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Defence policy

Published on June 3, 2013
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies (excerpts)

Paris, May 24, 2013


I want to begin with a highlight: the one I experienced on 15 May. I was chairing the [donors’] conference for Mali at the level of heads of state. More than 100 delegations from all over the world paid tribute to France’s intervention. Once again, I was able to get an idea of our nation’s influence, the respect it commands and the expectations placed in it. It owes them to its soldiers and the civilian personnel who support them. Their professionalism, effectiveness and dedication are recognized by everyone. And first of all by our fellow citizens.

More than ever, France needs strong defence.

First of all, to remain what she is: an independent country, a reliable ally, a power whose armed forces have been in constant demand for the past 10 years or so.

Secondly, to understand the new geopolitical context.

Indeed, the United States is disengaging from theatres in which she’s been involved in recent years. Europe is facing a recession that is leading several of its members to reduce their defence effort.

At the same time, the emerging powers’ ambitions are being asserted while their economic weight increases. The Asia-Pacific region’s military expenditure has just overtaken that of the European Union.

The Arab revolutions, which aroused great hopes, are now raising legitimate concerns. In Libya, instability is threatening not only that country but also its immediate neighbours and also, very nearby, Europe. In Syria, too, where the conflict has now taken on a scale that is forcing us and our allies to rule out no option if the use of chemical weapons is confirmed. That’s the challenge of the forthcoming Geneva conference.

As for Africa, despite undeniable economic development it faces growing insecurity. In this regard, it seems to me entirely pertinent that the Institute for Higher National Defence Studies has chosen that great continent as its study theme this year.

France needs strong defence because the world isn’t any safer than yesterday.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery is endangering the balance of entire regions, as we can see with Iran and North Korea. Terrorism is targeting our nationals, striking at our interests – we’ve had yet another illustration in recent hours – and is an affront to our values everywhere. Drug trafficking – a major challenge for international relations, in my view – and arms trafficking, often linked, and the money laundering that accompanies the other trafficking combine to weaken states and above all undermine the structure of society.

Need I add that there are now new risks? That of cyber-attacks, with particularly formidable offensive computer capabilities. Our dependence on information systems makes us more vulnerable to risks of paralysis and even the remote-controlled destruction of vital economic and even military networks.

Faced with these threats, France must set herself a goal, a single goal: ensure her security at every moment, address the expectations of both her partners and her allies, and maintain peace in the world.

France is destined for this because, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, she has this responsibility. France is destined for this because she is a founder member of the European Union and upholds an ideal of peace among nations.

France is destined for this because, by virtue of her history, she possesses a military and diplomatic capability which she puts at the service of her own interests – and we must promote them – and of international law.

As Head of State and head of the armed forces, it is my responsibility to set out the guidelines of a defence policy that meets these obligations.

I have fully shouldered this responsibility since my first days in office.


It s what led me to take the decision to withdraw our combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of last year. I was told it was impossible, even dangerous! It was done on 15 December 2012. I want to congratulate all those who contributed to that withdrawal, under strict security conditions for our soldiers and in full consultation with our allies. We now have in Afghanistan only those troops corresponding to the missions provided for in the treaty of friendship and cooperation that we signed with Afghanistan.

It’s this same responsibility that convinced me to engage France in Mali. Why? Because we were called on by a friendly country, represented by its legitimate president? Yes. Because there was a terrorist threat that could subject Mali to dangerous influence? Yes. Because there was a risk for the entire Sahel? Obviously. But because there was also a threat to our own security.

So I was therefore the first to respond, in France’s name, because we were the only country with military resources that could act immediately, alongside our African friends. We didn’t intervene in the place of the Africans, but with the Africans, enabling a peacekeeping operation now to be conducted under conditions of international legitimacy, on the one hand, and effectiveness on the other.

We’ll remain there, too, with fewer troops in the coming months. But we’ll remain in Mali and around Mali, because we haven’t finished with terrorism. I mentioned what happened yesterday in Niger, where our interests were directly targeted, where Nigeriens – because they’d backed and supported us – were cravenly murdered. I express my solidarity with President Issoufou and the people of Niger. But it’s additional proof that the battle we’re fighting against terrorism is a battle in which all countries must, at one stage or another, be involved, if they uphold the same values as us. In Africa in particular, we must show our wholehearted solidarity, support and backing to the West African countries faced with this scourge of terrorism. We’ll continue to do so.


It’s still my responsibility to present to the French people a new White Paper to be followed up by a military estimates bill that will establish the resources to be dedicated to our defence, on the basis of three priorities: protection, projection and deterrence.

Our territory and fellow citizens in mainland and overseas France must be protected. That’s our primary duty. In order to achieve this, we require permanent ground, air and sea monitoring and reaction capabilities. Units must be capable of being deployed at any moment to intervene alongside domestic security forces and the emergency services when necessary.

Concurrently, France must be in a position to deploy well-prepared and well-equipped forces, at her initiative or in the framework of a coalition. In this spirit, in addition to the volume of forces that can be deployed, I’ve sought to ensure our armed forces’ operational effectiveness is further improved. They’ll have 66,000 rapidly-deployable soldiers organized into army brigades. They’ll be able to intervene from the carrier battle group based around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. They’ll also have amphibious and submarine capabilities. The air units will give us situation assessment and deep strike capabilities. Those are our overall projection capabilities. Let me add that the personnel deployed will enjoy enhanced legal protection. The Defence and Justice Ministries are due to work on this. Measures will be set out to this effect, particularly as part of the military estimates bill.

Finally, France must ensure her deterrence is credible. Need I remind you of its strategic nature? It protects us from any aggression or blackmail that might threaten our vital interests. That is its raison d’être. It preserves our freedom of action and our sovereignty. It persuades any adversary not to target France and thus risk considerable damage to its territory.

Our doctrine is based on the principle of strict sufficiency. This enables France to set an example in terms of nuclear disarmament.


Some people regularly criticize the cost of this ultimate guarantee to our public finances. I want to reply to them. The expenditure allocated to deterrence today represents 11% of the annual defence budget. Is 11% too much to guarantee our country’s safety? I don’t think so, especially as innovation and research have allowed us to make substantial savings on programmes. So I’ve taken the decision to retain our two components: seaborne and airborne. The recent failure of an M51 missile test after five successes reminds us that the successful use of our technologies is demanding and requires constant vigilance. I shall draw every conclusion from the investigation under way.

Today I’d like to reiterate my confidence in the extraordinary personnel who guarantee our deterrence under all circumstances, in every corner of the globe.

The fact remains that national defence is a heavy investment for the nation.

This is why I am keen to tailor our scarce budgetary resources to our pressing goals, especially in this period. My goals, too, will be based on a single criterion: the national interest, because I must prepare our country to take up the challenges it may encounter in the coming 15 years.

This doesn’t mean “spending more” for the sake of covering all possible risks, or “spending less” for the sake of reducing our ambition. We must “spend properly”, at the right level – in order both to secure our goals and control our public accounts – and tell the French people the truth at all times.

Georges Clemenceau had a fine phrase: “You have to know what you want. When you know it, you must have the courage to say it, and when you say it, you must have the courage to do it.” The military estimates acts of recent decades haven’t applied Georges Clemenceau’s principle to the letter. Not that the nation hasn’t said what it wants: it’s said it, and those texts have been useful references. Not that it hasn’t had the courage to say it. But it hasn’t always had the opportunity to say it. So we must ensure we guarantee our country’s sovereignty both in its strategic decisions and in ensuring control of our public accounts – and not depend on the outside, and particularly on the markets, to finance our sovereign debt.

So, as a realist, I’ve decided to maintain our defence effort at its current level. The budget will be set in 2014 at €31.4 billion – that is, exactly the same amount as in 2012 and 2013. For the whole period 2014-2025, our forces will have €365 billion, including €179.2 billion for the period 2014-2019.

In the past, it hasn’t been possible to fulfil the ambitious goals announced in our estimates acts. I won’t be cruel enough to recall the precedents. The gap between commitments and reality has been constantly growing, and this has led us into an impasse that must now be integrated into the coming fiscal year, because you can never forget the state’s continuity and act as if everything can start from scratch. We’re necessarily accountable for what hasn’t been paid for in the past.

So there will be consequences. The Prime Minister, the ministers concerned and I have sought to limit them. Following the 2014-2019 military estimates bill, the ministry’s forces will be reduced by an additional 24,000, to around 250,000 defence personnel. I want everyone to bear this figure in mind: they’re the largest armed forces in Europe. We are the country that has not only a nuclear deterrent but also, for the most part, materiel that provides action and intervention capabilities, and the largest force in terms of military and civilian personnel. So this is in keeping with our responsibilities. But it also enables us to be an influential, active country, a country that can speak because it also has the means to command respect.

The second consequence relates to the military sites in mainland France. It’s always a sensitive subject for the personnel concerned and the regions’ elected representatives. I’ve asked for special attention to be paid to ensure we can maintain a presence throughout the country and avoid site closures. But I’m also keen to ensure we can maintain our presence overseas.


Our equipment must be adapted to the reality of today’s and tomorrow’s threats.

By the period 2025-2030 our forces will be equipped with high-performance modern materiel that takes into account the change in forms of armed confrontation. I’m thinking of surveillance and combat UAVs; the decision to order them was postponed for too long, so we risked having to appeal for our allies’ support in certain interventions. So today we have the obligation to order this materiel. We’re also determined to make orders for A400M transport aircraft, MRTT in-flight refuelling aircraft, Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapons, FREMM multi-purpose frigates and VBMR armoured vehicles.

In order to face up to the new threats I’ve mentioned, too – cyber-attacks and terrorism – funding devoted to intelligence, the police and justice will be increased. I’m also keen to revitalize space policy, with MUSIS observation satellites and Ceres electromagnetic interception satellites.

All these investments, essential to prepare for the future, will be added to the programmes already launched: the Rafale, Tigre attack helicopters, NH90 transport helicopters, Barracuda submarines and the FELIN system. No programme will be stopped once launched, for reasons of capability and efficiency but also because I intend to preserve our defence industry.

I’m aware of its assets, firstly in terms of personnel, employment and its national presence. There are large companies here, which we know well and which know us well. But there’s also a fabric of several thousand SMEs and mid-caps. We have one of Europe’s main defence industries. We must further improve it.

The R&D effort will be maintained at a high level. That’s essential in order to guarantee our armed forces the materiel they need in future. It’s essential in order to export and have the maximum impact on civil industry.

Diversification is also one of our trump cards. The modernization of our production apparatus will continue. The stakes held by the state will develop. New industrial alliances will be forged, particularly at European level. And employees will have to be better trained, while being involved in the future of their companies and expertise.

It’s a challenge of competitiveness but also of sovereignty.


Sovereignty doesn’t mean isolation. It means being able to act with others.

The recent military operations have shown how much we must work with the European Union in order to be in a position to respond to crises.

That’s why France wants to launch a new stage in Defence Europe. Several factors lead us to this.

The shared necessity of sorting out our public finances is encouraging us to pool our capabilities, take more initiatives and rely on equipment manufactured cooperatively, taking everyone’s expertise into account.

This is what France is already doing with the United Kingdom – among other things, to build a joint intervention force.

It’s also what France wants to do with Germany, including for external military operations. Likewise, I’d like to pursue our partnerships with Belgium, Italy and Spain and involve the new EU members in this initiative – starting with Poland and the Visegrád Group countries, because Defence Europe must mean all of Europe, including the Europe that was previously on the other side.

I’ll be making proposals between now and the European Council of December 2013.

They’ll relate to our presence in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia. Europe must act in a more coordinated way everywhere. Is it thinking about what we could do better and perhaps more cheaply?

They’ll also concern our cooperation in the fields of air transport, observation satellites, in-flight refuelling and UAVs, to mention but a few examples.

The failures of the past mustn’t discourage us; on the contrary, they must encourage us to persevere. Our ambition is to promote European champions for the European defence industry. It’s crucial for maintaining a competitive and technological industrial base.

The major issue for Europe isn’t simply having a large market and a stable currency area. Those are conditions. It’s also having an industrial policy. And in industrial policy, there’s the issue of defence.

France is in Europe, but she also acts in the NATO framework. The report presented by Hubert Védrine – I thank him for his reflexions – led me to confirm our presence in the Atlantic Alliance’s integrated military command, while boosting our influence within it.

But it’s not about losing our freedom to decide and act, let alone diluting the national nature of our defence.


Ladies and gentlemen,

France has always had a unique link with her armed forces. I occasionally hear that this relationship has supposedly cooled, with the professionalization of these personnel and the disappearance of any vital threats from our borders. Well, I don’t believe this in any way. I see no such thing. The support our fellow citizens give our soldiers is proof of the French people’s attachment to their defence forces.

When you think about the image of the armed forces 30 or 40 years ago, in a different context of Cold War and decolonization, about the link which was at times controversial – including through the conscription period – and about the link today, I believe that the relationship is now stronger, but, from a certain point of view, the end of conscription also marked a separation and a kind of acceptance of the end of an insurance policy, generally considered costly, without the exact cost being known. But a kind of delegation of responsibility and ignorance of what the military really is. This is why we’ve got to strengthen the link.


By getting French society, in all its diversity, more involved in knowing about the military. This is the role played, inter alia, by the Institute of Higher National Defence Studies – whose work I salute here –, not simply by welcoming brilliant professions – what we think of as the country’s elite is found here – but by more widely addressing the whole nation, especially young people. They perhaps feel less concerned and yet also must be protected from a number of scourges and threats, which I was saying were likely to [make us] further strengthen our tools and our protection measures.

This is also the responsibility of Parliament. I’ve been keen to ensure that the government fully respects its rights, as regards being informed and able to deliberate on the operations in which our forces are engaged.

I have also called for there to be annual reports, debated before the Senate’s and National Assembly’s relevant committees, on the arms export policy. (...)

Because each state must rigorously control its arms exports, as the conventional arms trade treaty, which France helped get adopted among others at the United Nations, prompts us to do.

Parliament’s control will also be improved when it comes to intelligence. Far from weakening our security, information confirms the legitimacy and effectiveness of our operations.

The link between the nation and its armed forces also includes the operational and general reserves. I want to salute them. To them we’ll be adding a new branch for cyberdefence, whose objective will be to mobilize young technicians and computer scientists interested in security issues.


Generally speaking, nothing is more important than encouraging young generations to become aware of our country’s unique destiny and its history. Hence the importance of next year’s celebrations – the Minister Delegate for Veterans will work on this: the First World War centenary, the 70th anniversaries of the Normandy Landings and the Liberation. (...)

Only this year, 2013, we’ve had deaths in Mali. And in 2012, the withdrawal included, we had deaths in Afghanistan. I’m also not forgetting the soldiers who have lost their lives in operations, particularly in French Guiana. Nor am I forgetting the gendarmes and police officers killed because of insecurity and in the fight against all trafficking. At these times when we salute the defence effort, when we proclaim a number of objectives, I think of the families of these soldiers, these gendarmes and these police officers today. (...)

“Great countries are great because they wanted to be,” General de Gaulle used to say. France still wants to be a great nation. Not for herself, no, [but] to promote the values of the Republic. I ask everyone to play their part in this.

So I want, here, to reiterate my commitment, my firm belief that we are preparing the future, and express my gratitude to you for contributing to the defence of our country./.

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