President Nicolas Sarkozy is unlikely to consummate his ambitious turnaround of France’s defense policy during one term in office – i.e. by 2012 – in the view of most Western military experts consulted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
A second term would give him a chance to achieve a badly needed overhaul of French intelligence services, including the military branches, by the application of a hefty injection of advanced electronic surveillance and early warning resources.
This upgrade would take France’s defense resources forward by leaps and bounds to their most radical upgrade since Charles de Gaulle armed France with its force de frappe exactly half a century ago.
The outdated doctrine of territorial defense would go by the board and France’s armed forces restructured as part of Europe for fighting the enemies of this day and age, such as terrorist networks at home and on foreign soil and missile attack.
Sarkozy proposes funding these priorities by reducing the number of bases and rethinking the need for sophisticated new jet fighters and a second aircraft carrier.
Five key points stand out from the French president’s reforms on security strategy:
1. An estimate 54,000 defense jobs – most in noncombatant support services – will be cut out of a total of 330,000 over six to seven years.
The French president countered the critics of personnel cutbacks, a sensitive issue, by arguing that they will not weaken France’s military strength but release the saving for making the armed forces more mobile and improving equipment and intelligence. French defense would therefore come out of the reform program smaller but more powerful and more focused on contemporary needs in a global world beset by globalized threats.
Will retain nuclear deterrent, step up military acquisitions
2. France’s annual defense budget of about $57.3 billion will remain at 2.3 percent of its gross domestic product, while increased investment – estimated at $576 billion up until 2020 – will be financed by cutbacks of nonessentials. Military acquisitions spending will be raised by more than 16 percent. France will invest in an expensive space-based early warning system against missile attacks and the reorganization of its intelligence services under a single chief.
3. France will begin operating within the NATO alliance’s military wing – Sarkozy has not clarified whether as a member of the alliance’s high command or not. Staying out would preserve the French army’s independence of action.
4. France will retain its nuclear deterrent but not expand it.
5. The new defense doctrine calls the creation of a credible and functioning European defense a top French priority. It requires at least 30,000 French soldiers to be available for combat deployment at six months’ notice as France’s contribution to the far from realized European goal of 60,000 soldiers for deployment at one-year’s notice.
The way the French president presented his new plans Tuesday, it sounded as though he had already obtained the backing of the leaders of the European Union and its 27 member-nations.
This, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports is far from the fact. Furthermore, while some of Sarkozy’s proposals sound good, they face plenty of criticism and not all are feasible at this time.
London and Berlin: Sarkozy Is Too radical
Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, which was designed to streamline military cooperation among the Union’s member states, was a serious setback.
In addition, Britain and Germany dislike the French president’s plan for modular military wings such as a European navy and air force, spearheaded by the French carrier Charles de Gaulle and French Air force fighter bombers. They find it too radical, especially his novel idea of placing European units at the disposal of member states for a fee based on an hourly or daily tariff – as a sort of rent-a-force.
Sarkozy’s plan does not specify who decides when a rapid response is needed, the locations of the European force’s command centers or which nations should provide its officer elite.
Berlin and London suspect a ruse to pass a part of France’s defense spending burden over to the European Union and their own government’s shoulders.
Then, too, some European military experts admit that a 30,000-strong rapid deployment force, with 5,000 soldiers on permanent operation alert, would be an invaluable increment for Europe’s fast intervention capabilities in a world where mass-casualty terrorist strikes can happen anywhere.
At the same time, those experts point out that the attempt to form a European rapid response army is old hat, which has been hanging fire for seven years without ever moving past Stage One. Furthermore, the means of transport for meeting Sarkozy’s criterion of high mobility are lacking.
Regional ties to cut the threads of France’s bilateral colonial past
The French president has raised ire at home by the stipulation that France’s military reintegration in NATO is contingent on parallel progress in developing a European policy able to carry out European Union missions outside the alliance. The French opposition Socialist Party opposes this provision as a departure from France’s anti-interventionist neutrality.
French officials have put forward counter-arguments.
The Western alliance is a changed organization since the admission in the last decade of many new members. France’s self-exclusion is no longer justified. Today, transatlantic relations are the key to European and French security.
Not only has NATO changed, but so too have France’s security needs since Paris formulated its last strategic blueprint in 1994. Paris must finally snap the last threads of its colonial past – focusing less on bilateral military operations in Africa, for example – and shift to regional defense cooperation with the European Union, NATO and groups like the Organization of African Unity.