James ActonLe Livre Blanc Est Ici

Bonjour, mes amis.

Somewhat delayed, the French White Paper on defence has been published this morning.

Note the English version is “simplified”. The original is much longer and beyond my schoolboy French. If any ACW reader would like to read the original and highlight key differences I will award them the Order of the Wonk (First Class).

Much of the reporting in the UK this morning has focused on two aspects of the Paper. First, there is the call for a “new rapprochement with the command structure of NATO.” Second, the Paper advocates a greater role for the European Union in terms of defence.

The first thing that stuck (and amused) me when I downloaded the Paper myself was the presence of hand-drawn additions to a number of pictures (see above). Actually, that picture really is incomprehensible, even if viewed in context. Why, for heaven’s sake, is South-West Ireland circled? (Is France planning some kind of revenge for the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps?)

But seriously…

The Paper as a whole is going to take some time to digest and I won’t try to give much in the way of analysis today; I’ll just highlight some of the key points that might interest Wonk readers.

There is one general comment I do want to make though. For a while now, French officials have been saying that this will be more than just a Paper on defence. It will take a holistic look at security. Indeed, the White Paper describes its purpose thus:

The major innovation compared to the previous White paper is that the security
interests are appraised globally without restricting the analysis to defence issues.
A national security strategy is defined in order to provide responses to “all the
risks and threats which could endanger the life of the Nation.”

I’m not sure how far this is borne out in practice. Health threats and environmental threats, for instance, are mentioned but their analysis is somewhat cursory and much of the meat of the Paper focuses on ‘classic’ defence issues (maybe the French original deals with these issues more fully?) That said, there are some interesting ideas about crisis communication with the public (using text messaging for instance).

On the nuclear side, not much new is said frankly. France’s new-found willingness to talk about nuclear disarmament has been confirmed (indeed, nuclear disarmament even has an entire box dedicated to it).

That said, the presentation of and language in the report somewhat undermines the disarmament section. For instance, I think it is unhelpful that one of the five key “take-home” points on the French embassy in London’s website is

As a core component of national security, France’s nuclear deterrent capability is to be strengthened.

As a more substantive example, consider the following description of French nuclear doctrine:

Nuclear deterrence remains an essential concept of national security. It is the ultimate guarantee of the security and independence of France. The sole purpose of the nuclear deterrent is to prevent any State-originating aggression against the vital interests of the nation wherever it may come from and in whatever shape or form. Given the diversity of situations to which France might be confronted in an age of globalisation, the credibility of the deterrent is based on the ability to provide the President , with an autonomous and sufficiently wide and diversified range of assets and options….

Again, talking about a “wide and diversified range of assets” (even if it is preceded by the word “sufficiently”) detracts from the concept of minimum deterrence (or strict sufficiency as it is called in France). Nuclear weapon states have a hard task balancing national security with article VI—but surely they can do it less clumsily than this?

The above statement also raises other issues. Notably, what does “prevent” mean? Does it mean deter or coerce? The Cherbourg speech talked about using a nuclear weapon to signal French resolve (i.e. coercion). The language here is more vague.

In terms of practical steps, France has announced the following:

  • the nuclear ballistic submarine fleet will be equipped from 2010 onwards with the
    M51 intercontinental ballistic missile, deployed on our new-generation SSBNs;
  • the airborne component will be equipped from 2009 onwards with the ASMP A
    cruise missile, deployed on Mirage 2000 NK3 and Rafale aircraft, stationed in
    France and carrier-based. The number of nuclear-capable land-based aircraft will
    be reduced from 60 to 40;
  • the simulation programme, based notably on the corresponding facilities in the
    field of lasers (LMJ), X-ray analysis and supercalculators will ensure the reliability
    of our nuclear warheads;
  • the preservation of our national missile and submarine competencies, and the
    improvement on a 2025 horizon, of the range and accuracy of our missiles;
  • the overall modernisation of the support environment for our nuclear capabilities,
    notably in terms of communications.

Space and cyber threats are also highlighted in the Paper. France places a great emphasis on ballistic missile threats, announcing that “a ballistic missile detection and early-warning capability will be in place by 2020, preceded by an interim satellite system during the coming decade.”

In terms of cyber threats it says this:

Cyber-war is a major concern for which the White Paper develops a two-prong strategy: on the one hand, a new concept of cyber-defence, organised in depth and coordinated by a new Security of Information Systems Agency under the purview of the General Secretariat for Defence and National Security (SGDSN); on the other hand, the establishment of an offensive cyber-war capability, part of which will come under the Joint Staff and the other part will be developed within specialised services.

This statement surprised me a lot. I’m not in the least surprised that France is developing an offensive cyber-war capability; I am shocked it is being so transparent about it. But, then again, maybe that’s just my excruciatingly British cynicism.


  1. anon

    Le nouveau beaujolais est arrive…
    and already gives you a headache.

    I mean, the Elysee or the defense ministry definitively is in desperate need of someone with serious word processor and design capabilities; guess, the force de frappe eats it all up…

    But the graphics are really ridicule! If the choice of them (plus the technical skill of scanning and putting them into the document page) reflects French defense intellect, then bon nuit.

    The circle splitting Ireland, I conclude, is the sphere of influence towards the transatlantic while the stars indicate probably hotspots…

    PS: Saudi Arabia is crossed out in “balistic (sic) missile proliferation” on page 4, which in French PDF format is also page 14 (now that is really postmodern), Libya is also scribbled into it.

    This that thing for real? This is bad wonk porn, I should concentrate on the content, but can’t….

  2. anon

    …alright, the French language version actually looks much better and consists of 3 vol.

  3. kerbihan

    The chart on ballistic missile proliferation is worth noting, because it is unusual for the French government to make public previsions for 2015 in this domain.

    For the two countries mentioned by anon in the first post, the White Paper says that it does not anticipate Libya to embark again in a ballistic missile program, and it puts a question mark on the continuation of a Saudi capability for 2015, reflecting the fact that there is uncertainty regarding a possible CSS-2 replacement.

    I’m surprised by the London embassy talking points mentioned by James. Nowehere does the White Paper say that the French deterrent needs to be “strenghtened”. Bad translation, perhaps – a common and annoying feature of French official texts. Look for the English version of the full text, which should be better crafted – and should appear in late July.

    On the nuclear part: James, you’re overinterpreting (or misinterpreting) the language they have used.

    – “Strict sufficiency” does not not contradict the need for a “wide and diversified range of assets”; sufficiency in the French sense of the term means no overkill, no reserves, and no counterforce missions per se.

    – “Prevent” means simply that nuclear weapons are for deterrence, as opposed to war-fighting.

    And yes, the graphic (picture) in your post is awful, and was criticized during the drafting process, but apparently the powers-that-be liked it. Go figure.

  4. maverick

    I guess the B&W version is a collector one because the file I’ve just downloaded on the official website of the french white paper is in color and looks exactly like the french version…

  5. John Bragg (History)

    Does anyone know what the role of the French nuclear air force is supposed to be? It’s not a second-strike weapon, but their doctrine rejects nuclear warfighting. So what targets are the air-delivered nukes earmarked for?

  6. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    I have this vivid imagination of how a cash strapped France and UK in the future will decide that the only way they can afford the SSBNs would be to jointly operate a single fleet. Just imagine how they would have to deal with 2 official languages, 2 cuisines, 2 chains of commands…

    Or the only way EU can afford the fleet is to bring in Germans…. etc…

  7. David (History)

    What strikes me in reading the English-language digest of the Livre blanc is that is sounds very much (too much) like any and all of the various comminques from the US Department of Homeland Security, established shortly after the 9/11 attacks. This newest stem of the American executive branch continuous feeds the Nation bits and pieces of meaningless sound bytes that speak to the “patriotic” but not to the logical minds of the country. In the Livre blanc, there is a similar rhetoric that clamors about security for France, French participation in NATO, doing whatever is needed to secure borders and to make France safe…. (can anyone else hear LePen’s voice?) It’s all too vague and, therefore, too scary.
    I tried to read the French text, but uncannily (!), at least for the moment, it cannot be downloaded. I’m sure it’s just a block on my computer’s ability to download it; I’ll try again later and try to see what differences I find to the English version.

  8. Andy (History)

    A bit off-topic, but there are some interesting tidbits on al-kibar in le Monde. Here’s the google translation of the article.

  9. Markus (History)

    To return to the delightful hand-drawn map. I believe that the stars represents French “overseas possessions” or what used to be known as colonies.

  10. Allen Thomson (History)

    >le Monde

    The FBIS, er, OSC version:

    IAEA Has Evidence of North Korean Connection to Syria ‘s Secret Reactor
    Report by Natalie Nougayrede: “Disclosures about Secret North Korean Nuclear Connection in Syria “
    Wednesday, June 18, 2008 T14:21:41Z
    Journal Code: 2165 Language: ENGLISH Record Type: FULLTEXT
    Document Type: OSC Translated Text
    Word Count: 1,148

    Vienna — What was being planned at Al-Kibar? Destroyed by an Israeli aviation raid on 6 September 2007, this facility in the middle of the desert, in eastern Syria , is due to be visited for the first time 22-24 June by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.) In the form of a 21 m-high cubic building, it housed, according to a presentation made by US intelligence agencies 24 April, a clandestine nuclear reactor modeled on the North Korean reactor at Yongybon.

    According to our information, the IAEA has intelligence from various non-US sources that supports this analysis. Some of this information consists of satellite photographs supplied by various countries. Some is taken from investigations that the IAEA conducted in the past into North Korea ‘s nuclear activities. And some comes from research conducted by the IAEA into clandestine networks for the purchase of nuclear equipment around the world.

    After Libya and Iran , Syria , whose president, Bashir al-Asad, has been invited to Paris in July, is the third instance of proliferation in the Near and Middle East.

    The Al-Kibar dossier — which promises to be one of the major enigmas of recent years — is emerging at a particularly delicate moment in the diplomatic interplay in the Near East . Syria is involved in indirect talks with Israel . Its president, Bashir al-Asad, has recently sent signals to the West suggesting that he is trying to break out of his international isolation.

    The difference with Syria is that, whereas Libya and Iran turned to the clandestine network organized by Pakistan ‘s Abdul Qadeer (AQ) Khan (the “father” of the Pakistani nuclear bomb) for their secret supplies of nuclear technology, Syria turned to North Korea secretly to acquire its equipment. The IAEA investigation into Syria thus raises the question of the existence of a North Korean nuclear “black market.” The exact extent of North Korea ‘s cooperation with Syria and the possibility that other countries may have benefited from this kind of assistance provided by Pyongyang are the focus of concerns.

    Two crucial questions will occupy the IAEA inspectors: where was the fuel for the Al-Kibar reactor opposed to come from? And is there a secret facility in Syria for reprocessing spent fuel? Reprocessing is a technology that makes it possible to produce plutonium that can be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. This is how the North Koreans acquired the nuclear weapon that they tested in 2006.

    The investigation will be all the more complicated inasmuch as the powerful Israeli bombs that fell on the Al-Kibar facility left a mountain of rubble that the Syrians have subsequently partially removed. A new building has been erected on the site, making any excavation work difficult. The IAEA could initially take soil samples, in the search for traces of graphite similar to those used at the Yongybon reactor.

    There have been intensive links between Syria and North Korea for years. The North Korean regime performed a crucial role in Syria ‘s acquisition of ballistic missiles. But the twisting paths of nuclear trafficking often follow those of proliferation of ballistic equipment, experts point out.

    A photograph published by the CIA in April shows the head of the Syrian atomic energy agency, Ibrahinm Othman, flanked by one of the heads of North Korea ‘s nuclear program, Chon Chibu. The photograph was apparently taken in Syria . According to our information, Chon Chibu — with whom the IAEA was in contact in the 1990s — suddenly disappeared from North Korea at that time. One of the hypotheses being considered now is that he could have been working in Syria , alongside other North Korean nuclear engineers and technicians.

    The construction at Al-Kibar, on the banks of the Euphrates , began in around 2001. It was apparently decided on by Hafiz al-Asad, the father and predecessor of the current Syrian president. In order to try to acquire a nuclear system of its own Syria turned, in the 1990s, to groups in Russia , and also China . These attempts were not successful. As Damascus itself admits, Pakistan ‘s AQ Khan visited Syria at the same time, but the offer that he made was rejected.

    It was only later that Syria turned to North Korea . The latter’s motives were of two kinds — on the one hand, the attraction of financial gain linked to the sale of a nuclear reactor; and on the other hand the prospect of increasing its leeway at a time when the 1994 agreement with the United States — under whose terms Pyongyang relinquished its military nuclear program in exchange for aid — seemed unsteady.

    Whereas Israel has been completely silent about the circumstances of, and the reasons for, the September 2007 aerial strike, Syria has varied its statements over time. First, it said that Israeli aircraft dropped munitions that exploded above the desert. It then admitted that Al-Kibar had indeed been bombarded, but that it was simply a military facility. At the end of April, it described the information presented by US intelligence as “ridiculous.”

    But at the meeting of the IAEA Board in Vienna at the beginning of June, the Syrian representative, Ibrahim Othman, omitted to say that Al-Kibar was not a nuclear facility. This omission greatly attracted the attention of Western diplomats and Agency experts, who believe that Damascus is fostering a fallback position in case further evidence of nuclear work should be discovered.

    Mr Othman says that he hopes that the IAEA will work “without preconceptions,” adding that there are no obstacles to its mission. However, according to diplomats, the IAEA has not been authorized to visit three other sites in Syria that are raising suspicions. Al-Kibar was carefully concealed by Syria for years. A large part of the facility was underground. A camouflaged roof and walls were constructed, giving it a cubic form that made it less noticeable. The revelations about Al-Kabir mean that Syria has violated its obligations under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it ratified in 1969, and associated documents: any start to the construction of a civilian nuclear facility must indeed be declared to the IAEA.

    The IAEA is itself put in a delicate position, because the Al-Kibar affair could be perceived as a further admission — following the Libyan and Iranian cases — of the Agency’s inability promptly to detect secret nuclear programs around the world. One sign of the tensions that the issue is generating was IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei’s sharp protest at the Israeli bombardment and the slowness in conveying certain information to the Agency. He also declared Tuesday 17 June that Syria did not have “the human resources that would enable it to conduct a major nuclear program.”

    (Description of Source: Paris LeMonde.fr in French — Website of Le Monde, leading center-left daily; URL: http://www.lemonde.fr)

  11. spaceman africa

    It’s the location of substantial French forces.

  12. Guy de Loimbard (History)

    Well, it’s weird the english document only includes an old version of this picture. In the French one, the picture looks like this:

    You’ll be delighted to note southern Ireland is not anymore included in the northern atlantic “circle”.

    It’s a pity this map isn’t fully commented, not even in the French text.
    Here’s what I can deduce from what I know and from the White Paper:
    The circles look like the main naval areas of patrol/operations.
    The big, dark stars seem to be the bases belonging to the “Forces de souveraineté” category, on French overseas territories, which are said to be reduced.
    The white little stars are three bases on the atlantic african coast, of which only one would be maintained, if the objectives announced in the white paper are to be fulfilled. The fact that the map still shows the three bases reflects the truth that the white paper’s publication, however delayed, doesn’t mean all important strategic choices have been made.
    The two big grey stars are the Djibouti and Abu Dhabi/UAE bases, on which the French forces will be relying more and more, due to the shift of priorities from Africa to Asia, also reflected in the arrow pointing to the Indian Ocean.

    That’s all I can tell for now but I’ll be glad to add more comments related to French nuclear weapons & disarmament initiatives ASAP, but that may be not until next week.

    hope this helps !

  13. Vladimir (History)

    Hello, my friends

    What a sharp analyse on the French White Paper on Defense,
    great job James !
    Whithout sarcasm i can tell you french are too busy to have a date with a girl and drink wine. I think this white book is not serious, well not yet !
    sorry for my broken english but i really like read you post, it’s always interresting !