AIES Fokus 5/2012: French defence policy

Yves Boyer: French defence policy in a time of uncertainties, AIES Fokus 5/2012.



Besides the United States the EU is, the only grouping of nations able to project its influence worldwide. Despite the current crisis, the EU remains a global economic superpower with the highest GNP worldwide when the various GNP of its members are combined. In the foreseeable future this situation will be preserved, allowing the Union to generate financial surpluses which can be used to back its policy of global influence based on diverse forms of “civilian” power with a central position in various international networks and a significant role in international institutions. Indeed, the EU is the single largest financial contributor to the UN system: at the end of the 2010 decade the EU provided for 38 % of the UN’s regular budget, for a significant amount of UN peacekeeping operations, and one-half of all UN member states’ contributions to UN funds and programs. EU member states are also signatories to almost all international treaties currently in force. In the last two decades, the EU has finalized the single market; established a single currency; created a zone without internal frontiers (“Schengen”); launched common defense, foreign and internal security policies; and expanded from twelve to 27 members. These are very positive developments in a globalised world where cooperation in trade, social development, environment preservation, etc. are the dominant value.

Even in defence matters, Europe does possess know-how and capabilities which do not impede fruitful cooperation and interoperability with the United States. With about 20% of the world’s military spending, the EU is far ahead of China (6 to 5%), Russia (3%) or India (2%) in relation to other « big» countries. But precisely for the reason that the influence exerted by the EU is more “civilian” than “military”, the defence dimension of the EU has never had the priority over others aspects of the European project. Of course several reasons (historical, societal, diplomatic, etc.) explain the many difficulties met by the Europeans to further their cooperation in that field and the various ambiguities in the conduct of each EU country’s defence affairs.

France shares with her EU’s partners, and notably those members of the Eurozone, the dire effects of the financial and economic crisis. The debt issue, in conjunction with economic stagnation, will affect public spending and, notably, defence expenditure. However, France retains particularities in terms of a national consensus on defence, in terms of prominence of the executive power vis à vis the Parliament, to contain the extent of the likely reduction of the defence budget in order to preserve the current coherence of the French military model.

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