Saturday, March 2, 2024

Why would bringing the French defense effort to 3% GDP cost public finances less than €3 billion per year?

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Many voices are being raised to denounce the inadequacies of the French defense effort in the face of the rise of international threats, while the ink of the Military Programming Law 2024-2030, passed last July, is at hand. barely dry .

Between the specter of an overpowering China, the rebirth of Russian military-industrial power, the pessimistic outlook regarding the war in Ukraine, tensions in the Middle East and the possible return of Donald Trump to the White House, more than ever Since the end of the Euromissile crisis, the role of the French armies, to guarantee the security of the country, but also of its allies, is today crucial.

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The LPM 2024-2030, by taking up the format of the armies designed in 2013 by a White Paper structured around an asymmetric threat, and by only targeting the investment floor set by NATO of 2% of GDP, does not respond neither in volume, nor in its timetable, to the challenges which are accumulating facing the French armies.

However, the arguments put forward to explain this lack of ambition and resources appear reasonable, with a chronic public deficit failing to fall below 3%, a sovereign debt approaching 120% of GDP, and a still shaky economy with limited growth and persistent unemployment, all of which limits the State's investment capacity.

So, is it illusory to want to bring the French defense effort to the level required to effectively respond to security challenges? As we will see in this article, it all depends on how the problem is posed.

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A 2024-2030 LPM at 2% GDP is objectively insufficient to meet future security challenges

If the LPM 2024-2030 boasts an unprecedented increase in defense spending over its duration, with an army budget which will increase from €43.9 billion in 2023 to €67 billion in 2030, the defense effort, that is to say the ratio between these expenditures and the country's gross domestic product, will remain relatively stable, around 2%.

Gazelle helicopter
Certain army equipment, such as Gazelle helicopters, will have to be extended well beyond what is reasonable, due to the limitations of the 2024-2030 LPM

In fact, in many aspects, this announced increase in credits will be a sham, especially since it will be partly eroded by the effects of inflation, as was also the case during the previous LPM.

In a previous article , we showed that it would be necessary for France to produce a defense effort greater than or equal to 2.65% GDP to meet the challenges of the moment. Since its writing, several factors have worsened the threats, therefore the timetable of needs for the armies, and with them, the investment needs.

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Meet the need for recapitalization of the French armies

First, with an effort of 2.65% as recommended, the recapitalization of the French armies, after 20 years of critical underinvestment, was intended to be relatively progressive. Indeed, the peak of threats then assessed was between 2035 and 2040, which left around fifteen years for the defense effort to fill the gaps noted, and replace the most obsolete equipment such as Gazelle helicopters, Patrollers Offshore, and many others.

However, the tempo has increased considerably in recent months, under the combined effect of a China increasingly self-confident in the Pacific, of a Russia, in full confidence, which has reconnected with a military power -industrial of the first order, of a de facto axis which has formed between these two countries, Iran and North Korea, and the now very perceptible threat of the return of Donald Trump to the White House occasion of the 2024 US presidential elections.

Donald Trump
The return of Donald Trump to the White House is now a credible hypothesis with which it is necessary to come to terms in strategic planning in France as in Europe.

In other words, where a period of 15 years to recapitalize the French armies could be considered reasonable a few months ago, it is now necessary to make the same modernization and transformation effort, on a noticeably shorter time frame, with the peak threat potentially beginning as early as 2028, or even before that, according to the most pessimistic forecasts.


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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolfhttps://meta-defense.fr/fabrice-wolf/
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the Meta-defense.fr site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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6 Comments

  1. I have no confidence in the policies of Macron and his teams of broken arms, who say, on every occasion, everything and its opposite. Macron, we know well, is the stooge of the USA, Gafam, European Union and other Black Rock, Labs and consulting firms. He has no ambition for our Nation, except to “assimilate” us to an extra-national entity, of which he dreams of taking the leadership in the manner of Ursula Von der Layen! He has already seriously damaged France's economy long before he was a minister or president. Our defense doesn't bother him too much and is not his objective. I don't understand why our military leaders don't take more action against him!

  2. “Obviously, €6 billion in additional costs is not nothing.”
    Certainly, that’s a lot!
    but in terms of budget everything is a question of political choice. The monumental losses suffered by EDF, which was forced by politicians to sell electricity at a loss to create artificial competition on the orders of Europe, is proof if it were needed!

  3. Your budgetary and capacity analyzes are very relevant, however one of your favorite things is quite questionable: the difficulty of increasing the workforce. You make it a topos of your analyzes (excellent by the way) when in reality it constitutes not only an absolute necessity for the rise in power of the armies, but it is not unattainable either, far from it. In fact, you are thinking within a constant salary/HR policy scope. However, it is this factor that needs to be changed to enable greater recruitment/retention in this more competitive labor market environment: increase in balances (notably MDR and SOFF), effective commitment/re-signature bonus system and readable, renovated second-half career HR paths, more flexible personnel management, major modernization of infrastructures, calmer pace of missions, etc. These measures will necessarily increase the average budgetary ratio “payroll/personnel” but they are necessary to actually increase at least the FOT from 30 to 40,000 personnel. Nothing will be credible except in a 3% GDP model. The Ukrainian example clearly shows that mass and volume are essential qualities. Therefore, 4 current armored brigades are better than 2 super-equipped NG brigades.

    Finally, the necessary modernization of equipment, training and missions will also have a very positive effect on recruitment through the sense of commitment and service of the military (notably SOFF and OFF).

    In the end, I think you need to review this factor in your analysis to make it more credible on a 3% model, which does not exclude the complementary and probably also necessary rise in power of a national guard.

    Yours truly.

    • Thank you for the comment.
      In fact, I consider that France will never be able to achieve the required format with professional staff, even by increasing the attractiveness of the positions. In fact, as I have often written, it seems preferable to me to concentrate on a reduction in professional numbers, and an increase in the numbers of the National Guard, on a model close to that of the United States. However, from a payroll point of view, a national guard costs between 4 and 6 times less than a professional soldier. In fact, by reducing professional staff by 30,000 hours, you can, at a constant budget scope, obtain a net increase in format of 120,000 hours (at x5, half). In the model presented here, you can even afford to increase salary attractiveness by 25%, while increasing the workforce in the long term by 120k, i.e. a national guard at 200k, and professional workforce at 180k. However, , in such a scenario, it will be essential to form real national guard units, that is to say with the numbers, but also the equipment. From my point of view, the National Guard is undoubtedly the best format to respond to symmetrical threats of high intensity, but low to medium probability in Eastern Europe, where the professional force would remain sized to control the high probability threat , but medium to low intensity, perimeter. These aspects were studied in this 2021 article: https://meta-defense.fr/2021/07/13/la-garde-nationale-un-format-de-predilection-pour-la-haute-intensite/
      Best regards ,

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