PARIS — France is poised to enter a new era in defense strategy as threats and geopolitical factors have evolved at home and around the world, said Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who called for a “strategic patience” in long-term policy.
“In the strategic domain, I think France is at a turning point,” Le Drian said Jan. 18 in prepared remarks for this year’s Leading Strategic Challenges academic program at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University.
The phase known as the end of the Cold War has closed, he said, and a new period is opening. France, by understanding the major shifts, can prepare for the future and maintain its position in the world. “Militarized terrorism” among jihadist fighters, a resurgent Russia and the spread of advanced arms technology are among the new factors.
The forces of the Islamic State use social media and the Internet to put out "propaganda" in Arabic, English, French and Russian on a 24/7 basis, seeking to radicalize the young and making violent acts a banality, he said.
The Islamic State fields 30,000-40,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, some of them combat veterans, and armed with heavy weapons, he said. A new threat is the “terrorist commando,” those with military means and destructive intent aiming to kill the largest number of people and having no interest in hostages or negotiating, as was shown in the Nov. 13 attacks here.
Al-Qaida was a global threat but the IS jihadists attract national and regional allies such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Ansar Beyt al-Maqdis in Sinai, he said. The arc of crisis from the Afghan-Pakistan region to Africa now extends to Europe and Asia.
Other factors include a lack of European solidarity and war in the Middle East while Russia, a nuclear power, rearms itself, he said. A “strategic patience” is needed, balancing international and national inertia and the impatience of public opinion.
Separately, the chief of the Defense Staff, Army Gen. Pierre de Villiers, said in a Jan. 20 article in daily Le Monde that winning a war called for winning the peace, and that requires political stability and economic support for the local population after combat ends.