France Report



Since the turn of the 21st century, France has certainly made progress in terms of developing its WGA strategy for mitigating crises and conflict situations in less developed countries, mostly in the former French colonial territories of West Africa now referred to as the Sahel. Still, the government’s current WGA system is incomplete, loosely implemented and concentrated at the top, and it has a shallow conceptual and procedural grounding within the various departmental structures.
Given these circumstances, the external observer is led to question the hypothesis that a WGA which is regulated in a manner that is more formalised and thus more independent of the respective actors will be more likely to give rise to synergies and reduce or avoid any friction losses. However, France’s experiences with its national ‘approche intégrée’ version of a WGA seems to argue against this hypothesis. Indeed, the country has been able to smoothly implement responses to crises and conflicts using a policy that is exclusively managed from the top by a highly restricted group of political decision-makers rather than through a cross-governmental consensus among middle-rank civils servants and military officers who are supposed to produce a regulated WGA restricted to the ‘3 D’s’ (diplomacy, defence, development) and supported by procedural documents with binding stipulations regarding actions.
Regarding France’s rationale for adopting its ‘approche intégrée,’ it would seem that the aim is more geared towards making the decision-making process as tight and streamlined as possible for the president, who is head of both the civilian state and the army, than towards institutionalising a formal set of administrative practices. In support of this argument, one can point to the non-compulsory nature of the 2018 CICDE WGA handbook of practical regulations for military officers in the theatre of war as well as its quite limited influence outside defence circles. One can also detect in places a strong reluctance to accept the technocratic jargon associated with the debate around WGAs. For example, one senior diplomat interviewed for this report stressed that he was proud to play his part in a traditional and broadly defined ‘approche intégrée’, but that he would strongly reject any WGA instructions in the form of what he compared to “novlangue”, the French translation of ‘newspeak’, the term George Orwell used in his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four for what the Cambridge Dictionary defines as a “language used by politicians and government officials that is intentionally difficult to understand and does not mean what it seems to mean and is therefore likely to confuse or deceive people.”
Such a non-bureaucratic and politically dominated option is particularly visible in France’s WGA practice in several contrasting features of the whole system. This first and most striking one is that, since the process of forming permanent WGA structures was started in the last decade, they have been limited to the Ministry of Defence (with its CICDE) and the AFD (with its CCC), both of which are small units and no more than in-house think tanks. Tellingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has never considered establishing an analogous body.
One should note that a group of civil servants and military officials did give thought to the possibility of introducing 3D ‘conflict pools’ like those of the British (discussed above). Nevertheless, despite increasing external security threats, nothing concrete has come of this in the political or administrative contexts of France under the last four presidents. Under President Macron, the one and only effective and wider-ranging WGA arrangement has been the joint Sahel task forces, a temporary and strictly ad hoc arrangement, as was the more informal Africa network under Hollande’s presidency.
Another indication that France’s WGA structure is not fully mature is the fact that there continues to be a strong separation between the country’s diplomatic/military sphere and the development-assistance sector, as their various agents have unequal access to classified intelligence and/or scripted ‘diplomatic notes’ (NDIs).
A persistent and dominant feature is that France’s WGA strategy tends to be presented as being fundamentally more pragmatic than conceptual both at home (by its actors and the political and administrative classes in Paris) and abroad. The persistent of this attitude regardless of the party in power (in addition to budgetary restrictions) might explain the disconnect between developing a WGA strategy and actually implementing it. For example, although a large set of goals have been clearly identified (especially for the Sahel and West Africa), the human resources specifically allocated to coordinating the implementation of these goals along the whole process have been extremely limited. In fact, as mentioned above, there are only 20 to 30 people permanently tasked with WGA-related issues in all the ministerial departments and the AFD. What’s more, the presidential diplomatic team, which is in charge of ensuring the coherence of upper-level decision-making together with the military advisers in the president’s ‘maison militaire’, is notoriously understaffed.
Finally, another limit to an effective WGA in France is the fact that parliament is kept out of the decision-making loop. This major feature of the Firth Republic’s system is a legacy of the ‘monarque républicain’ style of governance of General De Gaulle. Such an attitude persists to this day. As one interviewee pointed out when discussing the specific issue of (the lack of) cooperation or coordination with parliament: “This is not our culture.”
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