France’s Livre Blanc

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.

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