Europe and its security challenges

Webinar of 26 November 2020 with Yves Doutriaux, State Councillor and former Ambassador

        From Lille, Yves Doutriaux studied economics at what was then Lille-1 and then, entered Sciences-Po Paris. He passed the entrance exam of the ENA at the exit of which he embraced the diplomatic career by joining the Quai d'Orsay. He continued his career in this ministry through various posts (First Secretary of the French Embassy in Tunis, Deputy Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for example) and had the opportunity to attend the drafting of the Maastricht Treaty when he was an adviser to the French representation in the European Union. Yves Doutriaux was Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the UN Security Council and Ambassador of France to the Organization for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE).

His book, La diplomatie : les dessous des relations entre les Etats, deals with diplomacy in general. It contains in particular the description  of the typical day of an ambassador in a bilateral embassy (as opposed to multilateral embassies in which he could work as the European Union or the UN). Among the missions entrusted to the ambassador is the defence of France’s economic interests. Indeed, the ambassador, through his local network, must be able to help a French company wishing to settle in the given country, here in Japan for instance. In addition, his mission also covers a cultural aspect: he receives artists and local personalities, but can also, in collaboration with a Japanese museum, organize an exhibition. On the other hand, it also oversees university cooperation and partnerships between higher education institutions in both countries.

In a purely political aspect, it is at the centre of the interactions between the French and Japanese governments. He urged the ministers to meet or even the President to go to Japan himself to discuss. Yves Doutriaux takes the example of French apples, whose export was very complicated because of restrictive phytosanitary standards. The ambassador’s intervention and his invitation to the French and Japanese ministers of agriculture finally made this export possible.

In his words, the ambassador is the “control tower of France in Japan”. He oversees everything that affects France’s interests. In the other sense, he is a privileged speaker for the Japanese and thus greatly facilitates contacts between the two countries.

Yves Doutriaux told us about the role of Deputy Ambassador: the Deputy Ambassador He replaces the Ambassador to the Security Council. His role is to represent France (permanent member) on the Security Council. This institution is the supreme body of the United Nations and is responsible for peace and security. This description may seem broad. In fact, it must reflect on the response to the various crises that can cross the world. It provides solutions such as peacekeepers, who are now present in Mali or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where they have been since 1999. These peacekeeping operations are often very complicated, but to summarize, this 15-member Council’s mission is to “assist the United Nations in assisting countries in need” in its own words. The United Nations also contains an important organ: the General Assembly in which heads of States and governments meet. Yves Doutriaux points out that this is an opportunity for immense dialogue since the whole world is meeting in New York for a fortnight. The General Assembly is the forum for discussion of cross-cutting issues such as global warming, aid to the country in difficulty or crisis management. It is also sometimes the place of discussion of highly targeted territorial issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has occupied this assembly almost since its creation; or encorde of frozen conflicts such as the case of Cyprus (part of which is under Turkish occupation) or Western Sahara.

We ask about the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and if it has it fulfilled some of the objectives that the organization had set for itself, whether in the political-military, economic or environmental fields. He explained that the OSCE is an international but not universal organization. It brings together the countries of the northern hemisphere and is said to go from Vancouver to Vladivostok through Valletta. Historically, the OSCE emerged from the Helsinki Final Act signed in 1975. It is the USSR which is at the origin of this organization because the Soviets wanted one with Europe and North America guaranteeing them that the borders resulting from the Second World War would not move; especially in Germany which, we know, was separated in two. The USSR wanted to preserve the borders of the Warsaw Pact, an organization in which it had full powers, illustrated by the intervention of Russian tanks to quell the Hungarian or Czech revolts. The United States and the European states being reluctant, the USSR accepts the addition of a “third basket”: a human dimension that enshrines public freedom, expression and press… In short, human rights. For example, Soviet Jews who want a visa to go west or to Israel are denied it. The United States and Europeans therefore demand freedom of movement for these people in exchange for an agreement to maintain borders.

The Helsinki Final Act was therefore signed by Brezhnev and all the Soviet leaders of the time. It was reinforced in 1991 by the signing of the Paris Charter, which established the OSCE, whose primary mission was the political and economic transition of the countries formerly under communist dictatorship. The OSCE is therefore, as Mr. Doutriaux  pointed out, an organization that is concerned with human rights and their respect. It is now based in Vienna.

On the other hand, this organization has a political-military component: it wants to settle conflicts and disputes peacefully, which is far from simple. In addition, conflicts sometimes erupt between two member countries, as well as between Russia and Ukraine, following the annexation of Crimea and the desire for independence of three Ukrainian provinces that entered into rebellion, supported by Russia. A ceasefire has been concluded, but it is often broken; the OSCE sends observers to Ukraine to determine which party and who fired and from where. The OSCE is therefore heavily invested in crisis management and disarmament. For example, it had an agreement ratified in the early 1990s to reduce the number of tanks, artillery pieces— in short, conventional forces of the parties. However, these agreements are being questioned today and since 2014, notably by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Another example given by Yves Doutriaux is the open skies program, which is supposed to allow any military aircraft to fly over another member country and take pictures. Or the fact that the parties to the OSCE can observe military maneuvers organized by another party. These measures, which are “confidence-building measures”, are now in difficulty and indicate a lack of confidence, in particular, from Russia. Some will not fail to question or even point out a possible return to the Cold War. The results of the OSCE in this field are therefore mixed, but at least, says our interlocutor, it exists, and we talk about it. Sometimes in an acrimonious tone as between Russia and the Baltic countries on the question of the Russian-speaking minorities, but the important thing is that the dialogue is there.

On the economic and environmental front, Mr. Doutriaux admits that the value added is modest. The place in these areas is left to actors such as the European Union which has a much more economic vocation. 

Finally, Yves Doutriaux wanted to underline the very important activity of the OSCE on human rights. It will, for example, send observers to verify that they are applied, particularly during elections. Observers (who may be young students or retirees and may range from a few dozen to more than 1,500) take into account the campaign, the counting and the sincerity of the election. For example, they were present during the 2003 and 2004 elections in Georgia and Ukraine. Elections which, faced with a report of theft, had to be repeated, not without passing before the pink revolution in Georgia and the orange revolution in Ukraine, popular protest movements. This election rigging took place again in Belarus this year without the people being heard this time.

About the role of NATO and the EU undermining the OSCE in terms of guaranteeing security in Europe, Yves Doutriaux says that these organizations are not of comparable size or objectives. The European Union and NATO currently comprise 27 and 30 member countries respectively, while the OSCE comprises 57. On the other hand, NATO is a military alliance whose purpose is common protection. The EU is an economic union, the defence and security dimension is much more recent (it dates from Maastricht and Lisbon). The greatest advance is President Macron’s wish for a pooling of forces and not a common army to act together against an external threat. The EU has already launched, under the aegis of some members of external operations such as the French intervention in Mali (Barkhane), where European instructors are sent to reinforce and train the Malian army, or in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean that could endanger European commercial interests.

The OSCE, in addition to all these political-military aspects, is more oriented, and Mr. Doutriaux emphasizes it again, towards security, even human, that is to say human rights. According to him, the OSCE meetings are major forums, a place of exchange of expertise giving rise to small ad hoc and practical actions. He takes as an example the training of the police of Kyrgyzstan: the Kyrgyz government having asked the OSCE to help it to train its police because it fired live bullets on peaceful demonstrators, this posing a moral and legal problem; French RSCs went to Kyrgyzstan to train local police forces.

Another example is the sending of soldiers to Tajikistan, a country that had just come out of a 20-year civil war, in order to de-mine, a high-risk intervention that required a level of expertise that the Tajiks did not have.

We asked about the current challenges for European security (particularly in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks). According to Yves Doutriaux, the stakes are very high: between cybercrime, populism, terrorism or the conquering appetite of two big neighbours (Russia and Turkey), the EU has something to do. Added to this is the pandemic we are currently experiencing. European officials produced a document in 2016 describing the security issues of recent years, but this one is already, in many ways, obsolete. It requires a very regular update as the EU is facing multiple and unpredictable challenges and challenges. However, Mr Doutriaux stressed that the Union is making progress as the European Commission has negotiated vaccines for the entire European population or the EU has, for the first time, agreed to go into debt in order to provide aid to the countries most affected economically by the crisis.

The ambassador also also informed us about the stakes of the American election and the stakes for relations between the US and the EU, especially at the level of European security. According to him, the relations between the United States and Europe will be easier, they will have a tone and a style less borrowed from the competitive vision than Donald Trump had. Moreover, the Biden administration will not normally be opposed to multilateralism. Only, Yves Doutriaux thinks that the United States will gradually, and this has already begun according to him, give much less interest to Europe to turn to the Pacific and China. The European Union must therefore acquire more autonomy vis-à-vis its transatlantic neighbour.

We talked about the the agreement ending the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and the role of Russia, and Mr. Doutriaux was suprised by this agreement. He stressed that Armenia was a poor country while Azerbaijan derives its wealth from oil, which allowed it to strengthen its army and thus take its revenge, with the strong support of Turkey, after the conflict lost between 1988 and 1994 by them. Russia remained cautious throughout the conflict before intervening diplomatically when Armenia’s defeat loomed. It set up a mediation and sent 2,000 soldiers to enforce the ceasefire. The question now is what rights and protections will be enjoyed by the Armenians who remained in Artsakh and landlocked in the middle of the Azerbaijani territory with the only exit being a road linking them to Armenia and controlled by Russian forces. He stressed the useful role of Russia in resolving this conflict.

Finally, about a possible reform of the UN Security Council, now considered too unrepresentative of the current world, he explained that France is in favour of such a reform, which ultimately comes up against the disagreement of three major players: the United States, Russia and China, three permanent members. Indeed, they have a negative view of the potential arrival as permanent members of India, Germany, Japan, Brazil and an African country. The number of countries in favour of this reform is high, but there is a blockage by these three powers. Another avenue of reform would be to limit the use of the veto only if the vital interests of the country in question are concerned. Indeed, this would make it easier to deal with crisis situations such as Ukraine or Syria, both blocked by the Russian veto.It would therefore be a matter of forcing the major powers to find a compromise and to negotiate instead of vetoes.


We would like to thank Yves Doutriaux and the AFNU for this Webinar!

The Espomun team.