In the spring of 2002, the voters of France handed an unexpectedly large victory in the presidential and legislative elections to President Jacques Chirac and the conservative parties that support him. Under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and with the blessing of the President, the new government quickly announced its determination to significantly increase the defense budget. This it did twice, first in July with a supplemental to the 2002 defense budget, then this fall with the new Loi de Programmation Militaire (LPM), a budgeting document intended to chart French defense spending for the next six years, roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Defense Department’s FYDP (Future Years Defense Plan).
If implemented as planned, the 2003-2008 LPM will have a significant impact on French defense capabilities, both in terms of readiness and modernization. The stated goal of the new LPM is to make good on the plans devised during the mid-1990s and to implement the defense policy envisioned in the 2015 Military Model, a strategic blueprint for military modernization comparable to the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Vision 2020, though far from constituting the type of far-reaching “military transformation” promised by the American vision.
The recent decisions on French defense policy do not in and of themselves guarantee that the ambitious modernization objectives in the 2015 Military Model will ultimately be met. They do, however, reverse the trend of declining French defense spending so evident in recent years—a trend that, if it had continued, would have led to a virtual collapse of French defense capabilities. By bridging the gap between stated political objectives and actual capabilities, this significant budgetary effort is both a response to the current, more threatening strategic context and a reassertion of French political ambitions. Moreover, far from marking a departure from previous French policies, the recent defense budget increases are a reaffirmation of traditional French security policy vis-à-vis the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and NATO.