General Emmanuel de Richoufftz: "I have always given my opinion"

Posted in Europe | 19-Aug-08

- Exclusive WSN interview with General Emmanuel de Richoufftz conducted by Nathalie Vogel, WSN Editor for Eastern Europe -

Nathalie Vogel: Mon Général, with the operation “105 driver’s licences for 2005” you intended to help the visible minorities of French society. Your critics object however that generations of foreigners have succeeded in integrating French society without being granted such a support; the Russians in the 20’s, the Poles in the 30’s, the Italians, the Spaniards in the 50’s, the Portuguese in the 60’s and the Vietnamese in the 70’s. Why would this young generation be any different?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: You are not unaware of the fact that France, as a former colonial power, has known a great flow of population at the end of the 60’s. It is the heritage of a painful and eventful history. We know that contrary to the foreign population whose origin you mentioned, this integration has been a failure. Forty years later, with some exceptions of course, the third generation from these African and Maghreb countries does not really feel French. In my eyes, to be fully a French citizen requires three essential conditions: Mastering the French language, be part of economic life and have a heartfelt attachment to one’s fatherland. If only one of these conditions is missing, integration will assuredly be a failure! It is still the case, unfortunately.

Nathalie Vogel: Two years ago, 500 young people gathered at the Ecole Militaire de Paris to thank you. At the end of the meeting, they spontaneously sang the Marseillaise. How different are these young people from the ones who hoot the Marseillaise at the Parc des Princes before soccer games, or who set cars on fire in the suburbs?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: Even if that comes as a surprise to you, the young people who sang the Marseillaise at the end of this evening were no different from the other ones, except that they had been progressively brought to fulfil the three criteria which I mentioned to you earlier. We had proposed to about a hundred young people from the suburbs and from disadvantaged families to put themselves into the position of being able to access a low qualified job with a perspective of further advancing. They were expected to get a driver’s licence during a six months community training based on volunteer work and personal effort. With them gaining or finding back their orientation marks and structuring their future they eventually were grateful to society, and during this evening they felt proud to be French as such. From now on, they really are.

Nathalie Vogel: As a French officer who has been associated to NATO missions in former Yugoslavia in the past, what do you think of NATO enlargement?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: This US led coalition, wished by the free world after WWII seems indispensable to me. Indeed, NATO has proved to be instrumental during the Cold War, as well as with regards to conflict resolution, especially in former Yugoslavia. The perfect knowledge of the structures and norms, multinational work, a meanwhile full confidence through the conduction of operations in wartime give this Organization all its credibility. But, by wanting to enlarge too much, are we not taking the risk of losing military efficiency?

"France's return to the military command (of NATO) means that realism prevails."
"France's return to the military command (of NATO) means that realism prevails."
Nathalie Vogel: Are you welcoming France’s return at the military command of NATO?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: France’s return to the military command means that realism prevails. As a matter of fact, we are not longer in a static strategic framework, as during the Cold War when the world was split in two blocs, between which a middle power could aim at playing a major role. It is thanks to its central geographic position in Western Europe, thanks to the development of an autonomous nuclear shield and the subsequent independent military strategy that my country has been able to play this kind of score during over thirty years. Globalization has, among other consequences, put an end to middle powers which can no longer rely on the previous world order to be able to be part of the “great game”. This is why we can just but return to the military command.

Nathalie Vogel: At the NATO Summit in Bucharest, President Bush reiterated his support to a European defense agenda. Robert Gates specifically demanded more troops from the European partners in Afghanistan. France reinforced its contingent, is it able to do more?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: It is not up to me to comment declarations from this or that person regarding European defense or the related expectations, which are complex issues. What is certain however, and free of political bias, is this: To be able to be won or at least not lost, the current conflicts, like the previous ones, require a great number of soldiers and large funding allocated for a long period of time. I am not sure that our nations are working in this logic. In the current conditions, the coalitions are constantly in search of troops. I think that the reinforcement that has been agreed upon for Afghanistan responds to the demands of the allies and to the commitment of France in the war on terror. But I think that France might not be able to do much more.

Nathalie Vogel: You have criticized the White Book of Defense, you have been tough on the issue of rationalization of effectives and the budgetary cuts as well. You have criticized the different Ministers of Defense in the past, but you have categorically refused to join the “fronde of the generals” against the reforms proposed by the Minister of Defense Hervé Morin, you have even publicly attacked the fronde, why so?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: I do not know if I have been that critical. I have always given my opinion when I felt that it would be useful to the institution of the army and to our country, thus offering solutions which I thought were constructive. I have even written many books that were premonitory, under my name and while still in duty, which has brought me some time in the purgatory… As much as I accepted to take risks in my writings, openly taking positions that were at the time contrary to the officially accepted ones, I now decry the ones among my peers who refuse to take a stand openly: where is the courage of the officer? What kind of role model does it give to our subordinates? How can our politicians not consider us with disregard?

Nathalie Vogel: There is much talk about a certain malaise of the armed forces towards their Commander in Chief. After the tragedy of Carcassonne*, some very tough words have been reported coming from President Sarkozy towards General Cuche, an internationally highly respected officer, especially after having served in Kosovo. How do you see the current situation?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: Instead of malaise I prefer speaking of disconcertment within our institution. This has many reasons. First of all, it is about bringing to term the professionalization of the armed forces, which was started less than ten years ago. This is about regrouping inter-armed and inter-army units on chosen locations which are economically sustainable, following the example of what has been achieved in Great-Britain. And it is also about regrouping services and support units, in order to save money on a large scale, thus cut the spending for the functioning of the armed forces as much as possible. Finally this scale modification, which will eventually lead to a reduction of 25% of the effectives, is submitted to strong budgetary restraints. It so happens at the same time as the release of the new White Book of Defense. This White Book sets our armed forces in the reality of the current and future threats: this is the continuum linking security and defense. Changings in structures, sizes and missions, isn’t there here any reason for disconcertment? Regarding the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Cuche, his resignation is linked to the tragedy of Carcassonne.

Nathalie Vogel: You have the reputation of a maverick General. Looking back at your career, do you have regrets?

Emmanuel de Richoufftz: I am not sure how I should take this comment. I think that I have always best fulfilled the missions I have been entrusted with, during peace time as well as in operations. Thus depending on organized structures, I could hardly be this “maverick”. It is true that I always said what I thought, I have constantly worked for the sake of my service and most of all, I have dedicated myself, as well as I could, to my subordinates. It is perhaps the reproach that is made to me by some. But what do you expect; being famous attracts envy, does it not? As to my career, if I had to do it again, I would do it all again, without hesitation.

* As a result of the accidental shooting of 17 civilians in Carcassonne during a show-exercize, General Bruno Cuche turned in his resignation to President Sarkozy. He was not asked to do so but felt it was his duty in view of the language used by the French President towards the military. The President was quoted as saying: “you are a bunch of amateurs, not professionals!”