French President Tries to Set French Defense on a New Course

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“Il n’y a pas de liberte, il n’y a pas d’egalite, il n’y a pas de fraternite sans securite.” — French President Nicolas Sarkozy By mid 2007 it seemed that France’s President Sarkozy was softening on defense after an electoral stumble. In July 2007, Sarkozy put together a group that was tasked it with creating […]
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“Il n’y a pas de liberte, il n’y a pas d’egalite, il n’y a pas de fraternite sans securite.”
— French President Nicolas Sarkozy

By mid 2007 it seemed that France’s President Sarkozy was softening on defense after an electoral stumble. In July 2007, Sarkozy put together a group that was tasked it with creating a White Paper to define France’s future defense policy. The last time an exercise of this type had been conducted was in 1994.

That group eventually returned with its report, and on June 17/08, President Sarkozy made a speech outlining the key elements of that future direction. The decisions made will change the shape of French defense spending, and will launch an attempt to implement an interlocking set of procurement, infrastructure, and political reforms and changes.

That plan has implications for NATO and the EU, while it received cabinet approval for a 6-year spending plan.

France’s 5 Foci

Sarkozy’s speech set out 5 “grandes fonctions strategiques” for the French military:

1. France must retain autonomous sources of surveillance and intelligence to inform its independent political decisions. “La fonction « connaissance et anticipation » sera prioritaire…”

2. France’s nuclear deterrent must remain, as France’s ultimate strategic guarantor in all potential situations, even as the doctrines accompanying it are modified to correct emerging gaps.

3. Part of that doctrine correction involves the fact that Europe’s populations are too vulnerable in a world where deterrence is less completely effective. “Protection contre les risques nucléaires, radiologiques, biologiques, chimiques” must become a larger priority, and must include systems for ballistic missile launch detection, unspecified offensive and defensive systems (though systems like the MBDA Aster-30 missile have ABM applications), civil defense/warning and non-military national service systems, and a major overhaul in the way French civil and military organizations work together to plan for and manage crises. The French white paper uses the term “resilience,” a valuable concept in an era of systempunkt terrorism.

4. Deployability has become much more important. France’s arc of strategic interest extends through the Mediterranean and Middle East to the Indian Ocean. The recent long term naval basing agreement with Abu Dhabi, UAE is part of that emerging focus.

5. France’s forces must build up greater capabilities for timely crisis prevention in advance, as well as after the fact intervention. Greater integration with civil capabilities and situations the American Pentagon clumsily refers to as “operations other than War” are also on the agenda, as is a term called “Responsibility to Protect” that argues a responsibility to prevent genocides.

In light of those 5 foci, President Sarkozy laid out his view of the necessary changes to French defense policy. If enacted, they would involve sweeping reforms and changes that would reach well beyond the military. While no reform plan survives contact with the legislature, outlines and key points made included:

Military Programs and Decisions

* France’s Leclerc main battle tanks have a mission readiness rate of just 50%. Its (KC-135) aerial refueling tankers are 45 years old, the Puma helicopters upon which it relies for many battlefield transport tasks are 30 years old, and its light armored vehicles average 28 years old. By which he makes the point that modernization of basic battlefield equipment is required. As it happens, these stated requirements would be met in future by key proposed programs, including the Airbus A400M transport with secondary tanker capabilities, the NH90 TTH battlefield helicopter, et. al.

* France’s military currently employs about 270,000. Sarkozy proposes that this would drop to 225,000 by 2015-2016, with 131,000 remaining in the Army, 50,000 in the Air Force, and 44,000 in the Navy. The goal is to have 88,000 operational Army troops, with 30,000 of these personnel deployable within 6 months.

* Several bases will also close, something accomplished in the USA via the innovative BRAC (Base Realignment And Closing) political process, but which creates severe political problems in other countries, regardless of military value. About 50 military bases, garrisons and other defence facilities would be closed across France, as well as some of 4 France’s 4 permanent African bases (Djibouti is very likely to survive those cuts).

* In exchange, France would spend a total of EUR 377 billion (currently about $583 billion) on defense from 2009 – 2020, excluding pensions, of which EUR 180 billion would be marked for new equipment. That’s a rise to an average of EUR 18 billion from the current EUR 15 billion per year, out of a EUR 30.2 billion defense budget not counting pensions. Simply assuming 3% inflation, however, yields an average equipment budget of EUR 18.42 million over that time period. These figures would maintain Sarkozy’s pledge to keep defense spending at over 2% of Gross Domestic product, and the President also promised to see the budget rise faster than inflation by 1% from 2012-2014. Nevertheless, such promises must be regarded with some suspicion as his current term of office ends in 2012 unless he is re-elected.

As a point of contrast, the USA has dropped from almost 6% of GDP during the Reagan years to about 3.8%, with a procurement budget that the French MdlD places at EUR 116 billion, or about 3 times the entire EU’s, and a EUR 67 billion research budget that is 6 times the entire EU’s. At present, only the USA, Britain (2.4%), France (2.3%), Bulgaria, and Romania meet the 2%+ commitment expected of NATO countries.

With respect to specific programs, Defense Minister Herve Morin said in 2007 that simply executing on all of France’s existing procurement program commitments would require almost a 40% rise in the procurement budget from 2009-2013. As such, the big question is whether savings from base closures and rationalization of France’s ministry and military can support the white paper’s procurement plans. Briefing materials indicate that under the new plan:

* The big winner is space systems. Satellite systems for surveillance, including imaging systems as follow-ons to Helios, systems that can detect ballistic missile launches, CERES electromagnetic listening satellites, and other intelligence-gathering platforms, will see their annual budgets double from the present EUR 380 million. Cooperation with other European countries in this regard is possible.

* Long-range land-based radars with missile detection ranges of 3,000+ km are also expected to be part of France’s early warning mix. France’s goal is to field such system by 2015, with a space-based counterpart for ballistic missile warning by 2020.

* Civil figures of EUR 300-400 million over 5 years are expected for security-related but non-military programs like civil warning systems, and response capabilities for attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

* In terms of its front-line combat vessels, by 2020 France plans to retain 1-2 carriers, 4 Mistral Class LHD amphibious assault ships with their helicopter complements, 18 frigates (which may signify a cut in planned FREMM frigate purchases from 17 to 13), and 6 nuclear fast attack submarines, as well as 4 ballistic missile submarines. Those SSBNs will carry new M51 nuclear missiles.

* Postponement of a decision on the PA2 aircraft carrier project until 2011. This leaves very little time before the planned mid-life overhaul and reactor refueling of the CVN Charles de Gaulle in 2015.

* 300 combat aircraft (Rafale and Mirage 2000), down from 350. Some will carry modernized ASMPA nuclear missiles. France will also field a medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV drone in a class similar to America’s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, and to Israel’s Heron drones.

* Research & Development must improve in France and Europe as a whole, an area that has been a focus of the EC’s European Defence Agency. Sarkozy asks how long Europe can remain relevant and competitive with a military research budget that amounts to just 1/6 of the American effort, when all European efforts are pooled. As long as this remains true, he says, “les grandes protestations d’indépendance” will ring hollow.

* A new national security council will be set up at Elysee Palace. There will also be a cyber-security agency (L’Agence de la sécurité des systèmes d’information) and a committee specifically dedicated to coordinate preparation for and civil responses to chemical, biological, radiation, and nuclear attacks.

Other Elements of Interest

* President Sarkozy warned that Europe’s frontiers remain porous, and also mentioned Russia by name without explicitly calling it a threat. “En Europe, nos frontieres terrestres et maritimes ne sont plus sures. Et la Russie est revenue à une politique d’affirmation de sa puissance. Ce n’est insulter personne que de le dire.” (trans. “In Europe, our land and sea frontiers are not more secure. And Russia has returned to an international politics of making its power felt. It does not insult anyone to say this.”)

* Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles is referred to as “la première menace qui pèse aujourd’hui sur le monde” (trans. “…the largest threat currently facing the world”).

France, NATO, and the EU

Deployments 2008

Deployments, 2008

France can currently project a total of 30,000 troops on missions abroad, 70 combat aircraft, I carrier group, and 2 naval battle groups. Sarkozy admits that this force is not large enough to deal with more than major war or crisis at a time, and adds that t may not be enough to undertake key tasks like nation-building without assistance from others.

France’s future alliances will take place within the context of 2 poles, which outside observers see as opposed. Sarkozy proposes to try and reconcile them.

Accordingly, France will come in from the cold and rejoin NATO’s military command after 42 years, while retaining full control of all French military elements, just as other NATO members do in the post Cold War world. His speech was careful to stress that this move met Charles de Gaulle’s 3 key criteria of (1) full control re: whether to send it troops on operations; (2) no permanent contingent under NATO command in times of peace; and (3) absolute independent control over its Force de Frappe nuclear deterrent. This proposed move is already controversial with some hard Gaullist elements in France, however, who see it as a major change. It is also proving controversial with a left that has long held varying levels of hostility toward NATO. Both of these factions have, for their own reasons, sought to diminish NATO and create a pan-European entity that would be a geopolitical rival to the United States.

While his speech’s statements re: NATO attracted a great deal of attention, however, Sarkozy’s speech also placed a lot of emphasis on the planned EU Defence Policy. This was true at the level of the proposed 60,000 soldier set of deployable EU battlegroups, and also in terms of pan-European defense industry integration. Sarkozy made it clear that he intends to push both themes as major priorities during his upcoming rotation as the EU President, as a tangible demonstration of the EU’s benefits to Europe’s citizens. In his speech, he presented the EU as offering reinforcing capabilities, as well as broad-based financial and civil aid, policing, legal assistance, et. al. that would be integrated into and required by future nation stabilization and counterinsurgency operations.

Sarkozy’s argument essentially boils down to 4 linked propositions:

1. France cannot support the full range of forces and capabilities needed to go it alone within its strategic arc.

2. Only the EU offers the full range of financial, political, and nation-building (incl. legal, police, border control, et. al.) assets required to deal with international crises across France’s strategic arc of interest.

3. NATO is both a transatlantic alliance and a European one, and it is telling that many former Warsaw Pact members have chosen to join NATO. It has a strong symbolism, especially in new EU countries, and is also where Europe’s military capabilities currently lie. France is presently one of NATO largest troop contributors for external deployments outside NATO, but has very diluted influence because of its current self-imopsed status in the Alliance.

4. As such, goes the argument, there can be no successful strategy within France’s arc of interest without EU help, no meaningful EU military element without NATO, and no meaningful concept of European action within NATO unless France is a full NATO member.

This is an argument that will be taken up by opponents in France, and beyond. By presenting NATO as a more European endeavor, and the EU as an essential partner that supplies elements NATO cannot, Sarkozy hopes to mollify both NATO’s critics in France and Euro-sceptics beyond it. At the same time, he proposes political reforms that would address French critics by offering the legislature a greater and more open role regarding military deployments, via amendments to France’s constitution. As Sarkozy put it:

“Les soldats français ne sont pas les soldats de plomb du Président de la République ; ils sont la concrétisation de la volonté de notre pays.”

Will these moves be enough to shepherd his proposed foci through the turbulence of French politics? June 26/08 has been set as the date for debate to begin in the French legislature. Given the wide-ranging nature of these proposals, a lively debate is certain.

Updates and Key Events


Dassault Rafale
(click to view full)

Oct 29/08: The French cabinet approves a draft Defense Planning Law (LPM), which sets out the broad defense budget for the next 6 years. As such, it’s the financial underpinning for the initial phases of President Sarkozy’s plan to streamline defense. The bill provides for spending of EUR 185 billion euros (about $230 billion) over 2009-2014, with outlays frozen over the first 3 years and increasing by 1% from 2012.

The LPM will be submitted to parliament for a vote early in 2009, and Defence Minister Morin does not appear to be backing away from spending in light of the global financial crisis:

“France wants to maintain a strong foreign policy. For its voice to be heard, it must be a credible military power… In my view, the LPM is an opportunity in a period of economic crisis. It will enable the injection of money into the economy at a time when our industry needs it… France is one of the three or four biggest countries in terms of arms industries. I have done everything to maintain these flagship companies.”

Cuts of 54,000 mostly administrative support posts and revenues from base closures would be moved to the new equipment budget. There will be personnel growth in one area, however – 700 new jobs will be created in intelligence services to fight terrorism.

High profile items in the current 6-year plan include 50 – 66 of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters over the next 6 years, depending on export sales. That last caveat may well be a reference to a potential Libyan deal, which France expects to close in 2008. As of 2006, when the French Armée de l’Air activated its first squadron, the French armed forces had only ordered 120 Rafales (82 for the air force, 38 for the navy), though plans ultimately call for 294 To date, 60 have been delivered.

They will be accompanied by a second-hand Airbus A330 that will be converted into a Presidential plane similar to the USA’s Air Force One, and by a pair of Falcon 7X business jets that will also be tasked with VIP missions. That component of France’s plans is set at EUR 280 million.

After the 2009 vote, the next big milestone for France’s defense plans will come in 2010, with the adoption of the second triennial budget. See also: French President’s declaration [Francais] | NSI | Reuters | Washington Post.

Additional Readings

* Links to full French White Paper and briefing materials: “Livre Blanc sur la Stratégie de Défense et de Sécurité de la France
* Agence France Presse [English]
* Deutsche Welle [English]
* The Economist
* UK Times Online
* UK’s Independent | Voice of America
* UK’s Telegraph re: dissent in the French military and “Surcouf”.

Additional Readings: Related Perspectives

* DID (Nov 1/07) – Forecast International: A Gloomy Outlook for Europe

* DID (Oct 17/05) – EU Procurement Challenges & Defense Weakness Debated

* See the World Security Institute – Toward a New Trans-Atlantic and European Security Structure.” Offers an advance take on France’s pending EU Presidency, and some of the defense-related themes echoed strongly in Sarkozy’s speech.

* Russia’s RIA Novosti (June 19/08) – Sarkozy is ready to annex NATO to France.

* Defence of the Realm – European defence – an unrealisable dream? From the Euro-sceptic UK site. Makes a strong version of the Euro-skeptic argument beyond France, in response to Sarkozy’s vision.

* Washington Post (June 17/08) – France’s Whirlwind of Change

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