FOB Interview: Michèle Alliot-Marie. Part two.

 

General Desportes explained at the beginning of the year in an article in Libération that « enshrining nuclear capabilities » ended up being his downfall. What do you think about that?

Either you have nuclear weapons or you don’t. If you have them, as a force for deterrence, they have to be credible. You do that in particular by continually improving them, which is expensive. Our diplomatic standing is also linked to our ability to maintain an instrument of this kind. Finally, now with Iran developing its own capabilities, is this really the time to reduce our ability to deter? I don’t think so…

Nuclear forces are criticized as a financial burden that cuts into the Defence department’s resources…

When you question the cost of nuclear weapons, you are implicitly accepting to reduce their financial baseline. I don’t think that’s the right question. It would be wiser to ask ourselves how much European countries are willing to spend on their defence. I was the first to call for taking the Defence budget out of the 3% budget deficit baseline. It is quite paradoxical that France, which very regularly has to get involved to rescue the citizens of European countries who do nothing in terms of defence, is then criticized by these same countries for having a budget deficit that is without a doubt due, in part, to its military forces…

Do you think that the land army industries are less capable of defending their cause than the aerospace industry is of defending itself?

Aerospace industries are more capable of profiting both from civil and military market openings and taking advantage of dual technologies. This is an important element that enables them to use their research services more effectively. But I would like to temper my statement with the example of the army’s Félin program, which showed that manufacturers know how to cooperate to provide innovative systems for ground force deployments. In fact I think the danger comes from the fact that for years now, we have tended to forget about entire swaths of the arms industry.

For example?

The example of small caliber munitions is especially striking: as minister, I was there for the end of this track in France. I also regretted the fact that we were stripped of some of our manufacturing capabilities. First of all, this can make us dependent on other countries for our supplies, and then some of these countries aren’t always in control of their exports…I tried to push for a return of production by medium and small French companies, but it will be hard to go back now because the necessary investments are very large… And then, many conflicts in the world don’t correspond to sophisticated equipment needs.

You were there then at the end of the small caliber track. Were you there for the beginnings of Louvois?

They were talking about it as a project while I was minister. It didn’t seem very cutting-edge…

Your time at the Ministry also coincided with the launch of the Neuron drone program…

That’s right. I authorized the launch of that program. In this area as in the others, I am not very favorable to buying off the rack. I also don’t want us to be dependent for some equipment on countries with very restrictive policies with respect to the use and transfer of technology.

For the Male drone, that’s the solution we’re turning to…

I can understand why we would buy off the rack as a matter of transition. But behind this question, there is the whole dilemma of European defence that remains. To a great extent, we have moved away from this point since 2007, and that’s especially true for the European Defence Agency, which I had supported a great deal and which was supposed to be the start of a European arms industry policy. Germany and Great Britain were rather reticent, but several other countries were ready to move forward: in 2005/2006 we laid the foundations for a program where everyone could benefit from a common pool of research funds.

Europe was absent during the combat in Mali. Are you in favor of military intervention?

On a military level, I supported this operation. It succeeded thanks to the expertise of our armed forces, which always have a lot of skin in the game. In fact, last May 6th, I was at the Invalides for the national ceremony to honor master corporal Stéphane Duval of the 1er RPIMa, killed on April 29th in Mali. But on the diplomatic front, this operation was totally improvised. We left without having thought out the end of the crisis, and the result is that the situation in Mali is not resolved and remains very complicated: the Tuareg problem hasn’t been resolved, nor has the question of trafficking of all kinds, including drugs and arms…

How did you predict the situation in Mali will evolve?

Today we don’t want to face the fact that many of those we fought melted back into the population and are still present in the country. How are African troops or the United Nations going to relieve French forces? Often in the past, France had to intervene to rescue United Nations forces…So I have to say that this makes me pretty worried for the future. As for the insistent attitude of the President of the Republic regarding holding elections in July, it reveals a certain short-sightedness on the situation in the country and its material resources for carrying them out.