Marine Le Pen has sent us her answers to the five questions we posed to all 11 candidates in the French presidential election concerning their position with regards to the army and the weapons industry. Her remarks have been slightly shortened so that they fit the format we attributed to all the candidates.
1) In a difficult budgetary context, how much effort should be put into the defence budget?
The framework is constrained because of a voluntary servitude – the shackles of European treaties – and the priority of social issues over those of national sovereignty. If the budgetary framework is therefore deemed to be “constrained”, it is because of a deliberate choice to make Defence a variable of adjustment of globalisation policies; I reject these choices. By reforming the State we will find the means to ensure the security of French people, whether they are in France, overseas or deployed or expatriated abroad. I intend, therefore, to place defence at the heart of our policies. The French army will be designed based on our diplomatic, political and industrial choices and not on the constraints imposed by Brussels, Washington or NATO. Unlike the other candidates who intend to postpone our defence efforts to 2025, we will initiate the effort from 2018 with a defence budget increased to 2% of GDP, that is €45bn in 2017, including pensions. Then, in stages, it will be increased to reach 3% of GDP by 2022, that is, a defence budget exceeding €60bn by 2022. It must be understood that we no longer have the choice: 60% of the materiels of the Army are not protected; the Navy no longer has the means to ensure sovereignty over our EEZ [exclusive economic zone] and the Air Force has trouble deploying more than 20 combat aircraft. Is that the French armed forces? No. We must thus rearm and the sooner the better. This massive defence effort is popular: the French want a stronger national defence, as all the polls carried out on behalf of the DICOD [the French defence ministry’s information and communication department] before and after the 2015 and 2016 attacks indicate. These figures are tenable if defence, the primary raison d’être of the State, returns to becoming the priority it should never have ceased to be and if decisions are made to stop mismanagement in other fields. Finally, this defence effort is an investment in our sovereignty: every penny spent in defence is a penny invested in our national independence.
2) Is it the role of the military to undertake operations such as Sentinelle (deployed within France)?
Internal security is primarily the responsibility of the gendarmerie and the national police. Operation Sentinelle to reinforce our armed forces must be revised and replaced by a larger deployment of the operational reserves and the National Guard. The armed forces, thus refocused on their core activities, would provide support to the internal security forces in the event of a high-intensity terrorist risk.
3) Do you think the Army is sufficiently well equipped?
Since 2008, the Army has lost 45,000 troops – the equivalent of 50 regiments – under the combined effect of regimental dissolutions, downsizing the remaining units, and transfers to support services. The Army supported the main effort of the famous RGPP (general review of public policies) launched by Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon. Materiels, many of which are twice the age of the soldiers using them, are kept in condition at the cost of colossal efforts and ultimately lead to exorbitant extra costs. New equipment is slow to arrive. In the end, it is simply the life of our soldiers in operation that is at stake. We must put an end to this long trend, because the men and women who serve in the Army with rare devotion which deserves the admiration of the nation, are wearing out prematurely.
4) How can we grow our defence industrial base? Do you think that the examples set by MBDA and Nexter should be followed?
There is no possible sovereignty without a strong national industry. Therefore, I intend to pursue an ambitious industrial policy: to double R&T credits, to guarantee production so badly held-up by multi-annual orders (Rafale, FTI, etc.) and to support the export of weapons to strategic countries for our long term influence. To these three classical levers, I would add the introduction of a French CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] in order to protect French companies as soon as the national interest is at stake. This leverage is, I repeat, prohibited by European law: we must therefore break free from it. The case of MBDA is very special: the British partner is not hegemonic but pragmatic and the bilateral political relationship forms a favourable background for the convergence of projects; moreover, the basis of the programmes – Scalp/Storm Shadow, Meteor yesterday and FMAN/FMC [future anti-ship missile/future cruise missile] – is such that it allows real industrial synergies.
The case of Nexter is simple: it was a great company, badly managed by the State and its successive directors. The State has chosen to recapitalise it endlessly rather than giving it real strategic direction and good financial and industrial management. As a result, our ground weaponry has melted away, our tank production line has been dismantled with no reaction from the State and Nexter remains confined to a few niche markets where only the Caesar and the 20mm cannon still sell well on the export market. Is the company still really a systems integrator? If some people are satisfied with this situation to the point of wanting to sell off this industrial heritage without blinking, I consider that France must have a strong ground weapons’ cluster because of our Army’s engagement on foreign theatres of operation. This cluster can only be organised around the three players in the Scorpion programme: Thales, Nexter and RTD. I therefore reject the proposed KNDS merger and prefer national consolidation. RTD, which belongs to the Volvo group, must return to the national fold. Talks should therefore be undertaken with the Swedish group. The State must not hesitate both to pay the necessary sum and to use the levers in its possession (R&T, Scorpion programme, exports) so that RTD flies French colours again. Otherwise, the national ground armaments’ sector will disappear altogether: Nexter will be absorbed by KMW just as the French part of Airbus was by the German part; and RTD will be taken over by a German competitor or a Belgian equipment manufacturer. In addition to the enormous waste that would result from the passage or maintenance of these two companies under foreign ownership after such heavy investments by France, this evolution in the ground weapons sector is not, I repeat, in keeping with our operational and industrial interests.
5) If you become President of the Republic in 2017 what will your three defence priorities be?
Three major decisions will be taken in June: the restoration of our national independence with the withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military command and the establishment of new diplomatic relations with our allies; the solemn commitment before the Nation to devote 2% of GDP to national defence and to engrave this effort in the Constitution. The duration of the Military Programme Law [MPL] will be based on that of the five-year term [of office of the president] until the reform of the non-renewable seven-year term is launched. Finally, the commitment will be made to execute this new MPL to the nearest cent in order to guarantee the physical and financial integrity of this Law; the launching on the one hand of a strategic review and on the other of work on the 2018-2022 MPL; these two exercises will have to be completed by the end of September. It is a matter of making choices from amongst the solutions that the Armed Forces will propose in three areas: to fill the most scandalous and glaring gaps (protection of military personnel and their vehicles; launching major building projects for military housing and infrastructure; clearing funds for training and consolidating the equipment support sector; launching urgent programmes such as Batsimar [surveillance and maritime intervention ship]); rearming (increasing the size of the armies) and preparing for the future (launching the studies necessary for major future programmes in all nuclear and conventional fields).