By Lake Dodson
Dieu est du côté de la meilleure artillerie.
“God is on the side with the best artillery.” A quote brimming in equal parts sarcasm as much as it does certainty, and yet, as true today as it was when the Général Vendémiaire halted the Insurrection of Paris in 1795. Indeed, Napoleon Bonaparte dictated the national defenses of France over two centuries ago, and it seems he still does today. His pursuit of total victory and military innovation in every form and fashion is like a national heirloom, passed down through generations. However, the nation’s modern national defense strategy also derives from the sentiments of another, similarly brilliant French general:
La bonne fortune de l’Amérique est étroitement liée à la bonne fortune de toute l’humanité.
“The good fortune of America is closely tied to the good fortune of all humanity.” Marquis de Lafayette fought for and recognized the status that the thirteen British colonies of America might one day attain. Little did he know that one day, America would have the military might to surpass France ten-fold.
This is the dichotomy of France’s modern-day approach to national defense: to reinvigorate the quality of munitions and machinery and to keep a close tether to America.
The continued Russian invasion of the Ukrainian homeland served as a wake-up call for not only the entirety of Europe but every member state of NATO. This is especially true for the two nations with the most powerful militaries of the defensive pact: America and France. Each nation observed the conflict very carefully, realizing how ill-prepared modern European nations are for industrialized warfare.
Even before the Russian incursions, reconnaissance, surveillance, and data-collection military assets have proven integral to ensuring any kind of military advantage. Most notably, American generals working with their Ukranian military counterparts rejected the initial plans for Ukraine’s September 2022 offensive and redesigned them in accordance with developments from on-the-ground intelligence sharing networks. The timely and actionable intelligence sharing led to the most lopsided Russian defeat since the Russo-Japanese War.
Clearly, the methods of waging war have changed. As two of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States and France impose their military prestige and diplomatic influence across the world stage. Great powers look out for one another, especially when the relationship is mutually beneficial.
The current push for militarization under President Emmanuel Macron’s administration fell perfectly in line with an already existing budgetary trend. Since 2010, France has invested itself in the strategic innovations proposed by the American Army concept known as Project Scorpion: a set of systems and principles that proposes to innovate national militaries via network-centric warfare, irregular tactics, and cutting-edge military experiments.
So far, the United States and France are the lead players in this international push for modernization. Under the administration of the previous President, François Hollande, France pledged $6.7 billion USD to the multinational advancement, the most prominent purpose of which was to advance their Multi-Role Armored Vehicles (VMBR) and Armored Reconnaissance and Combat Vehicles (EBRC).
Again, the Ukranian war affects this aspect of French innovations. Over the conflict, Ukraine has captured more tanks than it had lost by a margin of eighty-five units. This staggering offset reflects the new reality of infantry combat, it is not the thickness of armor or the deadliness of munitions but the intelligence and capability to adapt. This is where U.S. and French ideas of what is best for its national defense begin to diverge, not only in design but in principle and purpose.
However unlikely it may seem, France sees the war in Ukraine as a hiccup in its grand strategy. France and other powerful member states seek to “complete” the European Union (EU) and achieve strategic autonomy from every hegemonic force, including even the United States.
America and France’s new approaches to their militaries seem to reflect where such deviations are prevalent. The AMX 10 RC and ERC 90 Sagaie have been French flagships of on-the-ground infantry support since the early 1980s. These tanks have been primarily used in Saharan Africa against bands of rebels utilizing guerilla warfare either in Mali or the Ivory Coast. They were not built to withstand overwhelming firepower from the opposition, nor were they easy to repair.
American tanks function in much the same way, the American Stryker is a massive and impenetrable monster of a machine. A monster that costs nearly $6 million USD per vehicle. France has rejected this expensive principle.
Under Project Scorpion, France has reduced the cost of its light to medium combat personnel by using the standard 6X6 civilian truck chassis as the base for such vehicles. In the same vein, private French industries such as Thales Cybersecurity and Renault Trucks are working alongside the military to make production and maintenance easier in times of war.
These new vehicles with civilian chassis and private industrial assistance have drastically reduced the price of these infantry support vehicles to under €1 million. France has plans to manufacture over 2,000 of these new, low-cost carriers.
In this way, France has laid its cards on the table. It has been innovating for a long-term, high-intensity modern war against a reasonably well-equipped adversary in two major ways: creating a cheaper and simpler supply of combat vehicles and sourcing military assistance from private, commercial industries.
Nourishing such a reversal of American military strategy is only a taste of what is to come for what France is planning. Codename Project Titan, an innovative strategy acting off of Project Scorpion, aims to improve heavy ground transportation, artillery, aircraft, and intelligence-sharing technology.
Comme il faut
France envisions an EU in which it is the hegemon. Where it may become the all-powerful Hydra: the military face, the economic face, and the diplomatic face of the EU. This is its defense strategy.
For the United States to best acclimate and bring its old ally back to its side, more joint ventures such as Project Scorpion must be proposed to keep French-American relations healthy and reliable. If cooperative actions cannot be agreed upon, America risks losing France to its own ambition.
In such critical times as these, any kind of rift between France and America would be a failing of international diplomacy and statesmanship, in other words, a major faux pas.
Lake Dodson is a student at the University of Mississippi. This essay was an honorable mention in the 2023 John Quincy Adams Society Student Foreign Policy Essay Contest.