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French Arms Industry - Post-World War II

France's military-industrial partnership dates from 1936, when legislation gave the state the authority to nationalize certain private arms-producing industries. The way in which the state could do this was via outright annexation of a firm, resulting in direct control, or purchase of a percentage of stock in the company. Recognizing the need to compete with more industrially powerful rivals, France sought a centrally controlled arms industry that did not inhibit the spirit of free enterprise.

During the Cold War France took special pride in its national defense industry. Independent of NATO, France equipped its armed forces largely from indigenous capabilities, to include its prestigious nuclear force. In the process, the French defense industrial base developed several leaders in global defense technology. The Direction Generale de l’Armament (DGA) is responsible for all French armament programs. It controls all research, development, and production. It also does its own research and development for all military services and monitors the activities of both nationalized and private firms involved in the armament process.

Traditionally, the armaments industry has been an important instrument of France's national strategy. In order to maintain its position as a world power France has felt it necessary to maintain a strong, diverse armaments industrial base. With this need as its major justification the French armaments industry has come to be characterized by many factors revolving around one central concept: the preeminent role of the State.

Although France produced about 90 percent of its own armament requirements, the defense industry also exports to more than 25 countries. Arms exports have traditionally played a broad role in French foreign policy. They are one method that France has traditionally used to assert its defense and diplomatic independence. During the Cold War, French arms exports also were viewed as contributing to the reduction of the dependence of the recipients on armaments from either the United States or the Soviet Union. Finally, arms exports are viewed as means of sustaining the French defense industrial base so that it can provide an indigenous capability to meet the needs of the French armed forces. Within France, there traditionally has been a broad multi-party consensus favoring arms exports.

In 1997 France developed a new strategic plan for arms exports. That plan contained four main guidelines: focused effort on areas where real possibilities exist as well on emerging markets; the primacy of the DGA as the main organization for government support to export activities; optimization of financial support; and streamlining of export control procedures. France also initiated a concerted effort to establish a position in the market for second-hand armaments, which is viewed to be a market entry strategy leading to new products.

France is especially focused on the Middle East and North African markets, viewing these to be a window of opportunity as countries in those strategically important regions are moving to replenish their first line equipment. They may see France as an attractive alternative to sole dependence on the United States with its export control policies and potentials for supply interruption to support US foreign policy.

Although the French government heavily endorses the export market, France also maintains a series of export controls that require industry to receive approval at the time of initiating formal contact with potential customers, at the opening of negotiations, at the signing of a contract, and before equipment can be physically exported. Export controls procedures are executed by the Ministry of Defense, although the Minister of Economics authorizes the physical shipment in conjunction with the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Relations.

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Page last modified: 01-05-2013 19:11:57 ZULU