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The ability to enter first...

(BRUSSELS2, opinion) The reflection begun with the White Paper on a new format for the French army is starting to come to fruition. And generally speaking, several methods can make it possible to try to identify what the French army of the future will be.

  • First, define the rank that France must hold facing threats and the world. Unfortunately, today it can no longer hold on to everything that made it strong in the past. The French economy is only fifth in the world, closely followed by Brazil (India is catching up with Italy). It is a fact. There is no need to cry about the past. And the financial crisis in the Eurozone has a structural effect. We have changed eras.
  • Second, see what France may have, given the budgetary crisis, either in isolation or in a group. It's tempting. In this case, defense becomes the key to adjusting other decisions. But it's a risk. The cuts will be made in the least painful way possible, according to current political choices. This is not automatically sustainable in the medium term.
  • Third, reason about what makes the specificity French, its particular contribution to European defence, which the others cannot provide (to it). This approach seems to me just as relevant.

The ability to enter first, a French specificity

What qualifies the French army? It is essentially its operational capacity to “go in first”, combined with a politico-military system which allows it to move quickly, “pulse” well, and an availability of planning which covers a wide range of actions. Everything being generally accepted by public opinion, as long as the intervention is justifiable for external objectives and not only for French interest (*). This is what really makes France unique among European countries. It is, in this sense, unique. This quality of “precursor”, the intervention in Mali highlighted it (with the army in pole position) as the intervention in Libya had demonstrated (on the air force and navy side). At the European level, only the United Kingdom can have the same approach (and even then... because the British, apart from the Falklands, and Sierra Leone in 2000). And on the NATO side, only the United States fulfills an identical function (But France does not have the same Defense budget, nor the GDP).

Share in the plural

However, having the ability to enter first – helicopters, commandos, fighter planes, intelligence, transport planes, protective armor, ground forces, not to mention ships or planners, etc… Everything This has a certain cost, especially when we see that alongside this we must maintain a maritime and air nuclear force which requires another rhythm and other constraints. We will have to choose: either abandon some of the capabilities, which is dangerous, or share them in good understanding... The selection criterion would then be: is it necessary, or not, for the intervention capacity? Everything else will have to be put into pooling and sharing, no longer anecdotally but systematically, to generate significant savings. Training, maintenance, spare parts for example… We will have to accelerate this sharing of resources, by providing them with mechanisms to preserve this precursor capacity.

This sharing can be carried out with other countries but also internally, at the national level. The different ministries (interior, defense, equipment, etc.) must examine how certain structures can be shared. This system would have the advantage of preserving the speed of the chain of command. Based on this recipe for pooling and sharing, currently developed, we could also design another method of sharing: over time. For example, France enters first, Germany or other countries then follow a few months later. In summary, we must explore all possibilities for sharing, at all levels, territorial, functional, temporal.

Choosing over nuclear

Finally, we cannot avoid nuclear power. Sanctuary, not to say gelled, it restricts certain capacities. Making a choice on nuclear energy seems unstoppable. Even if this technology has brought power to France and also an important contribution in technical terms, it seems to me today less significant than before, in terms of strength and power. What makes France politically strong? Is it its diplomatic network, its negotiating force present on all sides of the globe, its cultural institutes, or the nuclear weapon? We must also not deny that with the acquisition of this weapon by new players, this contributes to demonetization. Because possessing it today is no longer the prerogative of a few – on the fingers of one hand – but on the fingers of many hands. We can therefore legitimately ask ourselves whether total permanence on both levels, maritime and air, is justified today with regard to the other essential issue: “first entry”!

(*) Which places France in contradiction with Germany where the notion of national interest is an unwritten condition of intervention

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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