of course is terrorism. You may have different views about the situation in the Caucasus, in Chechnya, in Ossetia, and so on and so forth. But it is a fact that Beslan was a criminal act committed in cold blood to kill children -- massively. No government on earth can accept that without a strong reaction. So, please, let's understand what is the situation in Russia today before we blame them. Of course nothing is perfect in France -- certainly not. In Russia certainly not. But let's have everyone's view about the situation before we condemn.

Yes?

Question: Thank you. I have two questions, two different regions of the world, first the Balkans. I'd be interested in, since you said the purpose of the European Union is to prevent war in Europe, what you see the way ahead with regard to Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia is. And my other question, another part of the world is China: Does the French government support the need to promote democracy in China by supporting democracy in Taiwan or does France believe that commercial interests are paramount and that arms sales to mainland China should be permitted?

Thank you.

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte: First, the Balkans.

When I said that the goal of the European Union is to make war impossible in Europe, let's recognize that we failed miserably in former Yugoslavia -- Bosnia, Kosovo. We succeeded with Macedonia. We sent with the U.S. a force to prevent a collapse of Macedonia. But Kosovo and Bosnia are two interesting examples, because for once it was the Europeans who wanted to go to war, and especially the U.K. and France. At the time I was the diplomatic advisor of President Chirac, and I remember vividly that it was not so easy to convince President Clinton to go to war for Bosnia and for Kosovo, and for good reasons. You don't have any strategic interests in Bosnia and in Kosovo. But precisely we had long discussions, and at the end of the day we were in agreement, strong agreement, and NATO was key to solve the war in Bosnia. And then we had the Dayton Accord, and to win the war in Kosovo. But slowly this role of NATO is being replaced by a leading role for the European Union in terms of police and now in terms of troops. And I'm pretty sure that the war is over in former Yugoslavia once and for all, because these people understand that their future is in Europe. And to open the door of the European Union they have to follow what I call the acquis communitaire.

What is the meaning of a border that is between Serbia and Kosovo or Serbia and Montenegro or Bosnia and Serbia when your future is to dismantle all the borders? That's their future, because that's our present. When you want to go from Paris to Berlin, you don't need a passport. It's like going from New York to Chicago. So if you explain what is the future to these people, they don't need a border, they don't need a currency -- the euro will be their currency. They don't need to invent strong structures, because they will be part of the European structures and so on and so forth.

So I am very optimistic about the Balkan region, even if it is still fragile, even if we will have from time to time confrontations between this and that population.

  • Now, China.

Of course we are in favor of democracy in China, as we are in favor, as you do, of democracy all over the world. Now, I am supposed to be a specialist of China. I speak Chinese. I lived in China 30 years ago for some years during the Cultural Revolution. Let me say from my personal experience that if you compare freedom, liberties, market economy, in the days of the Cultural Revolution and today it is a totally different world. Now young Chinese are on the Internet freely -- of course you may say there are restrictions and so on -- not so much. They are traveling in the country. The economy is moving, and so on and so forth. And my personal conviction is that you cannot deal a strong market economy competing so well in the world, this globalized world, without building at the same time, even without knowing democratic values, because market economy brings democracy. You cannot build a successful company in a globalized world if you don't travel, if you cannot call on the phone freely, and so on and so forth -- if you don't have a bank account, if you don't have -- and so on and so forth.

So if I compare with only 20 years ago, it's a different China. And what we want between China and Taiwan -- and you know that we, as you do, consider it one country -- is a peaceful solution of their differences. And my view is that slowly this convergence of the economies, with Taiwan investing so heavy in mainland China, this convergence will have results in the two different regimes, because they will slowly converge.

We can have one more question -- perhaps a last question.

Mr. Calleo: If we don't, I have a couple of historical observations. I mean, one is that I suspect Napoleon would be delighted to hear that there will be a new Grande Ecole for Imams. And the second is that even though you -- it's very nice of you to give so much credit to my friend Joe Nye. You should not forget your own colleague Tallirand had something to say about multi-polarity.

Anyway, I'm delighted that this tradition of ours is alive and well, and thank you very much for continuing it.

Ambassador Jean-David Levitte: Thank you. It was a great privilege to be with you tonight. Thank you very much.

(Applause.)


 


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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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