By Chris Brown
To contextualize what Emmanuel Macron’s budget cuts mean to the status quo of French military action, one must first observe the status quo of the French military. Beginning with spending, it is clear that the French have one of the larger militaries in the world. Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has French military spending at a relatively constant 50 to 55 billion USD. Under François Hollande’s administration, this budget underwent a steady increase as France became engaged in more conflicts. Macron’s proposition of approximately one billion USD in cuts would represent the first major decrease in military spending since Hollande’s election.
Though Macron’s proposed budget would hardly bring military spending down to pre-Hollande levels, it would force him to pull back from increasingly more commitments abroad. The French Army is already being pushed to its limits, currently engaging in numerous actions in conflicts across west Africa and in the Middle East. This has been shown throughout operation “Barkhane” in Mali. Barkhane covers 5 of the largest countries in Africa, stretching effectively across the sub-saharan Sahel region, with a force of 4,000 French soldiers on guard. Covering this expanse of territory with only 4,000 troops already requires a logistical miracle in order to achieve any advances on jihadist forces in the region.
A report done by Le Monde on one of the 70-man commando mobilizations, operation “Dague” which took place earlier this year shows the futility of progress in the region. The operation, despite pulling on the resourcefulness of reaper drones flying 24 hours and a 19 hour Tigre attack helicopter flight, 60% of the jihadists escaping the combat zone as a few were left behind in what the French officer equated to a “martyr tactic”. Results such as these tend to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the military command. The same officer who bore witness to the “martyr tactic” used by his opponents has called for a loosening of the rules of engagement required of the French forces in the region.
This discontent comes at a critical point in Barkhane, when the political opposition in the region has begun to amass under a tribal leader with links to multiple islamist groups. The situation in Mali currently has the potential to go haywire, according to General Lecointre, who was recently appointed to observe the status of the Army in the region.
When Macron proposed to change the budget for his armies, it became clear that there would also need to be a fundamental change to how the operations performed in the Sahel would be run. This led to the creation of the G5 Sahel force to run the majority of operations in the region, with French forces mostly pulling back to around the Mali area. The remarkable aspect of this force is that over 50 million of the dollars invested into its budget comes directly from the European Union, with only 8 million coming from France in equipment. This significantly reduces the cost of French operation in the Sahel region while slowly warming up the European Union to the idea of participating in international interventions through other means besides direct troop displacement.
The principle of Macron’s fundamental change in plans is made clear by how this program is run, and highlights the main international actor he is trying to awaken by reducing his own military spending. Macron wants to bring in the European Union to take on the responsibilities that France could, and perhaps should not…
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