Continuing our new series of interviews about the positioning of French political representatives relative to the Army and the defence industry in the run up to the French Presidential elections in 2017, today it is the turn of Alain Juppé, candidate in the Republican primaries and currently Mayor of Bordeaux, to set out his programme. A former Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, Alain Juppé is extremely well-versed in matters of defence and international relations.
With finances tight, what sort of effort can we expect for the defence budget?
I think that the French expect their future leaders to make responsible commitments. I am aware of the argument that the sorry state of our public finances limits our scope for economic and social recovery. I also know, from travelling around and the many discussions I have had with military leaders in recent months, that our forces are being bled dry and that there is an urgent need to increase the resources allocated to them. A steady increase in our defence effort is essential in an international context that does not allow us to lower our guard. The defence budget will need to be increased by at least €7 billion by 2022, in order to allow our forces to accomplish their challenging mission. This substantial effort would put us on track to reach the target of 2% of GDP – to which we are committed by NATO membership – by 2025.
Are operations such as Sentinelle really the job of the Army?
I have expressed my views on this subject many times, and was probably also one of the first to do so. I have outlined the concerns I have about the open-ended extension of a posture that weighs heavily on our Army. I am well aware that the armed forces have an essential role to play domestically. It is their job to guarantee the continuity of the life of the nation under all circumstances. However, we can not maintain indefinitely a stance which makes so little use of their skills and mobilises several thousand experienced soldiers at the cost of their training, mission preparation and their legitimate right to a private and family life. We should in fact rethink the protection of our fellow citizens, drawing first on domestic security services (the national Police and Gendarmerie) and increasing reservist numbers in the military and gendarmerie. Our armed forces would be a stakeholder in such an approach and could offer it their specific skills.
Do you think that the Army is sufficiently well-equipped?
I have been able to see the value of our Army during its recent operations. I also know that the equipment it uses (helicopters, armoured vehicles, etc.) are ageing or perhaps even obsolete and are no longer up to the heavy demands made of them. At the recent Eurosatory event I was able to review the main equipment of the Scorpion programme, which represents a significant jump forward in quality. However, on the basis of the current schedule we have many years to wait before this equipment can be deployed in sufficient numbers in the regiments. I am committed to seeing our armed forces being given the resources needed to fulfil their operational duties in a satisfactory manner.
How can we make our DTIB stronger? Are MBDA and Nexter examples to follow in your opinion?
France sets itself apart from most other European countries by making the maintenance of its defence technology industrial base (DTIB) an essential part of its defence policy, alongside its nuclear deterrence and external projection capacities. I intend to support this through a dynamic policy of orders and support in export markets. The strength of our national DTIB allows us to play a leading role in European alliances. With European defence struggling on the political and operational front, defence sector companies have shown us the way forward. MBDA is a magnificent example of an integrated Franco-British company, and will remain so even though the British are leaving the European Union. Nexter, which has just joined forces with German company KMW to form a new entity, is following the same track which can only bring benefits in terms of joint programmes and export success.
If you are elected President in 2017, as Commander-in-Chief what would be your three priorities in terms of defence?
Defence is one of the pillars of my project for France. My priorities are clearly set out in the document that I am presenting to the French people today: re-invest in national defence, renew the components of our deterrence, restore the coherence and operational capacity of our armed forces, refocusing them on their priority missions, continue to build a powerful DTIB and strengthen the position of the military community in our nation and our government. My project forms a whole and will be given the resources needed to put it into practice – without the illusory promises from which our armed forces have unfortunately suffered too much.