Contents of this issue
This special issue, guest-edited by Martine Cuttier, is French through and through. This owes much to the themes it addresses: France's recent military interventions overseas, and the future prospects of its defence establishment.
Among the range of French military operations of the last period, it chose to focus mainly on those conducted in Africa. It could no doubt have examined other deployments that have occupied centre stage in the same time frame, notably Afghanistan. However, as the journal already devoted a whole (Anglophone) ERGOMAS number lately to lessons learnt there, and its Francophone counterpart is in the pipeline, it was decided otherwise. But substantive reasons are in no short supply. One is that Africa is where France, on the strength of its ancient ties to various parts of the continent, intervenes on its own initiative, with a freedom of action that its status as junior partner (albeit of the first rank) in US-led coalitions will not afford elsewhere. Another is that world maps based on the criterion of the frequency and toll of violent episodes, whether they be political, religious or criminal, clearly show a concentration of such occurrences in Africa. Their destabilizing potential and the drag on its development they entail feed waves of immigration that Europe, which is one of their final destinations, finds it as difficult to control as the drug traffic flows that originate or transit there. To boot, terrorism has raised its head on African soil of late, and threatens the stability of local allies and partners, with possible repercussions in Europe. The sum total is that France has obvious strategic (not to mention economic) interests on the continent - it cannot afford to see its southern flank helplessly go to ruin. Hence the focus this issue places on Africa and the security problems (here, duly contextualized and updated) it raises, as part of its first theme.
Presumably because military action on the African theatre lends itself to such an emphasis, the contributions offered mainly deal with land operations. This led the guest editor to solicit and assemble authorized accounts of the concepts that prevail at the top of the French Army as to its medium- and long-term future.
As recent missions are apt to influence vision - at least in part : the proposed doctrine does not overlook the possibility of other contexts for future uses of force -, this issue will logically enough deal with them first.
The opening contribution, by Philippe Folliot (MP, secretary of the National Assembly's Defence Committee) and Emmanuel Dupuy, presents a panorama of French counter-terrorist activity, together with its ramifications, in the Sahel region and its surroundings. Against the backdrop thus offered, Olivier Hanne's article examines the (positive, though nuanced) lessons to be drawn from Operation Barkane. Next, Gregor Mathias revisits a study on Operation Serval and its probable outcomes that he conducted and published in March 2013, only three months after it started and then still in progress - a daring prospective exercise, to say the least - in order to assess in hindsight the degree of predictability of the various factors involved. The following piece, by Lt.-Gen. Bruno Clément-Bollée, expounds a method he applied in the field to ease conflict termination processes and their aftermath, with good results in Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea, but less than entirely satisfactory outcomes in Mali and the Central African Republic : he analyzes the reasons behind such differences. The next two articles, respectively signed by Myriam Arfoui and R-Adm. Jean Dufourcq, masterfully assess the geopolitical factors at work in the Mali crisis for the former, in the rise of regional security cooperation in and around the Sahel for the latter. The last contribution, by Christophe-Alexandre Paillard, opts for a wider focus : it probes the role played by the continent's raw materials, some of which are of high strategic interest to the defence industries of major powers, and both an economic blessing and a political curse (when used to finance local armed conflicts) for exporting countries.
The first article on the second theme is penned by the French Army's Chief of Staff, Gen. Jean-Pierre Bosser. It details the ends, means and roles envisaged for that service in coming years. Covering both external and internal security, it highlights the Army's emphasis on operational effectiveness as well as on the part it should continue to play in bolstering national cohesion, and displays the same breadth of outlook that inspires the recently published doctrinal document entitled “Action Terrestre Future”. The next piece, by Maj.-Gen. Bernard Barrera, Assistant Chief of the Army Staff for procurement and programmes, provides a picture of the daunting complexity involved in anticipating and planning for the capabilities that will be needed in decades ahead, and details the solutions chosen to meet that challenge. The third article, which bears the signature of Maj.-Gen. Vincent Desportes, gives voice to his strong advocacy of a substantial defence budget increase as well as for fewer restrictions on service members' freedom of expression on professional topics. Lt.-Col. Rémy Porte, the Army's Chief Historian, argues in the fourth piece in favour of a wider role for military history and historians in planning, conducting and evaluating future operations, and advances a number of practical proposals to that effect.
This issue aptly ends with Olivier Zajec's pointed critique of the “comprehensive approach” to military strategy that has prevailed in France and elsewhere in the West since the Cold War came to a close - a trend he sees as responsible for the repeated failure of effective tactics to deliver the intended strategic goods. The problem, he argues, is that such an approach all too often means that the overall political intent behind operations is lost sight of - a most unfortunate tendency as “no offsetting mechanism can ever compensate for the absence of a meaningful political objective”.