In a recent intervention before the press, Jean-Yves le Drian, French Minister of Defense, laid out the revised strategic and defense goals for France for 2015. This plan was supposed to be exposed early January, but the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo changed the policy and ultimately the strategic agenda of France. In his introduction the Minister claimed that “never, in its recent history, France has known such a deep connection between the direct threats on its homeland and the ones multiplying outside of its borders.” Despite its economic difficulties, France has demonstrated this last decade its commitment to assuring the security of its territory and interests of the Nation, as well as projecting its military power in its perceived sphere of influence.
Threats and Challenges to France and Strategic Reactions
In his intervention, Jean-Yves le Drian underscored the threat represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and Boko Haram. In the case of ISIL, it menace can be felt in Syria, Iraq and Libya and in Western homelands. Territories under control of terrorist networks form an ‘arc’ circling Europe. Their presence can be felt on the European continent considering their degree of attractivity for many European citizens as illustrated by the terrorist attacks conducted in France and Denmark.
In addition to the real menace of radical islamic terrorist networks, the war in Ukraine on the European continent completes the circle around Europe. War on the European continent has fostered serious fears in most European capitals. “War in Europe,” argued le Drian, “it is what everyone of us must fear when borders are being changed and when international law is being trampled.”
In order to address the challenges and threats confronting France and its interests, France has defined its national security and defense framework in the famous Livre Blanc. In the last decade, France saw the production of two Livres Blancs, one in 2008 under President Sarkozy and recently in 2013 under President Hollande. Historically, France has produced four Livres Blancs. The first one in 1972 looked at the strategic independence of France offered by the possession of its nuclear capabilities. The second one in 1994 sought to address the radical shifting regional and global order ensuing the collapse of the Soviet Union. The third one, in 2008, incorporates the lessons learned after 2001, the new world order, and the new threats facing the Nation.
The last one, produced in 2013, incorporates the new realities facing France such as the economic crisis and the financial constraints, the Arab Spring and the rising instabilities in European neighborhoods, the rise of new powers especially in Asia and cyberthreats. In this 160-page strategic document produced soon after the election of François Hollande, French defense experts laid out three strategic lines of conduct: protection, deterrence, and intervention.
French Foreign Hyper-Activity
Historically, France has always been an independent global actor. Its global rank ensuing World War two was boosted by General de Gaulle developing a maximalist and exceptionalist dimensions to France’s foreign and defense policies. France has been for several decades a second-rank superpower with its large standing army, nuclear weapons, and active military-industrial complex. France has been a reliable US partner even though it remained independent from NATO until 2009 when it rejoined NATO’s integrated military command structure.
In order to compete with NATO, France was favorable to the creation of an independent European military force. The most serious and effective decision took place in 1998 in Saint-Malo during a bilateral agreement with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. This agreement established the European Security and Defense Policy, becoming the Common Security and Defense Policy with the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. France has been an active participant of CSDP missions, civilian and military combined, when it favored its national interests and usually when CSDP missions were deployed in its sphere of influence, Africa and the Middle East.
Since the turn of the century, France has stood against the US because of the 2003 war in Iraq and was vocal against the neo-conservative agenda of the Bush administration. The relations with the US changed with the arrival to power of President Obama in 2008, even though some warming up occurred in the last years of President Bush. In parallel of Obama’s arrival, the world and especially the European neighborhoods have developed new dynamics. Once elected in 2008, President Obama wanted to disengage the US from its Bushian wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and pivot to Asia. The US pivot was engaged leaving a certain power vacuum in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. During the pivot, the Arab world faced a radical and quick transition caused by the Arab Spring, which no Western leaders saw coming and knew how to handle.
To some extent, France under the presidency of M. Sarkozy took the lead and initiated a period of hyper-activity starting with the 2011 mission against Libya sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011) implementing a no-fly zone over Libya. This UNSCR was pushed to the limits by Western actors, France, Britain and the US, leading to the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Since the war in Libya, France is currently fighting battles on three exterior fronts and one interior front:
- foreign theaters: in Central African Republic (CAR) with Operation Sangaris; in the Sahel region counting Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad under Operation Barkhane; in Mali with Operation Serval; and in Iraq with Operation Chammal fighting ISIL.
- domestic theater: France has launched Operation Sentinelle in January 2015 until a scheduled review in June counting 10,000 soldiers to protect France’s homeland – public and religious sites – against possible attacks.
Reactualization of the 2015 Objectives
In his speech, Jean-Yves le Drian announced five broad orientations for 2015. These orientations are made in accordance with the Military Programming Law (la loi de programmation militaire) from 2014-2019. Due to the terrorist attacks of January 2015, the Ministry of Defense is seeking to addressing some adjustments in the Military Programming Law (MPL), which holds two dispositions: first, material provisions such finance, equipments and budgets; second, normative provisions.
The new orientations for 2015 are as follow:
- review of the military effectives;
- reforming some of the priorities established in 2013 by developing special forces, a new cyber strategy, increasing the domain of intelligence (human and material capabilities);
- military-industrial complex, addressing some capabilities shortfalls of the French army (in drones, helicopters, arial transportation), while increasing the sale of French military equipments, namely the Rafale;
- financial resources for the MPL by guaranteeing the funding to the Ministry of Defense;
- a new relationship between the Army and the Nation.
A Call for More Europe
During the two-day informal Defense ministers meeting in Riga in February 2015, Jean-Yves le Drian underlined the importance for EU Member States to increase their commitments and support towards European security and defense. A month later, he continued his call for more European participation to the protection of Europe. In his march intervention, he said “we are 28 Member States in the EU, but how many are we to really participate in the resolution of crises in our neighborhood?” He claimed that the distribution of labor is not evenly distributed, even though the threats directly threaten the EU and its 28 Member States as a whole. The attacks in Paris, Copenhagen and Tunis and the Russian expansionist war in Eastern Europe are a clear illustration.
The Defense Minister underlined the fact that European financial contributions to NATO (fixed at 2% of the GDP) are not met by most European members and in the case of the EU, the financial burden on common operations (under the CSDP, read here an article on the financing of CSDP missions) is not evenly distributed. “When France fight in the Sahel, Levant,” he said “she intervenes for the benefits of the security of all Europeans.”
Between the Le Drian’s comments, Juncker’s proposal for a EU army, and Solana’s call for a European Defense Union (EDU), the question of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) is an important one of the many current European agendas. The global and regional realities with the ‘arc of fire’ all around the EU has caused great concerns to all EU-28. If Southern Members are more inclined to see the instabilities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as a direct threat to their homelands, Eastern Members are feeling the heat from the war led by Russia on the Eastern front, and all Member States are seeing the rise of radical islamic terrorist activities domestically. The EU and the EU-28 are confronting serious external and internal threats requiring more cooperation and ultimately deeper integration. These threats are so diverse in their origins and nature that they cannot be solved independently. They require a united front.
The June Defense Summit will be an important moment in European security and defense cooperation. The French will be vocal and will want to increase European cooperation and burden-sharing in addressing the extremely volatile neighborhoods. Other EU Member States ought to join France in seriously addressing these threats.
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