Small Wars Journal

France's Livre Blanc

France's Livre Blanc

By Judah Grunstein - Cross-posted at World Politics Review

France's Livre Blanc was finally released today (French version here and here, parts 1&2, both .pdf), and the only real shock is seeing in print what's basically trickled out in leaks and declarations over the past few months. It's a very well-written document, coherently argued and convincingly articulated. As expected, counterterrorism and the integration of defense with homeland security play a prominent role, with an emphasis on developing intelligence capacity, both human and satellite-based, in the context of a newly added Anticipation component. There's also a significant reduction of the French armed forces, from a total of 271,000 to 225,000 by 2015 (Army 131k, Navy 44k, Air Force 50k), mainly from the administrative back office, but which will necessitate politically unpopular base closings.

But the real story to my eyes is the prominence of Asia as a strategic focus of interest, which surprised me even after having already called attention to it in last week's series. The document doesn't make a case for intervention so much as careful management, calling for the West to take a greater interest in stabilization of region. It makes mention of the continent's three nuclear powers, three major unresolved crises (Korean Peninsula, Taiwan Straits and Kashmir), and the lack of any real regional, multilateral security instrument.

Europe is central as a strategic actor, principally through the ESPD, but there's also a call for a European Livre Blanc, and the need for an articulation of European energy security polcy. As for the Euro-Atlantic partnership, there's an explicit refusal to relegate the EU to a civil role in low-intensity conflicts, as compared to NATO's military role. It makes the distinction between NATO as a mutual defense instrument and the EU as full-spectrum entity combining civil, military, diplomatic, humanitarian and political intervention capacities.

With regard to reintegrating NATO, I've seen some reporting that seems to be based more on premature conclusions than the document itself, which makes an unapologetic case for reintegrating, but clearly states that NATO and ESDP are indissociable and must advance at the same speed. It also places three operational conditions on any final decision to formally reintegrate the NATO command structure: autonomy of France's nuclear deterrent, autonomy of France's participation in any operations, and autonomy of French command over its peacetime forces.

Besides that the major innovations are the emphasis on mobilizing information and knowledge (ie. think tanks) around strategic questions, with a particular goal of using diplomatic and academic means to achieve cultural familiarity with potential areas of intervention (e.g. Asia and Latin America). Homeland security, in addition to being reinforced by a greater integration of the interior and exterior defense apparatus, is to be assured through development of anti-satellite, anti-missile, and anti-cyberattack defense systems.

France's prepositioned base structure in Africa will be reduced from three to two, one on the Western coast, and Djibouti on the Eastern coast working in close relation with the new base in Abu Dhabi to assure the Indian Ocean Persian Gulf presence. The reduced presence, as I mentioned last week, is in combination with a dramatically reduced "operational contract" for France's expeditionary capacity, which will be cut from 50,000 troops deployable for up to a year within 6 months to 30,000. That force will be complemented by a 5,000 troop rapid deployment reserve, deployable within a perimeter of 8,000 km in days. Foreseeable operations are multilateral in nature, unless France's vital interests are at stake, and there's a noticeable emphasis on maritime stability missions.

The reduction in force size will be offset in a first phase by continued modernization of France's aging equipment, with mobility and force protection for ground forces, and strategic and tactical airlift (A400M and helicopters) both priorities. Aerial reconnaissance in the form of unmanned drones is also mentioned.

Finally, the document calls for administrative reform, in the form of a national defense and security council serving the president, and a proposal for requiring Parliament to be advised within 3 days of any foreign intervention, and Parliamentary approval for a deployment of greater than 4 months, with both measures to be written into constitution. It concludes with a discussion of the need for a European level strategy for developing defense industry and research to compete with America's technical and budgetary dominance in defense industries.

As I said, it's an impressive document that manages to coherently make its case for achieving a smaller, more mobile and more effective force, without ever really addressing the difficulties that creates for a country with a widening regional focus, increasing global ambition, and increasingly limited budget. There's also a tension between the kind of army the Livre Blanc foresees, which is almost Rumsfeldian, and the missions it foresees being called upon to carry out, which are distinctly Petraeussian.


SWJ Editors' Links

France's Strategic Posture - SWJ Editors, Small Wars Journal

Judah Grunstein has an interesting series posted over at World Politics Review on France's strategic posture. The series is a very good read, providing excellent background and insights on the complex issues facing France as it looks ahead in regards to that country's national security interests.

Here are links to each segment of the series:

France's Strategic Posture: Series Introduction

NATO Reingtegration and European Defense

A Widening Focus

The Temptation of Forward Defense

An Interview with Hubert Védrine

Defense Policy: France Joins Allies - Erlanger and Beinnhold, New York Times

In its first new national defense policy in 14 years, France has decided that its security lies within Europe and the NATO alliance, establishing a significant shift from the country's longstanding notions of moral and military self-sufficiency. More than four decades ago, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, angry with American and British domination of NATO, said that France's military integration into the alliance had been "stripped of justification." But now that the Soviet Union is gone and the European Union is more fully established, President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided that France is best served by participating fully with Washington and NATO, in part because the vast majority of members of the European Union are also members of the alliance.

Sarkozy Marches France Back to NATO - Charles Bremner, Times of London

Four decades after President de Gaulle broke with the NATO command President Sarkozy announced France's return to the heart of the alliance - with conditions on EU defence that may unsettle Britain. Setting out a big shift in doctrine and spending yesterday, France's most pro-Atlanticist President said that nothing prevented a return to the integrated command from which de Gaulle withdrew in 1966 in dispute with the United States. "In Europe, nearly all our partners are members of the alliance. They do not understand why we persist in standing apart," he said. The return to NATO would come as France cuts 50,000 military posts to reduce forces to 225,000 personnel, while diverting funds to new equipment and expanded intelligence systems.

Major Reassessment of Defense Policies - Molly Moore, Washington Post

President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday announced a major new defense policy that would integrate French troops into the command structure of the NATO alliance for the first time in more than four decades. Sarkozy also proposed a leaner military with fewer troops and bases, a slow-down in the deployment of expensive aircraft and warships and more money for intelligence-gathering satellites and other equipment needed to fight terrorism, cyber-crime and drug trafficking on French territory. The new military doctrine, the first major reassessment of the country's defense policies in 14 years, reflects the realities of shrinking military budgets and changing security threats. It also underscores Sarkozy's efforts to mend rifts with the United States and his European neighbors.

France Plans Smaller, Harder-hitting Army - Tamora Vidaillet, Reuters

France aims to create a smaller, more mobile and better equipped army, able to respond to threats ranging from terrorism to cyber attacks, under plans to be formally presented by President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday. A government policy document outlines plans to trim the fat from the military, spend more on equipment and pay greater attention to intelligence and home security, while maintaining France's independent nuclear deterrent.

France: Aux Armes - Times of London editorial

Cutting the strength of the French Army by 24 per cent seems, on first sight, an odd way of modernising France's armed forces when Afghanistan and the demands of peacekeeping are straining the military capabilities of most NATO members. But President Sarkozy's ambitious proposals, outlined to 3,000 officers yesterday in the first major review of military strategy in 14 years, are as sensible as they are far-reaching. The military aim is to make the French Army leaner, supplied with better intelligence and modern weaponry and more focused on today's terrorist threats rather than the Cold War danger of conflict in Europe. But there is also a significant shift in defence doctrine. France is reconfiguring its armed forces with the intention of rejoining NATO's unified military command and boosting the European Union's role in defence. More than 40 years after France gave NATO notice to quit Paris, Mr Sarkozy has told his allies and his countrymen that the Gaullist dream of military independence is over.