Emmanuel Macron must invest in defense if he doesn’t want to be a Jupiterian president without any thunder.
The tragedy of François Hollande’s presidency was due to the fact that his actions never lived up to his words. This includes the field of defense, in which he never stopped saying that France was at war whilst maintaining peacetime organization and resources. Emmanuel Macron, who has highlighted his role as head of the armed forces, is therefore facing some crucial choices. At Versailles, he stated that he wanted to build on peace, and pointed out that, “Everywhere, we must act to protect our interests and, first and foremost, our security.” He has committed himself to devoting 2% of GDP to defense in 2025, i.e. 50 billion euros. At the same time, he has announced the creation of national service for all, i.e. an expense of 12 to 17 billion in investment and between 2.5 and 3 billion in operational costs. All this against a background of uncontrolled public finances with a deficit of 3.2% of GDP and a debt reaching 98.9% of GDP.
In a world that is both unpredictable and dangerous, France is naturally highly vulnerable. Because of its values, its history, its commitments and its population, it is a major target for the Jihadists. It is also in the front line against the démocratures [a combination of democracy and dictatorship]: Russia, which has destroyed the continent’s security and is pursuing its intervention in Ukraine; and Turkey, which is using its emigrants and the migrant crisis to submit the European Union to constant blackmail. Finally, our country has to face up to the new information wars in which cyber attacks, fake news and data manipulation are destabilizing individuals, businesses and our democratic way of life.
Western solidarity in face of these threats and dependent on American guarantees of security, is no longer functional. The sudden shock of populism that swept across the UK with Brexit and affected the USA, is depriving the EU of a third of its military potential and is undermining the American leadership. Donald Trump’s America is no longer a country that is indispensable; rather it is a destabilizing factor with regard to world order, NATO and Europe. Emmanuel Macron is now facing three major challenges.
The first arises from the growing gap between the commitment sof the armed forces – who are being overstretched – and the means at their disposal. France deploys 30,000 men who are operational, including 7,000 on French soil, which is 30% above the operational agreements fixed by the law that governs military planning. There is a lack of munitions and spare parts. Support and medical services show disquieting weaknesses. Training has fallen by half. There is a severe lack of air transport, tanker aircraft, helicopters, drones, missiles and frigates.
The second involves the nuclear deterrent. Atomic weaponry is having a comeback because of threats from Russia and North Korea, which has just tested a intercontinental ballistic missile. it is crucial, therefore, for France to maintain the two components of its deterrent force: on sea and in the air. But this force must be modernized as from 2020, which means increasing its budget – which now stands at the reduced level of 3.5 billion euros – to between 5.5 and 6 billion euros over twenty or so years.
The third challenge concerns Europe, which has no other option than to invest in its security. For Europe, France is a unique asset, for it alone has decision-making autonomy, armed forces that are complete, and a deterrent force. Provided that our defense system remains operational in all aspects: armed forces, intelligence, industry and research.
Napoleon said that “There is no secret to world leadership; it means being strong because there is neither error nor illusion in force: it is truth laid bare.” If Emmanuel Macron wants to avoid being reduced to a Jupiterian president without thunder, using powerful words that are not backed up by the means at his disposal, he must invest in defense as from 2018, so that it no longer serves as a variable than can be adjusted to balance the public accounts.
It is of the utmost urgency to reestablish a coherent relationship between objectives, tasks and means. By the autumn, a strategic review must identify the threats, fix our ambitions and determine the size of our forces and our industrial base. But this review, just like the objective of devoting 2% of GDP to defense in 2025, will have no effect without unfreezing the 2.7 billion of loans that have brought defense to insolvency or cancelling the reintegration of the surcharge of external operations. Furthermore, the 2018 budget should be increased from 32.7 to 35 billion euros – excluding national service. This is essential for the application of decisions taken in 2016, for rebuilding munitions stocks, upgrading maintenance, modernizing equipment, establishing a cyber force and robotizing the battlefield.
As in 1958, France’s security strategy cannot be redefined without economic recovery, reform of the social contract or modernization of the State. Angela Merkel said that “times have changed since we Europeans could count wholly on others; as Europeans we must fight for our own future and our own destiny.” Neither France nor Europe can count on others to ensure its security, defend its freedom or shape its destiny.
(Column published in Le Point, 13th July 2017)