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February 2021

Rethinking our Defense
in the Face of 21st Century Crises

<p><strong>Rethinking our Defense </strong><br />
in the Face of 21<sup>st</sup> Century Crises</p>
Nicolas Baverez
Senior Fellow - Defense

Nicolas Baverez est avocat à la Cour d’appel de Paris. Il a notamment présidé le groupe de travail Refonder la sécurité nationale. Il est également l'auteur de la note Sécurité nationale : quels moyens pour quelles priorités ?.

Il est éditorialiste au Figaro, au Point et est l’auteur de plusieurs livres. Il est également membre du Comité de direction de la revue Commentaire.

Nicolas Baverez est diplômé de Sciences Po, titulaire d'un doctorat en Histoire et ancien élève de l'Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA).

Mahaut de Fougières
Head of the International Politics Program

Mahaut de Fougières était responsable du programme Politique internationale jusqu'à Février 2023. Dans ce cadre, elle pilote les travaux de l'Institut Montaigne sur la défense, la politique étrangère, l'Afrique et le Moyen-Orient, et mène des projets transversaux au sein du pôle international. Auparavant, elle était chargée d'études sur les questions internationales, depuis 2018.

Diplômée de King's College London et de University College London (UCL) en relations internationales, elle a également étudié à l'université américaine de Beyrouth (AUB).


Institut Montaigne would like to thank the following people for their assistance with this work.

Chairs of the taskforce

  • Nicolas Baverez, Lawyer, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher 
  • Bernard Cazeneuve,  Former Prime Minister, Associate Lawyer, August Debouzy 

Taskforce members

  • Julie Burguburu, Chief of Staff, Eutelsat 
  • Mathieu Duchâtel, Director of the Asia Program, Institut Montaigne
  • Michel Duclos, Special Advisor - Geopolitics, Institut Montaigne
  • General Christophe Gomart, Group Director of Security & Crisis Management, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield 
  • Admiral Édouard Guillaud, Former Chief of the Defense Staff
  • Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, Director, IRSEM  
  • Pierre Jeannin, Deputy Head of Industrial Participations - Industry, French Government Shareholding Agency
  • Bernard de Montferrand, Former Ambassador, Senior Advisor, Roland Berger
  • Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director, Foundation for Strategic Research, Senior Fellow - Strategic Affairs, Institut Montaigne
  • Stéphane Volant, President, Smovengo


  • Erwin Bruder, Lieutenant-Colonel, École de Guerre (general rapporteur)
  • Alain Quinet, Associate Professor, Écoles de Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan (general rapporteur)
  • Mahaut de Fougières, Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne 
  • Antoine Jean 
  • Romain Lucazeau, Partner, Roland Berger
  • Édouard Michon, Senior Strategist – Group Strategy, Allianz

As well as 

  • Raphaëlle Camarcat, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Agnès de Castellane, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Camille Dutheil de la Rochère, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Alexandre Garcia, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne
  • Paula Martinez Lopez, Assistant Policy Officer, Institut Montaigne


  • Bertrand Badie, Emeritus Professor, Sciences Po Paris        
  • Olivier-Rémy Bel, Visiting Fellow, Atlantic Council
  • Alice Billon-Galland, Research Associate Europe Programme, Chatham House 
  • Antoine Bouvier, Director of Strategy and Public Policy, Airbus  
  • Maxence Brischoux, Deputy Head of European Affairs and International Relations, Naval Group
  • General Thierry Burkhard, French Army Chief of Staff 
  • Patrick Calvar, Former Director-General of Interior security, Special Advisor - Security, Institut Montaigne 
  • Christian Cambon, French Senator, President of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Committee 
  • Admiral Jean Casabianca, Major General of the French Defense Staff
  • General Didier Castres, Former Army Inspector General, French Ministry of the Armed Forces
  • Marie-Colombe Célérier, Head of External Relations, Public Affairs Department, Naval Group
  • Arnaud  Danjean, Member of the European Parliament, Member of the Security and Defense Subcommittee 
  • Julien Délémontex, Member of the French National Assembly, Chairwoman of the Defense and Armed Forces Committee 
  • Jean-Marie Dumon, Deputy Secretary-General, GICAN 
  • Philippe Errera, Director for Political and Security Affairs, French Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs
  • Henri-Damien Ferret, Deputy Assistant Director for International Affairs, SGDSN
  • Mircea Geoana, Deputy Secretary General, NATO 
  • Jean-Louis Gergorin, Professor, Sciences Po, Co-Author of Cyber : La Guerre Permanente (Éditions du Cerf, 2018)
  • Nicole Gnesotto, European Union Chair, CNAM 
  • François Godement, Senior Advisor for Asia, Institut Montaigne 
  • Alexandre Goulfier, Head of International Relations, Thales
  • Didier Gros, Assistant Director for International Affairs, SGDSN
  • Alice Guitton, Director General for International Relations and Strategy, French Ministry of the Armed Forces
  • Pierre Haroche, Research Fellow in European security, IRSEM 
  • François Lambert, Former General Delegate, GICAN, Deputy Chief of Staff, Sea Minister 
  • Air Force General Philippe Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force
  • General François Lecointre, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces
  • Ronan Le Gleut, French Senator, Member of the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Committee 
  • Olivier Martin, Secretary-General, MBDA
  • Stéphane Mayer, Chief Executive Officer, Nexter, co-CEO, KNDS, President of the Council of French Defense Industries
  • General Denis Mercier, Former Chief of Staff of the French Air and Space Force, Deputy Managing Director, Fives
  • Pierre  Morcos, Foreign Affairs Advisor for Strategic affairs, Security and Disarmament, French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs
  • Aurore Neuschwander, Strategy Director, Naval Group
  • Squadron Vice-Admiral Xavier Païtard, Former Defense Advisor to the President of MBDA, Defense Advisor for Strategy and Public Policy, Airbus  
  • Marion Paradas, Vice-President of International Relations, Thales
  • Guillaume Poupard, Director General of the French National Cybersecurity Agency (ANSSI)
  • Admiral Christophe Prazuck, Sorbonne University, Former Chief of the Naval Staff 
  • Claire Raulin, Ambassador, Permanent French Representative to the European Union Political and Security Committee 
  • General Grégoire de Saint Quentin, Former Deputy Head for Operations of the French Army, President of the consulting firm Petra Advisors
  • Squadron Vice-Admiral Henri Schricke, French Military and Defence Representative to NATO and the EU
  • Jeremy Shapiro, Research Director, European Council on Foreign Relations 
  • Nicolas Suran, Former French Permanent Representative to the European Union Political and Security Committee 
  • General Didier Tisseyre, Cyberdefense Commander, French Ministry of the Armed Forces
  • Hubert Védrine, Former French Foreign Affairs Minister 
  • Nick Witney, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations 


The opinions expressed in this report are not necessarily those of the above-mentioned persons or the institutions that they represent. 

The pandemic, financial crises, cyber attacks, Islamist terrorism, information manipulation, foreign investment in strategic sectors, the return of military powers: since the 2000s, the threats facing France and Europe have increased and diversified. 

On top of this, there are also powers that will seek to take advantage of an unstable context in order to impose their will by various means, military or non-military, direct or indirect. Such was the case of Turkey: in the context of a weakened US and Europe, on 10 August 2020, a seismic research vessel and a military flotilla were sent into the seas claimed by Athens in the Eastern Mediterranean. 


Rethinking our Defense in the Face of 21st Century Crises


The multilateral framework, debilitated by the Sino-American rivalry, is struggling to stabilize and coordinate a global response to crises. Covid-19 has proven just that. The same is true for NATO, which is a powerless witness to growing conflicts between several of its members. And though Joe Biden’s election as President of the US is indeed a source of hope that Europeans may regain a peaceful transatlantic relationship, it is clear that relations with China will remain a priority. The diagnosis of all this is that France and the European Union will not be able to rely exclusively on their American ally, or the multilateral order, for their security.

In order to contribute to the debate a Montaigne task force co-chaired by Nicolas Baverez, lawyer in the Court of Appeal of Paris, and Bernard Cazeneuve, former French Prime Minister, publishes a report on France’s defense policy. They conducted nearly 50 interviews with public and private actors, including civilians and the military, French and international. This research and analysis has led to 12 recommendations for France’s approach to the current security context, presented in this report. 

In addition to securing the ongoing Military programming law (MPL), France must prepare its Armed Forces and its entire defense-industrial ecosystem for harsher conflicts, and forge a comprehensive and agile response to more systemic threats to its security. The report argues it must pursue its efforts towards European cooperation: there simply is no alternative. 


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Preserving the role of the Army

The recent terrorist attacks in France, as well as the health crisis, have highlighted the role that the military is capable of playing in non-military situations. 

That being said, the possibility of a major conflict in the coming years should not be neglected. In fact, that is the kind of scenario for which the means of the Army, which are costly and potentially lethal, are rather designed. In other words, the military may provide reassurance in non-military contexts, but should not be the go-to solution.

This is why we believe that the Armed Forces should be strengthened, in order to allow them to deal with what they have best been adapted to do. To this end, we see three levers: 

  • funding 
  • human resources
  • innovation


The Armed Forces should be strengthened, in order to allow them to deal with what they have best been adapted to do.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, as threats seemed to diminish, governments began to gradually reduce their national defense efforts. Starting from 2015, however, the security context began to deteriorate again, calling for a defense reinforcement. In France, this led to a budget increase of 3.8 billion euros in 2015, and 2.2 billion in 2016. 

    The Military programming law (MPL) 2019-2025 was then created, as part of an effort to ensure France’s decision-making autonomy in the 21st century. Despite this, two points are important to consider: 

    • The MPL stretches over a 5 year plan, but the higher tiers of the budget increase is only planned to take place in 2023 (+3 billion vs. +1.7 billion between 2019 and 2022).
    • The financial commitment of 295 billion euros of the MPL is significant: it is the second largest item in the State budget after national education. However, the health and economic crisis will likely cause French public finances to significantly deteriorate, thereby potentially questioning this commitment.

    Human resources 

    Another key element for the Armed Forces, the number of military staff, has also been on the rise since 2015. The MPL plans to create 1,500 new jobs between 2019-2022. Nonetheless, recruiting and retaining staff has proven difficult due to the very strong competition coming from the civil sector and the very demanding nature of the arms industry. Given cyber threats and digitization, the recruitment of computer engineers and data scientists has become essential. To this end, the military does need to become a more attractive career option. 


    In a context of the technology race taking place between military powers, strengthening an army requires innovation. There are numerous technological breakthroughs to take into account: UAVs and autonomous systems, connectivity and the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, hyper-velocity, etc. Appropriating these technologies is not only a matter of funding, but also of the industrial apparatus being able to meet these military needs. The French Ministry of the Armed Forces has placed this challenge at the heart of its priorities, through the creation of the Defense Innovation Agency (AID) in 2018. Difficulties remain, however, and more work is needed in order to scale up, to fund startups and SMEs, and to develop a common culture around military innovation.

    Adopting a global and more agile approach

    As crises accumulate, France needs to become more resilient, better at absorbing shocks and then at bouncing back. Threats are becoming increasingly hybrid, and our security no longer depends on just the robustness of our defense. Instead, it solicits a more global approach that needs to include diplomatic, military, economic, political, information or even health and social dimensions, as has been made clear by the Covid-19 crisis.

    Strategic autonomy: the first step towards resilience

    We live in an era where a nation's power is conditioned by its resilience. Crisis management can lead to a downgrading or, on the contrary, to the affirmation of its rank and values on an international scale. The development of resilience in an operational way is based on the condition of strategic autonomy. Though constantly evolving, strategic autonomy historically relates to the field of defense and implies freedom of decision and freedom of action. Today, that also reaches into areas such as food and energy security, and is also needed in the health, tech, space and financial sectors.

    A more agile response

    There are three ways through which France can become more agile in its response:

    • Improved anticipation - Public and private players (including think tanks and NGOs), who are naturally focused on the long term, need to work better together on that front. 
    • Improved preparation - Building anticipation is a prerequisite, but what is essential is that the State, local authorities and civil society develop their capacity to react. This involves building up robust crisis management strategies and training. 
    • Improved coordination - So far, the crises we have experienced have been viewed as one-dimensional, leading to the designation of one specific department to take the lead in the response: the Ministry of Interior for attacks, or the Ministry of Finance for financial crises. If Covid-19 taught us anything, it’s that the crises we are going through are increasingly multidimensional and therefore require coordination between ministries, as well as between the central state and the different local authorities.

    Prioritizing European cooperation

    Given the new era of big power plays and the Sino-American rivalry, France cannot ensure resilience and strategic autonomy all by itself. The only answer lies within European cooperation. The European recovery plan for the Covid-19 crisis is a good example of this, and should serve as a source of optimism for the perspective of a European response to the crises that affect all the Member States. 

    European strategic autonomy, which France has long been advocating, must be deepened where it already exists (in the political, operational, technological and industrial sphere), and extended to the economic, financial and commercial fields. 

    In order to make its European partners better understand France's often singular position in this area, France must adopt a more unifying strategy, centered on three actions. 

    Today, strategic autonomy also reaches into areas such as food and energy security, and is also needed in the health, tech, space and financial sectors.

    • Persevering: working to strengthen cooperation between European states on defense.
    • Diversifying: strengthening bilateral partnerships and ad hoc coalitions where appropriate. 
    • Explaining: better conveying the French position on European strategic autonomy, in particular regarding Europe's place in NATO, which is today a major sticking point. This also means taking better account of the perspectives of France’s partners on these subjects. That first and foremost concerns Germany, because only a common Franco-German vision will lead the rest of the EU. 

    Our recommendations

    Aim for a more integrated specialized military organization.
    In detail
    Enhance the readiness of the Armed Forces in a volatile strategic context.
    In detail
    Adjust capabilities and format to increase impact and endurance.
    In detail
    Secure the Military Programming Law.
    In detail
    Enhance the attractiveness of the military profession.
    In detail
    Spread the innovation culture beyond the Defence Innovation Agency.
    In detail
    Enhance the flexibility of France’s comprehensive approach to hybrid warfare by increasing coordination.
    In detail
    Anticipate tougher multi-dimensional scenarios with a greater role for the Secretariat-General for National Defense and Security (SGDSN).
    In detail
    Involve the private sector in reserves and general mobilization, and practice.
    In detail
    Coordinate ministerial action at the central level, facilitate subsidiarity, ensure the survival of the Nation’s essential functions.
    In detail
    Reinforce European strategic autonomy in key areas.
    In detail
    Strengthen France’s unifying role in European defense and in NATO.
    In detail
    <p><strong>Rethinking our Defense </strong><br />
in the Face of 21<sup>st</sup> Century Crises</p>
    (156 pages)
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