July 14, 2008

HARRISONBURG— Today in a commentary for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, on the occasion of France’s national holiday, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, examines the country’s just-published “White Paper on Defense and National Security” ( Livre blanc sur la Défense et la Sécurité nationale ).

 According to Dr. Pham, the 350-page document “will most directly impact the French military, setting its posture and procurement priorities for the next fifteen years,” but “by laying out the strategic orientation for the second-largest defense budget in the world, it will also affect France’s NATO allies—and other countries as well—as they consider their responses to the twenty-first century’s evolving geopolitical dynamics.” Outlining in detail the White Paper’s changes in strategic perspectives as well as its recommendations, the essay notes that “Militarily, this would entail the reduction of French conventional forces deployed in Africa in favor of more flexible special-operations units, while simultaneously repositioning assets to more geostrategically vital theatres like the Persian Gulf, where earlier this year [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy signed a deal to establish a base in Abu Dhabi.”

The last point alone would represent a significant break with France’s traditional interventionism in its former African colonies where, by one count, between 1960 and the present, there have been about four dozen French military operations, almost none of which would satisfy the newly articulated criteria for Paris to commit its forces abroad. This restraint, Dr. Pham argues, “not only refocuses the Fifth Republic’s military strength toward defending the patrie, but also preserves its capabilities for those occasions when the core interests of France and ‘her will to maintain her international rank and influence’ will truly be at play. Overall it is a recipe which others would do well to copy.”

The full text of Dr. Pham’s commentary, “ France’s New Recipe,” can be accessed by clicking here.