“Iraq first, France next!” once read bumper stickers and t-shirts calling for the United States to invade France after the government of former President Jacques Chirac opposed, along with Germany, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Given the situation today, it’s almost impossible to find an analyst who’d dare to say Chirac was wrong. 12 years later, the context in Iraq has dangerously worsened and the “Old Europe” nation of so-called “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” which has lost 1,950 million men in the two World Wars and 75,581 more in Indochina (that included Vietnam in the early 1950s) has become the second most-engaged military power on the front against terrorism around the globe.
In addition to its major ongoing operations in Mali and Chad (Operation Barkhane), and the Central African Republic (Operation Sangaris), France has sent the most important European military force to Iraq against ISIS, deploying its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle along with around 20 fighter jets and one SSN (Operation Chammal). For the last 8 years, France has become more and more hawkish, to the point that it was fully ready to air-strike the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in August 2013 just hours before US President Barack Obama finally renounced for his part.
Whatever the doubts one can have about such posture, France has been the most active western military force, second to the US; and has progressively emerged, though a member of NATO, as the credible and independent line of defense for the European continent. Sounding like a confirmation, French President François Hollande reaffirmed on February 20, 2015 the relevance and autonomy of his country’s nuclear “force de frappe”, saying that “in a dangerous world – and it is – France does not intend to lower its guard,” and stressing France’s solidarity with its European neighbors in case their vital interests were at stake. France has also played recently a prominent role in seeking a diplomatic solution for the Ukrainian conflict.
Beyond the imperative of having the means of defending itself, France’s current military engagement could also reveal long-term ambitions in the Middle East since the United States has been rebalancing its strategic posture to Asia. According to the Power Index 2013, France was ranked the 4th most powerful country in the world, preceded by the United States, China and Russia respectively. With 65 million citizens and a 550,000 km² territory, France still remains the 2nd world’s most capable power in military and diplomatic terms. Not bad for cheese-eating monkeys that actually don’t surrender.