Presidential 2022: defense, candidate programs under the magnifying glass

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.

→ ANALYSIS. Presidential 2022: how security invites itself into the programs

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.