Exclusive interview with Bruno Le Maire

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Bruno Le Maire, one of the French Republican party’s candidates in the primary for the Presidential election 2017 (Crédit photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc)

 

As the campaign for the 2017 French presidential election picks up speed with the first televised debates, here is the continuation of our series of interviews with primary hopefuls to try and establish where they stand in regards to the Army and the land armaments’ industry.

Today we turn to Bruno Le Maire, candidate for the primaries in the Republican party and deputy of the French department Eure, to ask him for his vision of tomorrow’s defence.

 

1. In a difficult budgetary context, how much effort should be put into the defence budget?
In a difficult budgetary context, but when the terrorist threat is present at the heart of our country and our forces have suffered from drastic cuts these past years, no further effort can be asked of our national defence. Beyond these elements which the political world seems to be rediscovering today, this choice must be based on solid budgetary choices, on decisions that will guarantee in time that electoral promises are kept. This was my objective when, advised by professionals of the sector, I wrote my Presidential Contract.

I would like to remind your readers that no other institution in France has had to make so much effort, be so deeply restructured and have its format so redefined over the past few years. Our military swallowed in silence what no other institution would ever have agreeed to. I want this to stop and simply give our armed forces the means to protect our citizens. Today the budget amounts to about 1.4% of our wealth. I want to raise the armed forces’ budget to 2% of our national wealth in the next 10 years (discounting the Veterans’ budget and pensions).

This demonstrates my choice, my vision of a respected state. Strengthening our defence goes alongside a reutrn of a strong legal system and security forces who have the means to guaranteee our protection.

 

2. Is it the role of the army to undertake operations such as Sentinelle (deployed within France)?
It’s the role of the army to defend our territory and our Nation. The Sentinelle operation has been useful and necessary in the wake of the attacks, reflecting the confidence that our fellow citizens have in the army in crisis situations. These 10,000 soldiers in our streets were a central element of the resilience of our Nation. But this deployment is not tenable in the long term. Sentinelle requires a lot of devotion from our soldiers and a lot of personal sacrifice. It means living far from one’s family for very long periods of time. It means suspending one’s training to guarantee the security of our national territory. A transition to a format of between 3,000 to 5,000 personnel strikes me as necessary in order to allow our soldiers to regain the level of training that they had in 2013. This transition is indispensable to give our army time to regenerate and constitute a reserve if a new crisis emerged that required significant numbers of boots on the ground. It would also enable the women and men who have chosen to serve their country to enjoy a stable family life. Keeping our soldiers and the quality of our armies on foreign theatres of operation depend on it.

 

3. Do you think the army is sufficiently well equipped?
Of the three branches, the army is surely the one that is closest to the thin edge. I’ve spoken of the delatory effect of Operation Sentinelle on their training. These difficulties are certainly not visible in these operations, which are basically like maintaining law and order on the national territory, but they could be dramatic on a theatre of operation that needs a high and constant level of engagement. In these conditions, the quality of the materiel, the soldier’s training and the cohesion of his unit are the three factors that will allow him to successfully undertake his mission. As a politician, I have the responsibility of guaranteeing that our men have all the equipment they need to undertake their mission.

The army has a major requirement to renew its equipment which has suffered in the Sahelo-Saharan band from Mali to Chad. A recent report by the National Assembly’s Defence Committee on the consquences of the rythm of foreign operations on the maintenace of equipment indicated that a VAB, already well past its prime, drove a distance in a single week in Mali that it would not have done in four years in France. I therefore would like to not only renew the materiel of the ground forces but also accelerate the delivery of its vehicles, notably the Griffon and the Jaguar which represent the future of the medium sized armoured vehicle in the framework of the Scorpion programme.

The upscaling of the army means that by 2027 we should have ground forces that number 107,000. That will translate into the creation of an additional division, doubling our air-land capacities and creating a special forces regiment. But there is no point in upping the numbers of personnel if we don’t also give them the means to undertake their mission. The renewal of their materiel will thus also rise in parallel with an annual budget that will rise €2.6bn by 2022 to reach €4bn by 2027.

 

4. How can be grow our defence industrial base? Do you think that the examples set by MBDA and Nexter should be followed?

 

The creation of European champions in the defence industry sector needs a strong French technological industrial base. Certainly, a great share of the sector’s future will be on a European scale. But only the solidity of our technological base will allow this transition to be made serenely.

This evolution will come through the creation of European champions, without necessarily involving the fusion of the companies concerned. France will have to preserve the independence of its technological base in certain key areas which today contribute to meeting the urgent requirements of our forces and to guarantee France’s expertise and autonomy of decision The Nexter-KMW model will be followed with countries which would, during my mandate, be the pillars of my European defence policy, the United Kingdom and Germany, creating a solid kernel of cooperating partners to stabilise these projects.

Sharing tasks would hower be clear: industrialists would be proactive and suggest a consolidation of the European sector; the politicians would create the economic and political conditions favourable to a fusion with, for example, the guarantee of a grouped order from several countries for the future new group.

 

5 If you become President of the Republic in 2017 what will your three defence priorities be?
Confronted with a new world, France is vulnerable. She is vulnerable because the choices that were made by the Right and the Left were to cut the budget, the equipment, the personnel. This was a collective choice over the past few years, a trans-party choice. We have to move on and put the priority on giving our defence tool a new boost.

My choice is not simply an accounting one and can’t be summarised by aligning figures. French history has always been linked to the history of its armies. France is strong when her armies are strong. France is big when her armies have the capacity to protect her interests and to carry the French political message beyond our borders.

On an international level this means necessarily sharing the burden of our engagements on the basis of stronger cooperation within NATO but also preparing the objective of a strong European defence.

Finally I am not forgetting that the armies of our nation and the link between the armies and the French nation are an essential element of the deep ties felt by all citizens for their armed forces. The army has a role to play for our young people as a complement to school by sharings its values of cohesion, courage, effort and love of our country. There is no question of reintroducing last century’s national military service or establishing a punitive miliary service for certain categories of people. I believe in volunteering and I’d like to put into place three initiatives: a defence cadet force for 12-18 year olds so that our youngsters can mix with different categories of society and discover that they can be proud of being French; a national guard service whose task would be to train reservists and dedicated to the protection of the national territory; a military service for employment offering a second chance to school drop-outs. But the role played by the army within the nation would also find its expression in my conviction that officers must continue to think, to express themselves, to develop their reflexion on military and strategic quesions. I want their analyses to enlighten our decisions and I have confidence that they would use this freedom of speech wisely in the framework of their duties linked to their position.