Should the nature of French strategic and military programming be changed?

On the occasion of the presentation to the French parliament of the revision of the 2017 Strategic Review, the French parliamentarians, overwhelmingly, welcomed the efforts and commitments made by the various governments since the vote of the 2019 Military Planning Act - 2025. As several deputies have pointed out, this is the first time, since the establishment of the programming law mechanism in 1985, that it has been observed in such a precise manner. However, many parliamentarians believe that it is now becoming urgent to start the drafting of a new White Paper on Security and National Defense to take into account the radical changes that have taken place, both in technological and geopolitical fields, since the publication of the previous White Paper in 2013.

One can however wonder about the relevance of the model which today frames French Military and Strategic Programming, and on the influence it may have had on decisions with often disastrous consequences for the Armies between 1995 and 2017, decisions that brought the Armies to the brink of a global rupture, and which have severely damaged their operational capacities in a large number of areas. If this is the case, can we therefore imagine a new organization of this military and strategic programming, which would make it possible to minimize the risk of drifts such as those we have known, and which would favor better cooperation between the Executive, the Parliamentary Chambers and the Staffs, each having part of the answer and expertise to these questions?

The failures of French Military Programming over the past 15 years

As such, the analysis of French initiatives in terms of military programming over the last three five-year periods is rich in lessons. Whether it is a lack of political interest in defense issues such as under the Sarkozy five-year term, or unfavorable and sometimes biased arbitrations such as under the Hollande five-year term, French military programming, the White Paper and LPM during these 3 years, was extremely chaotic. And without the strong involvement of Jean-Yves le Drian and the Chiefs of Staff at the time to counter the potentially disastrous arbitrations proposed by Bercy and Prime Minister Jean-marc Eyraud, the French armies could well have lost, beyond the numbers that they have effectively seen disappear on the altar of budget cuts and an erroneous assessment of the threat, capacities and strategic know-how, as in the field of combat tanks, maritime patrol or even the air component of national deterrence. Because if the French armies are sometimes qualified today "army of samples", with only 200 tanks and 15 frigates, the Minister of Defense and the Chiefs of Staff had then weighed all their weight to preserve these same samples, and allow, when the time comes, to gain strength, especially in the field of high intensity combat.

Then Minister of Defense of the government of Jean-Marc Eyraud, Jean-Yves Le Drian played a decisive role in preserving certain operational capacities, even in reduced format, while much more radical arbitrations were on the table of Francois Hollande.

The responsibility for these decisions can naturally be placed on the heads of state and government of the day. However, the very structure of French military programming probably favored these abuses. Thus, the design of the White Paper, which aims to be the strategic framework identifying present and future threats, and giving the qualitative and quantitative objectives to the armed forces to counter them, is above all a political exercise led by the executive itself. Therefore, it is hardly difficult to align the objectives set by the White Paper with those targeted by the Programming Law itself, these being from the same mold of thoughts. In addition, no mechanism exists today, beyond the decision of the executive itself, to bring about a revision of the White Paper or the LPM in response to major strategic changes that have occurred during their execution. Thus, the 2013 White Paper was published a few weeks after the French intervention in Mali as part of Operation Serval and upstream of the Sangaris intervention in Central Africa, without taking the latter into account. The annexation of Crimea by Russia a few months later, followed by the conflict in the Donbass supported by Moscow, did not involve, either, an overhaul of the strategic context and its consequences on the format and ambitions of the French armies, defined in the 2013 white paper.

As such, the exercise of 2017 Strategic Review, and its revision in 2021, is no longer relevant, since the editorial committee had been instructed to remain within the framework of the LBSDN 2013, in particular with regard to the format and organization of the French Armies. In addition, this RS 2017 was also to make it possible to define the axes of the new Military Programming Law 2019-2025, while specifying ab initio that the authorized budget growth should respect the plan presented by candidate Macron during the presidential election campaign, namely growth of € 1,7 billion for 4 years then € 3 billion for 2 years, to achieve a defense effort of 2% of GDP in 2025, in accordance with France's commitments vis-à-vis -to NATO. Fortunately for the French Armies, President Macron honored his commitments, including during the COVID crisis. But it is clear that this is due more to the personality and the strategy of the President of the Republic, than to the mechanism itself, and that someone other than him, more attached for example to the control of deficits, would have very much. may well have arbitrated unfavorably in this area, causing irreparable damage in the short and medium term to the armed forces.

A military program on 3 pillars

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