France has sacrificed its sovereign state to its welfare state, compromising its ability to guarantee both its internal and external security.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s threats of the use of nuclear weapons have severely shaken the security of France and Europe. The return of war to the heart of our continent is concrete evidence of the ambition of the new empires to expand by means of force, and to annihilate democracy. It reveals all the roots of the hybrid conflicts, which use military, economic, cybernetic and information resources. War is full of interconnections: it involves the civil population both as victims and instruments for exerting pressure; it is played out on the battlefields, but in public opinion as well.
The attack on Ukraine sent a shock throughout Europe and its inhabitants, who were neither expecting it nor prepared for it. France has resisted subscribing to the illusion that we have seen the end of history for it has maintained its nuclear deterrent and a complete army, keeping up operational readiness by making various interventions overseas. But it has sacrificed its sovereign state to its welfare state, compromising its ability to guarantee both its internal and external security. The next five-year presidential term of office will therefore have to prioritize rearmament. And, first and foremost, military rearmament.
For years now, priority has been given over to the fight against Jihadism. The armed forces have taken the brunt of budget cuts and have seen themselves reduced to numbers that are less than reasonable. In 2021, they counted 203,000 men and 41,000 reservists as opposed to 453,000 men and 420,000 reservists in 1991. Since that same year, the number of tanks has fallen from 1,349 to 222, fighter planes from 686 to 254, and large warships from 37 to 19.
The overcommitment of the armed forces, with 30,000 soldiers in permanent deployment, has meant that both soldiers and equipment have worn out more quickly, and there is a chronic lack of training. Furthermore, there are increased capability gaps in certain sectors, e.g. drones, deep strikes, air transportation, cyber-warfare and the war of information – a domain which has seen a massive victory for Russia in Africa.
The Ukraine war therefore means that France, as well as its European partners, must drastically review its military stance. Top priority must be given to high intensity combat, but within an overall strategy coordinating all the players involved, all the elements of power – armies, local authorities, businesses, individual citizens – a strategy covering the use of force, the information battle, a planned war economy and society’s level of resilience.
This is why the nuclear deterrent must be modernized. And this is why numbers must be increased in the armed forces, and there must be more operational contracts, starting with the one dealing with high intensity, which is limited to the mobilization of 15,000 men over six months. This is why it is indispensable to improve the availability of equipment and training, as well as to make it possible to rebuild stocks of munitions and spare parts within a few days. It is why there must be a plan to increase the number of planes in the air force to 215, raise the number of frigates to 18, and make up for lost time with regard to helicopters and drones. Information and command systems must be toughened up and progress must be made in the war of information. A massive effort must be made concerning innovation in space and in the technologies of the future such as hyper-fast missiles, electromagnetic and laser guns, and applications for artificial intelligence.
France’s defense budget was fixed at €41 billion in 2022, and it is vital for that budget to be increased immediately. The annual three million euro progression provided for in the law dealing with military planning from 2023 to 2025 must be doubled so as to meet the most urgent needs in terms of the availability of equipment, the rebuilding of stocks of munitions and spare parts, and the repatriation of the armed forces and equipment deployed in Mali. It will be the job of the next two laws on military planning to pursue this course with further investment to the tune of €50 billion. And this must be done in close coordination with our European partners and NATO allies.
Rearmament is also economic, political and moral. It involves the whole nation. After the pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine serves as a reminder of the price of freedom, the duty of citizens to be ready to accept sacrifices in order to safeguard that freedom, and the crucial role of the state in guaranteeing the security which is a precondition of that freedom. De Gaulle, in his speech at Bayeux, said that “Defense is the primary raison d’être of the State. If it falls short in this, it will destroy itself.”
(Column published in Le Figaro, 7th March 2022)