France Preps for Conflict in “Arctic Zone”

24 11 2010

Jean-Marie Collin

27e brigade d'infanterie de montagne

For reasons largely historical, the French presence is very important in the South Pole with different scientific bases and territories like Adelie land and Kerguelen islands. In the Arctic region, France has no territory, thus his presence is very low and only scientific (archipelago of Svalbard, with a permanent research base Jean-Corbel established in 1963). However various elements, shows that now, France is implied in the Arctic and are interested more and more, in the future political, environmental and military of this area

Seen of France, since long years, the Arctic zone appears very far and the reserved domain of the United States, Russia and Canada. However, due to the global warming and the new French position in different political and military organizations (NATO), it’s clear that France want to play a real role in the Arctic region (that’s why President Sarkozy appointed the former Prime Minister Michel Rocard as ambassador of Arctic and Antarctic zone) and will participate directly in this Arctic crisis (if it arrives) both as:

–          NATO member, France will be in the obligation (article 5, North Atlantic Treaty) to react, alongside its allies (Canada, Denmark, Norway, United States), against any military crisis: “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them”.

–          Member of the EU, the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty (entered into force on 1st December 2009) strengthens the defense and solidarity links among members of the EU (so between France and Denmark, only EU state to have Arctic territories). The treaty establishes, among Member States two new clauses: A mutual defense clause (article 42.7) in that it states if a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power”. The second clause is the solidarity clause (article 222) is applicable in relation to a crisis within the EU (so in Greenland[1]) if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack, victim of a natural disasters or a man-made disaster (like an oil spill caused by tanker accidents).

–          Nuclear Weapon State: this area is strategic for the French nuclear deterrence particularly for its submarine component. The Strategic Oceanic Force, comprises four nuclear submarines, though currently only three are operational (Le Triomphant, Le Téméraire, Le Vigilant) deploying nuclear missiles and also includes six Rubis class nuclear attack submarines. The Defense ministry recognized that each year, the French submarines carry out missions in Arctic.

As regarding the French military forces that could intervene in the Arctic zone, the Ministry of Defense has give details, following a question[2] (April 27th 2010, written parliamentary question) from MP Francois Cornut-Gentille on “French military capacities in Arctic and Antarctic”. He worried about the capacity and the means available to the French Army at a time when the two polar zones are becoming highly geostrategic places due to the global warming.

In its answer published June 22nd 2010, the Ministry of Defense indicates that “in its White Paper on Defense and National Security (published in 2008), the Government reaffirmed the vocation of France to permanently maintain a certain level of external action necessary to ensure the defense of its interests and assume its responsibilities”. This document defines the strategy of French military action. It is based on an “arc of crisis” which goes from the Atlantic to Central Asia. The Arctic and Antarctic zones are not explicitly indicated. However, the armed forces have got the know-how and the military capacities to intervene in extreme climatic conditions (like the Polar Regions) as shown in the minister’s answer:

–          The Army has an expertise named the “Great Cold” with the 6000 soldiers of the 27th brigade of infantry of mountains (27e BIM). It is based in Grenoble and soldiers are trained to operate in mountains and in extreme climatic conditions. This brigade regularly carries out a specific training in the areas close to the North Pole, in particular in Norway. In addition, it takes part, every two years, in the Norwegian exercise “Cold Response”, whose objectives are to include a tactical staff of 800 men operating with specific materials within the combat in Arctic zone. In addition, the High Mountain Military Academy at Chamonix has a specialized team in charge of trying out the new materials and the specific procedures in environment very cold.

–          The Air Force is accustom to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance mission in cold countries, which the temperatures are around -30 C, within the framework of its missions of the NATO. The last missions are: Iceland in 2008 and Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) in 2010 (name of the mission Air Baltic 2010). Moreover, every year, pilots carry out training courses of survival in polar conditions in Sweden, Finland and Norway.

–          Every year, the Navy realizes operational deployment of a unit of surface. Each new unit carries out a deployment in Arctic area before being allowed to be in active service (this is currently the case for the Frigate Chevalier Paul).

Thus, France currently has military capacities enabling it to intervene under the polar zones…

[1] Greenland is the only Danish territory that is included in the list of Overseas Countries and Territories associated to the European Union.






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