French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday announced the creation of a space force command within the French Air Force, turning the country’s air force into an “aerospace force.”
Analysts remarked that President Macron’s announcement on the eve of the Bastille Day, national day of France, increased the international community’s worries about the arms race in space－an “invisible frontline.”
So, what factors drove France to form its military space forces?
As planned, the space force command will temporarily operate as the commanding body of a branch under the French Air Force, and uniformly command all relevant space units and detachments under the French Ground Force, Navy and Air Force. The ultimate goal is to form an independent military Space Force. This is similar to the US Space Force.
According to Chen Yadong, an associate researcher with the War Studies College of Chinese PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences, the US factor is just the “catalyst” for France’s plan to create a space force.
As an old saying goes, “one falling leaf is indicative of the coming of autumn.” France’s attempt to establish a space defense mechanism indicates its concern about the current and future security situations. As a NATO member, France has long been reliant on the common security and defense services provided by the US under the framework of NATO.
However, in recent years, the US repeatedly required its European allies such as France and Germany to increase their defense spending shares in NATO. Moreover, the US and the EU have profound differences on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal and trade friction.
“Recent moves of the US government have brought unprecedented uncertainties and insecurity to its NATO allies,” explained Chen. As a major European country with a long history of independent diplomacy, France has been aware that it cannot rely on NATO or its allies, but itself, to guarantee its “space security.
As a major space power, France has long worried about its space security. As early as 2012, the country had already realized risks in space security and incubated the idea to integrate “invisible frontlines” on internet and space, but no practical actions were taken back then.
In August 2015, Russian Air Force and Russian Aerospace Defense Forces were merged into the Russian Aerospace Forces, becoming one of the three major branches of the Russian military alongside the Army and the Navy.
In June 2018, US President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon to establish a space force command responsible for unified command of US military operations in space.
Realizing that France lagged behind Russia and the US in the field of space defense, Macron stated in a speech in July 2018 that France needed to formulate its own space defense strategy, and directed Florence Parlee, French Minister of the Armed Forces, to draft out a plan for outer space defense strategy.
Macron’s move to form a “space force” aims to enable France to rank among major space military powers and lead in space defense in the future. In addition, this move also intends to urge Europe to forge its own defense capacity, thus gaining another security shelter apart from NATO.
Chen pointed out that Macron’s true intention lies in reducing France’s reliance on US defense services and building Europe’s own military forces. In November 2018, Macron publicly called for establishing a “true European army,” which won support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
France and Germany are planning to create a “European joint force,” with an aim to increase their voice in international affairs. However, due to fund shortage, the plan is rather difficult to carry out.
Whether creating a French “space force” or establishing a “European joint force” with Germany, both demonstrate Macron’s intents to reduce France’s reliance on the US and his strategic ambition to make France an important polar in the world.
As Brexit seems inevitable, France and Germany become “new leaders” of Europe. Both countries show a strong discontent to the Trump administration’s “America First” policy. In this context, strengthening independence becomes an inevitable choice for them.
However, reality is far from expectation. Considering the huge financial and manpower investment needed to carry out various kinds of space operations, the plan to build a “space force” has aroused wide doubts in France.
Moreover, it remains uncertain whether the US will sit idly, watching Europe achieve defense independence. Nevertheless, France’s move indicates an escalation in the militarization and space.
How to more rationally and peacefully use space－a common wealth shared by the whole mankind－has become a question worth pondering over by all countries in the world.