With the war in Ukraine, how France is preparing for future conflicts

With the war in Ukraine, how France is preparing for future conflicts

After decades of asymmetric conflicts (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sahel, etc.), does the war in Ukraine mark the return of conventional warfare?

It is the return of the war at the gates of Europe even if in the 1990s, there had been the Former Yugoslavia, but which was an intra-state conflict. Here, we are in a high intensity war, compared to the wars you mentioned which were more crisis management wars.

Ukraine is a high intensity war in terms of the intensity and extent of the fighting. And especially at the level of the stakes, which are vital for Ukraine but also to a certain extent for Europe. Because the fall of Ukraine – which is unlikely anyway – would open Pandora’s box for Europe and break a lock that would be very worrying. We cannot afford for Ukraine to lose.

This war is part of a strategic context which has been deteriorating for twenty years with the disinhibition of certain powers of global or regional scope which rearm massively and do not hesitate to resort to force to satisfy objectives which appear to us to be from another time. Imperialist objectives, let’s say it.

By what means is France observing and trying to gather information on the evolution of the conflict in order to draw feedback from it?

We try to maintain autonomous situational awareness capabilities through our intelligence services. And we are also attentive to open sources which are very important, especially in a world where social networks are very active. And then to learn lessons from this war.

Precisely, what lessons can the French army draw from this war?

The context has led us to review our framework for reading the world and international relations.

The French army considers that the time when the world could be characterized according to three very distinct states: peace, crisis, war – three states which follow one another in a phased fashion – is over.

This continuum gives way to a more scrambled world, marked by a permanent systemic confrontation which is structured around three intertwined states: competition, contestation, confrontation. They are entangled because two international actors can be in these three situations at the same time, with, in particular in the cyber field, a confrontation that is permanent. The Sino-American rivalry is situated in this context. This translates into hybrid strategies where competitors will mix modes of action while seeking to remain below the threshold of armed conflict.

And more particularly at the level of Ukraine?

Coming back to the war in Ukraine, it has its share of surprises, both good and bad. At first many observers believed that Russia would not invade Ukraine, considering this decision to be irrational, as he knew that Russia could not control all of Ukraine. The Ukraine of 2022 is not the Ukraine of 2014, it has prepared well for this war – and I think that if Russia had done in 2014 the same thing as in February of this year, it would have entered like in butter.

The good surprise, it would rather be the current military situation?

We have passed the milestone of 200 days of war and there are few observers who thought that Ukraine would be able to contain this invasion. Conversely, many observers are surprised by the difficulties encountered by the Russian army, which had impressed in Syria and reinvested a great deal in its armament.

What interests us is why this Ukrainian resistance is the height? First there is the massive support from the West in terms of equipment. It is a reality that works very well. This Western cohesion is excellent news. Beyond the equipment, it is the Ukrainians who impress. This war shows us once again that moral forces take precedence over the mere technical balance of power. The man remains at the heart of the action of war. War remains a clash of wills and moral forces. What makes the difference is the cohesion of the Ukrainian nation which boosts the morale of the fighters.

If there is no national cohesion, it is complicated to maintain a moral force and in this kind of conflict, it is decisive. We certainly have lessons to learn from Ukraine’s national resilience.

We have seen the importance of communication, with President Zelensky very comfortable. At a very operational level, did this war mark a turning point in the effectiveness of the various components of a confrontation (aviation, artillery, cyber, communication, economy, etc.)?

This is the whole complexity of modern warfare. No one component is more important than another. We are witnessing a permanent extension of the fields of conflict. In the beginning, men clashed on land. Then on land and at sea, then the economic aspect took on an increasingly important place. At the beginning of the 20th century came the third dimension with the air environment. And there, we have the cyber environment, the exoatmospheric field, and also the communication field which has always existed but is becoming increasingly important in our modern societies.

And that’s the difficulty in protecting yourself. We cannot afford to have a fault in one of these fields at the risk of losing the war. What is important today is the ability to coordinate these actions in all these environments.

It is a war that also consumes a lot of men and material…

This war also reveals the importance of the ability to last. This leads us to wonder how France is preparing for this kind of thing? The objective is to be able to provide the armies much more quickly with the equipment they need. The real challenge in the short and medium term is the preparation of this new military programming law wanted by Emmanuel Macron, which aims to precisely define the capabilities and resources available to the French armies by 2030. And the instructions, c is to rely on feedback from the war in Ukraine.

What are the fears for future conflicts?

The crisis in Ukraine can bring a global recessionary economic shock and economic crises are never very good. We obviously have experience of the great recession of 1929, but if we look at the consequences of the subprime crisis of 2008, we have 2011 and the Arab springs which were not really concluded by a liberation of the peoples… There is still this fear of the development of peripheral crises indirectly linked to Ukraine.

One of the lessons of this war is also the importance of nuclear deterrence. The Ukrainians must bitterly regret having returned nuclear weapons to the Russians in 1994.

Conversely, if Russia had not been a nuclear power, would the West have intervened in Ukraine? My belief is maybe yes.

Is succeeding in supporting a belligerent without entering into the conflict one of the keys to the war of the future?
This has always been more or less the case, especially since the Cold War period when the two blocs clashed via proxies, third countries which benefited from the massive support of one of the two blocs. Somehow Ukraine is a bit like that, the West is at war against Russia via a proxy which is Ukraine – well being at war is a bit strong, we are not belligerent.

At NATO and European level, what is important is to strengthen our interoperability. This war also reveals the need for a robust alliance system. Because if we want to be able to have the strategic depth to wage a high-intensity war, we cannot be alone. Support is needed.


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