With a defense effort of 2% GDP, is France abandoning its role on the international scene?

VBCI Romania

While parliamentary debates will begin in the National Assembly around the draft Military Programming Law for the period 2024-2030 , the country's ambitions in terms of defense are now known and detailed.

Così, the announced objective of this upcoming LPM will be to achieve and maintain the country's defense effort at a level more equal than greater than 2% of gross domestic product, to bring it to €68 billion in 2030. , compared to €43 billion in 2023.

In many aspects, this new LPM will make it possible to extend the reconstruction of the armies begun in 2017 , after around twenty years of underinvestment having seriously deteriorated French military tools, as everywhere else in Europe.

In fact, if in 2019, the President of the European Council publicly qualified the French armies as "the best armies in Europe", it was above all a victory due to a lack of fighters, while most European countries then had an effort to defense below 1.5% of their GDP.

With a defense effort at 2%, French conventional forces are among the least well equipped in Europe.
French conventional forces, particularly in the high intensity domain, are proportionally smaller and more lightly armed than their Eastern European counterparts.

But in view of the budgetary trajectory defined by the next French LPM, but also those followed by the other countries surrounding the country, whether they are allies or potential adversaries, we can reasonably fear that in 2030, France will have heavily began its influence and role on the international scene.

The limits of a French defense effort at 2% of GDP

However, a defense effort at 2% GDP is in line with Paris' commitments within the Atlantic Alliance, as defined during the Cardiff agreements in 2014. As such, the majority of European countries, or more particularly European countries, Western Europe, sharing the socio-economic context of France, is not, today, aiming for a defense effort beyond this limit.

In addition, France has and is developing a powerful deterrent force, contributing very significantly to European security, and justifying the country's status in major world institutions, notably the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member, with has a right of veto, in the same way as the United States, China, Russia and Great Britain.

However, this perception of the situation, as it has often been highlighted in the media, only corresponds to part of the reality that is emerging today.

A Rafale F3 from the air component of the French deterrent equipped with an ASMPA missile
French deterrence is based on two submarine and aerial components.

One of the weakest conventional defense efforts in Europe

Indeed, France will, in 2030, very probably be one of the countries contributing the least to the collective defense effort within NATO, but also in the European Union, which, naturally, contrasts with the ambitions displayed by Paris in these two areas.

Because if the French defense effort will indeed be 2%, like the majority of its European neighbors, between 0.4% and 0.5% of GDP of this budget will be dedicated to the French deterrence effort which, although it actually contributes indirectly to the security of the old continent, it is in no way a tool dedicated to collective defense within NATO or even the European Union.

In addition, with its numerous overseas territories and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 10 million km² to protect, a part of the defense budget will have to be allocated towards the protection of these territories, and will therefore be lacking in European collective defense.

In other words, the reality of the French defense effort, from the point of view of NATO and especially its members, with an overall defense effort at 2% of GDP, would be between 1.35 and 1.5%. of GDP, one of the lowest in the Alliance today with Belgium.

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