Monday, October 18, 2010

An Interview with the French Defence Minister

For historical, geographical and strategic reasons,  India is a major player in the region. It therefore, unquestionably, has an important role to play in Afghanistan.
French Defence Minister

Mr. Hervé Morin was born on 17 August 1961 in Pont-Audemer, Eure (Normandy). He was reelected thrice since 1998 as an MP representing the constituency of Eure. He is leader of the New Center Party. After the presidential elections of 2007, his Party became an ally of the majority (UMP Party). He was later selected by President Nicolas Sarkozy to hold the important defense portfolio.
In an exclusive interview to the Indian Defence Review, the Defence minister answers questions by Claude Arpi on Indo-French relations, in backdrop of the forthcoming visit of the French President to India in December 2010 during which several agreements are likely to be finalised.

Q: Hon’ble Minister, could you give us a brief overview of Indo-French defence relations?

HM: We have a long-standing military cooperation. When India desired to diversify its military relations in the early 1980s, France responded and a relationship of trust was built, especially with the Mirage 2000s.
In 1998, India and France decided to raise their bilateral relation to a strategic level. The establishment of an Indo-French strategic partnership enabled us to strengthen our ties further and join our voices at international bodies. Whether it concerns its candidature for a permanent seat at the Security Council or the amendment of regulations for civil nuclear energy exportation, India knows that it can count on France’s support.
Since the beginning of our strategic partnership, a high-level defence committee has been meeting every year and other agreements have strengthened our bilateral relations. I would particularly refer to the founding of an annual forum on research and technology in 2002, and the signing of the Indo-French defence agreement in 2006. Further, joint military exercises are held every year between our air forces and navies. Our relation in all these areas has attained a high level of trust.

Mr. Morin’s visit to India (December 2009)
Q: What are you expecting from the Presidential visit in December?

HM: Last year, India was the Chief Guest for our national day parade on the Champs Elysées in Paris. On the occasion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to France, our two countries reiterated their resolve to give a fresh impetus to our strategic partnership. Our defence relations constitute one of its principal pillars.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s upcoming visit in December will make our partnership progress even further in all its facets, be it facing common threats, intensifying our operational cooperation, or bringing the projects for equipping the Indian armed forces, launched together, to their fruition.

Q: What are the most important projects underway with India?

HM: Our cooperation concerns the very heart of our security: counter-terrorism. This is even more indispensable as we often face similar kinds of threats in Afghanistan, in Europe and in India, as borne out by the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. Further, we have a very promising operational cooperation, be it regarding anti-piracy operations, joint exercises or officer exchanges.
With regard to defence equipment, the Indo-French relation translates into the supply of strategic equipment (fighter aircraft, submarines), and also state-of-the-art technology for the entire gamut of the Indian armed forces’ requirements. As our own history has made us extremely sensitive to India’s desire to favour local production and develop the defence industry, this relation has always been characterised by mutual trust and technological cooperation. As always, we are following the true course of a partnership.
Mr. Morin with Service Chiefs (New Delhi, December 2009)

The chief project underway is the manufacture, under licence in India, of six Scorpene submarines at Mazagaon docks, Mumbai; it is a project to which we feel totally committed, alongside our Indian partners. Among other projects that have matured, one can cite the modernisation of the Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 fleet; two joint development projects - the Maitri project for a surface-to-air defence missile system, and the Kaveri fighter aircraft engine; the supply of reconnaissance and observation helicopters or, in the slightly longer term, the second phase of six submarines.

Q: For more than 50 years France has been a trusted supplier of military equipment to India. India recently floated a tender for purchasing 126 medium multirole combat aircraft. What are your hopes for what is being called the “contract of the century” in India?

HM: The Rafale is an exceptional aircraft, which meets the needs of the Indian Air Force particularly well.
I am sure that the field trials, completed in spring 2010, would have enabled the Indian Air Force and the Ministry of Defence to gauge fully the quality of this aircraft, which the French Air Force itself is equipped with. I have also noted that the trials were conducted with great professionalism within the strict deadlines.
Mr. Morin and his Indian counterpart (New Delhi, December 2009)
As part of this partnership, we are, of course, extremely attentive to the comments or specific requirements that the Indian Air Force or the Ministry of Defence may send us.

Q: Has the contract for refitting the Mirages been signed?

HM: The acquisition of the Mirage 2000 in the early 1980s was a very important step in bringing India and France close together. In this spirit, I earnestly hope that the modernisation of India’s Mirage 2000 fleet will be executed by Dassault, Thales and MBDA. I am confident that the negotiation of this contract will reach a speedy conclusion.

Q: What is the status of the Maitri project for joint development of surface-to-air missiles?

HM: The Maitri project for joint missile development is mentioned in the political Joint Statement made in September 2008. It commits the French company MBDA, and the DRDO from India in an as yet unparalleled project, which will involve extremely ambitious transfers of technology. The anti-aircraft defence system developed in India, which will use this missile, will meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force and the Navy as well as that of the the Army, should the latter wish to join the programme. I am confident of the completion of this joint project, which perfectly illustrates the spirit of our strategic partnership as it implies the joint development of a new weapons system.

Q: Do joint exercises like Garuda or Varuna contribute to improving interoperability between the Indian and French armed forces?
HM: The Varuna and Garuda exercises, involving our respective Navies and Air Forces, are major manoeuvres that enable us to develop and implement new tactics, which can be directly used, for instance, to fight piracy.
These joint manoeuvres are also internationally recognised for their high standards and stir much interest, as reflected in the participation of the Singaporean Air Force in the Garuda exercise held in France, in June 2010

Q: How can the Indo-French strategic partnership be improved with regard to defence?

HM: The President of the French Republic has emphasized on several occasions that the ties of the Indo-French strategic partnership contribute to stability and peace not only at the regional level but also at the global one.
As I had the opportunity to say to the Hon’ble Minister of Defence, Shri A.K. Antony, during my visit in December 2009, we can go even farther in enhancing our consultations on the regional situation – I am specifically referring to Afghanistan, where France is engaged – but also on major international issues. We could also intensify our cooperation at the theatres of operation where both our armed forces are deployed, piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden being such a case. Lastly, we could develop more armament programmes that are efficient and adapted to the needs of both armed forces.

Q: Can one envisage France and India collaborating on a major joint project on research, development and production? India, for instance, already has such a project with Russia for a fifth generation fighter plane.

HM: The Indo-French relation is one of trust. Therefore, France is fully ready to undertake major cooperation projects on armament with India.
There already are two joint development projects: the Maitri missile project between the DRDO and MBDA, and the Kaveri engine that is to be jointly developed by the DRDO and SNECMA.

We must together explore other possible areas for applying this renewed cooperation, accompanied by real transfers of technology.

Q: What is your government’s policy vis-à-vis the sale of armament to Pakistan?

HM: Pakistan is an essential partner for fighting terrorism. Our dialogue with this country, including the military sphere, has but a single goal: reinforcement of Pakistani military capabilities for fighting radical extremists.

Q: How do you regard the evolving situation in Afghanistan today?

HM: The objective of our engagement in Afghanistan has been the fight against terrorism and ensuring the stability of this country, which is essential for the security of the entire zone. At the request of the Afghan government and in the framework of United Nations resolutions, we have maintained a military presence since 2001, the priority being the training of the new Afghan army and police. With almost 4000 men deployed on the field, we are fully assuming our share of the responsibility. As reiterated by President Nicolas Sarkozy on several occasions, we will stand by the Afghan people for as long as is required.
The presidential elections, and recently, the legislative polls, mark an important phase of the democratic process in this country, and we welcome the mobilisation and courage displayed by the Afghan people under particularly violent and tough conditions. With the support of the international community, the new Afghan authorities must henceforth formulate and implement a programme capable of meeting all the challenges that this country faces: security, governance, development. All the efforts of the international community must contribute towards helping the Afghans take charge of their own destiny, particularly with regard to security.

Q: What role do you envision for India in Afghanistan?

HM: France considers the regional aspect to constitute an important factor for the settlement of the Afghan crisis. For historical, geographical and strategic reasons, India is a major player in the region. It therefore, unquestionably, has an important role to play. Its contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction has, moreover, been welcomed by the international community as it brings direct benefits to Afghanistan’s economic development, the well-being of the local people and the consolidation of the rule of law.
Further, like all other countries participating in the ISAF, India constantly faces terrorist threats.
For all these reasons, we attach especial importance to our dialogue with the Indian authorities on the situation in Afghanistan.

Q: How do you envision the future of the French armed forces?

HM: Over ten years ago, we undertook unprecedented military reforms through professionalism and ending drafting. These reforms were indispensable, given the change in the missions assigned to our armed forces, which are essentially engaged in foreign theatres and peacekeeping operations.
Today, the threats still remain, as we see in Afghanistan, off the Coast of Somalia and the Sahel region. Hence, France continues to give priority to defence investments.
But given budgetary constraints, France endeavours to optimise its defence resources. Thus, we are pursuing our modernisation policy with a view to better management and making our military mechanisms more appropriate for the ground realities of our foreign engagements, particularly through greater efforts with regard to equipment.
As far as deterrence is concerned, we maintain a “strictly sufficient” arsenal, at the lowest level possible for preserving credibility, and which has been ensuring us peace since almost half a century.

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