It is often said that an election is not won on foreign policy and defense issues, but rather on economic or security issues. During the 2017 presidential election, defense had been relegated to the background of the political debate. However, the French army had been, for four years, engaged in an intervention in Mali and mobilized on the national territory against Islamist terrorism, with Operation Sentinel.
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On February 24, 2022, the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces arose in the electoral campaign, shaking up the candidates on their programs or their positions vis-à-vis Russia. Little aware of the possibility of a high-intensity conflict in Europe, the French immediately placed the issue of the war in Ukraine second among their concerns that mattered most in the choice of their first-round vote, behind the power of purchase (1).
“Deterrence is me! »
Although voters’ concern subsequently waned, the pressure did not fall on the candidates, who were called upon to give their vision of a subject described as “reserved area”, over which usage recognizes the preeminence of the President of the Republic. The 1958 Constitution thus assigns it a primordial role: “He is the guarantor of national independence, territorial integrity and respect for treaties” (section 5), “is the chief of the armies” and “presides over the councils and higher committees of national defence” (section 15).
This is why the contenders for the Élysée must decide on two major questions which condition the sovereignty and independence of France: the maintenance of nuclear deterrence, the keystone of the national defense strategy; and membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which ensures the collective defense of 30 countries in North America and Europe. “Deterrence is me! »had launched François Mitterrand about the “nuclear fire”. The socialist president assumed continuity with General de Gaulle, allowing a lasting consensus between the left and the right on this historic pillar.
In 2022, deterrence is not a subject of great ideological division, but some left-wing candidates are questioning the doctrine. While France has 290 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), the ecologist Yannick Jadot, the communist Fabien Roussel and the rebellious Jean-Luc Mélenchon make multilateral nuclear disarmament a priority. . Provided you don’t “disarm the first”tempers the latter who, without giving up an arsenal in the absence of military alternatives, advocates a radical overhaul of deterrence, “now that we know that war can and will take place first from space”.
To leave NATO or not
Another crucial question: NATO. The Russian invasion brought its role as an “umbrella” back to the fore, but revived differences over the relationship with the United States, damaged by the “Australian submarine” crisis and the new military alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (Aukus), in 2021. Two years earlier, the President of the Republic judged NATO in a state of ” brain death “due to the American disengagement.
On this point, two camps clash. On the one hand, Emmanuel Macron (LREM), Valérie Pécresse (LR) and Yannick Jadot (EELV) plead to integrate France into a Europe of defense within the framework of NATO. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen (RN), Éric Zemmour (Reconquest!), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (LFI) and Fabien Roussel (PCF) want to leave the integrated military command, then the organization itself for the candidates LFI and PCF. “I am a non-aligned”, repeats Jean-Luc Mélenchon. A position weakened by the war in Ukraine.
This debate on the sovereignty of France opens another: what ambitions for its army? Valérie Pécresse and Éric Zemmour are, for example, in favor of the construction of a second aircraft carrier, a symbol of political power. Because the world is changing fast, with multiple challenges, climatic, migratory, digital, and new threats.
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“For a long time centered on the land, sea and then air environments, conflict has extended to exoatmospheric and cyber environments, to the deep seabed as well as to electromagnetic and informational fields”, insists General Thierry Burkhard, Chief of the Defense Staff, whose strategy is to “winning the war before the war”.
So that means an investment. But, while France is ranked seventh military power in the world by the American site Global Firepower, the deputies Patricia Mirallès (LREM) and Jean-Louis Thiériot (LR) have sounded, in a report, the alarm bell on the capacity means of the French armies, advocating in particular a “immediate financial effort for the replenishment of ammunition stocks.
Replenish ammunition stocks
The historian and former colonel Michel Goya has also underlined, with regard to the significant wear and tear of equipment in Ukraine, that, “at the current rate of estimated Russian losses, the French army would have no major equipment left after forty days”.
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In this context, most candidates agree to increase the defense budget. The socialist Anne Hidalgo, but also Valérie Pécresse, Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour propose an increase “beyond 2% of gross domestic product”. The RN candidate expects 55 billion euros by 2027 and that of Reconquest on 70 billion around 2030.
In fact, as Emmanuel Macron promised, the effort will continue: the 2019-2025 military programming law already provides for annual increases, of 1.7 billion euros to reach 41 billion in 2022, then marches of 3 billion for an envelope of 50 billion in 2025. A minimum to try to respond to a high intensity conflict.
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