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Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 418–431 | Cite as

‘Rentrée dans le rang?’ France, NATO and the EU, from the Védrine report to the 2013 French White Paper on national security and defence

  • Guillaume LasconjariasEmail author
Article

Abstract

In his report to the president of the French Republic in November 2012 assessing France’s return into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) military command structure, Hubert Védrine, the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, noted that France had no interest in leaving it again. His recommendations called for renewed action within the Alliance and the emergence of a European pillar. The timing should have been perfect, with France’s draft White Paper on defence and security about to be published. However, at a time when budget cuts prevail, are these recommendations applicable and do they amount to more than just paying lip-service? This article focuses on a one-year period, from November 2012 to the latest debates around the Military Programming Law, reminiscent of Pierre Mendès-France’s famous quote that governing is all about making choices.

Keywords

France NATO European defence Hubert Védrine White Paper 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Hubert Védrine interviewed by Axel Krause, September 3, 2009, https://doi.org/transatlantic-magazine.com/interview-with-hubert-vedrine/.
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    Védrine, Report, 17. For a confirmation, see also UK House of Lords, European Union Committee, 12th Report: Combating Somali Piracy: The EU’s Naval Operation Atalanta, 6 April 2010, https://doi.org/www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200910/ldselect/ldeucom/103/10302.htm: ‘Operation Atalanta has proved itself a credible force in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It has been highly effective in protecting World Food Programme and AMISOM logistics vessels, none of which has so far been taken by pirates. It has also successfully deterred and disrupted pirate threats to commercial shipping.’
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    This last proposal calling for bold strategic thinking has been pinpointed by Régis Debray in Le Monde Diplomatique (‘La France doit quitter l’OTAN’, March 2013): Debray rightly notes that, in order to show ‘vigilance, rigour and influence’, one desperately needs not only financial support but also the possibility to expand France’s particular spirit without copying or looking for inspiration in Anglo-Saxon think-tanks. It is telling that an official French think-tank like the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l’École Militaire (IRSEM) remains relatively little known — a situation which reflects the still rigid separation between the academic world and the defence and strategic community in France.Google Scholar
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    See for instance General Vincent Desportes, La Croix, May 1, 2013.Google Scholar
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    The experts participating in study groups and working parties were not very different from those who had been summoned to participate in the previous White Paper.Google Scholar
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    A map of the slight discrepancy concerning the ‘Arc of Instability’ between 2008 and 2013 can be found in Lisa Watanabe, ‘France’s New Strategy: The 2013 White Paper’, CSS Analysis in Security Policy 139 (September 2013): 2.Google Scholar
  46. 44.
    The yearly budget of 29.86 billion euros will have to be supplemented by exceptional resources, which are not guaranteed (see General Desportes’ interview in La Croix, 1 May 2013).Google Scholar
  47. 45.
    Camille Grand in Clara Marina O’Donnell, ed., ‘The Implications of Military Spending Cuts for NATO’s Largest Members’, Brookings Analysis Paper (July 2012): 20, https://doi.org/www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/7/military%20spending%20nato% 20odonnell/military%20spending%20nato%20odonnell%20pdf.
  48. 46.
    Assemblée nationale, Commission de la Défense nationale et des Forces armées, Audition de l’amiral Édouard Guillaud, chef d’état-major des armées (CEMA), sur les enseignements de l’opération Serval, 22 mai 2013, https://doi.org/www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/cr-cdef/12–13/c1213074.asp (accessed November 7, 2013). At the time of writing this paper, the withdrawal had not begun and there were still considerable security challenges.
  49. 47.
    The French White Paper states that the armed forces must have the capacity to ‘engage in a major coercive operation involving the special forces, up to two combat brigades representing approximately 15,000 land troops, 45 fighter aircraft and a naval aviation group’.Google Scholar
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    The French Navy remains the leading European Navy in terms of size and capacity, with a carrier vessel, 3 LPDs, 10 submarines — among them the 4 bearing nuclear weapons — and between 15 and 20 frigates and patrol boats.Google Scholar
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    According to the SIRPI military expenditure database for 2012.Google Scholar
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    On Pooling and Sharing, and Smart Defence, see Christian Mölling, ‘Pooling and Sharing in the EU and NATO. European Defence Needs Political Commitment rather than Technocratic Solutions’, SWP Comments 18 (June 2012): 2Google Scholar
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    Mölling, ‘Pooling and Sharing in the EU and NATO’, 2. See also Admiral Guillaud’s declaration in July 2012: ‘NATO’s “Smart defence” and EU’s “Pooling and Sharing” are interesting opportunities but they will only fulfil their mission if they are meant as a possibility to do more together and not as an excuse to do less. They can’t be financial escapes and cause harm to the ESTIBD’, https://doi.org/www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/cr-cdef/11-12/c1112004.asp.
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    In this perspective, having a French General at the head of ACT could be considered as an asset, SACT being the Secretary General’s special envoy in convincing Allies to engage in Smart Defence tier projects.Google Scholar
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    My thanks to NATO Defense College Senior Course 122, Committee no. 6, which tackled this issue in its report ‘How can Smart Defence Reach the Next Level?’ (July 2013).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research DivisionNATO Defense CollegeRomaItaly

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