THE one-two punch of last year's Warsaw Pact disintegration and
this year's Gulf war has thrown France's defense makeup and security
strategy against the ropes.
The wisdom and continued relevance of a defense based largely on
a drafted Army and a security arrangement based on a doctrine of
independent nuclear deterrence have come under deep questioning as
the military threat in Europe has receded.
At the same time, calls for defense reform have grown as the Gulf
crisis has suggested to some analysts that future conflicts
involving France are more likely to be outside Europe and of a
conventional nature. In both instances, France's ability to respond
The Gulf war has made this glaringly clear. France, with nearly
14,000 military personnel in the Gulf - less than half Britain's
total - was criticized for not taking a greater part in the
international coalition's military deployment. But its participation
is in fact at the very limit of its capabilities.
In terms of men, the French Army is largely made up of young
draftees accomplishing their obligatory one-year military service,
and the country has an unwritten rule against sending
nonprofessionals into combat. In terms of materiel, France decided
under President Charles de Gaulle, as one analyst put it, to "place
most of its national defense eggs in the nuclear basket," which has
left it without the kind of materiel the United States and Britain
have displayed for a distant conventional war.
Confronting the country's military shortcomings has been
traumatic for many French, who want an international role for their
country and who have consistently approved periodic policing actions
"The emperor was caught without his clothes," says Peter Ludlow,
director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.
The Gulf experience also has awakened the French to the
uncomfortable realization that their much-vaunted doctrine of
national independence - the doctrine that led De Gaulle to pull
France from NATO's integrated military command in 1966 - is
increasingly a chest-thumping slogan without the military muscle to
back it up.
One of the lessons for France in the Gulf war "is that our
military means didn't permit us to follow a singular policy in the
Gulf," said Francois Heisbourg, director of the International
Institute for Strategic Studies in London, in a recent talk here.
"The crisis demonstrates the need to reform both our doctrine and
our defense apparatus."
Yet the Gulf war may not be the experience on which to base a
reform of French defense, some analysts warn. It is far from certain
that the Gulf war will turn out to be the "typical conflict" of the
future, notes Frederic Bozo, a defense and security specialist with
the French Institute of International Relations. …