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French parlamentarians must stop Hollande’s defense cuts

The Left, with the help of nominal ball-less “right-wing” politicians, has managed to destroy the defenses of many Western countries: Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Britain, and Australia, among other countries. It is now in the process of doing that in the United States, and has made considerable progress in that regard.

And now, the Left is beginning to do the same in France.

France is the last bastion of the Western civilization and its military power, given that all other Western countries, including the US, have now fallen to the Left and have been imbibed with the Left’s “we can make deep defense cuts safely” kool-aid. Now, the Left is determined to bring down this last bastion of Western civilization and Western military power by gutting France’s military.[1]

Already last year, facing a large budget deficit driven entirely by bloated social spending (including welfare rolls, pensions[2], and other social aid), the French budget minister demanded 5 bn EUR in annual spending cuts, a part of which is to come from the Defense Ministry. In parallel, French President Francois Hollande appointed a commission tasked with drafting a White Paper on National Defense for his approval. This document is supposed to be, and indeed used to be, an in-depth analysis of the threats to France’s security, the missions required to counter them, and thus the military structure, capability, training, and equipment needed to counter them.
These days, however, it is merely a political paper designed to justify defense cuts decisions already made – just like America’s Quadrennial Defense  Review (QDR). No one knows yet what the results will be, except that there will be some defense cuts – and the only question is, how deep they’ll be and what exactly will get cut.

The financial context

It’s important to note that defense spending is NOT to blame for France’s (or America’s) financial woes. Defense spending constitutes only ca. 14% of France’s entire annual state budget and just 1.56% of the country’s GDP – even smaller proportions than in the US. As former chief of the French defense staff, Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, has said, “The entire budget of the French state is 56% of GDP. Without defense spending, it’s 54.5% of GDP.”[3]

Thus, the idea that defense spending is bankrupting France is so ridiculous that virtually no one in France even dares to utter it – for fear of being laughed out of town – but President Hollande insists that defense spending be cut nevertheless, to make its contribution to deficit reduction (now, when did I hear that before?) – while ignoring the fact that defense already made a heavy contribution to that goal under the Sarkozy administration, when almost a hundred bases were closed, orders for many weapons were slashed, and 54,000 troops received pink slips.

President Hollande and the Socialist government are also ignoring the above-mentioned fact that France already spends little on its military and thus, no big savings can be found in its defense budget.

Yet, the Socialist government is determined to cut its defense budget, and the only thing it hasn’t decided yet is how deeply to cut it. Worse yet, it plans to do so on a percentage-of-GDP basis, i.e. the government will cut defense spending measured as a share of GDP, to a level they deem not too high. There have been discussions of cuts to as low as 1.1% of GDP, although the latest news coming from Paris is that a “compromise” figure of 1.2% of GDP is now under consideration. Big deal – that’s still a deep cut, down from 1.56% of GDP, and the government will make that cut based on percentages of GDP rather than France’s defense strategy, geopolitical ambitions, and defense needs.

(Although if it were to accept the latter basis, it would have to conclude, in any honest analysis, that no deep cuts can be made safely.)

No wonder, then, that French parliamentarians from both major parties, led by the Socialist chairman of the French Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Armed Forces Commission, have voiced strong opposition to further defense cuts. It should be noted that Socialist lawmakers – or at least Senators – have been as outspoken on this as right-wing politicians, and being members of the majority party, they have the power to stop these defense cuts, as they should. The President and the Government are supposed only to propose policies and bills – it is the French parliament that is supposed to actually decide what to pass and what not to pass. Some French Senators have also proposed selling the government’s shares in defense companies to offset defense cuts; this is a good idea, but no substitute for avoiding defense cuts.

French parliamentarians should therefore firmly block these defense cuts.

Where to make savings

If the French Defense Ministry has to make some budget cuts – as it likely will have to do nonetheless – but deep cuts are averted, where should it make savings?

Firstly, reduce the budget of the Gendarmerie Nationale, from 7.7 bn EUR per annum currently to 5.68 bn per annum. This would allow the procurement of 20 additional Rafale fighters every year.

Secondly, reduce the Horse Republican Guard by 75% (or even better, abolish it completely) and sell its horses. They serve no useful purpose, they only parade once a year, on July 14th.

Thirdly, sell the Defense Ministry’s seat, Hotel de Brienne, and buy a smaller, more modest office building somewhere in Paris.

Fourthly, abolish the military cabinets of the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister, which serve no useful functions as all important decisions are made by the President, advised by his own military staff, the Etat-Major Particulier du President de la Republique.

Fifth, abolish the majority of bureaucracies in and around the Defense Ministry, such as the Secretariat General pour la Administration (SGA) and the Delegation pour les Affairs Strategiques (DAS).

Sixth, and probably most importantly, the salary and retirement system needs to be significantly reformed and its costs reduced, as they are beginning to grow out of control, like in the US.

Seventh and finally, the Defense Ministry should reverse the brass creep that has happened in recent years, that is, the growth of the number of senior officers and sous-officiers (NCOs) as total force structure has been reduced and promotion has become much easier in the now much-smaller French military. As a result, there are too many generals, admirals, senor officers, and sous-officiers, commanding too few troops. Their ranks are too senior compared to the number of troops they command. Many, if not most, positions in the military should be downgraded by at least one rank if not two or more, and the number of generals and admirals should be significantly reduced.

Final notes

It should be remembered that the French military has already undergone several significant reductions in size, budget, weapon orders, base infrastructure, etc. It cannot afford to take on more cuts.

And let’s not forget that right-wing, “Gaullist” politicians have been as complicit in the weakening of the French military as the Socialists. Significant cuts occurred under the Juppe and Fillon governments, under Presidents Chirac and Sarkozy. Indeed, some French Internet commentators have rightly pointed out that Sarkozy is actually the real “dismantler” of the French military: he’s the one who gave 54,000 French troops pink slips, cut orders for such vital weapons as FREMM class frigates, cut the inventory of weapons such as tanks, cut the French nuclear arsenal, and insulted the French military in 2008 (so much so that the then-Chief of Staff of the Army resigned in protest).

Nonetheless, there is no excuse for cutting the French military and the defense budget any further. When you are in a bad situation, one good thing you can always do is not to make the situation worse than it already is.

Let’s hope that French parliamentarians stop these destructive defense cuts in the parliament.


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