The singularity of the military lies in its raison d’être: to wage war in order to guarantee France survives an existential threat.
To this end, the armed forces are alone in having limitless power to use deliberate force and to kill, if that is what the mission requires. This is what distinguishes them from law enforcement agencies who use force strictly in proportion to the risks incurred and who are constrained by the notion of self-defense.
This military singularity is based on several fundamental principles.
Discipline: The armed forces are the strength of the nation, and it is out of the question that one should be able — for even a second — to suspect them of wishing to become emancipated from legitimate political power. They are therefore strictly and totally subordinated to this political power, the delegatee of national sovereignty.
As a counterpart to this subordination, the armed forces must be involved in making the decisions that they will implement under strong ethical requirements and with the knowledge that they may pay with their blood. Moreover, this very strict subordination to political power means they must also be perfectly neutral, both philosophically and politically.
Responsiveness and availability: Together these must ensure that any form of surprise — the very essence of war — is averted. Nuclear deterrence is therefore the most successful expression of military singularity, notably because it is based on an operational organization and culture that guarantees its absolute responsiveness.
The capacity for independent action: On the battlefield, an army must have every skill at its disposal so that it can conduct its mission, including in a totally disorganized environment. It cannot count on the services of the state and must therefore have on hand the whole range of professions it needs to carry out its mission, including those that might seem quite far removed from the implementation of force.
If we relate this autonomy to reactivity, then the question arises of conferring the former in peacetime in order to guarantee the latter when the army needs to engage.
Ethics: At the moment they commit the most extreme act possible — taking life — soldiers must be able to find support in high ethical standards and a corpus of values. More broadly, this is what constitutes a military culture, shared by all civilian and military personnel in the armed forces.
Based on these principles, military singularity is expressed in many ways. Beyond the rules of status or pay, which first come to mind, it is notably the modes of operation, structuring and organization that singularize our armed forces. This notably involves subsidiarity; the creation of intermediary echelons whose task is to synthesize and summarize data for subordinates; and the capacity of commanders, who hold all the levers for action, to respond as fast as possible to a crisis.
Military singularity today has been weakened by a certain number of changes: an organization and operational mode that gives preference to management over command; outsourcing; the adoption of civilian flow logic, including for vital functions; and the lack of reserves in military human resources.
These phenomena are obstacles to our full effectiveness.
We must consolidate military singularity by modernizing our defense tool into one that is capable of fighting in all fields, with sufficient mass, organization and depth of capabilities to allow it to assume all of its functions both in war and in crisis. This is the aim of the actions we are currently undertaking with the minister of the armed forces.
To meet the objective set by the president of the republic — that France should have “a comprehensive, modern, powerful, balanced defense tool, implemented by reactive armed forces looking to the future” — the Military Program Law 2019-2025 must allow us to repair our defense tool before the next military program law modernizes it. We are working to restore the foundations of an organization and a culture compatible with the purpose of armed forces: to guarantee the survival of the nation in the face of an existential threat, in a world marked by uncertainty and a return of tragedy.
Gen. Francois Lecointre is the chief of the French Defence Staff.