France's New Security Strategy

More Leadership in the EU?
Der französische Präsident Emmanuel Macron
© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Gonzalo Fuentes

The French President Emmanuel Macron presented a new national security strategy (“revue nationale stratégique”) on November 9. The last strategies date from 2017 and 2021 respectively but with the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine an update was urgently needed. The strategy was therefore drafted as a matter of urgency to draw lessons from the war in Ukraine. It constitutes a first step before the parliamentary debates on the next military programming law for the period 2024-2030. With its military strategic culture, France does not have to operate an about-face like Germany did with its “Zeitenwende” (a sea change or ‘turn of eras’ in its foreign and security policy). Nonetheless, with his new strategy, French President Emmanuel Macron eventually prepares the French people for the possibility of war. Therefore, it is not only a simple paper designed for policy officials at the highest level. The paper serves as a roadmap for French society all together by “adapt[ing] public communication to the challenges of resilience”. It is published just before the upcoming German national security strategy, a first for Germany, supposed to be published in early 2023 and several months after the new NATO strategic concept as well as the Strategic Compass of the European Union. The French strategy states explicitly that it is in line with and complementary to these two documents. It sets out a vision for France’s security until 2030 and contains ten strategic objectives (see infographic). National defence and alliance defence within NATO are brought to the fore by focussing more on the Eastern flank whereas terrorism and deployment of troops abroad are lower on the priority list.

Ten priorities of the French National Security Strategy

1. Robust and credible nuclear deterrence
2. A united and resilient France
3. Defence economy
4. Cyber resilience
5. Euro-Atlantic relationship
6. European strategic autonomy
7. Reliable sovereignty
8. Guaranteed autonomy of assessment and decision-making sovereignty
9. Capacity to defend and act in hybrid fields
10. freedom of action to conduct military operations

Focus on hybrid wars and cybersecurity

In a press conference last Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron announced that asserting influence will rank as a new “strategic function” in the defence policy of France against the backdrop of disinformation campaigns and foreign interference from hostile competitors worldwide. “We will not be patient spectators”, witnessing the spread of false information or narratives hostile to France, and “convincing is clearly part of the strategic requirements”, said the French President, also announcing substantial resources dedicated to this effort.

To this end, the role of cybersecurity and content regulation, also mentioned by the French President at the Paris Peace Forum, is crucial. With Macron’s focus on hybrid threats and cybersecurity, the new French security is very much in line with the ‘secure’ pillar being one out of four pillars – act, secure, invest, partner – of the Strategic Compass of the EU, the first common EU document for threat perception launched during the Council Presidency of France this summer. It is also a substantial element of the upcoming German strategy which was highlighted by German defence minister Christine Lambrecht in a speech mid-September as well as by German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser mid-November at DGAP who both gave a sneak preview of the new German roadmap.

Reconciling the France-NATO Relationship

After the uproar caused by Macron’s harsh assessment of NATO being “brain-dead”, the French President clarified that transatlantic cooperation is a vital aspect of French security. The transatlantic relationship is the fifth of the ten objectives, even before the European dimension and the reference to European sovereignty, Macron’s hot topic since he delivered his speech five years ago at Sorbonne University. France intends to be able to assume the role of a “framework nation” within NATO, assuring a “unique position within the alliance” given its nuclear and overall defence capacities. By 2030, the French army should have “a strong transatlantic anchorage” and France the role of an “exemplary ally” following a “pragmatic approach”. Given the recent debates on strengthening European defence capabilities, pushed by France with projects in air defence systems such as the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) or French alternatives to American and Israeli weapon systems, “pragmatic” is not an evident wording when it comes to France’s relationship with the transatlantic alliance.

The expansion of European defence capacities strengthens NATO, but France's goal remains strategic autonomy for Europe. Finally yet importantly, France claims leadership within this new European security architecture.

Recalling French Geopolitical Priorities Worldwide

As laid out in the new security strategy, other regions in the world where France has strategic interests continue to be of importance to French foreign and security policy, despite the focus on the war in Ukraine. This first and foremost concerns the African continent which will be covered by a proper and separate strategy, to be presented within the upcoming 6 months after concertation with African partners. The presentation of the new French security strategy also marked the final end of the military operation Barkhane in Mali, launched in January 2013 with up to 3000 soldiers which has been generally perceived as having generated poor results on the ground. Macron thus announced a new approach where prospectively, French military support and cooperation in the region will be provided only upon request of African leaders.

Recalling the importance of Franco-German cooperation in defence policy

Emmanuel Macron recalled France’s will to strengthen ties with German defence policy, hoping for “decisive progress in the coming weeks”. Tensions between France and Germany had been growing over common defence initiatives, in particular the European Sky Shield Initiative, put forward by Olaf Scholz together with 15 European Member States excluding France, which allegedly already has a proper missile defence system. Macron had offered to extend the French air defence umbrella to interested countries in the medium term in order to form a front against Russian attacks, an offer that Scholz declined on the grounds of interoperability within NATO and immediate availability of weapon systems. This gridlock even resulted in the cancellation of the Franco-German Council of Ministers. In this regard, Macron’s move to call out Germany on its lack of solidarity by simultaneously maintaining dialogue is supposed to trigger new initiatives. Although the French president and Olaf Scholz decided to come up with a respective Franco-German working group on defence at the highest level, it is unlikely that the differences in these highly technical industrial questions will be settled soon. In this context, Macron’s announcement to seek for further cooperation with the United Kingdom comes as no surprise as France feels not taken seriously enough by its biggest ally. A new summit with the United Kingdom will be organised in early 2023.

This wake-up call should serve for Germany to step up efforts to meet at east halfway with French impulses for further defence initiatives. In fact, as a new report of the European Defence Agency just revealed, only 18% of defence investments are jointly run between Member States. Besides the rhetorical agreement, the EU, in particular France and Germany have to mature their relationship in order to seriously and jointly invest in military capabilities instead of losing money and capacity to act through isolated moves. Ideally, Germany considers France in its preparations for its first National Security Strategy.

Jeanette Süß is European Affairs Manager in the regional office of the “European Dialogue“ of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Brussels, where she heads the France section.