Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Phantom Euro Army Part 2 - France

This is the second post on whether some European states could have sent significant numbers of soldiers to Iraq. The contention is that Bush has been rude to Europe and therefore they will not send soldiers to help in Iraq. This, I think, is not supported by the facts. The reality is most European countries do not have many soldiers to send nor the financial and/or political means to do so if they wanted. The first post covered Germany and this one deals with France.

France's armed forces have around 200,000 soldiers in their ranks. Though this is 20% less than Germany, the French military budget is 50% larger at $45 billion. Around $4 billion does need to be subtracted from this to account for the Force de Frappe (nuclear forces) that Germany and most countries do not possess. This leaves $41 billion which is a respectable $205,000 per soldier. Unlike the Germans, all of France's Army brigades are fully manned, equipped, and trained. They also do not have any conscript issues as it is all volunteer. The French have 8 brigades stationed in France, of which 4 are heavy and 4 are light. In addition to these forces, France has a further 11 light regiments/battalions garrisoned overseas. Given France's Army organization these forces have a total of about 70,000 soldiers who can be deployed (~10 brigades at 7,000 soldiers per brigade).

France presently has nearly 12,000 soldiers deployed overseas away from their home base. A further 21,000 are stationed to protect various colonies and to act as regional reaction forces. This means that France's pool of soldiers is actually 49,000 of whom 16,000 can be deployed. Minus France's current commitments, they have 4,000 soldiers available. Again, while an extra 4,000 soldiers in Iraq would be nice, it would not be earth shaking. While it would be easier militarily for France to send 4,000 soldiers than it would be for Germany to send 2,000, it is also much less likely from the military standpoint. France, unlike Germany, has real foreign national security demands. For example they sent 4,000 soldiers to intervene in the Ivory Coast civil war in 2002 without U.N., E.U., or N.A.T.O. consultation when their interests were threatened. They need to have a decent force in reserve to deal with any events that threaten France's interests overseas. No amount of jaw jawing would get them to commit their last reserves to Iraq.

Like the Germans, the second reason that the French would not send soldiers to Iraq is financial. Last years budget deficit for France was $84 billion or 4.2%. They also have the same slow growth and high unemployment economy that Germany has. As evidenced by Ivory Coast, they will spend $2-4 billion for a military operation when it suits their interests. Overthrowing Saddam is not something that suited their interests in the least. Saddam was one of France's best customers in the Middle East. To the French, for them to be involved in his ouster would be like a store paying a good customer to stop shopping at it. Again, no amount of tact and diplomacy would have changed these economic realities.

There were also political reasons for the French to not partake in the Iraq occupation. They differ somewhat from Germany since Schroeder was focused on the domestic audience while Chirac was more concerned with the Muslim one. The French president is a more powerful position and more disconnected from the whims of the masses than the German chancellor. Whether the French people supported or opposed helping the U.S. was/is irrelevant. Chirac's major concern therefore was using the war and occupation to advance France's national interests and keeping the Muslims in France from rioting. The French political class styles itself as an intermediary between the Muslim world and Europe. It was thought that by opposing the Iraq war/occupation they could pose as the friend of the Muslims against the Crusader Americans. This would lead to greater French influence and business deals throughout the Middle East. It was also thought that if France supported the U.S. they would have riots in the immigrant suburbs around Paris. The only way (supposedly) to avoid the Muslims rioting was to oppose the U.S.

Once again, it is ludicrous to have expected the French to max out their military, stretch their strained budget, and go against their perceived national interest merely to help the nation that kept France free for the last 100 years. Neither John Kerry's rank Francophilia nor haughty French persona would have changed that. Unlike the Germans, I think it is better to not have the French anyways. They have a history of doing their own thing and going against the interests of everyone else to further their own interests. For example the French have protected war criminals in Bosnia and provided the Serbs with our target lists during the Kosovo War. Overall, losing the French is no major loss and not one that could have been averted anyways.

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