Bruno Tertrais – Abroad: more strategic

LAre foreign departments and regions (Drom) and foreign collectives (COM) a burden for France? Considering the cost of financial support to our country for this imperial candy, some may think so (“Our nation is an archipelago”Emmanuel Macron said on January 20) or the weight represented in some of them by the fight against human trafficking and illegal immigration.

97% of France’s MEB

And yet, the results remain positive. France’s presence abroad will increase on the 21ste century is a strategic value for our country. We know the strengths that make France a world-class power: it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it has nuclear weapons and military projection capabilities, it also exports high technology, etc. Droms and COMs contribute to this status.

By its mere existence, France borders 22 countries and is present in all oceans (except the Arctic) starting with 51.e 28 north parallele south parallel. It has the world’s second largest exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after the United States, with an area of ​​about 11 million square kilometers. Thus, 97% of this EEZ is available due to Drom and COM.

Its maritime area is growing further thanks to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of ​​Montego Bay, ratified by Paris in 1996, which allows Member States to claim an extension of their rights on continental shelves. In 2015, four decrees formalized the first extension of 579,000 square kilometers of the French continental shelf near the Antilles, Guyana, New Caledonia and Kerguelen Islands. In 2021, thanks to the new boundaries of the Reunion continental shelf and the archipelago of Saint-Paul and Amsterdam islands, France’s landmass has increased by 150,000 square kilometers. At the beginning of 2023, four files – Crozet Islands, Wallis-and-Futuna, Polynesia and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon – remained on hold for 500,000 square kilometers.

A magnificent military fortune…

Dromes and COMs are a great asset in monitoring the activities of non-allied nations and performing freedom of navigation missions. Including the Mozambique Channel, an important shipping route. Military bases abroad are permanently home to so-called sovereignty forces: a total of 8,500 are distributed between Guyana, Réunion and Mayotte, New Caledonia, the West Indies and Polynesia. They make it possible to quickly withdraw forces to the crisis zone. Or hosting large rehearsals. And, of course, facilitating the state’s missions, from combating human trafficking and illegal immigration to humanitarian aid and medical evacuation. According to a parliamentary report, the annual cost varies between 700 and 900 million euros.

READ ALSOMayotte, the French nightmare

Due to the great geographical diversity of the dromes and COMs, scientific missions and expeditions on biodiversity (80% of which constitute territories foreign to France), the seabed or climate change are facilitated there. This thin slice of Antarctica claimed by France, including Adelie Land. Finally, of course, the Kurou base in Guyana, Europe’s Cape Canaveral, is a key asset with its ideal location: near the equator and not too exposed to natural risks.

… and demographics

Overseas territories account for 18% of France’s territory and only 4% of its population. Taken as a whole – Mayotte is growing, the West Indies are aging – their population is fairly stable, around 3 million people. But this population will increase proportionately in the coming decades due to the likely stagnation of the metropolitan population in the central UN scenario. After 2030, the coastal areas will allow France to exceed 70 million people and stay at that level. This would allow it to maintain a population equal to its larger neighbours: in 2070 it would have a population of 69.9 million, with 3.3 million abroad, compared with 76.4 million in Germany and 75.8 million in the UK.

When it comes to resources, beyond agricultural wealth (bananas, sugarcane, etc.) and mining (nickel, etc.), it is important to understand how active the sea area may have been at the beginning of the era. coming from the seas and oceans will become increasingly important. One thinks not only of galeutic resources and aquaculture, but also of the potential of the seabed.

Protected but desirable areas

At this stage, we preferred conservation over exploitation. The government ended the search for offshore hydrocarbon deposits in 2020. Mining projects sometimes clash with local activists (Montagne d’or in French Guiana). First of all, he chose the support of France “Prohibition of any exploitation of the deep seabed”. The consensual nature of this choice was confirmed by the resolution announced by the National Assembly on January 17. “Support a ban on deep-sea deep-sea mining under a moratorium, until it can be proven by independent scientific groups and with confidence that this mining activity can be carried out without disrupting marine ecosystems or losing marine biodiversity. “.

The future will show whether this position stems from the foresight that allows us to preserve the heritage of humanity, or the ideological blindness that damages our economy. In any case, the potential of the foreign territories can only be preserved and exploited if Paris controls its sovereignty over these territories. Apart from the hypothetical desire of the local population (New Caledonia) for independence, greed will abound. The presence of France in remote strategic areas explains the number of territorial disputes it has with some of its neighbors, especially Canada (the delimitation of EEZs in a fish-rich area) and the Indian Ocean: Scattered islands are claimed by our neighbors (Madagascar, Mauritius, Comoros). Therefore, in 2020, we could see the President of the Republic set foot there for the first time…

Strengthening security is a must

Some people sometimes worry about a Falklands-type scenario where a major power tries to take over French territory. The probability of such a scenario is almost nil, no offense to those who imagine that “Bolsonarian” Brazil wants to take over Guyana. More worrisome is the prospect of China expanding its influence in the Indo-Pacific region and undermining French sovereignty there.

ARCHIVEOn the (re)conquest of the Indo-PacificEmmanuel Macron said it on the spot in 2021: “One day you cannot be French and one day Chinese. » He mentioned the fate of the Indian and Pacific Droms and COMs several times while welcoming the armies that presented the main lines of the next military programming bill. “Increasingly exposed” and “front row” emerging strategic competition. It is not only Beijing that is interested in us “constellation” seafaring – a term proposed by Mr Macron during his swearing-in to the armies.

We have recently seen Iranian military installations in Polynesian waters… Equally concerning are the activities of organized or non-state actors adopting predatory behavior (fishing) or using the web of state presence for various purposes. illegal activities (trafficking, piracy).

The existing apparatus of forces is thus called for strengthening. This is an emergency: the equipment there is often outdated or broken. The first step: deploying six new foreign patrol vessels with increased autonomy and able to meet NATO standards. In January he set out on his first voyage to reach Noumea, New Caledonia; the second will join Tahiti in 2024. Drom and COM, as the President of the Republic said on January 20. “A great asset and a great responsibility”.

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