Our fellow citizens have long been aware of the weakness of their police forces. In addition to the emotions, the figures no longer hide the state of deterioration in public safety. The Ukrainian crisis is now highlighting the decline of our armed forces.
Specialists have known this for decades, the Gulf War had already demonstrated it: our equipment is largely inadequate. Since then, the distilled information has reported missing ammunition or spare parts, flight hours rationed, orders postponed, gears not renewed and so on.
Leaders who dream of “peace benefits”
How did we get here? From the 1980s to 2018 and beyond the blindness of our successive rulers to the “peace dividend”, the army budget has been one of the variables to adjust our public finances in capilotade. A difficulty in implementing the Finance Act? As the number of soldiers decreases, it is sufficient to practice on a clear tinge in the credits of the armies. And this explains why the maneuver seems all the easier since La Grande Muette has not robbed her of her name: there is no one to publicly defend the honor of her flock. To paraphrase Victor Hugo, our army budget may be violated because it does not scream …
It may seem astonishing that the world champion of compulsory taxes is not able to devote significant sums to his defense. The movement is, as often, nothing new. Long-term history shows that if the spending of the state policeman only increased from 9.5 to 12.5% of GDP from 1815-1819 to 1965-1969, the economic and social spending increased according to an author’s calculation. correlatively from confidential 2.4% to large 24.2%. Today, almost € 10 out of € 100 of public spending is allocated to sovereign costs: defense, justice and security, for … 57 for social protection!
The military does not strike or complain
The recent increase in the Army budget with the Military Programming Act 2019-2024 has hardly changed these figures because it is not growing in relation to public spending. In 2022, it is expected that the army with 41 billion euros will represent only 6.65% of the state’s total expenditure, ie almost 2% of GDP, and even the current government is proud of a percentage increase! In short, we can not perform excessive social work and have armed forces worthy of the name.
To these economic considerations comes a more or less open contempt for our soldiers. When we know how the death of a soldier in the United States is a national tragedy, and we see at best the polite indifference that accompanies one of the defenders of our country, we can only be amazed at the abysmal difference between the two nations.
However, we must not think that the ruthless increase in the army’s budget would be a panacea. It is a classic practice to blindly justify the growth of means of comparativeness, for example in matters of justice, but it is important not to forget the pitfalls that await the reformer: administrative waste, invasive bureaucracy, incestuous relations with suppliers.
Strict control over the use of funds is necessary
The necessary significant increase in the military budget therefore requires strict control over the use of funds and real competition in order to drastically reduce spending. There should also be more and more use of subcontractors, both for military equipment and for certain operations, as the British and Americans often do. To revive the French army in the context of a renewed NATO is to assert itself as a real military power.
It is worth remembering that a state that does not take responsibility for the security of its citizens no longer has any legitimacy. Classical philosophers as diverse as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke hammered at it. It would be good for the candidates for the presidential election, and above all the outgoing president, to remember this.
If the issue of the inadequacy of our army’s budget can not be resolved in the short term, it is presumed to be addressed that the state’s borders are tracked as soon as possible with regard to the heavy current budgetary constraints and the buildable amount of our public debt. Between the strong social and the strong sovereign we will have to choose.
Jean-Philippe Feldman is a former university professor and lecturer at Sciences Po, a lawyer at the Court of Paris. Nicolas Lecaussin is director of Iref (Economic and Tax Research Institute).