European Affairs

France Is Ready to Play its Role in Global Security     Print Email
Michèle Alliot-Marie

The world has become a dangerous place. We now know that the comforting concepts of "peace dividends" and a "new world order" that flourished immediately after the Cold War were in fact illusions.

Instead, we find ourselves confronted by such major new threats as the proliferation of arms of mass destruction and ballistic technology, international terrorism and organized crime. These threats call for strong responses from the French government because its first responsibility is to ensure the protection of its citizens against such kinds of aggression.

Our goal is also to affirm the role of France in the world, and its capacity to influence international defense and security decisions. As we have seen recently in relation to Iraq, this role is primarily and most directly exercised in the United Nations Security Council.

France also plays a role at European level in the development of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). In this respect, our weight vis-ÌÊ-vis our largest partners is directly correlated to our ability to play a strong military role in coalitions.

The new military budget that was approved by Parliament in December 2002 puts these goals into concrete form. As substantial as they are, our increased budgetary commitments are neither excessive nor disproportionate to our needs. They have been undertaken in response to an in-depth strategic analysis that reaffirmed the continuing validity of the new model for the Army in 2015, to which France was already committed.

The basic ideas underlying the model have also been confirmed by the manner in which risks and dangers foreseen in our 1994 White Paper have become reality, even if in a changing world we must always be capable of adapting to new circumstances. Such adaptations are all the more necessary in that military spending under the previous government was cut back by nearly 20 percent, slowing down progress toward the introduction of the new model.

Funds for equipping and maintaining the armed forces will rise to ‰âÂ14.81 billion in 2003, marking a real break from the steady erosion of recent years. That compares with earlier plans, revised in 1998, to allocate ‰âÂ13.89 billion in 2003. Over the entire period covered by the budget, we plan to spend ‰âÂ5.5 billion more on equipment than the previous government.

With regard to the strength and organization of our forces, our first aim will be to consolidate the move to an all-professional force that has just been completed in only five years. In particular, we plan to create 10,400 positions that will allow us to implement the force structure outlined in 1996 and to fulfill essential priority requirements, notably in the Gendarmerie.

In order to ensure that sufficient forces continue to be available to meet future threats, we shall concentrate our efforts over the next six years on four wide priority areas:


  • The continuation of uninterrupted deterrence.
  • Maintenance of our independence in decisions and actions.
  • Development of our capability to deploy and intervene.
  • Improved measures to protect against threats.

Our defense system must be capable of nuclear deterrence, which remains our essential guarantee, as a last resort, against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our policy of deterrence respects the principle of "non-first-use" and limits nuclear weapons to the numbers strictly needed to be effective.

In particular, it is based on a diversity of weapons and the constant availability of the forces that are in service. Its credibility also relies on our ability to adapt our weapons to conform to changes both in doctrine and in current and future threats to our vital interests.

The maintenance of this fundamental guarantee is one of the main objectives of the defense budget, which devotes more than 19 percent of its resources to nuclear deterrence. The practical results of this will be seen in the entry into service of a third new generation missile-launching nuclear submarine, "Le Vigilant," the launching of a fourth and the development of the M51 ballistic missile.

Throughout this budgetary period, priority will be given to France's freedom of decision and action. Several steps will be taken to maintain French national autonomy, including a major strengthening of information and command systems, either by updating existing equipment or building new facilities. One of the major lessons we have drawn from our commitment of forces to Afghanistan has been the vital need to exercise mastery over information.

Among the keys to our military capacity will be our ability to project and commit forces, in Europe and elsewhere, and to sustain such forces in the long run. We have decided to make significant efforts to end the decline in our deployment capabilities and in the mobility of our forces. Recent crises have confirmed the lesson that France must be able to conduct initial, independent deployments, by land, sea and air.

Our capability will be strengthened when the Airbus A400M transport aircraft enters production, and the first of the 50 aircraft on order start to be delivered in 2009. The entry into service of two long-range transport aircraft will allow us to maintain our strategic transport capacity at the desired level.

The delivery to the Navy of two force projection and command vessels in 2005 and 2006 will give us the capacity we need to deploy a reaction force. Finally, particular attention will be given to tactical transport by helicopters, all of which will be substantially modernized.

The evolving strategic situation over the past few years has highlighted the need to strengthen our capacity to act in depth. This will be carried out by the order of a second aircraft carrier so as to ensure that naval air forces can once again be stationed permanently at sea. The new ship is expected to enter active service in 2014.

Our conventional air strike capability will be brought up to optimum levels when the Air Force starts to deploy its first Rafale combat aircraft, beginning in 2006. Sea-launched cruise missiles will be developed and deployed with the Navy, starting in 2011.

We are taking specific measures to improve levels of protection against growing new threats linked to the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their possible use by terrorists. Thus, while maintaining current levels of protection against nuclear and chemical weapons, priority is being given to biological defense.

The development of elements of a theater anti-missile defense system will allow us to start protecting forces in the field from limited-range weapons by about 2010.

We also intend to make our voice heard within the multilateral defense and security institutions to which we belong. From now on, Europe will be our first frame of reference. We must develop a strong European defense and security policy that will guarantee European interests and promote common universal values.

France intends to take the lead, both politically and militarily, in ensuring the success of this ambitious but vital venture. French troops will make up one fifth of the planned European rapid reaction force. It is worth noting that about one quarter of planned French military spending will be specifically devoted to the European defense effort.

Next comes NATO, which is the major guarantee of our collective security. The determination to enlarge and adapt the Alliance, expressed at the Prague summit meeting in November, should reinforce our efforts to strengthen global security, in a manner complementary to our European commitments.

It is evident that the current international challenges will be decisive for our future defense and security. France clearly intends to play its full role as an international strategic power. There is in fact no chance that France will fail to face up to the demands presented by the new threats. The French government is committed to respond with strength and determination.

Nevertheless, the international situation appears to us to be too complex for the proposed solutions not to be debated among allies, and of course with the United States.

In this regard, the image of France in the United States sometimes seems to us to be out of line with reality. When it comes to defense and security, the media prefer to underscore the differences in our points of view rather than the areas in which they converge. Yet, we have regarded the United States as a close ally for more than two centuries: our two republics are founded upon the same values.

We have certainly had divergent opinions on security. But we very widely share the determination to promote our common values, which are democracy and freedom. Our security interests are fundamentally similar.

France, which permanently deploys at least 18,000 troops around the world, has long been engaged alongside the United States in the fight against terrorism and in confronting crises. France maintains 7,000 troops in the Balkans, one of the largest contingents.

In Afghanistan, France contributed more than 5,000 troops, for more than six months, to Operation Enduring Freedom, as part of the coalition led by the United States. Today, France actively participates, together with the United States, in training the Afghan army.

In the Ivory Coast, as soon as the recent troubles began, there was exemplary cooperation between France and the United States, leading to the evacuation of 241 American citizens.

Since September 11, 2001, we know that we must defend our common values even more strongly against the threats that are aimed at our territories and our populations, in Europe and in the United States. We must debate as members of the same family in order to find effective and lasting solutions.

International terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction call for strong responses. To be credible, and acceptable to all, these responses must have the support of the international community.

The French and their European partners are ready to play a growing role in securing their common environment in cooperation with the United States. The development of the ESDP seems to us to present a great opportunity, by encouraging the Europeans to assume their responsibilities and to increase their defense capabilities.

A common European approach to defense and the development of a European rapid reaction force fall completely within the allied security framework. Our objective is important: It is to strengthen European capabilities in a way that will complement those of NATO.

NATO is equally essential in bringing together the views of the two sides of the Atlantic. The Alliance's primary mission, in our view, is to promote the interoperability of both the doctrines and the procedures of the European and American armed forces, and thus enable them to act together in coalition.

So, we support in principle the plans for a NATO Response Force that were approved in Prague, because it will naturally strengthen NATO's ability to react and its operational efficiency, while also potentially helping the development of the ESDP.

The European Union and NATO, we are all convinced, are not rivals but, on the contrary, partners in the construction of international stability.

 Michèle Alliot-Marie is Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs of France. She previously served as Minister of State with responsibility for Teaching in Jacques Chirac's Government from 1986 to 1988, and she returned to government as Minister for Youth and Sport in Edouard Balladur's Government from 1993 to 1995. She was elected an RPR National Assembly Deputy for Pyrenees-Atlantiques in 1986, and re-elected in 1993 and 1995, and later became the leader of the RPR party. She was a Member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1992.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number IV, Issue number I in the Winter of 2003.