Intervention of the French armed forces in Libya
- Prime Minister François Fillon at the National Assembly
Members of Parliament,
Chairmen of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On 22 March of this year I informed our national elected representatives about the reasons for the French military engagement in Libya and the conditions in which it was being carried out. Since then, Alain Juppé and Gérard Longuet have been available to answer questions from Parliament at all times.
Today, under our Constitution, you have the responsibility for deciding on whether to pursue these operations.
Let us first go back a few months to remind ourselves of the origins of our intervention.
What was the situation in early March?
Demonstrations were being brutally put down in Tripoli, heavy weapons were being used to shell unarmed civilians, people were being massively displaced, and according to the commission of inquiry of the United Nations Human Rights Council more than a thousand people had been killed in just a few weeks.
These facts illustrate the refusal to change course of a regime no longer governed by reason. In a February broadcast that aired across the world, Gaddafi described the demonstrators as “rats” and “drugged kids”.
One of his sons warned the inhabitants of Benghazi that there could be “rivers of blood”.
It was under these dire circumstances that the international community took a decisive step: for the first time, the “Responsibility to Protect” principle adopted by the United Nations in 2005 was put into practice.
Explicitly citing the failure of the Libyan authorities to fulfil their responsibility to protect their population, the Security Council undertook to provide such protection itself and took steps under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, which authorises the use of force.
Some said that our intervention was decided on in order to counterbalance the fact that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings had taken us by surprise.
This is an insult to the government. France does not commit its forces lightly.
When the President of the Republic sent our first pilots over Benghazi, Gaddafi’s tanks were entering its outskirts.
Nor does France take decisions alone.
More than 20 western and Arab countries and international organisations took part in the Paris Summit on 19 March, an emergency meeting of all those wishing to do their utmost to save Free Libya and implement the Security Council resolutions.
In the front ranks stood the United Kingdom, under the determined leadership of David Cameron.
Our decision was carefully considered, it was well thought out, and it was taken only after several weeks of diplomatic pressure and warnings, all of which Gaddafi pointedly ignored.
Resolution 1973 of 17 March authorising the use of force followed Resolution 1970 of 26 February in which the Security Council demanded an end to violence, referred the situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and adopted a first sanctions regime.
Colonel Gaddafi ignored this message.
Throughout February and March, he similarly ignored the many appeals by the European Council, the G8, the African Union, the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference condemning the human rights violations and emphasising the legitimacy of the demands of the Libyan people.
It was this obduracy that forced the international community to intervene militarily as a last resort.
On the other hand it is indeed true that the wind of freedom blowing through the Arab world in the spring of 2011 influenced our decision.
Had there not been this wind of freedom bearing such promise for the region, France and the international community might have confined themselves to simply condemning the repression.
It is possible that the realpolitik and circumspect commitment to stability, so prevalent in international relations, could have outweighed our courage.
Yes, the regional context was a factor in our decisions.
It was a factor in the sense that to our mind, the victory of repression would have signalled that democracy in the Arab world was merely a flash in the pan, stamped out by the first dictator to come along.
It was a factor in the sense that after Tunisia and Egypt, we believed there was a good chance that democratic change could sweep the Arab world, heralding a bright future for the entire Mediterranean Basin. It was a factor because we did not want Libya to become the winter of the Arab Spring!
It was a factor in the sense that France believes that the cause of freedom and human rights can make progress around the world, as developments in Côte d’Ivoire have shown and the arrest of Ratko Mladic confirms.
Dictators, tyrants and torturers are bit by bit being called to account by the international community and we could not allow this progress, which brings tremendous hope to martyred peoples, to be stopped in Benghazi.
As I stated last week in my answer to a letter from Chairman Ayrault, 4,400 men and women are engaged, in one way or another, in Operation Harmattan, including 800 personnel at a number of airbases in mainland France.
With 40 fighter planes, six support aircraft, eight ships and 18 attack helicopters engaged, France is the leading contributor alongside its NATO and Arab world partners.
I would like, from this rostrum, to join the National Assembly in paying tribute to the courage of our soldiers, pilots, sailors and helicopter crews who are doing an excellent job fighting for a just cause.
Since the start of the intervention on 19 March, the military situation has steadily improved.
The very first objective was to avoid a bloodbath in Benghazi, and it was achieved.
The eastern region of the country is now almost entirely shielded from Gaddafi’s attacks.
Gaddafi is nevertheless determined to continue his war against the Libyan people in the western part of the country.
But there, too, his strategy is failing.
Everywhere, the Free Libyans are gaining ground; and the noose is now tightening around Gaddafi, whose air force and navy have been almost completely destroyed.
The regime’s military capabilities have been severely degraded: 2,500 targets were hit over the four months of military operations, including 850 logistics sites, 160 command centres, 450 tanks, 220 vehicles and 140 artillery pieces.
Support for the regime is steadily crumbling.
Defections are on the rise and Gaddafi is now forced fall back on hooligans and former convicts to continue his repression.
Many of these mercenaries are no longer being paid.
Let one thing be clear: we never said or thought that the intervention in Libya would be easy or that it would be over within a few days.
We have known from the start that Gaddafi has considerable resources available and does not scruple to continue to make martyrs of his people.
Gaddafi has been cornered; he says himself that he has “his back to the wall”.
True, the breaking point has not yet been reached. But now is the time to remain firm and now is the time for the international community to be inflexible.
Some said, during the first days of the operation, that it would bog down.
To this I reply that we will remain steadfast and determined.
If words still have meaning, the term bog down does not make sense in view of the map of Free Libya, which has been constantly expanding since the end of March.
From Benghazi, the NTC forces have re-taken all of Cyrenaika up to Brega.
In recent weeks, the vise around Misrata has been loosened and the rebels have advanced several kilometres from the city to the west.
The airport has been re-taken.
In Jebel Nefoussa, Gaddafi’s units are falling back day by day along the strategic road to Tripoli.
In the south of the country, a number of cities have been in the hands of the NTC forces since the end of June.
Speaking here before you, the members of the National Assembly, I do not wish to neglect or sidestep any of the issues being debated.
Yes, there has been collateral damage. NATO has acknowledged two mistakes that occurred on 18 and 19 June. And nothing can justify the deaths of innocent civilians.
But the tragedy in Tripoli must be seen in the context of the thousands of sorties carried out by NATO since the beginning of its engagement.
I need not remind you that we are facing a regime that does not scruple to operate from populated areas, including schools, hospitals and mosques, and that makes no effort to spare civilian populations.
Since the beginning of the intervention France has remained strictly within the mandate defined by the United Nations Security Council. And the mandate does not call for Gaddafi’s elimination.
NATO is targeting military facilities and under no circumstances individuals.
In early June, we delivered light weapons to Jebel Nefoussa.
These supplies gave rise to questions.
We answered that these operations are in compliance with Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorises United Nations member states to take necessary action, despite the arms embargo, to protect threatened civilians.
This one-off decision was taken in response to a very particular situation as a result of the severe and imminent threat to the population of Jebel Nefoussa.
Since ground operations to help the resistance have been ruled out, what should have been done when these civilian populations were being shelled with heavy weapons?
Allow the massacre to continue? Take no action?
This was not the way we saw it.
Compliance with international law is one of the basic principles underpinning our intervention and must remain so. But we are faced with a man who has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
The use of force is not an end in itself.
A political solution in Libya is more that ever indispensable and indeed it is beginning to take shape.
The conditions under which military operations would be suspended are known: a genuine and verifiable ceasefire based in particular on a return of Gaddafi’s forces to barracks; the end of atrocities against civilian populations, free access for humanitarian aid; and lastly that Colonel Gaddafi stepped down.
France supports a clear vision for the future of the country: that future can belong to no one but the Libyans themselves.
And for France, the future of Libya cannot include Gaddafi or those with blood on their hands; it must be structured around the National Transitional Council.
At the initiative of the President of the Republic, our country was the first to recognise this Council.
Some saw fit to criticise this French initiative. In reality, it opened up the path forward.
Three months later, nearly 30 countries, across all continents, consider the NTC as their primary, if not only, political contact in Libya.
Why is that, Ladies and Gentlemen?
It is because the NTC is the only legitimate authority in Libya that brings together representatives of the country as a whole and that has a credible plan for building a free and democratic Libya.
It is because the NTC exhibits a genuine determination to establish the rule of law, keep the country united and uphold its territorial integrity, with Tripoli as its capital.
As soon as it is clear that Gaddafi is no longer in power, the NTC’s roadmap provides for the formation of a provisional government, the convening of a national Congress bringing together all representatives of Libya, the formation of a constituent assembly, the adoption of a constitution by referendum under United Nations oversight and general elections.
We support this roadmap and when the time comes we will be attentive to its implementation.
Naturally, the future of Libya will be difficult.
But should we therefore look only at the risks and never at the opportunities offered by change?
After all, what are we talking about?
We are talking about the end of 42 years of dictatorship in Libya.
It is up to the Libyans to write their history because it is their revolution, not ours!
But France, with its partners, is prepared to do its part.
This is the purpose of the Contact Group, which is in charge of coordinating policy and international action to support Libya and which has steadily expanded since it was set up, particularly as a result of African and Arab countries joining it.
Support for the NTC will be the first item on the agenda of the meeting of the Contact Group, in which Alain Juppé has played a leading role, when it meets in Istanbul on Friday.
When the time comes, as the President of the Republic has proposed, it will be possible to organise a major conference of friends of Libya to support the country’s political, economic and humanitarian reconstruction.
Against this backdrop, efforts at mediation are being stepped up in order to reach a political solution to the crisis. These include efforts by Russia and the African Union, whose increasing engagement France supports.
At its most recent Summit, the African Union confirmed that Gaddafi would not be able to take part in the political transition negotiations.
We see here that the respective positions with regard to the transition are converging.
The special envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General must play a central role in coordinating the various mediation initiatives and facilitate the timely establishment of an inclusive and representative political process around the NTC.
Independently of military operations, the international community has decided to set up a financial mechanism to cover the emergency humanitarian expenditures of Free Libya.
Italy, Kuwait, Qatar, Spain, Turkey and the United States have announced that they would be contributing.
France for its part announced the release of $290 million of Libyan assets that have been subject to sanctions.
Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We cannot discuss Libya without mentioning what has been happening in the Arab world since the beginning of this year.
Why take action in Libya and not in the other states where innocent people are being murdered and massacred? This question is as old as international relations and I will not brush it off.
We do not want to have a double standard; we support the aspirations of all peoples to freedom and dignity.
But the fact remains that there are places, times and circumstances in which it is possible to do for one people what it is unfortunately not possible to do elsewhere because there is no international consensus.
As you are well aware, our moral standards often come up against geopolitical realities that prevent the Security Council from playing its full role.
Those who say “Why Libya and why not everywhere else?” are not only naive, they are in fact in favour of doing nothing.
The fact that one cannot and does not wish to intervene everywhere does not mean that one should intervene nowhere.
There is a middle road between adventurism and renunciation, and that is responsibility.
I have heard critics condemning what they claim are imperialist motives on the part of the countries leading the coalition in Libya.
This is a meaningless old saw that misses the point.
When faced with bombardment of unarmed civilian populations, there are those who want to do something and those who watch the massacre without lifting a finger.
France is in the first category and that is to its credit.
And to be frank, I would have liked certain countries – countries that are more ready to criticise what they see as interference than to act to defend a cause that deserves defending – to do the same.
Today, the cities of Benghazi, Misrata, Zentan and Brega are known all over the world.
In these cities, a part of the future of the universal values we have long held is at stake.
In these cities, the purported binary choice facing the Arab countries – the choice between authoritarian and Islamist regimes – will be overcome.
And it is the responsibility of the heads of state of the region to exhibit courage and vision in responding to the aspirations of their peoples.
In this respect, what a contrast between Morocco and Syria!
In Morocco, peaceful reforms are being carried out, under the impetus of King Mohamed VI.
In Syria, the massacres continue while hundreds of thousands of citizens continue to stand up to the guns and tanks to call for the right to live in dignity.
I wish to pay tribute to them.
I wish to say to them that France will stay the course and that it will continue to condemn the repression loud and clear.
France calls for the implementation of far-reaching reforms in Damascus. It calls for reinforcement of sanctions and it continuously strives to mobilise the Security Council.
We will not relax our efforts because it is intolerable that the Security Council should remain silent about such a tragedy.
Similarly, it is intolerable that embassies should be violently attacked with the apparent consent of the Syrian authorities.
What happened in Damascus around the French and American Embassies is at odds with all the rules of diplomacy.
We will not give in to intimidation and we hold the Syrian authorities accountable for the security of our diplomatic posts and their employees in Syria.
Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
All the peoples of the region may be assured of our support in their struggle for emancipation and progress.
In the “Deauville Partnership” adopted by the G8 Summit and in raising $40 billion over a three-year period, the international community has sketched out its objectives over coming months: support for democratic transitions and the rule of law, opening and reinforcement of civil societies, economic development and regional integration.
In the same spirit of calling for change and rejecting fatalism, France is taking a large number of initiatives to overcome the stalemate in the Middle East Peace Process.
Let me repeat that the status quo is not an option and that now is not the time to refrain from action.
Now is the time for negotiations to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis can at long last live side by side in two sovereign states within internationally recognised borders and in full security.
This was the message conveyed by Alain Juppé to the region a few days ago.
Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The use of armed force is always fraught with consequences and it would be a matter of concern if such action did not give rise to questions.
But what would our questions, or our criticism, be worth today if Benghazi had fallen and if we had stood helplessly by while thousands of additional civilians were executed?
Those who reproach us for our activism today would have most assuredly been the first to reproach us for our passivity.
Like you, and with you, I prefer the risk of action to the certainty of moral defeat!
The President of the Republic, Alain Juppé, Gérard Longuet and I had just a few days to shoulder our responsibility.
We did so.
Our country lived up to its values.
With the international community we must remain mobilised to support the Libyan people and help it achieve its goal, which is nothing if not realistic: a free Libya, a democratic Libya, based on the rule of law.
I turn to the majority and the opposition with the certainty that on all the benches there is the same determination to force the Libyan regime to give in.
Ours is a just cause, and because our cause is just, the government and the parliament do not waver in the face of their responsibility.
As our Constitution provides, you are the co-deciders and the watchdogs of our military action.
In implementation of Article 35, Paragraph 3, I have the honour of asking you to authorise the extension of the intervention of our French armed forces in Libya.