Paris — France could provide transport planes to help deploy a planned West African military intervention into Mali, but the 15-nation regional group needs to find a political settlement for the turmoil-wracked state, French Defense Minister Gérard Longuet said April 6.
“What we expect from ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] is that it works on the long-term political solution for Mali,” Longuet told the Anglo-American Press Association. “Naturally, once this political settlement has been approved by the international community, we will support it. We have the material means, like the U.S., to help in the concentration of troops if needed.”
Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the day before that Paris could provide logistical support for the deployment into Mali of two ECOWAS battalions totaling 3,000 troops.
Longuet said, “On the technical level, we have all the means to provide mobility to facilitate the regrouping of the ECOWAS forces. The real question is political.”
Mali was, with Chad, Mauritania and Niger, part of the Pan-Sahel Initiative, a U.S. State Department program intended to counter terrorism and boost regional security. One of the Mali coup leaders, Army Capt. Amadou Sanogo, said he had been trained by U.S. Marines and intelligence, Reuters reported.
Regarding a potential sale of the Dassault Rafale fighter jet to India, Longuet said, “If the Indians are interested in the Rafale, that’s because, contrary to other clients, there is the idea they might have to use it one day.”
And on a possible Rafale deal with the United Arab Emirates, Longuet said, “It will happen one day. When? We don’t know.”
Discussing the U.S.-led ballistic missile defense program for Europe, which will be on the agenda at the NATO summit in May in Chicago, Longuet said Paris would be a “passive partner,” contributing know-how, including long-range radar and missile interception under French control, but no funding.
The probability the missile shield would be realized is “extraordinarily weak,” he said.
On a planned procurement of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP UAV as an interim asset for the French Air Force, Longuet said the work is going very well.
France chose Heron as a means of building up its uav sector, and views it as an intermediate step to the next-generation uav to be built with Britain. There is, however, a real difference between Britain and France in industrial policy, Longuet said.
Under the Lancaster House bilateral defense cooperation treaty, London wanted to work on a common design for a new medium-altitude long-endurance UAV, and put out to tender the production contract. Paris, however, wants to promote a European, not just French, industrial sector around the program.
That policy difference resembles the English garden, which was elegant but did not look crafted by a controlling hand, and the French garden, which was majestic but looked under mastery, Longuet said.