By Shweta Desai
PARIS (AA) - France’s Defense Ministry has updated its 2017 Defense and National Security Strategic Review in light of the COVID-19 crisis, which it said has left the “socio-economic and international environment uncertain” and “accelerated deterioration of the strategic environment.”
The updated analysis of the strategic context and threats faced by France was presented by Defense Minister Florence Parly with an objective to prepare the armed forces and for the implementation of the military planning law.
“The pandemic, in particular, has provoked major social and economic upheavals, magnifying divisions and power relationships, creating new tensions over resources and, above all, catalyzing threats,” Parly says in the foreword.
The assessment of the update confirms that the pandemic has worsened the negative trends already identified in the 2017 review.
It identifies major threats, including terrorism emanating from the armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan which continues to expand after the fall of Daesh’s caliphate and the risk of foreign fighters who continue to target Western countries.
“The endogenous threat has never been so high and is likely to increase further in the near future,” it warns.
It also cites the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by North Korea and Iran.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed real fragilities in Western states, from warning mechanisms to health systems, which could foster opportunistic exploitation,” it said.
It also points to the return of strategic and military competition by Russia and China. Russia has given priority to non-military resources like disinformation, propaganda and clandestine action as well as modernizing military capabilities, including anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities along the border, upgrading nuclear components and developing new weapons systems.
China on the other hand has increased its defense budget, second to the US, and is rapidly developing its deterrent capabilities.
Its analysis on China, it holds that Beijing “has become a ‘systemic rival’ for the EU while remaining an economic competitor and sometimes an important diplomatic partner.”
Both countries have developed their power strategies, exploiting available opportunities and neglected areas during the pandemic, the report claims.
Faced with such realities of instability, the report predicts that the absence of an appropriate European response could bring “new risks to Europe’s doorstep and raise the specter of a strategic downgrade.”
In response, the report calls for enhancing the French defense and deterrence strategy, rebuilding its forces through financial investment in the military planning law, mobilizing European partners and strengthening its link via NATO.
It also calls for identifying alternate supply chains, developing new value chain systems and forging stronger international cooperation mechanisms, as the pandemic has exposed the risks owing to overdependence on China.
Finally, the report alarmingly warns that the hypothesis of a direct confrontation between major powers can no longer be ignored; the current tensions and possible upheavals will continue to impact at least until 2030 and beyond, requiring preparedness and a continuous buildup of capabilities.