May 06, 2013
Credit: Airbus Military
Nine months have passed since a group of senior French officials, lawmakers, European Union leaders and a couple of British and German diplomats began drafting a new defense strategy aimed at keeping France's armed forces relevant amidst the nation's looming debt crisis.
Unveiled April 29, French President Francois Hollande's revised road map upholds many of the strategic goals set in 2008 by his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, albeit squeezed into a budget envelope befitting the nation's constrained fiscal environment. The 160-page document proposes flat spending through 2019 at current-year levels of €31 billion ($40 billion) per year, marking a decline in real terms when inflation and the one-time sale of state-owned assets are factored in.
In remarks accompanying the release of the white paper, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said budget details will follow this summer in the form of a new military program law (LPM). But for now, the French strategy appears to reduce costs by stretching out major development and procurement programs, rather than canceling them outright.
The white paper also calls for cutting more than 24,000 of France's roughly 285,000 military and civilian jobs by the end of the decade, a reduction that would come on top of 54,000 job cuts initiated in 2008 under Sarkozy.
With a proposed topline of €179 billion over five years, the Socialist government's spending priorities emphasize maintaining the nation's sea- and air-launched nuclear deterrent and supporting France's reintegration into the NATO unified command—a process begun under then-President Jacques Chirac and advanced by Sarkozy in the 2008 strategy, despite criticism from the left.
The document also puts renewed focus on space and airborne intelligence gathering, aerial refueling and troop transport—three capability areas in which France came up short earlier this year during Operation Serval, the intervention it led against Islamic rebels in Mali.
“Our defense is, in many ways, in a difficult situation, but we have an ambitious project, developed in recent months with the twofold aim of combining the interests of France and the effectiveness of its defense,” Le Drian said.