Admiral Bernard Rogel
In 2013, France released a new version of its White Paper on Defense and National Security. This review of defense policy takes into account future challenges lying at sea and the fact that the oceans are more than ever a strategic space.
The first of these challenges is the sharp rise in transportation of goods by sea, which now represents 90 percent of the European Union’s overall commercial exchanges. Our economies have become totally dependent on the sea lanes. This comes with three issues. The first is maintaining freedom of access to maritime spaces in a context where threats such as piracy or terrorism become more pressing. Second is a growing requirement to address maritime security, especially considering that the size of most modern ships is unprecedented. Finally, rogue organizations have adapted to the freedom of movement that maritime spaces offer, using them for the profit of their own activities, such as narco-trafficking, weapons smuggling, and illegal immigration.
The second challenge is the fact that natural resources drawn from land tend to expire. By contrast, new technologies allow us to reach out to new resources at sea: deep oil fields, metals, and renewable marine energies and fishing. For France, which holds the world’s second-largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with 6.8 million sqaure miles, there is a need to protect these resources from unauthorized use. At the other extreme is a tendency to set new borders at sea and to restrict access to maritime spaces to establish full control on new resources. A paradox emerges between the requirement for freedom of movement at sea and this new trend of closing down maritime spaces. It is likely that this rising contradiction will lead to future friction.
The third challenge is that maritime spaces remain a means to access areas of crisis. They allow for stationing close to areas of interest and for quick reaction when required.
Some countries clearly understand these challenges and are developing powerful navies with extended capabilities. For France the challenge will be to maintain a high-seas navy capable of operating at all times, all over the world, for missions extending from maritime security to defense, both low and high intensity. It must also continue to partner with other navies in order to contribute to regional security wherever required.