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Discours de Dominique de Villepin à New Delhi: "Can we forge a global alliance against terror?"

Address by Dominique De Villepin, former Prime Minister of France

I’m very happy to be here among you today, in India, a country that’s very dear to me. I’m very pleased to see how daringly India has moved forward on the path of economic development, without sacrifying its democratic values.

We are now at a crucial moment. It’s a turning point. History’s back, faster than ever.

Last year has shown that the balance of powers is shifting. Emerging countries are claiming a bigger role in the world. The war in Georgia and the pride of the Chinese people during the Olympics were the two sides of a come back of countries long left aside. And I strongly believe India will be a central actor in the new world order. It has a particular place and responsibility within the subcontinent, where changes and conflicts are numerous. It also has a greater role to play on the international scene, in becoming as quickly as possible a member of an enlarged G8, as well as a permanent member of the UN’s security council. The economic crisis is putting the hierarchies of the economic world upside down. It’s a challenge for all of us, so as to enhance global regulation. But the solution will not come without the contribution of new markets and economies of Asia. Last element, the election of Barack Obama has given the world a new hope. After eight years of unilateral policy, based on power, America is opening up to the world. A time of dialogue seems to begin, in the Middle East in particular. It’s an opportunity we must seize. Yet, this visit is also mixed with sadness, as I find a country deeply hurt by the tragic attacks in Mumbai. On November 26th, all around the world, we deeply sympathized with the Indian people as our screens showed us the strikes in real time. Three days of cold-blooded massacre, killing hundreds of people.

India experiences all the promises, but also all the threats of this new world. Terrorism must be fought decidedly. Nothing can justify it. It’s nothing more than a crime.

How can we be the most effective in our fight against global terrorism? How can we help each other? That’s a central question I’ve often been confronted to as a Minister of Foreign Affairs, an interior Minister and a Prime Minister in France, a country violently hit by mass terrorism in the past. It’s my strong belief that terrorism calls for a powerful mobilization of all states.

In this case, what kind of action should we wage? Is a global alliance against terrorism the right solution?

First, international cooperation is needed to put all forces together to investigate and to dismantle terrorist movements and networks.

But, a global alliance engaged in a war against terrorism could lead to dangerous consequences, legitimating and unifying a terrorist enemy that does not exist as a unity.

In the end, it’s only through worldwide dialogue and governance we can treat the roots of terrorism and really weaken terrorist movements, by addressing the issue of development and cultural diversity.


Yes, indeed, we need a global answer to the threats of terrorism.

We must seek the greatest possible efficiency. A state alone is not powerful enough. Much has been done. But we’ve got to do more and do better.

To confront terrorism, we have to know its mechanisms. What is it? What are its methods? What does it aim at? These questions define the actions to be taken.

First, terrorism has deeply changed: – Terrorism is not something new. It’s happened in the past-from the Assassins or hashishin of history sowing terror to the anarchists in the Balkans in the early 20th century.

- But with the use of terrorism by some extremists claiming to act for Islam, we have entered, through successive waves, into a new era.

The first wave: national terrorism for political ends. Between the two world wars, the Muslim Brotherhood was active in Egypt. Then in the seventies and eighties, there were terrorist attacks in Europe, in France especially. The second wave: internationalist terrorism, with no specific geographical roots. It surfaced in troubled spots in the nineties, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Chechnya, and transformed them into rear bases for violent, radical groups ready to strike targets in other Muslim countries. The third wave: the global terrorism that began with September 11, and since then multiplied around the globe, in Spain in 2004, in Great-Britain in 2005, and last of all in Mumbai, last November, with the now well known names of Al-Qaïda or Laskar-e-Taiba. But let’s take a closer look at the phenomenon :

- Those who want to attack us are a few hundred individuals scattered around the globe in countries miles away each other. And yet the terrorists have turned their dispersion into an asset; their mobility into a fearful weapon against all the peoples of the world. They have turned their weakness into strength. So successfully, that no state today can put the fight against terrorism anywhere but at the top of its security priorities.

Secondly, terrorism is the product of a strategy built on three pillars: – First pillar: the show of force, measured in terms of numbers killed and shock value;

- Second pillar: media impact, which leads terrorists to strike a distant but symbolic target so as to gain legitimacy and spread fear;

- Third pillar: jihad drawing its inspiration from extremist Islam. September 11 was an act of jihad projected far from its traditional geographic sphere in order to get the attention of the entire world. In a matter of seconds, thanks to TV and radio, the terrorist organization claimed to rise to the level of the leading world power.

The terrorist’s objectives are the third element to be taken into account

- Terrorist groups are determined to bring about divisions in the Muslim community so that they can be seen as the sole guarantors of a pure Islam.

- They attack muslim countries as well as others. But, in both cases, division is the goal.

- Within the oumma or Moslem community, to end the domination of regimes considered impious and impose shari’a.

- Outside the oumma, to weaken the non-Muslim countries.

That’s the picture we have to bear in mind. Terrorist groups have global aims, planetary networks and techniques of mobility and dissemination that transcend the national borders. Terrorism has its own territorial organization, with rear bases, recruitment zones and battle grounds. And terrorist organizations know how to gain support of certain states, in certain circumstances, in order to obtain safe-havens and training facilities.

Such a threat can only be addressed by strong cooperation of victim countries.

First, the states must intensify the legal cooperation of their police forces and judicial systems. Today’s procedures are too rigid and formal. They’re often too slow. Direct collaboration and legislative harmonization are the keys to success. – Collaboration is crucial. That’s why the international community should agree on a common obligation to ease cooperation and quicken procedures.

- Harmonization makes collaboration more effective. States can learn from each other’s experiences. In the last decade, many countries have developed new legislation to enforce their fight against terrorist movements. We should imitate the more practical, and avoid the less efficient.

- Worldwide legislation is the third tool to fight terrorism. The United Nations must be at the center of common efforts to define and fight the terrorist threat. The existing armory is impressive. A dozen different texts are in application. Still, we lack a global convention. It’s supported by many countries, among which France. But it’s stalled by problems of definition of terrorism. And we need to make sure that no State is allowed to show complacency towards terrorists.

Second stake: intelligence has to be shared more effectively. And this has been a strong feature of the french-indian strategic partnership. – Intelligenc
e services tend to work on their own and to keep the results of their work for themselves. Facing terrorism, states must learn to share information and resources, for example in the field of interception. The Mumbai attacks have shown the importance of these techniques in preventing and repressing terrorist acts.

- Communications are no less important, in a globalized world built on expanding information exchanges. How can we respect free speech and privacy and be sure that the internet, cell phones, the GPS are not used for terrorist ends? We need international directives to frame the control of communication networks.

The fight is also financial, because terrorism needs channels and depositories to act. Institutions like the Financial Action Task Force have worked on international norms so as to control money transfers more effectively. Still, much has yet to be done, especially to fight financing through so-called charity organizations or through informal exchanges. But is this enough? Faced with barbaric crimes, we look for the utmost efficiency. How can we eradicate terrorism?


The idea of a global alliance to wage a common war against all terrorist forces seems appealing. A global threat, fought by a global force, putting together all means and weapons.

But, in fact, the idea of a war against terrorism may become dangerous, because it may end up serving the interests of terrorist groups, recognized as one global Enemy and legitimized as the only opposition to all the states.

There’re three traps we must avoid in fighting against terrorism.

The first trap is to equate the fight against terrorism with a merciless war. It seems inappropriate to me. Inappropriate because the warlike vocabulary presupposes a clearly identified enemy which a state or group of states can oppose in a combat governed by rules and principles, namely the Geneva Conventions on the Law of war and Law in war. Yet, that’s not a definition of terrorism; it is not a threat like others. It wears all the faces of those individuals who have decided to lock the world into violence and fear.

- Inappropriate because terrorist groups respect none of the rules of warfare.

- They’re not waging war against us, from New York to Mumbai, they are engaged in a massacre of the innocents. So there is no possible peace with the terrorist. There is no conceivable agreement, armistice or truce.

- Calling to war against terrorism is also risky since it gives the various terrorist groups a legitimacy and audience they crave. Al Qaeda, by the way, was the first organization to bring up the idea of a war against the West. The first to build itself legitimacy, not only on the ground but also from the reactions of the Western powers. Bin Laden against Washington, for impoverished people receptive to fundamentalist language, it’s like David and Goliath. Weakness against power. It’s a terrible trap, and we must get out of it as quickly as possible.

In short, looming behind the words « war on terrorism » is confirmation that we’re facing a clash of civilizations. For that is precisely where the terrorists want to lead us: to a head-on clash of religions and cultures from which we will all emerge battered and broken. We have to fight this caricatural and pessimistic vision which ignores the diversity of Islam, the aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims for peace, and the reciprocal influences that have existed for centuries. We have to find a way out.

The second trap is fear, that would lead us to abandon our own values and principles Confronted with the horror of terrorist acts, we may be tempted to make an exception and go outside democratic laws. This approach, I am convinced, is a dead-end. What would be the value of a democracy that deprived its citizens of the most basic rights under the pretext of guaranteeing their security? Wouldn’t it mean that terrorist organizations have already prevailed, if not over the land at least in our minds? We, French and Europeans, have already had experience in the past of resorting to exceptional methods in the name of our citizens’ security. I say this in all conscience: Such choices do not produce results and they have to be paid for over years.

In the face of terrorism, democracy must set the example. In all circumstances, we must abide by its demands. In a state that lives by the rule of law, there is no justification whatsoever for the government to deprive a defendant of the right to a fair defense, regardless of the crimes he has committed.

The third trap is to count solely on the use of force. – We all want to stop terrorist actions as quickly as possible. We all dream of a world that would finally be rid of the fear of attacks.

- In this context, the use of military force may prove to be essential. We saw it in Afghanistan. The difficulty lies in effectively combining the use of force with all the other means at our disposal to combat terrorism. But we will not stop terrorism solely through force.

- The ill-considered use of force can only rally and motivate groups which, as we saw, were fragmented. It gives them the cohesion they’re lacking, which could lead to an even more serious threat. The targeted use of force can be an illusion: civilians always suffer, whatever the technologies employed. And the number of martyrs increases; force opens wounds which become breaches the terrorists can rush to fill.

- Even victory is not a guarantee of peace in such a war. Military resolution of the problem in some cases only delays the reemergence of the evil. It may even deepen its roots and make a solution more difficult, as the American-led war in Iraq has shown in the past years.

- Let’s take another example, with the terrorism of LTTE in Sri Lanka. Military operations seem to progress towards elimination of the LTTE’s forces. But if the operations don’t take into account the humanitary situation, if they’re not followed by a strong political will for appeasement, the LTTE’s neutralization may only be temporary.

Avoiding these traps is crucial to overcome terrorism. A military alliance, unifying all terrorists would risk to fall in all three of them. Surely, it does not mean that the countries and people are not allies in this fight, or that they don’t feel united. On the contrary, we must extend the solidarity to the whole scale of the problem.


In the end, there are no shortcuts. We must follow the path of worldwide governance and refund international society. It’s the only way to tear out the very roots of terrorist movements.

We must build a new world order. It must be shared and accepted by all people and all cultures. This means finding common principles and sticking to them: They will keep us from getting off course and enhance the effectiveness of our action. – Principles of the rule of law first: we have a duty to set an example in contrast to terrorists who would like to drag us into systematic repression and challenge public freedoms. Democracy’s strength lies in the place it gives to individual rights, the recognition of each person’s value. We must stick to these values. This does not preclude firmness and the adaptation of our system to the threat: as interior minister, I constantly looked for the most effective instruments to fight terrorism. But none of the decisions were taken without strict attention to the rules of law. Self-defense, yes. But not abdication of core values.

- The second principle is respect. What does extremist language feed on? The scorn we allegedly show for the poorest populations, our alleged indifference in letting regions sink into violence, the suspicion that now attaches to Western interventions: Why do they act? In the name of what values? In whose economic or security interests? We have to show that we do listen, and do pay attention and respect to the poor and the humiliated who aspire to recognition and dialogue.

- The third principle is unity. The terrorist plan provokes separation, and rejects that which brings us t
ogether. That is why unity is our most precious asset. It affirms our political resolve to face terrorism together.

We will not end terrorism in a lasting way until progress is made in settling the most serious regional crises and addressing lagging development in some countries. – The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a place of its own in the mind of all the region. The start of the second intifada in October 2002 became the catalyst for bringing to a head all the frustrations and resentments in the Middle East. People identify with it beyond national and ethnic divisions. That is why we cannot hope to see an end to Islamic terrorism without eliminating the ideological pretexts it adopts for its own uses. At this point, we have to make up for lost time. We have to move quickly.

- The inner turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also core issues to the spreading of terrorist violence. The presence of the NATO forces in Afghanistan need to follow a realistic plan, so as to achieve stabilization. But there’s no military solution, neither in Afghanistan, nor in Pakistan.

- Poverty is a firm ground for terrorism. India experiences it with the rising naxalite movement, criminal methods used in the name of emancipation of exploited classes. That’s why law enforcement is necessary, under the rule of law. But it’s not enough. The pace of development must be hastened and the fruits of economic growth must be shared fairly.

We have to work out a worldwide governance to find common answers. – How do we bridge the individual and the global, the defense of particular identities and the definition of common rules? For centuries, the objective of each of our countries has been to build a national democracy. Today, in the face of the new challenges to the world (economic, social, cultural, environmental, ethical) we have to set about building a genuine world democracy. The United Nations is the only conceivable forum for defining the indispensable tools, norms and structures. Is this a utopian vision? Not to my mind. Rather, it’s an objective to aim for in a shaky world.

- We must put the dialogue of cultures and the summing up of different experiences at the core of a renewed world order. In this regard, India has an important role to play, particularly to bridge the widening gap between North and South, East and West. India must share with the world its culture and its social and political principles, even more as it already does. The world’s greatest democracy has achieved stability within difficult conditions and has shown the way for intercultural dialogue.

- The global stakes ask for worldwide governance. The regulation of the financial system, the response to climate change as well as collective security are challenges from which depend stability, prosperity and even survival. In a world of growing migratory flows, we must always try to sew together what risks to be torn apart. We have the responsibility to preserve the common good of unity. We have the task of reconciliation.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Standing before you in this city, which suffered the deadliest attacks during the last years, as well as Mumbai did four weeks ago, I want to say I am absolutely convinced that together we will see an end to terrorism. It’s a question of resolve. And lucidity.

- Resolve, because, to thwart future attacks, political leaders must be continually mobilized, intelligence services must work night and day, the best technological means must be used, all citizens must be vigilant;

- Lucidity, because we face a movement that is one step ahead of us. That has to be reversed. How? Terrorism is like an iceberg, with a visible tip and a submerged part. It has to be dealt with globally.

- To deal with the tip, we must increase our efforts in areas like intelligence, police work, border controls, judicial inquiries, tracking in the field, technical cooperation with countries at risk, so that one by one we can trace the network and dismantle it.

- To deal with the submerged part, with the complex reality that terrorism feeds on, we must look for dialogue and respect and promote fair and sustainable development.

Let’s make no mistake about the challenge we’re facing. Tomorrow our children will want to know about the decisions we have taken today for justice and peace. We must act now. We must mobilize now and work together for world unity.

Sources: India Today Conclave 2009 et Espace Dailymotion « Ensemble avec Villepin »

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