«France in an Age of Geopolitical Upheaval»

Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be in Washington, one of the very few cities that, surprisingly enough, I had not visited on my own since I became Minister of Foreign Affairs two years ago. The reason is obviously not lack of interest. On the contrary, French-American relations have reached a high point, and our exchanges are extraordinarily intense. The reason I never came is that John Kerry is nearly never here. I was able to catch him in his office at the State Department this morning, but he seemed surprised. Generally our meetings take place in more exotic places like Paris, so it was only time that I repay him the visit.

I’m also happy to be at Brookings, an institution which has blossomed under your leadership. In the late 1990s, Phil Gordon, now President Obama’s adviser for the Middle East, created the Center on the US and France, which later grew into the Center on the US and Europe. Since then, exchanges with French scholars have been sustained. We will make sure it continues.

Let me start this address by a rather dark but hardly surprising assessment. We live in dangerous times because the pillars of the international order are increasingly being questioned. It is not just that the world has grown more complex and interdependent. Although certainly true, that was the story of the two previous decades. The novelty is that various taboos of international life are being broken, making the world more chaotic.

In the Middle East, the taboo against chemical weapons has been shattered by the Assad regime. Next door, Iran is challenging the nuclear non-proliferation taboo, already broken by North Korea. Moral taboos are under stress as well. In Syria, a barbaric regime is using mass crimes and famine to prolong its hold on power. In Africa, the specter of genocide has come back in the Central African Republic or South Sudan.

In Europe, the taboo of State sovereignty and territorial integrity – a cornerstone of world order – was violated by Russia when it annexed Crimea. It is troubling and dangerous to see Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, undermine its international commitments and ignore its role of guarantor of Ukrainian integrity, offered in exchange for Kiev renouncing nuclear weapons in 1994. That contributes to making the non-proliferation taboo less relevant.

These broken taboos reveal something about our world. They tell us of tectonic shifts happening, even though we don’t know yet their full scope:

- On one side, emerging countries are increasingly asserting themselves. Don’t get me wrong: this is a positive trend and a natural process by which great countries such as China and India regain the central place they had for centuries. It would therefore be pointless and counterproductive to try and resist this evolution. But it is true that those countries need to share the responsibilities in sustaining the international order. We see greater contribution by China to African security or the Iranian proliferation issue, and we commend India’s leadership in peacekeeping operations. But we have not yet reached a point where emerging powers would be full-fledged providers of common goods.

- The United States and Europe had been the main purveyors of stability over the past two decades, whether in the Balkans or in Africa. But they have largely turned inwards since the 2008 financial crisis. In your country, war fatigue has made the public reluctant to get dragged in international crises, while the Euro crisis focused the attention European leaders on «domestic» issues. This conjunction created a sort of vacuum, in which, to put it briefly, there is no stabilizing power nor any sufficient regulation to address crises. I am aware that the long-time promotion by France of a multipolar world raised suspicion in the past that it was just a way to contest American centrality in international relations. But we have moved beyond those theological debates as we are now all confronted with what I call a zero-polar world. We need to address this situation with pragmatic solutions.

In this context of geopolitical upheaval and – relatively speaking - power vacuum, France has done its best to adapt and develop a strategy, both to address immediate challenges and to shape a sustainable world system. Indeed, the risk is to play the fireman and treat international crises as a succession of emergencies without being able to reduce their occurrence or to see the larger picture. We need to anticipate more, and change the conditions in which the future itself will be written. That’s why, under the leadership of the French President François Hollande, I have determined four major lines of long-term action for the French diplomacy, which can each be summed up in one word: peace, planet, Europe and growth. Due to time constraints, I won’t go into developing each of those axes, but I would like to give concrete illustrations for each of them:

- First, peace. France has been on the forefront of international response to crises and challenges over the past 2 years. We have been side by side with the EU, our American friends and NATO allies on a host of issues, jointly addressing proliferation challenges in Iran and the Korean peninsula, crises in the Middle East or terrorism in Africa. Sometimes, France had to take the initiative on its own to cope with emergency situations. That was the case in Mali when al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups threatened to march on the capital. A swift reaction was necessary, and after we helped our Malian friends, with African support, to reconquer their own country, we assisted them in organizing successful elections and setting up a process of reconstruction.

In the Central African Republic, six months ago, disintegration and large-scale religious tensions were threatening lives, and here again, we acted swiftly. In both cases, a UN peacekeeping operation has been approved to take over French and African efforts.

Yet, although we intervened in Africa twice last year, we see each intervention as another collective failure to build robust African capacities. It is for Africans first to take care of Africa’s security. Last December, France committed to supporting the establishment of African rapid deployment capacities. The EU Africa Summit in April echoed this commitment. This morning, John Kerry and I decided to increase our joint efforts to this end.

- Then the planet. This covers two dimensions. First, global governance, of which the UN is a pillar. In line with our commitment to international law and multilateralism, we always care to act under the aegis of the United Nations, which remains the key source of international legitimacy. The problem is that the UN Security Council is increasingly paralyzed in the face of mass atrocities. That’s why we suggested the adoption of a code of conduct to refrain from using veto when mass crimes are committed. This would be a voluntary and collective agreement by the 5 permanent members. We are now discussing it with partners, starting with the US, with a view to raising the issue during next UN General Assembly. We are not naïve: it will be very difficult, but we are not ready to accept UN paralysis. Our goal is to put this question on the agenda of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations in 2015.

The planet also means, very concretely, our very survival. We are on the edge of a climatic abyss: if the current trend continues, the rise of temperatures may not be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2° Celsius) above pre-industrial levels, but might reach 7 to 9°F (4-5°C), which would be catastrophic. In this context, the UN Conference on climate change which will take place next year in Paris is a top-priority. The goal is to achieve a post-2020 agreement that should include all countries and be legally binding.

This is ambitious, but there are glimmers of hope. Compared with Copenhagen, climate denial is less audible. The latest US report on climate change was a wake-up call. It demonstrates President Obama’s personal commitment on this issue. The business community is also moving. The shift is not limited to the developed world. China knows it has to act, and it is acting. I discussed it in depth with Chinese leaders. African states are committing to sustainable development strategies. Brazil and South Africa have set ambitious environmental targets. The way to Paris is not easy but it is indispensable and doable.

Third comes Europe. I am aware of the interrogations, and sometimes skepticism in this country about the future of the EU. It its true that the Euro crisis was so serious that, at some stage, the whole fabric of the EU appeared to be in jeopardy. But, by and large, we have overcome this challenge and moved towards a stronger integration. We are now working towards rapidly achieving a banking union and better governance of the Euro Area. We are putting forward new initiatives for a common energy policy and for better collective action in support of economic growth, particularly in the industrial sector.

Beyond this, the main question is whether Europe genuinely wants to be a power and if its nations are ready to share a part of their sovereignty to do so. We, the French, with others, believe that Europe can and must follow this path and we are working to improve our cooperation. Of course, European states will not disappear. But we must strengthen our collective action. We actively take part in all EU peace operations. We also provide reassurance to fellow EU member States when needed, as when we recently sent jet fighters and surveillance planes in Lithuania and Poland or by supporting Estonia in cyber-defense. We are propping up cooperation with Germany: a few weeks ago, I travelled with M. Steinmeier to Moldova and Georgia in order to demonstrate European commitment in the face of Russian pressure. We then continued our journey to Tunisia to express European support to the political transition in this country. The «Weimar triangle» adds Poland to the French-German engine. In this format, we pushed through an agreement in Ukraine in February, which paved the way to changing the situation in Kiev and avoiding a civil war. The first achievement of the European Union is peace in Europe. The Ukraine crisis is a useful reminder that peace is something that should not be taken for granted, even on European soil.

Last but not least, economic growth and renewal. A country that loses economic strength will sooner or later be weakened on the world scene. Its ability to act and follow through will be questioned. While committing to a policy balancing fiscal consolidation with pro-growth measures, we are undertaking structural reforms. We need to invest more to boost competitiveness and spend less to reduce deficits. We are working to give more oxygen to the French economy. That also implies more efficiency on the part of government. We are particularly focusing on supporting French exports and on attracting in France more investments, more business, more tourists, and more students. Since 2012, I have committed myself to these goals. In this spirit, the perimeter of my ministry has been enlarged to include foreign trade and investments as well as tourism.

Before I conclude, I would like to briefly mention what I consider to be two preconditions of success in this strategy:

- Strengthening the Transatlantic relationship is necessary. That’s why, besides the economic impact, France is committed to searching for a balanced and ambitious TTIP agreement. This is a complex negotiation and I am aware of the debates on both sides of the Atlantic, but both sides need to move forward.

- Getting the emerging powers on board. We often meet with the same difficulty: they consider that the international order is biased in favor of «the West». We might disagree but we have to take into account this perception. It’s especially true with China, a Security Council permanent member and nuclear-weapons State with a GDP equal to all other BRICS, Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia combined. Like it or not, China is a country we have to work with, without being naïve but with an open mind. That’s why China is a top priority of the French diplomacy, with a view to increased cooperation within the UN and G20 and also on the ground with concrete initiatives in Africa. Since I am in office, I’ve been there 8 times. We also attach a high priority to strengthening our already dense strategic partnership with India.

Let me stress as a final word that French-American cooperation is more necessary than ever to build up a sustainable world order for the 21st Century. We need to do more together and to mobilize our partners to do more with us. Thank you.