WASHINGTON, June 26 (UPI) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a vision to protect France from nuclear ballistic missile attack, and he is determined to implement it.
Sarkozy's speech on defense strategy June 17 got little attention in the U.S. media, but it marked the most profound revolution in French strategic planning in more than 40 years.
Sarkozy channeled both the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in spelling out his vision of a transformed French armed forces that was far less troop-heavy and designed to react quickly and decisively, with state-of-the-art communications, weapons and transportation against threats both within Metropolitan France and far beyond.
Most of all, Sarkozy emphasized the importance of developing multilayered systems to defend France against ballistic missile attack, even if it were launched from thousands of miles away -- the most likely threat currently being Iran.
Sarkozy, as we noted in our companion BMD Watch column Tuesday, spelled out in considerable detail the kind of systems he wants to develop and deploy.
According to a report Thursday published by Defense Industry Daily, Sarkozy wants to have an effective orbiting BMD surveillance and early warning system operating by 2020 and a land-based system incorporating long-range radars with a range of up to 1,800 miles operating by as early as 2015.
Part of the great expense of these ambitious high-tech systems would be offset by sweeping cuts in manpower in the current French armed forces. Sarkozy said he would also seek to greatly boost France's cooperation in developing these systems with other nations in the European Union and the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Sarkozy in his speech drew upon and endorsed the conclusions of a high-level working group he appointed right after he entered office to reassess France's long-term military deployments, strategy and defense structures. The group also recommended retaining the Force de Frappe, the French nuclear strike force originally created by President Charles De Gaulle, founder of the French Fifth Republic, back in the 1960s.
Sarkozy's boldness and determination to create new defense structures and ambitious high-tech weapons development programs appears influenced by and seeking to follow the success of Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister of Japan from 2001 to 2006.
Like Sarkozy, Koizumi was a great admirer of heroic Western leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, and he was determined to revitalize the historic U.S.-Japanese alliance.
Like Sarkozy, Koizumi faced a government bureaucracy and long-established consensus on national security that emphasized diplomacy over weapons systems, but he overcame deep-rooted opposition to his ideas in both the Japanese official bureaucracy and among cautious old "gray men," the traditional leaders of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Koizumi also won the powerful support of Japan's major industrialists, who welcomed the new contracts and the injection of American advance military technology the new contracts brought with them.
Sarkozy's greatest problem will be the danger that the threats he seeks to protect his nation from may manifest themselves before his 2015 and 2020 deadlines.
However, Sarkozy's sense of determination and urgency were evident in his speech and in the detailed proposals produced by his working group that he is determined to implement.
If they can be successfully completed on schedule, France could be the first major Western European country to have its own major BMD system comparable with those being developed and deployed by the United States, Japan and Israel.
Next: The strengths and weaknesses of Sarkozy's plan