Fifteenth Ambassadors’ Conference / Speech by Foreign Minister Kouchner

Fifteenth Ambassadors’ Conference/French Foreign Policy

Paris, CCI, International Conference Center

Speech by the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Bernard Kouchner

Paris, August 27, 2007

Our paths merge at last!

They have often crossed as we met and ran into each other over the years.

Now today we are brought together, by an improbable turn of fate and the decision of the President of the Republic, together with Secretaries of State Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Jean-Marie Bockel and Rama Yade.

I am aware of the differences between us, the wealth of differences between you - on the right, on the left and elsewhere, Europeanists, sovereignists, realists, Westphalians, multilateralists and human rights and humanitarian activists. But I am also aware, beyond these differences, of what brings us together and of what we must communicate to the French: a taste for the world and pride in France.

Today’s diplomacy is forged in the intellect, talent, culture and tradition that you epitomise, and even more in action. It must address the most pressing issues in the most difficult regions: it is there that France’s voice must be heard, without being forgotten elsewhere. I am familiar with all the truths and clichés that are bandied about concerning the real influence of our country. We recognise the importance of the economy and we know that Asia is a major continent and that soon China will be one of the two leaders. We realise that our finances are unfortunately limited and that we are a medium-sized power.

But I also know that we remain, and must remain, a major player in the world arena, a permanent member of the Security Council. From Latin America to the heart of Africa, in Europe and in Asia alike, in the murkiest and most dangerous situations, we are called on. We must respond to these summons without neglecting other matters, routine or otherwise. We cannot disappoint. It is in crises, with their attendant problems and suffering, that we best defend out values. It is there that we will be useful to the international community that we wish to serve, there, that we will be able to move forward with the European Union, to persuade and to lead the way.

This morning we heard the President of the Republic spell out the major issues that we face and his approach to addressing them. The framework for our action has been clearly sketched out. I would like, in introducing this conference, to discuss with you the concepts underpinning our diplomacy and the suitability of our instruments.


Let us not get sidetracked into arcane analysis. We know that there is only one valid approach: to examine the reality on the ground - the daunting test - where French diplomacy is built and where its effectiveness is constantly challenged.

On the ground. A nice word, on the ground. Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, you are the reality on the ground. It is made up of your initiative, your political insight, your determination and your courage.

To examine the reality on the ground, I will base myself on a recent example: my trip to Iraq. I choose this example in order to try to derive from this major crisis a number of observations that sum up many of the challenges we face in that country and elsewhere. These questions can serve to guide your subsequent discussions.

- In Iraq we are taking risks.

In Baghdad I saw at first hand the heroic conditions in which our Ambassador, his colleagues and the gendarmes responsible for their safety are working, outside the green zone.

There, in the middle of the city disfigured by chaotic concrete walls, with sirens wailing after attacks and fear in the eyes of the people in the street, France remains present, standing with the population, in the thick of events. I know that the same is true in Beirut and Kabul and in many other postings where our Ambassadors and staff work in difficult conditions, remaining at their posts where others have fled.

I wish to commend their dedication and their bravery, and I wish to commend the morale and enthusiasm of the young people I come across here in this Ministry, in the halls of the Quai d’Orsay, who are ready to take up the torch and are passionately committed to the diplomacy of France, wanting our country’s voice to be better heard. This presence, here and there, my friends, is the first risk that you are taking. Taking a risk is the first step in taking action. Risk, including the risk of failure, is by nature productive. Let us never forget that.

In Iraq, first and foremost, people are suffering. I went to Baghdad to listen to the Iraqis, to convey to the people and the leadership a message of solidarity. It is difficult to tell what may come of this visit. But I know that this human approach - the first underpinning of policy - was appreciated. We must bear in mind that people have to take precedence over ideas or institutions. That is, perhaps, an answer to the questions being asked about France’s role in the world.

To say this is not to sketch out a diplomacy of compassion, an exclusively humanitarian approach, a human rights lament appropriate to tragic situations; rather it is an attempt to sketch out a diplomacy of outreach focused on citizens and societies.

In Iraq we are confronted with the issue of power. Another question, to again refer to Baghdad, relates to “power”. With a civil war raging and the country at risk of breaking up, military power alone, which was effective in bringing down Saddam Hussein, is ineffective, unable to involve the Iraqis in solving their own problems.

It is insufficient to restore security, the key to confidence and to reconstruction. It cannot do anything about real walls, let alone the walls that exist in the heads of the population and their leaders. On the contrary, military power strengthens these walls.

And it leads, in Iraq as in the Balkans and Afghanistan, to what is now called asymmetric conflict - a few weeks or months of conventional fighting, followed by years of crisis management. And that doesn’t even touch on the most difficult part: the hypothetical way out of the chaos, the potential for rebuilding a country and its institutions.

Do not get me wrong: I am not saying that military power is no longer necessary and important, nor am I suggesting that the use of force is doomed from the outset to be ineffective. I know that armies and diplomacy work closely together.

I am simply stressing the dangers that arise when force is not part and parcel of a political strategy. Many recent developments have confirmed this: in Iraq, the United States is getting bogged down; in Afghanistan, NATO is being severely tested.

It is not enough to express power without a political dimension. Policy must always come first - a human policy, respectful of others, of those who do not resemble us. And policy, Ladies and Gentlemen, is up to you. It is built on your ability to analyse, to understand, to project, to anticipate.

While the world in which we live and work is more and more uncertain, this diplomatic alchemy is steadily becoming more important. States are being weakened and there is an increasing number of players to be reckoned with - networks, diasporas, the media, the Internet, NGOs, miscellaneous non-state actors, and also intellectuals; they all question our conventional diplomatic practice based on relations between sovereign States.

This does not mean, however, that we should as a matter of principle reject the traditional balance of power. This is, I believe, one of the great issues facing the European Union. It is crucial that we develop a common security and defence policy specific to Europeans, and this requires a common body of doctrine. The President of the Republic mentioned this morning the extension of the European Security Strategy of 2003, which requires determination to strengthen our capabilities and a commitment to legitimate intervention. These are the essential parameters for the development of the European Security and Defence Policy and, more broadly, the external action taken by the Union.

But we must, meanwhile, join the networks and discussion groups, make ourselves felt in battle of ideas, strengthen our support for research institutions, foster the emergence of think tanks - in short, conduct a diplomacy of outreach tailored to the new challenges. Let me get back to Iraq. During my stay in Baghdad, the considerable influence of the Arab and American television networks was brought home to me. For lack of a powerful and coherent French audiovisual presence, our voice is not getting a sufficient hearing.

The fragmentation of our external audiovisual system, its lack of coherence, resources and visibility should be subjected to a comprehensive review. I call for us to arrive, by the end of the year, at a concerted proposal for an architecture bringing together the operators - TV5, France 24, RFI - and mobilising them to achieve new objectives, such as a large common web portal.

Baghdad, again. I went there on the occasion of the anniversary of the attack on 19 August 2003 against the headquarters of the UN, which claimed the lives of 22 people, including my friend Sergio Vieira de Mello and three people with whom I had worked closely in Kosovo, Nadia Younès, Fiona Watson and Jean-Sélim Kanaan. There again, beyond the painful symbol, this attack cannot help but raise the issue of the role of the UN and beyond it the multilateral approach to crises.

The attack of 19 August showed that the United Nations, the only legitimate representative of the entire international community, is now a target among others. The increased activity of the UN in Iraq, which the Security Council has at last called for and which we are determined to support, remains dependent on security conditions and is by no means a miracle solution. The powerlessness of the UN is our own powerlessness. The successes of the UN are our successes.

Against that backdrop, how can we practice effective multilateralism in tandem with a stronger, more coherent European policy? How can 27 countries take decisions on such difficult issues, and how can the decisions be implemented? We must find answers to these questions. Iraq also brought home to us the difficulty that Europe has in expressing a foreign policy with a single, determined and bold voice. And this is not the fault of Javier Solana, quite the contrary. We see this difficulty in one of the main challenges in Europe today, Kosovo. We must beware of European disunity on this emblematic and difficult issue.

Beyond that, I am convinced that the new European treaty is a very great step forward.

Getting back to Iraq: the example of Iraq also illustrates the change that has taken place in the scope in which we traditionally operate. Diplomacy has traditionally been based on a fundamental distinction between the national and the international spheres. But today it is a truism that globalisation has broadly called into question the concept of borders, especially with regard to the challenge of terrorism. Hence the arc of crisis has been extended in the Middle Eastern landscape. Crises that were previously relatively disconnected are now linked: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, Lebanon, and so on. We know that these conflicts are fuelling each other and that the solutions to them will be linked.

In Lebanon, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, where tensions between communities are bit-by-bit undermining the necessary sense of national unity, what can we do to enable it to survive in the face of day-to-day barbarity? Can we force people to live together? How can we help to restore bonds between those who no longer wish to do so?

Of course, it is sometimes helpful to disregard borders, when solidarity and human rights transcend States. Interference, a French invention, has now been codified and accepted by the United Nations, which has re-named it “the responsibility to protect”. How can we, today, put that concept into practice?

Other issues involve democracy and human rights. For the Iraqi communities liberated from the yoke of Saddam Hussein, is the current chaos the result of a policy based on the rights of peoples? Is respecting people and fighting for their rights compatible with an effective policy?

Unfortunately there is a risk that human rights and political pluralism may be seen by some as part of a Western crusade. A policy focused on human rights cannot help but be more demanding and more complex. We will be discussing this tomorrow afternoon at the plenary with Rama Yade.

But in concluding these thoughts I do not wish to leave you with an impression of resignation and powerlessness to address the world’s burning issues. We, the French and the Europeans, have major cultural, economic, technological and military assets at our disposal.

Consequently I wish to take up a second series of questions concerning our diplomatic corps, its relevance and the resources available to it. Here too, I will not undertake a complex analysis to beat about the bush. We should address the most disturbing issue directly, the question that you ask yourselves every day: “Do we have the resources to achieve our purposes?” This refers first of all to the budget of our Ministry and also, more broadly, to our ability to influence the course of events.

Our resources

Of course, as others have before me, I will do my utmost to maintain and if possible increase our resources. Of course I fought to retain our scope when the question of ministerial responsibilities within the new government arose. But at a time when we are all bent on building a more influential, more active and more effective diplomacy, I do not wish to conceal or downplay this challenge. This is a serious issue that requires us to be resourceful.

I am thinking of course of development assistance, which is an essential aspect of this diplomacy with a human focus. Jean-Marie Bockel and I intend to renew France’s commitment to support our partners, particularly our African partners, in their efforts to achieve good governance, economic development and social cohesion. I want, as you will understand, for our country to remain in the vanguard of activities aimed at improving health in Africa by taking new initiatives to foster the development of health insurance. We must realise that France needs Africa just as much as our development partners need solidarity.

A solution can only be found if we set our sights high, revisiting our overall missions and priorities and persuading those we work with of their usefulness. At a time when everyone has international ambitions and activities, it is essential that the unique capabilities of our Ministry and the added value it supplies be visible and recognised.

This will be the purpose of the white paper on France’s foreign and European policy that the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister have asked me to prepare. I want us to work together to draft this white paper. This work must be a landmark in the history of our Ministry and lay the groundwork for its future. We must defend our outposts with determination. The complexity of the world cannot be understood from Paris alone. Our presence must remain universal, but it must change. We must invent new ways of being present, and go beyond the single model that has applied so far. As diplomacy changes, the Ministry must change. Neither the posts or the missions resemble each other.

We must invest real resources where the goals warrant them, in the great emerging countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America; elsewhere, we must be able to devise a scaled-down or shared presence, for example in the form of regional service platforms. We must also ensure that embassies are in closer touch with each other. As the Ministry of European Affairs, we must be the first, under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Jouyet, to set an example by achieving a relevant and effective European pooling of our diplomatic, consular and - importantly - cultural networks. The creation of the European Diplomatic Service, for example, will be one of the major projects of the French Presidency.

Another major goal of our organisation is our capacity to meet the new challenges of influence networks and cross-border realities. Decisions must be taken soon on ways to handle “global affairs”, about which discussion has been going on for a long time now.

The issue of the resources available for our diplomacy also involves human resources. There too, I do not wish to give way to pessimism. We must make better use of the resources we have. Career management, for example, must be reformed. It must enable us to export ourselves and welcome a broad spectrum of talent. And mobility of management staff outside the Ministry must be applied across the board. As to the internal mobility, rapid recruitment and immediate responsiveness of experts, let us take inspiration from our major European partners. When I arrived I found that morale in this Ministry was not the best. It is more necessary than ever to get everyone’s input, to listen to everyone and to promote social dialogue. I will soon have a “labour mediator” to support me. And to increase transparency in appointments, I intend to set up, as you know, a Selection Board in charge of proposing the most suitable candidates for ambassadorial posts. This more transparent procedure will be extended to cover director positions. I am also working on improving your opportunities for Parliamentary Commission hearings. But how can we talk about our activities and our budget without looking at our methods?

Our methods, it is quite clear, must be based to the greatest extent possible on information technologies. This is essential for reasons of cost as well as of efficiency and responsiveness. I want to create for you, for us, an information technology tool that enables us to correspond more easily, in real time, so that beyond diplomatic telegrams we can have real electronic communications with embassies, which must of course be secure.

For the same reasons, we must increase our capacity for teamwork with public sector players, local authorities, institutions, large foundations, NGOs, businesses, universities and the research community, according to needs and missions - all of them, obviously, working in conjunction with the Ministry. And we must above all work with the other Ministries, making use of their expertise without fearing competition from them.

The purpose of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not to do everything better than everyone else. Nor does it have the means to that end. We can be more effective, resourceful and responsive by calling in outside talent. To train foreign elites, let us work with the large companies and universities! To support democratisation, let us work with our local authorities! We will lose no quality, or effectiveness, or elegance, in the process, on the contrary. And where they can, our Embassies should act as consultants for France.

Another major challenge to modern and effective diplomacy is to improve our ability to monitor and respond to crises. I set up this Ministry’s first crisis management unit nearly twenty years ago when I was Secretary of State under Roland Dumas. It was not developed as I hoped it would be. It did enhance the visibility, clarity and effectiveness of our country’s commitment and assistance to others in need. I am convinced that France, like its main partners, deserves a strong and responsive system. We are now in the process of putting it together, so as to better coordinate our monitoring, anticipation, planning and response capabilities in policy-security, consular and humanitarian affairs, which are especially important when the three come together.

These various reform projects that I have briefly touched on will be discussed on Wednesday with the Minister for Public Accounts, Eric Woerth. And of course the activity of our Ministry cannot stop at crisis management. I am particularly committed to the in-depth effort that must be made to promote our economic interests and our cultural outreach. I am also very committed to the support provided by our network for all our compatriots working for the same goals and for all French citizens abroad who are playing an increasingly important role in our national community. We will get back to this on Wednesday.


Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are driven by a common deep-seated belief in France’s role in the international arena, its international status, its ambitions for Europe and the universal values for which it stands. These are strong assets for our country. For this reason - and this too will be covered by the white paper - it is essential that we define and better focus on our national interests. The goal of our foreign policy remains defending and promoting the interests of France and guaranteeing its domestic and foreign security and its prosperity in the broad sense of the term. But an appreciation of our interests involves not just these objective ambitions. It also involves our self-image, our commitment to our values and our vocation.

International affairs are also domestic affairs that concern all French citizens. We must bring our diplomacy closer to our citizens. This is one of the lessons to be drawn from the TNS Sofrès opinion poll we commissioned, which Brice Teinturier will be discussing in a moment. Before handing over to him I want to warmly thank you all for your active participation in a Conference that I wanted to be a bit more open than usual this time:

- open to your input, of course. That is the purpose of the discussions that will be taking place today and in coming days with Secretaries of State Rama Yade, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Jean-Marie Bockel and myself.

- open also to French society through the visits you will be making throughout the country to share your experience of the world with our fellow citizens. I thank you for having taken up this challenge. In this way we will be moving into a new and more dynamic phase of interaction between French society and French diplomacy. We are starting the necessary effort to teach people about our work.

- and last but not least open to our European partners, two months after last June’s European Council that marked France’s return in Europe. The presence here of my Portuguese and Slovenian counterparts, less than a year away from the French Presidency of the European Union, seems to me to bear eloquent witness to our determination to ensure cohesion among the three successive Presidencies.

On Wednesday evening, following the round tables, after having heard your views, I will come back to speak to you and attempt to summarise, rather than draw conclusions. We will be talking about globalisation and our fellow-citizens’ irrational or legitimate reaction to it. We will be talking about the intellectuals and the difficulty they have in explaining today’s world, let alone giving thought to how to deal with it - to the way you deal with it, and the reasons why the West has lost its monopoly on the narrative - not that that, in itself, is an entirely negative development. We will be talking about our missions, our ideas, our ability to take initiatives. We will talk about a France that is ambitious without being arrogant, that sets its sights high without having its head in the clouds. We will talk about the mandate given to us by the French: to make globalisation into something positive, for themselves and for others. We will talk again about this Ministry and how to transform it into the Ministry of Globalisation.

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, over to you. Please be free and forthright in your discussions. Be generous in giving us the benefit of your experience!

Dernière modification : 30/08/2007

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