“Time of Cheetahs – World War France” – 4 questions to Michel Goya

Marine officer and PhD in modern history, Michel Goya, alongside his operational career, taught military innovation at Sciences-Po and École Pratique des Hautes-Etudes. He answers Pascal Boniface’s questions on the occasion of the publication of his book “Le temps des répards – France’s World War” by the Tallandier publishing house.

You are critical of the implementation of large industrial programs (Leclerc tanks, armored fighting vehicles and infantry vehicles, Eryx anti-tank missiles, tactical helicopters, transport helicopters, NH-90, fighters, Rafale, European transport aircraft, nuclear aircraft carrier), all these expensive programs , designed to combat the threat of the Warsaw Pact…

In the 1980s, France made a major effort to retool its military equipment, just before the enemy it was supposed to fight suddenly disappeared. It was not obvious that this expensive and complex equipment, designed for very intensive combat operations, was best suited to the new geostrategic context of globalized interventions, but it was decided to keep them nonetheless.

The main problem is that we have decided to receive the “peace dividend” at the same time, and therefore to reduce the means of its payment. This plunged the army into a long-term funding crisis. We began to delay and scale back these new programs, keeping our old equipment longer than planned. This saved money in the short term, but compounded the long-term problem with skyrocketing maintenance costs and a sharp drop in availability. Since 2008, mass destruction (78,000 military posts over ten years) of those using this equipment has been planned, which in turn has led to the planning of catastrophic organizational reforms. The armies spoke of a “great crisis” with a simultaneous drop in the number of soldiers and basic equipment. In 1991 we complained that we could only deploy 15,000 soldiers in the Gulf War because we only hired professionals; in 2013, this is what we hoped to deploy at best, despite the full professionalization of armies.

And then in 2015, after the terrorist attacks in France, the defense policy of the armies completely changed. What was said to be impossible turned out to be possible. After falling to 1984 levels, in constant currency, the defense budget has begun to rise again, and we are beginning to emerge from the crisis. It must be admitted that all this is not very coherent.

Regarding the fighting in Afghanistan in 2008, you write that the enemy was the last concern of this war, which is not very conducive to its victory…

Military commitments in France are a choice of the President of the Republic aimed at influencing “society”, sometimes two. The president may actually think of an enemy to impose his will on, but very often it’s about showing allies or the world that France is a great power.

The fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001 has been aimed primarily at demonstrating its solidarity with the United States, but for years it has avoided any risk, except for sending a special forces group to the south of the country in 2003 and 2006. When President Sarkozy announced the deployment of French battalions to the Kapisa-Sourobi hostile zone in 2008 during a NATO summit, he thought much less of Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin – the dominant armed group in the region – than of NATO and the United States. When the soldiers start to fall, French public opinion will become the priority public. None of this really promotes the risk-taking necessary to defeat the enemy.

After an intervention, isn’t it better to step back and remain ready to intervene again than to remain constantly criticized?

In 1972, President Pompidou decided to end the war against the National Liberation Front (FROLINAT) in Chad. France has been waging this war for three years, we have succeeded, but the enemy has not been destroyed in the north of the country. At the same time, the French presence, which came after a call for help from the Chadian government, is starting to become a little burdensome for the same Chadian government. Then everyone agrees that the obtained results are sufficient. However, a battalion with capabilities to intervene in the capital and a discreet group of pilots of the Chadian Air Force remained behind.

The question that needs to be asked every time is quite simple: is this peace? If this is the case, through a military victory on the ground or, more rarely, through the parties to the conflict agreeing to lay down their arms and negotiate, we may end up engaging in a “stabilization” operation rather than the so-called “international police”. This was the case in Bosnia in 1995 after the military victory over the Bosnian Serb camp or in Kosovo in 1999 after the victory over Serbia. It should be noted that in these two cases we were talking about a strong presence (more than 40,000 soldiers initially) and for a long period. On the other hand, if there is no peace, the war continues, obviously. The desire to carry out a stabilization operation between the participants in the war, especially if they are fighting against us, is a gross mistake that cost the lives of many French soldiers.

But if we avoid this trap and agree to war, the second mistake is that we insist on absolute victory where there can only be relative victories. Operation Serval in Mali in 2013 was a relative but real success. Then remaining militarily in the center of a complex territory with many problems, in one of the countries most sensitive to its independence against a former colonizer, and naively believing that the Malian state would become a strong and effective state. there was an error. It was necessary to recall the “Pompid protocol” and return to the previous position. We were able to deploy the brigade in a few days in Mali, why did you want to keep it inside?

Is this the end of the cheetah era?

Of course not. All the reasons that made France so inclined to intervene, the combination of ease of involvement and above all the need to be present in world affairs, still exist. French soldiers will still be working in places we could not even imagine a few years ago and facing unprecedented challenges. You just have to follow the changes in the world. In fact, there have been several “cheetah times” over the past sixty years, depending on the deep rifts in the international landscape at the turn of the 1990s or 2010s. We more or less know how to develop within known frameworks, it is much harder for us to perceive gaps. But such things always happen. Let’s take care

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