Once the list of candidates for the presidential election set, we sent five questions about their ideas concerning the Army and the land armament industry to 10 of the 11 candidates (François Fillon having already replied on 16 November 2016 we did not send the questionnaire to him). The first one to answer is Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the president of Debout La France.
1) In a difficult budgetary context, how much effort should be put into the defence budget?
Our country is directly threatened by Islamic totalitarianism and newly powerful states are devoting an increasing share of their budgets to rearmament. We live in an increasingly dangerous world. I agree with General Desportes in his recent book The Last Battle of France: “The French believe they are protected but that is no longer the case. The French armies have never been so widely deployed and they have never been so fragile.” Energetic decisions must be taken to avoid the operational and technological breakdown of our armies, that’s the whole point of my defence project. France must increase its efforts. A meaningful defence policy must be pursued with long-term objectives which, in the eyes of our allies, preserves our position as a reliable partner and makes it possible to avoid submission to any power or superpower.
To give ourselves the means of our independence and our security it is imperative to sanctify the defence budget at 2% of GDP (except pensions). To reinforce our armies, we must urgently recruit 50,000 soldiers over the five-year presidential term to compensate for the dramatic downsizing which took place under the Sarkozy and Hollande mandates (-59,000 soldiers).
2) Is it the role of the military to undertake operations such as Sentinelle (deployed within France)?
I want to create a national guard composed of military reservists. The aim would be to set up a force of 100,000 men capable of backing the security forces, to supervise and to secure the whole of the national territory. The budget devoted to the reserve would be quadrupled compared to 2014. This national guard must particularly take charge of the Sentinelle operation which distorts the primary missions of the military. We have to change our organisation, soldiers must return to their regiments so they can train and be able to carry out their military duties and not act as a force to maintain order.
3) Do you think the Army is sufficiently well equipped?
The increased budget I am proposing will allow our country to truly face its international obligations. We must cease to restrict credits on equipment requirements (ammunition, weapons), maintenance, and the conditions our soldiers put up with in external operations. These external operations are necessary but I refuse to race to intervene. In this, as in all other cases, the national interest must prevail.
The Army has suffered intolerable cuts, and will benefit, like the Navy and the Air Force, from new recruits. In particular, we will need to review and reinforce the support of the forces and the organisation of the defence bases, giving priority to operational chains of command over administrative bureaucracy. A clear improvement in support will strengthen the operational capabilities of the forces as well as the morale and motivation of the military.
4) How can we grow our defence industrial base? Do you think that the examples set by MBDA and Nexter should be followed?
I propose to double the funds devoted to research by the Ministry of Defence (€800M in 2016). It is imperative to strengthen the role of the state in the major defence groups in order to improve the competitiveness of our industry and to guide major strategic spending. The major French groups in the defence sector must pool their research and production efforts in the service of the national interest.
I violently denounced the awarding of the market for the future assault rifle of the French army to a German group. Already the PA MAS 9 mn G1, produced in Saint-Etienne, was replaced in 2010 by the Sig-Sauer SP 2022, produced in Germany and Switzerland. The production of our defence equipment must be mainly French, I opposed the merger of Nexter, I refused that Morpho be sold to foreign interests. However, I propose that we strengthen European cooperation to protect patents and inventions in the defence industry and to keep our activities and jobs. In addition systematic preference must be given to European companies in tenders and equipment contracts launched by the Member States of the European Union. Finally I propose building a new strategic and global vision around alliances in the defence industry sector with emerging countries such as Brazil, India, Russia, Malaysia or Singapore. Let us not forget that France, through its maritime borders, is a country of the world and not just a European hexagon.
5) If you become President of the Republic in 2017 what will your three defence priorities be?
The first is to improve the living conditions of the military and their families. Most politicians speak of defence only as a cost and consider the defence budget as a simple variable of adjustment. Defence is also giving consideration to the men and women who risk their lives for France. That is why I want to revalue the military condition. In particular I want to guarantee the payment of salaries, so a thorough review of the Louvois system [the computerised salary payment system] must be undertaken. It is unacceptable for the military and their families to be deprived of income because of bureaucratic dysfunctioning.
My second priority concerns numbers, we must recruit 50,000 personnel as soon as possible to return to the level of 2007. For the sake of our independence and the safety of the French we cannot compromise on the strengthening of our armies.
Finally, my third priority: the army-nation link must be consolidated. To do this, I want to re-establish a 3-month national civic and military service. It can be converted into a one-year military service for those who wish. Engaging young people in the military is the best way to make them discover or strengthen their sense of belonging to the national community.