France under fire for arms shipments to Ukraine

France under fire for arms shipments to Ukraine


France has repeatedly been targeted by critics for its weaker military support to Ukraine compared to allies, but officials and experts say capacity rather than political will is at the root of the differences.

According to an August ranking by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, France is in 11th place worldwide with 233 million euros in military aid, well behind the USA (25 billion euros), Great Britain (4 billion euros) and Poland (1.8 billion euros).

Even neighboring Germany, historically suspicious of military entanglements after World War II, pledged more than four times as much as France.

Such rankings “do not fully reflect reality,” the Department of Defense told AFP news agency, because they “only take into account what was promised, not what was actually delivered.”

Additionally, some countries may only report arms shipments as military aid, while others may include training or the cost of transporting ammunition.

Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu made a virtue of Paris’ “relative discretion” on Monday when he backed Kyiv in an address to MPs, saying that “France gave and supported Ukraine from the start”.

Deliveries known to the public include anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, armored personnel carriers, fuel, infantry equipment and towed artillery guns.

It has also dispatched 18 of its prized truck-mounted CAESAR cannons, capable of firing a highly accurate salvo at a range of up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) and changing position before the enemy locates them and fires back can .

President Emmanuel Macron told a European meeting in Prague on Thursday that France plans to deliver more mobile artillery pieces.

More weapons could be diverted from a Danish order to Ukraine, a source familiar with the deal told AFP.

– Limited capacity –

Initial fears that Russia’s arms shipments might label Ukraine’s supporters as belligerents have faded, said Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of France’s Institute for International and Strategic Studies (IRIS).

Meanwhile, Ukrainians have shown they can quickly learn to use Western-made weapons rather than using the Soviet stocks from former Warsaw Pact countries, which were prioritized at the start of the conflict.

But that leaves the fact that “the weapons that we have here at the ready are the weapons that are designed to ensure our national defense,” Matelly said.

“When we give them away, when we tap into our reserves, we give ourselves a big headache,” she added.

“It’s not a lack of political will, maybe it’s political prudence in terms of our own security, our own defense.”

Several senior French officers said that although Paris has increased military spending in recent years and is expected to reach 44 billion euros in 2023, its equipment stocks remain limited.

The handover of vital weapon systems like the CAESAR — the 18 delivered to Kyiv accounted for a quarter of France’s fleet of mobile artillery platforms — diminishes the army’s own ability to fight a high-intensity war now raging in Ukraine.

And with the war on the European Union’s doorstep, “we can’t compare (arms shipments from) France and the US,” Matelly said.

Washington “needs fewer weapons to directly defend its territory” rather than to protect its interests abroad, she added.

Despite far higher stockpiles and manufacturing capacity, US military leaders are “beginning to have concerns about arms reserves” given the amount being shipped to Ukraine and the parallel commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

– Complex production –

Modern weapons such as high-precision artillery pieces and missiles can take years to roll off the assembly line, especially with supply chain disruptions affecting specific parts and raw materials.

That means simply providing more money is not an immediate solution – although a parliamentary report published in February found that up to €6 billion would be needed to replenish France’s arsenals, far more than the €2 billion announced this week for 2023 were announced.

“We don’t have any significant reserves. At the heart of the talks (with the MoD) is how we can scale up the way we work and replenish our reserves as quickly as possible,” a French defense industry insider said on condition of anonymity.

“Deploying military capabilities means having the entire ecosystem that makes deployment possible,” Matelly said.

“It’s industry, it’s technology, human capital.”

Figures like French President Emmanuel Macron have pushed for greater defense integration between EU nations to stem the duplication that still characterizes member states’ armed forces and defense industries.

“It’s moving forward, progress is being made, but today we’re more in collaborative mode,” Matelly said, with further steps “requiring complete trust in your colleagues, and we’re a long way from that.”

More to explorer