How does the weakness of the armies handicap France's credibility on defense issues in Europe?

The potential sending of European troops to Ukraine, mentioned by Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the Paris Summit on February 26, continues to provoke numerous reactions, in France, in Europe, and beyond. However, far from triggering a dynamic in favor of the emergence of a more united, more determined and stronger Europe, to support Ukraine, this sentence turned into a backlash against the French president.

Indeed, not only is the hypothesis strongly criticized by the opposition in France, but it has managed to create a real consensus in Europe and even within NATO, but against it. As for the Russians, without much surprise, they relish the debacle, not without ridiculing France's posture.

An obvious lack of credibility for France in Europe on Defense issues

It is possible to debate for hours on the merits, or not, of the hypothesis mentioned by the French head of state. However, this episode shows, above all, the France's cruel lack of credibility on these geostrategic questions, including in Europe, and in particular the immense gap that exists today, between the ambitions expressed by France in this area and the means actually available to its armies.

France's weak weight regarding geostrategic issues

Several historical factors, some proven, others sometimes fantasized, tend to erode the credibility of the French word on defense on the European and global geopolitical scene. Furthermore, Europeans, and their leaders, have been conditioned, for several decades, to follow almost blindly United States guidelines in this area, while relying on Washington, and its very powerful armies, for their security.

The developments of recent weeks, whether in Ukraine against Russia, but also in the United States, with a Congress which is still blocking an aid package for Ukraine which is now vital, and a Donald who will unsurprisingly win the Republican primaries, and which becomes the favorite in the polls, concerning the November elections, had, it seemed, shook Europeans in their certainties, to the point that new discourses emerged in The Hague, Rome, Warsaw and even Berlin.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump's threats against NATO caused an electric shock in Europe, but it was insufficient to convince people to possibly send European forces to Ukraine.

It is also, probably, thinking that he could take advantage of this apparent evolution of European leaders, that Emmanuel Macron attempted what now looks more and more like a bluff, by presenting the intervention of European troops in Ukraine as a working hypothesis, whereas it had, most certainly, been mentioned only briefly, without emphasis, and without the slightest support, during the conference.

The weakness of the French armies in the conventional domain hinders Paris's aspirations for the emergence of European strategic autonomy.

It is good, in this context, the weakness of the French armies, particularly in terms of high-intensity conventional symmetrical combat, which makes the French discourse lose its credibility, when Paris discusses the potential sending of troops to Ukraine, or pleads in favor of European strategic autonomy.

Indeed, obviously, Europeans do not consider themselves ready to confront Russia, without the initiative coming from Washington, and under protection of the US Army and the US Air Force. Unfortunately, in this area, the French armies are very far from propose an alternative credible enough for Warsaw, Vilnius or Bucharest, to trigger a shudder in this direction.

France vs Russia: a potential balance of power much less striking than it seems

In the minds of almost all Europeans, and even in the world, France cannot, in fact, represent, on its own, a credible potential adversary to come deter Moscow in strategic areas.

The average military balance of power of 7 to 1 in favor of the Russian armies

Indeed, with 2 nuclear warheads, 3000 tanks, 1200 combat planes, around fifty submarines, and an armed force of 1,3 million men, the Russian armies greatly outclass the 350 heads, 200 tanks, 225 combat aircraft, 10 submarines 210 men of the French armies, in an average ratio of 1 vs. 7.

Russia likes to flaunt its nuclear power. But being able to destroy France fifteen times is no more effective than being able to destroy Russia once in this area.

In terms of deterrence, it should be remembered that the 4 nuclear ballistic missile submarines and the 2 squadrons of Rafale B nuclear weapons of the French strategic forces, largely have the power enough to destroy all of Russia, while it is hardly useful for Moscow to be able to destroy France more than 15 times.

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  1. Hello,
    I am a big fan of your post.
    I completely understand the need to re-strengthen, the lack of vision for a very long time, but getting involved in the European court to accuse this president who fortunately ruled, not strong enough perhaps, I find that a little easy.
    To think that if we had been stronger the other countries would have supported us is to forget this European reflex as soon as France gains a little importance. Furthermore, this reaction from European countries shows more fear than a real analysis of the effect of this declaration.
    Hypothesizing that ground troops could be deployed is just warning Russia and leaving doubt. This weapon used by Russia. and frankly what can Russia do to France, nuclear power is self-destruction and as for the conventional army, the path to Paris goes through NATO. Just sending Russia back to its helplessness in the face of Ukraine, France is another piece…

    All these European countries, if Trump leaves us, alone in front of Russia, who can they count on for their nuclear umbrella?
    How much has this nuclear umbrella cost over the last 60 years?
    Who was the visionary?
    Of course we could have done more.
    For 60 years, these European countries have always minimized and criticized our nuclear force. Too aggressive, warlike people, losers, revengers.
    This to curl up in the sacrosanct US protection and depend on Russian gas.
    So yes we didn't do enough, but we didn't help.
    And we are difficult to impress, which cannot be said about the rest of Europe.
    Never forget that to self-flagellate is to give grist to those who want us to be weaker.
    And it never strengthens us.
    we must of course be self-critical but we are not alone in this boat.
    I don't think at all that the aim of the article was to self-flagellate but rather to push the government to do more.
    But this title: An obvious lack of credibility of France in Europe on Defense issues.
    I admit it is difficult to swallow, what Europe offers us the French:
    Investment in conventional or nuclear deterrence = 0
    Without the United States, credibility = 0
    Let us judge ourselves as French people, that we do not quite completely agree.
    Frankly, the opinion of other European countries, if they want to take a pinch of salt, is easier than proposing a real evolution towards a European military power...and unfortunately for them, yes, France will be the pillar. And that's the rub…

    Now if in 6 months Russia breaks through the front and there is a risk of collapse, are we sure that the French, English and Americans see NATO will remain at arm's length.

    Kind regards and faithfully yours

    • Thank you for the comment. I won't contradict you on the way in which Europeans have a certain visceral fear. Now the situation is what it is. We can regret it, but it is impossible to change it, at least not within the deadline. Even with plenty of time, I fear this is simply out of scope. It is not a question of distributing good and bad points, simply of stating an observation: the ambitions on the one hand, the expectations of Europeans concerning the power of European armies on the other, are not aligned.
      This being said, and knowing that it is necessary for Europeans to adapt to the rapidly changing reality, the only solution would be to offer Europeans a potential alternative, even partial, to US protection. And today, the French armies are very far from being able to achieve this.
      Hence the article. Because announcing ambitions, without giving yourself the means, in a context like this, was obviously going straight into the wall.
      Now, if the president actually wants to give substance to this European strategic autonomy, it is up to him to respond to the expectations, even implicit, of Europeans, and therefore to provide France with a much more significant army.

  2. Hello,
    yes as usual we are treated as going to war, but hey we are used to it. in any case we will do nothing with Germany which will continue to thwart all French initiatives whatever they may be. I'm not even talking about the Scaf and MGCS programs, which in my opinion will end up like the rest in the dustbin of Franco-German cooperation. Let's launch the EMBT now, we didn't need the Germans to make the Leclerc, except maybe the gearbox, but if we make a hybrid there won't be any need for it! when at the scaf let's concentrate the means on the rafale 5 and its environment and it will already be good. it will be able to land on the Grand Charles, without needing a 75000 ton successor. if we have drones which are stealthy and go into contact, what is the need for a scaf since it can stay away from potential danger. by wanting to make risky cooperations we waste our time, our skills and we put ourselves as usual at the mercy of the Germans who are no longer even capable of putting a battalion of tanks online or sending a frigate with missiles which work (luckily for the Americans because with allies like them, no need for enemies).
    As for our young generations who want peace and above all not to mobilize for their country, the day Putin will come and kick them in the ass... he won't ask them if they agree, but it will be a little late .
    I think that the French and Europeans in general are going to have to get out of their comfort zone and change their way of seeing things. we all want peace but we have to dot the I's for some people so that they understand that they must not come and kill us….
    good day to all


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