Retaliation against the terrorist attacks in the United States

Attentats terroristes aux Etats-Unis d'Amérique,
le 11 septembre 2001
Intervention militaire en Afghanistan

Terrorist attacks committed in the United States of America.


(Persuant to rule 46 of the Regulations)

Tuesday 9 october 2001
(Sitting starting at 10 : 30)

Chaired by Mr. François Loncle, Chairman of the Foreign affairs Committee,
Mr. Paul Quilès, Chairman of the National Defence and Armed forces committee,
and Mr. Alain Barrau, Chairman of the delegation for the european Union





– Hearing of Mr. Hubert Védrine, Minister for foreign Affairs and of Mr. Alain Richard, Minister of Defence, relative to the retaliation against the terrorist attacks in the United States



The Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees, as well as the Delegation for the European Union, held a hearing of Mr Hubert Védrine, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of Mr Alain Richard, Minister of Defence.

The Chairman François Loncle pointed out that this hearing of the two ministers directly concerned by the present crisis—the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence—followed on from the exceptional meeting of 14 September and the debate in public sitting of 2 October. Taking place in camera, it should allow the ministers to give more specific answers to the deputies' questions.

The Chairman Paul Quilès referred to the two—military and diplomatic—necessarily interreltated aspects of the present crisis and the related issues. What are the war aims? What will be the scale of the attacks? Will the targets be exclusively military? What about the protection of civilians? How long are the operations expected to last? What will be the place of non-military operations? What role will be reserved in the future for the UN, which to date has played a significant role by acknowledging in particular the right of the United States to invoke Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Mr Hubert Védrine felt that the American reaction was inevitable and necessary. The French Government approves it not only for reasons of solidarity but because it shares the American aims, in other words destroying Bin Laden's terrorist networks. The UN has after all legitimated such action by invoking the principle of legitimate defence set forth in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
The fall of the Taliban regime is not strictly speaking one of the objectives of the American actions but it will be the consequence. It is therefore necessary to help in the political reconstruction of Afghanistan and that is why France has suggested an ‘Afghanistan action plan’. This action plan is aimed at creating favourable conditions for the Afghans to regain control over their lives.
The relevance of the American actions has been approved by almost the whole world. Some public opinions, as could be expected, have demonstrated some edginess. These globally positive results are certainly due to the fact that the American reactions have been targeted. It is important to continue in this direction. 
When the Security Council recognised the legitimacy of the American reactions it did not subject this decision to a geographical area. It sanctioned the legitimacy of the fight against terrorist infrastructures. Of course that does not mean strikes should be made anywhere. When the United States appears to announce the possibility of strikes other than in Afghanistan, France of course keeps its freedom to review its position. This issue will be one of the delicate points of the days ahead. Moreover allowances should be made—some declarations are probably made to curb impatience within the United States.
The coalition against terrorism is being set up and many countries have today been driven into a corner, for instance over police or judicial cooperation. Non-military cooperation is very important in the long term and is of course a long-haul issue.
Geostrategically, the cards are being redealt today. This is clear when it comes to relations between the United States, Russia, Pakistan, and even Sudan and the Middle East. That does not mean everything has changed; many countries are seeking to take advantage of a new situation in order to serve interests that existed before 11 September.
All in all France should remain attentive even if entirely satisfied today with the targeted and legitimate reaction.

Mr Alain Richard pointed out that the aim of the United States' military intervention was to disorganise terrorist networks and dismantle Al Qaeda bases installed with the complicity of the Taliban. The change in scale and the organised violence of the attacks have made it necessary to attack the centre of the organisation, otherwise the fight against terrorism would be meaningless.
The actions are therefore centred on destroying Taliban regime military infrastructures and military command links, eliminating their anti-aircraft capability and destroying their camps and centres preparing terrorist acts. The Taliban regime is not recognised diplomatically and is not a State.
The hardware used includes some fifty cruise missiles, fighter-bombers and bombers. Strikes have taken place from submarines and aircraft carriers, the Diego Garcia base, and lastly the United States from where some bombers departed. Pakistan's air space has been used. British manoeuvres were taking place in the region at the time of the events, therefore these units were swiftly mobilised.
The meeting of the Atlantic Alliance Council of 4 October opened the possibility of a deployment of naval forces. The Alliance has given the authorisation to make five AWACS aircraft available, which figure could be raised should the rhythm of the missions increase.
The first phase has comprised the selection of sites to be destroyed and dismantled: the aims are numerous and dispersed. France's cooperation with the United States and the United Kingdom has been stepped up; a team of officers has joined the American staff in Tampa. Two vessels have been sent in: a stealth frigate and a tender vessel permanently stationed in the Indian Ocean. The subsequent form of the French engagement will be decided by the executive on the basis of the United States' requests.
The Minister of Defence made it clear that the United States could carry out the operations alone and that it has made a political choice by asking for support from some partners. It should therefore be decided whether France wishes to join in this fight against integrism and the negation of the most elementary rights which Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime represent.
The Minister of Defence then explained the measures adopted to protect the general public (Vigipirate), ensure surveillance of ports and maritime approaches (Vigimer) and protect nuclear plants. The French security services are major contributors to intelligence on terrorist networks and their plotting. These services know where members of networks are located, therefore our prevention capacity can be considered reassuring.

Chairman Alain Barrau firstly wished to emphasise an important point—the fight against terrorism should not involve an extension of military strikes to other countries. It would be useful if the ministers would provide more information on this topic, specifying the extent to which France's political clout could possibly influence the assigning of a precise objective to this fight against terrorism.
He then called for the development of the topics of Defence Europe, security in general and the situation of Great Britain in this respect.
Lastly, referring to the humanitarian operation combined with strikes, we all know that the emergency humanitarian plan scheduled by the Americans and involving food drops and the dropping of other supplies is quite different from France's humanitarian practice favouring the sending of men on the spot. Here too, couldn't France use its influence in favour of this practice?

Mr Jacques Myard felt that the situation deserved some analysis. He said he was convinced that the whole world, including the Arab world, accepted the legitimacy of the American strikes. Yet strikes are the most simple form of action and what happens after the strikes raises in particular the question of Arab public opinion over the clash between Islam and the Western world.

Mr François Lamy asked whether there was a body analysing the choice of targets and, if not, whether France has suggestions to make in this respect. Also, is France ready for military strikes on terrorist infrastructures in other countries?
While stressing the special importance this information sitting had in the eyes of the parliamentarians, Mr Hervé de Charette deplored the fact that Parliament had not been consulted. Admittedly the French Constitution does not provide for Parliament's agreement upon each engagement of the armed forces and, moreover, systematic parliamentary authorisation is not necessary. However, the present situation has such a scale that it engages France's vital interests, not only owing to its military but also its other aspects (major political issue, forms of the engagement, France's future, etc.). Consequently, he felt that the Government should base itself on a vote of Parliament.
Emphasising that a debate had just been launched by humanitarian NGOs over the inadequacy of the food drops, Mr Pierre Brana asked whether the proposal to render certain sectors safe in order to concentrate refugees there and organise the return of NGOs there was militarily plausible.
On a diplomatic level, whereas it has not supported Commander Massoud very much in the past, the international community is today endeavouring to impose the Northern Alliance, perhaps making Mohammed Zaher Shah's position difficult. What is the position of the Minister of Defence on this point and is the ‘royal’ solution credible?
Feeling that France could not show solidarity on 11 September and then withdraw its solidarity on 8 October, Mr Alain Juppé considered that, apart from the issue of political interest, there was a form of moral obligation for France to participate in the destabilisation of the Taliban regime. He however wished to know whether France had an alternative strategy and what were its objectives.
He also called for more information on the forms of the French participation.
Lastly, bearing in mind that the fight will be long and multifaceted, he raised the question of the ‘underlying retaliation’ to be carried out, particularly in France and more widely in the European Union, which entails combating poverty world-wide, finding a political solution to regional conflicts, introducing dialogue between cultures, etc. All these issues require a general presentation.

Mr Philippe Douste-Blazy said firstly that he was amazed by Bin Laden's recently broadcast videocassette in which he makes nothing less than a takeover bid over the Palestinian cause. It is dangerous to allow him to take over this cause. Is there a European Union initiative regarding the place the EU should occupy in solving the Middle East conflict?
He then regretted that the ministers had not given any information on the exact targets and the French units today engaged.

Mr Jean-Claude Sandrier felt that what was at stake was not solidarity but the issue of the efficacy of the fight against terrorism and its consequences. He called for daily circulation of precise information on bombings, targets, possible victims and the objectives.
He then described as ‘peculiar’ the manner in which the strikes had been organised by the United States and Great Britain. Their alliance on this occasion could perhaps be a mistake because it creates an isolation that could rekindle resentment against the superpower.
Lastly, he raised the question of how the international community could be brought to participate in the essential political choices and felt that parliamentary consultation was necessary for France and the European Union to be better associated in defining the objectives and the means.

Mr Hubert Védrine answered the various participants. He felt there was no ambiguity in the positions adopted by President Bush and Mr Colin Powell. Action is taking place in a fair and suitable manner. In the United States however some large groups are campaigning for an extension of the strikes, which is not the French position.
The present crisis does not have any real influence on the Defence Europe; the fact that Great Britain is playing a special role does not change the European defence programme. There has never been any question of establishing a European expeditionary force capable of intervening on the other side of the world.
Regarding the French humanitarian action, he welcomed the position adopted by Mr Bernard Kouchner about the usefulness of drops and according to whom it was necessary to heed the opinion of the refugees. Moreover when humanitarian action brings about progress in military action we should be more than content. However there is no question of France confusing humanitarian action with food drops, because most humanitarian actions take place from refugee camps (in Iran, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Pakistan) which group nearly 7 millions Afghans out of less than 25 million. Food drops are one of the aspects of humanitarian action; humanitarian action by France and the European Union should above all be strengthened, under the aegis of the WFP and the UNHCR. The additional American action has fed the controversy on which Mr Bernard Kouchner has taken a stand. In any case, aid must reach those who need it.
Referring to the Afghanistan action plan, Mr Hubert Védrine pointed out that Afghanistan has been martyred by twenty years of war and a severe drought affecting an 80% rural population. Reconstruction of the country is therefore insisted on. According to him, if no given option has been favoured in the Afghanistan plan it is because the history of the country and the misfortune caused by its divisions is known only too well—wherever there is goodwill (neighbouring countries, those engaged, the Security Council) it should be harnessed to create a situation allowing Afghans to reorganise their future. The aim is to federate, to group the parties present because no political solution will be found without representation of all these forces. The former king is in a position to play a useful role. Those who opposed such a solution have changed; Pakistan has accepted to contact him.
The action plan presented by France will develop over time. It will be debated with the Americans and the European countries involved (Italy, Germany, United Kingdom). We are in contact with the Iranians, the Russians and the Pakistanis. In this respect, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has declared he would very soon meet Mr Brahimi, the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representative for Afghanistan.
As for Arab public opinion, there are no reliable means to measure its sentiment. The Arab governments have rallied to the anti-terrorist coalition. Terrorism has moreover claimed far more victims in the Arab Muslim world than in the West. Admittedly, demonstrations are taking place against the coalition, but this phenomenon is perhaps exaggerated—we have little information on this matter. However, all the Arab leaders have said they feel that if the attacks are targeted against extremists and terrorists they will be acceptable.
Referring to the request for a parliamentary vote on the engagement of French forces, it will be transmitted to the competent person.
Turning to the ‘underlying retaliation’, everyone knows that France did not wait for 11 September to become alarmed about the intolerable situations world-wide. The Durban conference underscored in a shocking but revealing manner the fact that the international community does not exist. However, no foreign policy has been more devoted than ours to the gap between developed and poor countries, to the debt issue, and to conflicts in Africa and in the Middle East. As for the Middle East, changes in European sentiments are largely due to the tenacity of French politics. President Bush said he was in favour of a Palestinian State; this has been the position of the Europeans for the past three years and of France for some nineteen years. France is currently using its influence to thwart those who, here and there, are out to break the new hope which dawned with the meeting between Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat. Manœuvres and provocations should be foiled in this respect.

Mr Hubert Védrine welcomed the recent initiative of the King of Morocco who is going to convene the Mediterranean Forum which groups Mediterranean riparian countries. He feels it is the most appropriate structure in the Mediterranean area to allow the dialogue of cultures—dialogue against clashes and against the confusion of issues.
Turning to Bin Laden's rhetoric, the most striking point is his obsession with the occupation of Saudi Arabia by American and Western forces. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi question come second. However, in the propaganda war which is beginning, this discourse will change. Strong convergence must therefore be shown by Euro-American determination.

Mr Alain Richard, Minister of Defence, made the following remarks:
— countries like the United Kingdom and France cannot summarise all their security policy as the Defence Europe; their field of concern is necessarily broader. The Belgian presidency of the European Union however accomplished excellent work which could lead in the months ahead to the European Union assuming concrete responsibilities geared towards stabilisation actions in Macedonia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, exactly as the United States has desired;
— the British Government has expressed, particularly to France, its determination to step up defence cooperation amid the ongoing crisis;
— referring to humanitarian operations, the demarcation of corridors or secure zones could result only from a land operation which is not on the agenda. France already has a prepositioned capacity of humanitarian aid drops of approximately 50 tonnes a day;
— as for the determination of targets, cooperation between the Allies may take place on the basis of the information contributed by each of the countries. This cooperation of course involves France, although the tactical choices are a matter for the sole States currently making the strikes;
— the existence within Afghanistan of infrastructures directly used by terrorist networks makes the strike operations aimed at destroying them fully legitimate; as the Taliban system shows a broad convergence of interests and theories with terrorist groups, the actions aimed at dismantling them are justified. On the other hand, regarding possible strikes against other countries, it would be necessary beforehand to assess the attitude of the governments concerned and the possible support they may grant to terrorist type actions;
— given the fragile and fragmented nature of the Taliban power system, changes within it may promote the appearance of a genuine political alternative for Afghanistan ;
— it is too early yet to specify the possible forms of a complementary participation of France in the military operations because the United States expressed a request along such lines only at the beginning of last week. Dialogue between the staffs is therefore continuing. Analysis of the situation and the various planning options are the subject of an iterative process at the French command level;
— the length of the ongoing operations cannot be forecast as long as the results have not been assessed, this assessment supposing the use of many sources of intelligence.

Mr Jacques Godfrain, referring to the role which the French military base of Djibouti could play in future operations, asked the Minister of Defence if representations had already been made to the Government of the Republic of Djibouti in this respect. He also questioned him about the strengthening of security measures around French military bases in Africa.
Feeling that air strikes, even surgical and precise, will have only illusory results given Afghanistan's relief, and that an intervention of land forces will be necessary, Mr Bernard Grasset wished to know what means the French government could use to participate in this intervention. He also asked what options had been chosen to strengthen cooperation between the police services and the judicial systems of the various countries, particularly within the European Union.

Mr Hubert Védrine considered that Mr Tony Blair's declaration to the Pakistani authorities according to which no political regime can be set up enduringly in Afghanistan without Pashtun participation in no way represented an act of interference but expressed a position shared by all.

Mr Alain Richard answered that the fact that no large-scale land operation had been envisaged reflected a political choice and not capacity limits—France for its part being capable of projecting approximately 15 regiments in less than two months. He added that very few reasons could today justify the land option—the present choice, as far as ground action is concerned, consisting in sending special forces not with a view to territorial control of Afghanistan but to check the destruction of targets hit by bombing. Lastly he declared that everything that should have been said on the presence of special agents in Afghanistan had been said.

Mr Claude Goasguen, feeling that France and Europe were relatively marginalised in the ongoing operations, wished to know the basis on which cooperation had been agreed between the United States and the United Kingdom. Then he asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the notion of the ‘legitimacy of regimes’ should be the decisive criterion to judge the validity of military action against terrorist networks. In this respect he wondered whether France could invoke this notion to refrain from intervening against recognised regimes, such as Iraq and Sudan, if it were proven that they provide support to terrorist networks. Feeling that, in the event of French military engagement, parliamentary consultation, followed by a vote, is necessary, he said he would like the executive to take an initiative in this respect.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs answered that it was certainly not a matter of knowing whether non-democratic countries should be bombed or not. The case of Afghanistan—where a conjunction between a terrorist system, the Al Qaeda organisation, and a political ‘regime’, that of the Taliban, which share the same infrastructures and the same power networks—is absolutely unique. Perhaps Al Qaeda terrorist network infrastructures exist elsewhere but nowhere can an identical conjunction, in fact or in law, be seen with the power in place.

The Chairman François Loncle pointed out that several successive votes of Parliament could be envisaged, at different moments of the military operations.

Mr Georges Hage, while emphasising the need for the parliamentary consultation and vote in the event of a French military engagement, felt that terrorism would remain as long as the underlying causes, such as the absence of a settlement to the Middle East crisis, were not addressed.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs observed that the diverting of Islam by extremist groups existed well before the Middle East issue: in this instance, in the case of the Al Qaeda network, the Middle East issues do not rank among the foremost reasons for its creation which stems rather from protestation against the Saudi regime. This of course does not mean the Middle East issue has not been used today for propaganda purposes by the Al Qaeda terrorists or that these issues do not nurture terrorism. Adding that it was pointless to seek complicated explanations for terrorism, he felt that the Middle East peace objective was justified in itself.

Mr René André questioned the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the strengthening, which he felt essential, of European judicial and police cooperation, as well as about the initiatives taken or envisaged by France in this field. He then asked the Minister of Defence for information on the security measures adopted to protect nuclear sites, such as those at La Hague and Flamanville.

Mr Hubert Védrine said he was fully in favour of stepping up European cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs, noting that, owing to the tragic events of 11 September, the harmonisation of arrest warrant or extradition procedures could be accomplished in twelve or eighteen months when ten years would normally have been necessary.
He added that, regarding terrorism, punitive action was insufficient and should be combined with a global preventive strategy getting to grips with the financial means, the ideological foundations and the solution to crises on which the phenomenon feeds.

Mr Alain Richard wondered whether all sorts of risks could be ruled out. Many are the sites or places receiving the public where massive damage would be caused if a hijacked plane were to crash on them. He therefore felt that terrorism related risks were far from concerning only nuclear power plants the security of which is the subject of specific review. He also emphasised that the Government was seeing to the flexibility and rapidity of the implementation of the air security system, observing that the technical procedures for civilian flight surveillance led ultimately to ethical questions. Lastly he felt that the decision to render secure certain sites rather than others was of a political nature and would therefore require a democratic debate.

Mr Etienne Pinte regretted that we had had to wait for the attacks of 11 September for judicial cooperation between the United Kingdom and France to be stepped up to combat terrorism, as evidenced by the extradition of Rachid Ramda. He also asked for clarifications on the emergency humanitarian aid which France envisaged to grant to Afghanistan, particularly as regards its prepositioning.

Mr Hubert Védrine welcomed the fact that the French request for the extradition Rachid Ramda had been accepted by the British authorities, considering that the main point was its accomplishment.

Mr Alain Richard pointed out that the parachuting of humanitarian aid in the ongoing intervention phase supposed the use of transport planes and broad coordination of air traffic over the theatre of operations. He added that these measures were currently the subject of substantive discussions between the countries concerned.

Mr Gérard Charasse asked how the emergency humanitarian plan presented on behalf of France by the Minister for Foreign Affairs had been perceived by our European partners.

Mr Hubert Védrine remarked that the United Kingdom and Germany had expressed proposals of similar inspiration which also aimed at setting up humanitarian aid, a political process and an international contribution to development. He specified that a consensus had been reached on these three points at the meeting of the ministers for foreign affairs of European Union countries on 8 October. He then mentioned that discussions were now under way on this topic with the United States. He observed however that no plan in favour of Afghanistan could be imposed on the Afghan people, which supposes adapting the envisaged measures to the desiderata of the concerned parties

Mr Alain Moyne Bressand wished to know what Russia's role was in the present crisis.

Mr Hubert Védrine emphasised that the geopolitical consequences of the events could be considerable for Russia. He observed that President Vladimir Poutine was aware of the opportunities arising for his country since he had decided to form a close partnership with the United States and Western countries in combating international terrorism despite the reservations of the Russian ministers for foreign affairs and defence. Mr Hubert Védrine added that beyond the immediate cooperation, Russia had made a strategic choice with wider consequences. He also felt that while the Russian president certainly had ulterior motives regarding the legitimatisation of the Russian intervention in Chechnya, it was not out of the question that his position on the Chechen conflict may evolve, as could be grasped from certain signs.