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"Who dares to win? »

Cahiers de la pensée mili-Terre n° 42
General tactics
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In military history as in its mythology, daring is a virtue. Praised in unit mottos or emphasized as a quality that characterizes non-standard leaders, it seems anachronistic in many ways today. In this article, the author questions - with regard to the nature of the commitments, the stakes and the general functioning of the military institution - the topicality and relevance of audacity as a military virtue in the current context.

Between prudence and temperance [1]: can the military leader of the 21st century still have character? Can he still be daring in both meanings of the term?[2]

Thinking outside the box, with selflessness and conviction, is a necessity; being courageous, physically and intellectually, is a duty. While the evolution of society tends to make these values anachronistic, it takes a strong character today to bring them to life.

Judiciarization, the "zero death" concept, the dictatorship of public opinion... are all factors that inhibit military leaders today. In the field of operations first of all, the legal and media environment can have the effect of "paralysing" decision-makers at all levels. Under unavoidable pressure from the media, they will potentially have to account for their choices before the courts, or justify themselves according to the erratic emotions of public opinion. The judicial consequences of the Uzbeen ambush thus marked the beginning of a new era in this field. At a time when the nation is still hesitating whether to make heroes or victims of its operational deaths, taking a risk in an operational setting can have judicial repercussions for a leader.

Moreover, the nature of the missions assigned to the armed forces can amplify this phenomenon of inhibition. In so-called "interposition" operations in particular, political and military objectives sometimes appear to be contradictory[3]. 3] For example, a military deployment to an external theatre may be politically endorsed - for diplomatic, humanitarian or simply to please thepublic opinion... - without, however, the expected effects on the ground being clear, on the one hand, nor that losses in this undertaking are "acceptable", on the other.

Internal and external multiplying factors accentuate this natural slope.

In the first place, the "temptation to centralise" is always present in operational command structures due to the performance of modern communication means. The latter allow a wider sharing of information and a precise monitoring of operations. Unfortunately, they also appear to be a means of bypassing the various layers of the hierarchy. Insidiously, initiative and audacity are gradually disappearing in favour of meticulous reporting torespond to a "short reins" command [4] at the strategic level.

Secondly, the aftershocks of the trauma experienced by the armies at the time of the Algerian war still shape relations between politicians and the military today.

Let us recall in this respect - as a warning - Pierre Rocolle's analysis, questioning the dismissal of 162 generals at the beginning of the Great War. According to him, the politicisation of the high military hierarchy, following the Dreyfus affair, is one of the major causes of the shortcomings of the high command at the beginning of the conflict. "As advancement had systematically pushed aside generals reputed to be clerical in favour of those who had given guarantees of republicanism, competence was being eroded in favour of political criteria. The newcomers were gaining ground by going to make inventories" [5].

There is however no fatality in this matter. Every day, the French military demonstrates both that danger is not an obstacle to action, and that they know how to break the traditional lines of thought to make bold tactical and strategic choices.

In the conduct of war, recklessness remains a requirement.

In spite of the "heavier" weighting of the combatant with increasingly sophisticated means, the multiplication of support (ground or air), or the precision of intelligence, the soldier's warrior qualities remain fundamental. The harshness of the fighting in the Adrar des Ifoghas in Mali in 2013, or the Libyan campaign against the Gaddafi regime, have highlighted the bravery of the French soldier in the face of danger. They also highlighted the ability of the command to make bold tactical choices to defeat the enemy, proof that the precautionary principle has not yet erased the notion of risk-taking. On the contrary, the latter is more than ever consubstantial with the profession of arms. "Combat in general and certain modes of action in particular require a high pace, boldness and calculated risk-taking, because they are likely to decide victory" [6].

Let us note in aside that the better the political objective is defined, the wider the freedom of action of the soldier, and thus his choices are uncomplexed.

In the conception of war, audacity remains a force

Operation Barkhane is a prime example of French creativity and singularity in the art of campaign management. Straddling five countries, with an area of operation whose expanse makes one dizzy (from Gibraltar to Suez), 3,000 men are involved in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. In cooperation with the national armies of the countries concerned (Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, Niger), in coordination with the international forces (MINUSMA), combining land and air capabilities with a degree of integration of the national armed forces of the countries concerned (Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina-Faso, Niger), and in coordination with the international forces (MINUSMA), the European Union is providing the necessary support to the fight against terrorism.The French Army conducts multiparty and autonomous operations, both security-related and "punch-up" type, to put pressure everywhere and at all times on armed terrorist groups.

Operation Barkhane represents a real challenge on all levels: operational, logistical, diplomatic and human. In its conception, it goes beyond preconceived schemes and frees itself from the seemingly insurmountable difficulties linked in particular to the immensity of the spaces.

In the organic field, to see further than the most realistic solution is a duty.

Who would have bet a few months ago on such an inflection in the downsizing provided for in the Military Planning Act (MPA)? The President of the Republic's arbitration in favour of the highest option defended by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA) was unexpected. In view of the difficulties caused by this decision, particularly in terms of recruitment and organisation, it is likely that the staffs themselves did not consider this option to be the most credible and realistic!

In "budgetary battles", the military commander must also think outside the box, having a strategic vision that goes beyond the simple figures of the moment.

Questioned on the supposed fatality that makes the French army always lagging behind in a conflict, General Georgelin recalled that this "responsibility is shared with the political leaders who have taken strategic and budgetary options. (...) The difficulty we are constantly facing: timetables. The duration of the construction of a military tool does not correspond to the speed with which one can change the diplomatic concept or political vision" [7]....

In times of peace, audacity is also a soul supplement which makes it possible to set a guideline beyond what seems achievable for the greatest number. It pays off when it is served by solid intellectual courage.

For an officer, it is a quality that is cultivated from initial training and is not reserved for wartime and exceptional circumstances. Current commitments, but also peacetime debates to varying degrees, give it its full place. Boldness is nourished by experience but is based on a solid foundation of convictions - geopolitical, strategic and moral - which enable the military leader to free himself from the agreed patterns to define his own course for the success of France's weapons. However, this aptitude cannot be revealed without a very marked strength of character, which allows one to think differently by freeing oneself from the inhibiting factors specific to the current model of society.

In the final analysis, to have a sense of daring is to reject outright Jacques Attali's definition of it: "Daring can be the height of stupidity. It is a word I am wary of, a word I avoid. It is one of those hollow words that do not mean much... Daring is the courage of fools" (Speech given by Jacques Attali at the 2014 edition of the Cité de la Réussite).

[1] General Eric Bonnemaison, "You, this future officer", third part.

2] The Larousse defines boldness both as a character trait (boldness without limits), and as an attitude (that of someone who despises the limits imposed by propriety, commonly accepted rules).

[3 ] John Warden, "Planning for combat»

[4] "directive"

[5 ] Pierre Rocolle, "The hecatomb of the generals»

[6 ] Colonel Philippe Cholous, "The essential philosophy of military command"...A Genuine Relationship to Death...

7] Le Figaro, Interview by Etienne de Montety, 12 July 2008.

Saint-cyrien of the promotion General Vanbremeersch (2001-2004), the DIAS Squadron Leader served seven years in the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment before joining the Army Staff in 2012. He is currently attending the Advanced Command and Staff Course in Shrivenham (Great Britain).

Title : "Who dares to win? »
Author (s) : le Chef d’escadrons Bertrand DIAS