mardi 14 mai 2013

10 points to sum up the new French White Paper on Defense and National Security (+ Update)

The new French Defense and National Security White Paper has been released on April 29. No major surprise at all inside, but more truth and pragmatism. Mostly confirmations of previous trends and thoughts but no revolutions: reasonable ambitions (a good point, in some respects... just in some respects), a set of cuts (more or less dramatic) across military capabilities and several issues remain with regards to the actual level of funds.

A new capstone document without surprises.

1/ No “Asia Pivot” strategy, but a less attractive buzzword: “Euro-Atlantic-African Pivot”, with a focus on the Atlantic area and on Europe’s larger neighborhood, including the Sahel. Despite the fact that France wants to contribute to the global peace and security, we have no longer means and no enough ambition to be a global power. Pre-positioning bases (Djibouti, Abu Dhabi, N’Djamena…) and sovereignty forces in the overseas departments will just evolve (less troops, more security force assistance and regional cooperation), but no closure.

2/ A lot of pragmatism with our partners. No surprise about the 2 major French “partnerships”. The 1st White Paper after the France’s return to NATO’s integrated military command closed the debate: an active posture in NATO, with some precautions, for example, about an expensive anti-ballistic defense system. Secondly, the difficult establishment of the EUTM mission in Mali gives a clear example: an unchanged high ambition for the European Defense but with concrete projects, as expected for the European Council in December, 2013 which will focus on defense issues.

3/ Gaullism and foreign policy: the balance between strategic autonomy and coalition warfare? After two wars in Afghanistan (where France was just a shareholder in the US-led coalition) and Mali, (where France build a coalition), the trend is leaning towards a more autonomous strategic decision-making and action, unlike the previous White Paper in 2008 where acting in a coalition was described as a panacea. Strategic autonomy is in particular the 1st “operational principle” for Future Force model by 2025.

4/ The 2010 Anglo-French Lancaster Treaty to help a French Navy capacity? Funny isn’t it? The Defense White Paper underlines the importance of European military co-operation, especially with Britain. It mentioned the Treaty for a Carrier battle group with the Charles-De-Gaulle and British assets, and for industry and armament issues. But no mention for other operational matters like the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) with a land component (at brigade level) and other components (air, naval, headquarters, logistics…).

5/ Boost SOF capacity is so trendy. French Special Forces are the ultimate winner of this Strategic Review with the ambitious goal of strengthening their capacities (perhaps 1,000 additional SOF operators to reach 4,000 by 2025, questions remain to manage such an important increase) and a new effort for ISR: drones (without Hellfire missiles, waiting to see how the current debate in the U.S. ends), light ISR aircraft (lessons learned from Operation Serval in Mali), space-based capabilities, cyberdefense (with offensive capabilities soon to be developed), intelligence agencies… U.S. strategic culture as a global model?
French Special Forces operators in Markala (Mali) - 2013.
6/ Is it OK Mr. Rasmussen? Even if the purpose was not to reassure NATO Secretary General after warning about European defense budget cuts, France intends (or tries) to maintain a full spectrum military and its hard power, for itself and for its European allies: from the (exigent) nuclear deterrent to COIN campaign and peacekeeping operations. However “temporary capacity reductions” and non-renew equipment on time (air transport, light tanks, air refueling…) will affect our actual capabilities during 3 or 4 years around 2020. Is it sustainable without an hypothetical budget increase in the coming years?

7/ Hey folks, “hybrid threats” seems to be a nice concept. Try it! The White Paper develops a concise French military strategy (a questionable one): threats, responses, strategic functions… The French forces will conduct state-on-state conflict (“opérations de coercition”) or unconventional operations (“opérations de gestion de crise”), and sometimes a vague mix against “hybrid threats”. This concept (re-discovered by Mattis, Hoffman, Arquilla…) is new in the French strategic culture, so how the French forces will adapt to it?

8/ The French want to kill Augustine’s laws with a (other) hopeful operational principle: differentiation, or “The right equipment in the right place for the right mission”. For example, Rafale aircraft will be used for complex tasks (air supremacy, interdiction, close air support...) and Mirage 2000-D, a non-multipurpose aircraft which each flight hour is significantly less expensive, will be used for less complex tasks as French airspace surveillance. No F-35 aircraft to control a suspect Boeing 787 over Washington D.C.! It’s the same thing for light Infantry forces vs. heavy Armored forces...
Law 16 - The most cited law. Price but no mention of capabilities...
9/ Doing better with less… Even if the Defense budget will be the same (€31,4 bn without inflation or new cuts, for the most optimistic assumptions), new cuts in “the workforce” will be made by 2025 (more or less 20,000, compared with 54,000 for the previous government...): Army will lose a brigade (probably a medium one) and some capabilities for future ground operations, Air Force will not have all aircraft provided, Navy will try to control 11 million square kilometers (due to numerous Overseas departments and territories) with more or less 15 to 21 patrol boats, but few decisions (now) about cuts in the administration and services of the French Department of Defense.
10/ We are French defense industry and we are legion! French Defense industry must export to survive, in the same way as U.S. military industry after the drop in orders following the budget cuts. Therefore, it shall be moreaggressive” on international markets. As Darwin said (or someone else…): export or die. Without a permanent adaptation and the state support for this strategic industry, positively involved in the French trade balance (note to yourself: a rare exception), the French high rate of unemployment will again increase and strategic autonomy will be jeopardized… Tragic.

To conclude, 4 appointments:

1/ one day: when the French White Paper will be translated in English to continue debate with you… A good point for a worldwide diffusion.
3/ October 2013: our ambitions will be translated into a specific budget from 2014 to 2019 voted in Parliament. The moment of truth.
4/ 2017-2018: a new French White Paper with the same issues. The current one confirms the alignment between our strategy and the presidential-term agenda.

Update n°1: the French Department of Defense has been released a summary: "White Paper on Defense and National Security 2013 - Twelve key points" (PDF).

This is my third column in English on my blog Mars Attaque (number 1 and number 2). 2 objectives: I want to share my articles to a non-French speaking audience... and I need also to improve my writing skills in English with exercices. Here we go!

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