News / Europe

Leaner French Defense Strategy Focuses on Africa

French troops patrol in the streets of Gao on February 3, 2013 as France jets carried out major air strikes today near Kidal.
French troops patrol in the streets of Gao on February 3, 2013 as France jets carried out major air strikes today near Kidal.
Lisa Bryant
Africa figures prominently in France's newly outlined military defense strategy - and experts say the Mali offensive may serve as a blueprint for future operations.  
Outlined by Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, the newly released review of France's national security and defense policy reflects the challenges of dealing with new military threats with less money.  
France is grappling with tough economic times.  But while the Defense Ministry will still shed tens of thousands of jobs, the Socialist government has decided to freeze the defense budget, rather than cut it. 
At a press conference, Le Drian said France needed to respond to rising new threats against adversaries with sophisticated technology and means.  The strategic review targets Africa - in particular, North Africa and the Sahel region - as a key geographic priority.  At least four French bases in Africa will be maintained. 
Christophe Guilloteau, a deputy from the opposition UMP party and a member of the commission that drafted the review, says France's Operation Serval in Mali was key in ensuring Africa would remain a defense priority for France.
In an interview on Radio France International, Guilloteau said those who believed France should further disengage itself from Africa changed their minds with this year's French offensive in Mali.  Had France not already pre-positioned its forces in nearby countries like Chad and Ivory Coast, he said, Paris could not have responded as rapidly as it did. 
Associate Africa Program fellow at London-based think-tank Chatham House, Paul Melly, believes the Mali operation may serve as a model for future French operations as well. 
"What France wants to do is to have Africa take the political leadership of security in the continent, which France is willing to provide the high-tech advanced equipment - heavy, logistical backup if you like - that African countries do not necessarily have themselves.  And Mali, in a sense, will be a model for this, because African troops will take over the vast bulk of the peacekeeping while France maintains a small force of about 1,000 troops for emergencies...  If this model works, it is one that could be extended more widely.  So Mali is something of a test bed," he said. 
While many considered France's offensive in Mali a success, critics - notably opposition lawmakers - note there is no clear exit strategy.  Thomas Klau, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, also questions whether it can be easily replicated elsewhere. 
The defense review also pushes for a more integrated European defense program.  But Klau says that means convincing skeptics like Germany about the importance of intervening in Africa. 
"There is a slightly irrational trauma in Berlin that's precisely what France, and to some extent the UK want to do - to use Germany military means and financial resources to engage in post-colonial policy making in Africa.  I think the... fears are misplaced to a significant extent but it falls on France and, to the lesser degree the UK to reassure Berlin," he said. 
Melly says French President Francois Hollande has clearly stated that France's relations with Africa have turned the page; Paris now sees Africa as a partner.  Mali is a case in point, Melly says - France only intervened at the demand of the Malian government.   He says Mali has left its mark in other ways.  
"The success of the Mali operation has boosted the political self-confidence of the French military in showing that France can do a demanding, high-tech, long-distant operation if it's well-targeted and in a part of the world that France knows well and for which its troops are trained.  So it's a case of France doing what it's good at... where it has a strength and can do affordably," he said. 
And that, Melli says, appears to be at the heart of France's new defense strategy.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs