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In the last few months, French President Macron has repeatedly said that Europe should avoid that Russia win the war with Ukraine see for instance. Also envisaging the send of NATO troops to Ukraine.

Yet France is one of the smallest contributor to Ukraine military effort (given its size).
Has long opposed buying the extremely needed artillery shells outside Europe. It reversed the decision lately, but it was the only big European country opposing it.
Has backed Poland in blocking Ukrainian agricultural exports to the EU.

Is this just a typical politician saying one thing and doing the opposite or, or am I missing something?

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    Keep in mind that the weapon shipments are mostly secret, so take the tracker with a grain of salt. As far as Macron is concerned, his approach to the conflict has been unpredictable and inconsistent. This might be just pure incompetence, or as the commander in chief of one of the 2 nuclear powers in Western Europe, he's trying to be unpredictable on purpose. Nobody can't tell for now.
    – Ccm
    Mar 19 at 20:02
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    It is rather odd. The weapons seem generally sparse, but the talk about sending NATO troops into Ukraine was waaaay over the top. I wonder what French spare capacity is however: is there a situation, akin to the UK's 230-odd Challenger 2's, where the cupboard is bare and the production lines have long been shut? That would impact countries like Poland, which buy abroad, less. Mar 19 at 20:10
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    Most French frontline weapons aren't well suited to this conflict. (notable exception: the Caesar artillery system and SCALP missile). They have high unit cost, and unlike the German gear, nobody else in NATO knows how to use them.
    – Pete W
    Mar 19 at 20:13
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    @PeteW "high unit cost" also describes US weaponry quite well. Mar 19 at 20:39
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    Macron's contradictions have been the topic of jokes in France since before his elections: "theconversation.com/…"
    – Taladris
    Mar 22 at 11:45

3 Answers 3

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TLDR: To manage a modern high-intensity conflict, stockpiles and manufacturing volume are key, something France has been neglecting. So it may be less lack of ambition and goodwill than a lack of means.

IFRI points to a study by itself published in l'Express (paywall, so couldn't read the study itself, just their synopsis).

Basically, they claim:

  • France has cut its military spending by a lot in recent years.

  • and contrary to other countries, for example Germany, it does not hang on to obsolete mothballed equipment, so it has little to donate.

Stockpiles “generally disappeared between 2007 and 2016,” notes the think tank, dismantled or resold. The end of the Cold War, the abolition of compulsory military service and successive budgetary reforms led the French armed forces to carry out slimming treatments, starting in the 1990s. But it was especially after the financial crisis of 2008 that the ministry had to make savings at all costs, to the point of closing its reserves

Why such a difference ? In recent years, France has tended to get rid of equipment taken out of service very quickly, so as to no longer have to finance their maintenance, whereas other States have kept this equipment for longer. This is what reveals a new study from the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), “Stocks, high-intensity life insurance”. As a result, Paris's room for maneuver in supplying weapons to kyiv is weaker than others.

The case of the Gepard anti-aircraft armored vehicles delivered by Germany illustrates this difference. These languished for almost a decade before being repackaged and delivered to kyiv. Ifri believes that France could have done the same with its AMX-10P, infantry vehicles equipped with a cannon, definitively withdrawn from service only seven years ago. But these “seem to have completely disappeared from inventories”, “including around a hundred modernized examples” between 2006 and 2008 and which could “have been transferred to Ukraine”.

To which I would also add that France manufactures a lot of its military equipment. They do that to keep a domestic weapon industry going, but do on short production runs. If the gear in question did not do that well in export, then the production line may very well have been shut and there is no way to quickly replace donated equipment. This is the situation the UK was in when donating a few Challenger 2s: they only have 240-ish and the production line has long been shut. Yes, they'll eventually get Challenger 3s, but until then...

Similarly 155mm shell manufacturing capacity (1000/mo) looks good on paper to supply a peacetime force. Less so to supply a combat zone where 3-5k rounds can be fired each day.

While at the start of the conflict, France produced 1,000 155 mm shells per month, it increased from 2,000 last April to reach 3,000 in January 2024.

In contrast, a country like Poland buys tanks from the US and South Korea, both of which still produce them. It becomes a question of balancing the short term risks until replenishment: Russia is busy for now.

Capital magazine claims that French aid will ramp up in 2024 but is more concerned with costs than capacity.

Last, but not least, when it comes to hard military matters, besides flexing muscles in Africa, French politicians and its public can often be charitably described as "cautious" * (which made Macron's NATO troops remarks all the more odd).

* not a bad thing in 2003.

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    Could add that France has been involved in a lot of conflicts in Africa (just in the past decade), so they had to use a fair bit of ammo there. Also lemonde.fr/en/politics/article/2023/02/18/… says that "France's ammunition supplies are at their lowest and will not last more than a few weeks in the event of 'bitter' conflict" according to parliamentary report. Mar 19 at 21:31
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    The reaction is not odd. It is a simple escalation in rhetoric that should have happened in 2022, not now. Putin's game is to scare the west out of helping Ukraine, Macron is now doing the same and tries to threaten Russia out of going too far into Ukraine. Despite shortcomings, France does have enough firepower to at least temporarily stop the Russian advances. And it also has nukes, so MAD also comes into play. And it seems to have worked, Russia resorted to threaten targeting French troops with high priority, rather than announcing nuclear end of the world.
    – Ccm
    Mar 19 at 22:02
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    @PeteW which is what Ukraine has repeatedly done with the tools it was given Can you clarify? Far as I recall NATO gear hasn't been used to hit Russia proper. Unless the Kerch bridge is now Russia proper. Again, lots of claims, less sourcing. Mar 20 at 1:10
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    Yes the Kerch bridge is Russia proper, as it connects Krasnodar to Crimea. But we don't need to go there, since there's another example that won't set off anyone's allergies. Ukraine has been shelling Belgorod and Kursk since the start of the war, and has used the kitchen sink from the NATO arsenal to do it. Today it was Czech/Polish Vampir rockets with cluster munitions fired at border towns after frustrated raiding parties couldn't break thru, on the tail end of the suicidal weeklong suicide stunt by a regimental sized force attempting to physically invade prewar Russia.
    – Pete W
    Mar 20 at 1:20
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    So... you annex a country's territory and your newly-constructed connecting bridge is now your old traditional territory and off-limits. Sure... Mar 20 at 1:21
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Macron may be posing a bit, since Paris is buffered by several other NATO members to absorb any response, if his recent words come true.

But at least according to Russian MoD [https://t.me/mod_russia/36619], the French have sent their share of foreign fighters. They come in 5th among European nations.

Table below from Russian MoD. Sorry not translated. France estimated at 356 having come in, and 147 completing their journey there.

Other notables from EU: Poland, UK, Romania, and Croatia. From elsewhere: US, Canada, Colombia, and Georgia.

These numbers set to increase substantially going forward, as the intensity has been ramping up.

enter image description here

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    "Mercenaries"? Can you explain the term in this context and why "volunteer" would be inappropriate? And, is that really what moves the needle in this war, a few hundred people, as opposed to delivering sufficient weaponry and ammo? Mar 19 at 20:12
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    You really think they're going for free? Regarding moving the needle ... for starters, somebody needs to supervise or even operate the French equipment which is capable but unique within NATO. And unfortunately I expect the numbers will go way up.
    – Pete W
    Mar 19 at 20:13
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    I don't think getting $$$$ rich from going in Ukraine is a major motivation, no. Mar 19 at 20:14
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - while they would have to also believe in what they're doing, I do think money is the larger half of the motivation. Anyway I changed it to "foreign fighters", since the individual motivations don't change the substance here
    – Pete W
    Mar 19 at 20:32
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    the French have sent — do you have any evidence those people were sent, and did not go on their own initiative? I have also heard rumours that western "instructors" are already present to help Ukrainians in operating or maintaining military equipment, but this answer would be stronger if it contained evidence of such a claim. And an image of a Russian language table is not the most accessible way to present information on an English language site.
    – gerrit
    Mar 20 at 7:30
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Accused by Germany of not pulling its weight on aid to Ukraine, France struck back over the weekend by publishing for the first time a list of the military kit delivered to Kyiv between the start of the war and December 31.

According to the French, their military aid is worth €2.6 billion, much more than the meager €635 million calculated by the Kiel Institute, a German think tank that compiles an authoritative list of which country is pledging what to Ukraine. That index shows Germany is far and away the biggest European military aid donor to Ukraine — promising €17.7 billion.

"France has opted for operational efficiency in its military aid to Ukraine: promise what you can deliver, deliver what you can promise," tweeted Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu.

https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-aid-france-strikes-back-and-publishes-weapons-data-macron-kiel-taurus-scalp/

France is no slouch, it's the 4th biggest contributor in the EU, so it could be argued that it did enough and that it's not disconnected from what he said. Nevertheless, there could be some posturing, and it's possible they don't mean to escalate the war with Russia.

The Kiel institute also updated the numbers on their latest report.

https://www.ifw-kiel.de/fileadmin/Dateiverwaltung/Subject_Dossiers_Topics/Ukraine/Ukraine_Support_Tracker/Ukraine_Support_Tracker_-_Research_Note.pdf

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