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Don’t worry about the French military

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Open letters warning of civil war don’t represent the rank and file, which remains apolitical and committed to their jobs.

Jérôme Pellistrandi is a retired French general and chief editor at the magazine Revue Défense Nationale.

PARIS — A pair of open letters has caused media frenzy in France. Signed by members of the armed forces and warning of civil war, these interventions into the public debate have raised the specter in some quarters of military interference in the political process — a phenomenon not unheard of in post-war France.

These concerns are overblown. While some members of the military have clearly — and consciously — shrugged off their obligation to political neutrality, their actions are not representative of the vast majority of the French rank and file, which remains professional, apolitical and committed to doing their jobs.

The letters, published in a right-wing magazine, warn of “civil insurrection” and criticize what they describe as government “laxism” toward Islamism. Published as the country enters a heated campaign season ahead of a presidential election next year and quickly picked up by politicians, they have highlighted and amplified the tensions that fracture French society today.

The form, substance and timing has fanned further alarm. The first letter, signed by a group of retired general and soldiers, was published on April 21, which happened to be the 60th anniversary of a failed putsch intended to stop President Charles De Gaulle from pulling out of Algeria — leading many in the media to make simplistic and inaccurate parallels.

The second letter, published on May 9, was attributed to active-duty soldiers who had served in Mali, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic and in domestic counter-terrorism operations.

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But while the authors may be members of the military, there’s no reason to believe they have more expertise than any other citizens on the subjects they are warning about. Their field of competence is operating in a rapidly changing strategic environment — not the intricacies of internal security policy.

Indeed, the debate the letters have provoked so far has ultimately undermined the intentions of the authors, who wanted to spark a debate about French values and divisions in society — not the proper role of the military in society.

In limiting the signatories to soldiers or former soldiers, with no representation from civil society, they were bound to provoke a strong reaction, to the detriment of the military. That decision also gave the impression in the media that the authors were speaking for the armed forces, while the subsequent debate has exposed a clear rift between their views and those of the vast majority serving today.

To the contrary, the calls to order from political leaders like the prime minister and the minister for the armed forces were more necessary to douse the fires being lit by their politicians than any sense of mutiny in the ranks.

The letters generated very little excitement among the rank and file, who clearly didn’t recognize themselves in the signatories. With regard to the first letter especially, there’s a clear generational divide, with military attitudes having much evolved since the President Jacques Chirac ended conscription to create a modern, professional military in 1966.

France’s military today is more diverse than it has ever been, with significant recruitment from all walks of life. This “melting pot” is a success and a legitimate source of pride for our forces, allowing everyone to find their place in uniform. This characteristic, built on the notion of “esprit de corps,” has accumulated in recent years, as the military was called to deploy overseas.

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None of this means the military can remain complacent. With the presidential campaign just beginning, it will be important that military leaders underline that the armed forces are at the service of France. This will mean an acceptance among serving and retired members of the military of rules limiting their expression, without preventing them from participating in the debate on the future of our country. That too is a way they can serve our country.

Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/french-military-letter-civil-war-france/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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