The French White Paper on defense and national security presented
by President Sarkozy on June 17 provides the country with a new military and
security strategy intended to modernize and rationalize the French approach to
defense, security, and foreign policy.
Despite undergoing revision in 1994, France's military strategy was still organized as a response to the challenges of the Cold War. In an attempt to address the threats of this century and adapt to a new international order, France is now moving away from its distinctive independent course. There is no plan, however, to relinquish control of the nuclear deterrent or the command of armed forces.
The new policy includes plans for a reduction of defense personnel, a restructuring of the defense estate, and an improvement of coordination. The focus is on national defense and intelligence activities. Yet from a foreign policy perspective, the paper's most important provisions concern the reintegration of France into NATO 's military command structure and the furthering of European defense policy and cooperation.
The commentaries and analyses listed below discuss the military, diplomatic and financial implications of the French White Paper and shed light on some of the controversies that have arisen. The opinions are drawn from a selection of French, American, British, and German sources.
Le Monde: La defense entre recentrage et alignement
In a critical assessment of the French White Paper, Louis Gautier argues that despite providing for more coherence in practice, other aspects of the Paper, such as the articles concerning NATO reintegration and European integration, are merely products of political maneuver.
- Instead of offering guidelines for future decisions, the White Paper reflects the President's present position. He consistently influenced and disrupted the commission with his public announcements regarding NATO, dissuasion, Afghanistan, Africa and the French approach to terrorism.
- Yet the White Paper does provide for a more coherent policy. When compared to the earlier approach of which the scope was too broad, the new strategy will enable concentration on major issues, a better screening of priorities, and a focus on strategic interests.
- Although European defense should be prioritized, the articles dealing with this dimension of French defense policy do not do justice to European ambitions in this field.
- In contrast, due to its symbolic significance, France's much less important intention to reintegrate NATO has been paid a great deal of attention. In fact, this move does not even present any concrete interest for either party at this stage.
- As a matter of fact, rejoining NATO may be counterproductive since this move bears heavy meaning for those in Moscow and Beijing who still perceive NATO as the West's spearhead. From this perspective, the White Paper merely appears as a tool for Sarkozy to zealously attempt transatlantic alignment.
The New York Times: In defense policy, France turns to US and Europe
This editorial welcomes France's adoption of a more modern, effective, and outward looking defense strategy which should allow for increased collaboration.
- The White Paper outlines a plan for a smaller, more efficient, and increasingly cost-effective French army. France will be better equipped to address new threats.
- The outcome of the new strategy should enable France and the EU to act alone and be taken more seriously on the international stage. France should therefore adopt a less bilateral approach and intensify cooperation with the EU, NATO, and regional organizations even if it maintains its independent nuclear program on the side.
- The fact that Sarkozy wanted progress and
rapprochement within NATO to run parallel to progress within EU was
initially a problem for the US. The last few months have shown the EU and NATO are best complementing rather than competing with one another.
Financial Times: Knowledge holds the key to French defence
For Francois Heisbourg, France's downsizing of field operations in favour of intelligence activities presents advantages both for France's approach to new threats and its cooperation with partners.
- While prevention is meant to enable a more cost-effective defense and security policy, increased focus on intelligence is intended to turn France into a valuable asset for international partners.
- The setting of new priorities does not mean nuclear deterrence is going to end. In the words of Sir Michael Howard: "the nuclear dragon may be sleeping, but it is certainly not dead."
Time: Sarkozy makes eyes at NATO
Leo Cendrowicz interprets the French White Paper as a strategy to strengthen EU defense and an attempt to substantially reduce French defense expenses.
- Sarkozy's move to reintegrate NATO is merely strategic since it will allow France to capitalize on its transatlantic approach and "find stronger backing for EU defense projects among NATO's European members."
- At the same time however, this decision has been met with the French public's opposition - a vehement group of army generals in particular, are argueing that France will be weakened by the reduction of its armed forces.
- He quotes Daniel Korski who argues that the establishment is not prepared to admit the real reason for renouncing so-called independence: France's inability to shoulder alone any longer the financial burden of an independent defense policy.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Eine neue Verteidigungsdoktrin
France's new White Paper will enable France to cut military costs and modernize its army. Progress on the European front is promising in theory but could prove disappointing in practice.
- France's new defense and security strategy will enable the country to meet the new challenges of transnational terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Since the White Paper does not provide for an increase in military budget, the new approach is an attempt to effect the simultaneous modernization and rationalization of the army.
- Having secured US approval for progress on the level of European defense, France has agreed to reintegrate the NATO command structure. Regarding European defense, however, progress needs to be made at the level of implementation because the concept remains much more impressive on paper than in reality.
This press round-up was prepared by members of the Atlantic Community editorial team.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Mark Brzezinski: Renewed Alliances: How to Face Today's Threats
- Daniel Rackowski: Think Tank Analysis: Rethinking European Defense Policy
- Marek Swierczynski: ESDP: Time for the First Teeth, but Whom to Bite?