General Jean-Paul Palomeros, former French Air Force Chief of Staff and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, has put his considerable military experience to helping France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron “who is extremely impregnated by his role as head of the armed forces” develop a defence project in a team that consists of “about 10 people.”
Meeting over breakfast with a handful of journalists just three days prior to the French election on 7 May which saw 39-year old Macron elected as France’s youngest ever president, Palomeros said that now that he was retired he was “free to make my own choices” and that after a brief political engagement with presidential hopeful and Mayor of Bordeax Alain Juppé (who never made it past the primaries) he had been approached by Macron’s team to advise them on military questions.
“It was in a Republican spirit that I joined the Macron team to help them establish a project,” he said, stressing that he was “active alongside politicians and not in politics”. Whether he will have a formal role to play in the governmental team that Macron is setting up this week but which will only be announced next Sunday (14 May) at 10 a.m. remains to be seen.
Palomeros noted that in the Macron team he had found a “consensus on the analysis of the problems and the difficulties in preparing for the future, and not just for the presidential five-year term but much further beyond that […] because the threats will continue to evolve.”
Candidate Macron’s most headline grabbing announcement regarding defence issues what that he would re-introduce an obligatory “National service” for young men and women within a certain age group. Palomeros said this “is a highly political project” and noted that when military conscription was ended in France in autumn 1997 “nothing was put into place which could have been used as a substitute to give youngsters a foundation in citizenship, to make them understand that in France they have rights but that they also have duties.” And using one of Macron’s favourite words “pragmatic”, he said “everything remains to be done. Let’s be pragmatic. This cannot be set up instantaneously, it’s the project of a five-year term. We have to establish a very clear definition of the framework and the experience, we have to decide on the means we want to put into it and how it will be managed.” But he did underline that youngsters doing their National service would not be armed and would not be sent on military operations. “That task would fall to a highly trained National Guard,” Palomeros explained.
He confirmed that France would by 2025 spend 2% of its GDP on defence (without counting pensions for veterans which amounts to some €10bn, nor extra costs induced by foreign operations) as recommended by NATO at its 2014 summit in Wales.
There will very quickly “but not in haste or precipitation” be a strategic review to be ready “by the end of the year” and this will be followed by a new military programme law, Palomeros said.
He added that current alliances would be maintained as would France’s nuclear deterrent force but he stressed the “European vision”. Clearly on the same European wavelength as the President-elect who chose the European anthem (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”) to accompany his walk to the Louvre Pyramid where thousands of his supporters were waiting to hear his post-election speech on Sunday night, Palomeros remarked that “this is a European moment and we must not miss it.” He wondered if “we will be capable of inventing a new Europe?” noting that so far in Europe “we have been concentrating on the ‘how’ rather than on the ‘why’”.
Palomeros is the first defence specialist FOB has heard to publicly say that “Brexit is a big problem because Great Britain is a nuclear power.” He said the question to be addressed is “how will GB stay in European defence?” Because if it leaves entirely “then we will be short of their capacities and their know-how.” “I hope we’ll be able to maintain our bilateral relations and we must fix that as one of our objectives,” he announced.
He said Macron would also raise the question at the NATO summit in Bruxelles on 25 May as to what NATO’s place should be in the war against terrorism. For Palomeros “we must use all the means that are at our disposal” and notably “we must improve our sharing of intelligence.” He conceded it would be difficult for France to join the “Five Eyes” (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States) intelligence alliance* but that an intelligence task force would be created in France “to provide a synthesis of pertinent information” amongst the mass of BigData that collected.
As for France’s current military operations, Barkahne (in Central Africa) will continue in its current form, he said, addding that “I don’t have the feeling that we should modify our current reasonable and balanced arrangements in Iraq and Syria.”
He added that decisions taken by outgoing President François Hollande in 2015 and 2016 to re-staff the armed forces would be put into place by Macron.
* France is believed to have been invited to become the “6th eye” in 2009 but French President at the time Nicolas Sarkozy asked that France be granted the same status as other allies, including the signing of a “no-spy agreement”. This request was approved by the director of the U.S.National Security Agency, but not by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency nor by U.S. President at the time Barack Obama. France therefore turned the invitation down.