The French government finally unveiled its long-awaited livre blanc on defense and national security last week. As expected, the white paper contains grim news for the French military, capping spending at current levels and calling for substantial personnel reductions over the next five years. But one aspect of the French defense posture emerged virtually unscathed. Despite earlier reports about possible cuts in order to save money, the white paper reaffirms long-standing policies on the fundamental purpose and composition of French nuclear forces. While many officials and observers in the West discount the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy now that the Cold War is over, the French government clearly takes a different view.
It's been nearly a year since Francois Hollande assumed the French presidency with promises of change in both substance and style from that of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. Two months after assuming office, Hollande personally commissioned the writing of a new defense white paper to account for changes in the strategic and economic landscape that had occurred since the previous report was published in 2008. He also wanted no doubt to put his own stamp on defense spending, which commands nearly ten percent of the national budget.