Advice from a General

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French President François Hollande in late July ordered a new Defense White Paper to be presented before the end of this year. So, why, you might ask, am I writing about it now? If you read to the bottom of the blog you will find out!

Given that the last White Paper was only published four years ago and was meant to guide France's defense policies for the next 15 or 20 years, I rather wonder what the point is.

In his letter appointing Jean-Marie Guehenno (a diplomat and former deputy secretary general of the UN's peacekeeping department who was assisting Kofi Annan with his mission in Syria) as chairman of the Defense White Paper team of experts, Hollande said the succession of financial crises across the globe, the revolutions in the Arab world, the shift in emphasis of US foreign policy to the Pacific, the uncertainties of Defense Europe and the appearance of new zones of instability and conflict mean that policies set four years ago were today invalid.

But could they not have simply modified the existing White Paper? Surely not everything that experts thought five years ago when they were reflecting on that White Paper are to be thrown out? I suspect a little bit of desire on the president's part to lean France's defense policies slightly more leftwards after 17 years of center-right “conservative” governments (although the nuclear deterrent policy is not a negotiable for either Socialist and UMP (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) politicians).

Whatever the reasons, Patricia Adam, president of the National Assembly's defense and armed forces' commission (which has 68 members of whom only 33 are Socialists while nearly two thirds -- 44 -- are new to the commission and of these 23 are complete parliamentary novices) appointed Christophe Guilloteau, an experienced UMP member of the commission, and newcomer and fellow Socialist Eduardo Rihan Cypel to the White Paper team of experts.

Her counterpart at the Senate Jean-Louis Carrere appointed his two experienced vice-presidents: Daniel Reiner, a Socialist, and Jacques Gautier, UMP.

Two experts from France's closest allies in Europe, the United Kingdom and Germany, were appointed by Hollande to join the White Paper team of experts: UK Ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts, chief advisor for national security to the British government until his appointment to Paris in February this year, and Wolfgang Ischinger, president of the Munich Security Conference.

Meanwhile, in Brest during the Summer Defense University, which closed yesterday, General Didier Castres, deputy head of operations at joint HQ, gave the experts a list of the eight points he thinks vital that they keep in mind whilst producing this new White Paper; three are strategic, three operational and two are game-changers.

The three strategic points:

  1. Space and cyberspace.

  2. Interoperability, and not only with western allies because there will be an increasing need to form ad hoc coalitions with non-western partners.

  3. The multiplicity of actors in crisis management (military, non-government organizations, police, etc.)

The three operational points:

  1. An accentuation of joint operations in which capacities can be brought together from the three different forces (such as in Libya, where navy aircraft flew in operations with the air force in support of army helicopters).

  2. The need for precision targeting (metric and decametric) deep behind enemy lines.

  3. Accelerating the intelligence cycle.

The two game-changers:

  1. Permanent pre-positioned forces in crisis zones.

  2. The level of operational readiness.

We will see early in 2013 whether these points have been taken aboard the White Paper.

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