White Paper Reaffirms Defense Role, Cuts Budget

A French soldier in Afghanistan, where all combat troops were removed in 2012.  Photo: Flickr.com/isafmedia

A French soldier in Afghanistan, where all combat troops were removed in 2012.
Photo: Flickr.com/isafmedia

On Monday, April 29, more than four months after its expected release date, the French White Paper on Defense and National Security was released to President François Hollande. The document should have been released at the end of 2012, following a committee meeting and national debate. However, disturbed by a lack of political composition and budget risks, Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian was assigned the task.

The paper, the fourth of its kind since the creation of the Ministry of Defense in 1972, covers everything from the nation’s strategy to the budget. It seems that its main goal is to address the concerns about the defense budget, all while asserting its defense role on an international level.

While the top priority is the country’s national territory, France’s second priority is its immediate neighbors, or the European community. Its Eastern neighbors, weakened states derived from the Soviet bloc and Russian politics, are also a concern due to their presumed fragility. The Maghreb, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Sahel are considered to be zones of priority, regions in which France would like to maintain a presence, and where it could maintain a prominent role in their defense.

The administration seeks to meet the aforementioned defense goals, and yet it must be realistic about its financial means, says the White Paper. This is not a question of lowering the state’s ambitions or expectations, but it is merely an adaptation to its actual defense capabilities.

One of the justifications for a new White Paper was the state of the defense. Due to the country’s financial situation, the disorganization of the defense caused by reforms, and completely unrealistic projections of defense, the document desperately needed modification. Hollande sought something more “realistic,” as the White Paper of 2008 included unrevised equipment plans despite the financial crisis.

This time, the defense budget will be set to 179.2 billion euros, or 1.7% of the GDP, over the course of five years, from 2014 to 2019. The lowered ratio of 1.7% will meet the NATO norms regarding the defense budget, versus the 1.9% represented in the budget today. Not including pensions, the budget will fall from 1.56% to 1.3%.

The credit attributed to armament will be cut by 40% each year, which equates to a decrease of 400 million euros in buying power per year. The number of Rafales – a type of aircraft- will be cut to 225, down from the original plan of 286, and the defense will use fewer helicopters, A400M planes, and tanks.

The new budget will also affect jobs. From now until 2019, an additional 24,000 jobs will be cut, in addition to the 10,000 cuts already set by former president Sarkozy to take effect before 2015.

On a more positive note, Le Drian wants to preserve the budget for study and development, currently at about 750 million euros. American drones will be acquired to increase effectiveness of the defense forces. The state plans to franciser the drones, or make its own alterations to cater their effectiveness to country’s needs, mainly the optics and piloting system.

The White Paper distinguishes three types of threats to the country’s security: “force” – coming from states in potential conflict like China – “risks of weakness” or threats posed by weakened states, and “risks of globalization,” which include breaches in the market, terrorism, and cyberterrorism. The latter, on a large scale, could even be considered an act of war.

Given the numerous conflicts in which France has been involved in the last few years, it is evident that military action is still essential to the country’s security. For this reason, preserving sovereignty by allowing means of action and influence on a national and international level are the administration’s main concerns.

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