On Tuesday the 19th of March 2019, various academics, diplomats, military officers and distinguished guests met for a security salon on ‘French Perspectives on the Indo-Pacific’. The salon was organised by the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and hosted at the Ministry of Defence and attended by guest speaker Dr. Frederic Grare, Charge de Mission at the Centre for Analysis, Planning and Strategy.
After a warm welcome from the Director General of INSSSL, Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Dr. Grare spoke extensively about the French perspective and interests in the Indo-Pacific, with an underlying notion that to mitigate threats in the region states must change the conversation about security by focusing on interstate cooperation and collaboration.
Dr. Grare opened his segment by firstly describing the Indo-Pacific, stating that there is no geographical reality of this area, and the term is used merely as a framing device. He quoted Australian Allan Gyngell, who believes “the Indo-Pacific is simply a way for governments to frame the international environment to suit their policy objectives…”. This is a very valid and applicable definition that France utilises, said Dr. Grare, with mention of the ambiguous and ever-changing definitions that exist globally, particularly in the US.
Dr. Grare then moved to discuss France’s specific interests in the region, explaining that militarisation is at the core of the French perspective. He mentioned that France focuses on specific countries and not specific states for Indo-Pacific relations. There shouldn’t be a system of favouring certain states or reacting to state interests. Instead, a system with better dialogue and increased cooperation should be created in the Indo-Pacific, he said.
The particular objectives of France in the region were discussed next, with reference to preserving freedom of navigation, sovereignty, and the natural environment. According to Dr. Grare, France is no different to other states who depend on the Indo-Pacific sea lanes, and hence France is ready to assume its share of responsibilities to maintain this freedom and has been doing so for years. Furthermore, states must actively work to preserve the notion of sovereignty in territories and populations, with specific reference to the impact of certain activities such as illegal fishing in sovereign waters.
In the same vein, Dr. Grare stressed the threat of climate change in the Indo-Pacific, mentioning rising sea levels, the displacement of populations, the impacts of over-fishing, and the aftermath of natural disasters. These new security threats may create serious change in the security and political landscapes and need to be addressed through state cooperation.
Dr. Grare concluded by stating that the way in which France views the Indo-Pacific is cooperatively; that the region is inclusive of a range of states from across the globe who must work together strategically.
The floor was then opened to questions from attendees with a focus on the need for Sri Lanka to take initiative and reach out to other nations for assistance with security and strategy. Dr. Grare mentioned that Sri Lanka need not work alone, and that there are definite possibilities for cooperative security endeavours, but the country does need to take the first steps to ensure this in the Indo-Pacific