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French political and military circles regularly claim that the defence industry is an exemplary model of French excellence ; in their view, not only does it benefit the economy and society but it also contributes to national sovereignty. The defence strategy inaugurated at the beginning of the Fifth Republic relies on a strong arms industry to supply the French military with its weapons. However, in order to remain economically sound, the arms industry depends on the revenue generated by its export markets. Thus, France remains the third largest exporter of weapons and military equipment in the world.

Economic importance in terms of data

• The first argument put forward to justify the production of arms on French territory is the purported size of its contribution to the economy. To prove this claim it is therefore essential to be able to identify and quantify precisely the industry's importance compared to other sectors.
• The army budget is a national priority: it is constantly increasing in line with the 2019-2025 law on military budgets. In 2021, it will reach €39.2 billion (+ 4.5%).
• In France, the arms industry represented a turnover of €15 billion in 2007 and €23.8 billion in 2017, a relative modest amount compared to the agri-food sector valued at €180 billion in 2017.
• However, other important industries are suffering because they don't receive the same preferential treatment. According to Claude Serfati, a French economist and associate researcher at the IRES (Institute for Economic and Social Research), essential industries are facing a very difficult period: for example, jobs in metallurgy fell 25% between 2000 and 2017. The prioritisation of armaments over other industries has led to the continued decline of many French industries, so that armaments and aeronautics are now the last bastions of the national industrial fabric.

Transparency and politics

• The political issue: people on all sides of the political spectrum appear to agree on the supposed benefits of the arms industry without supporting evidence. The economic and social impacts of the military sector are hardly debated in the public arena and escape any scrutiny by the opposition.
• There is a strong consensus between the ruling left and right parties on military issues. Most other political parties, including the main opposition groups, endorse the same views, and there is very little political debate on the issue. However, in a democratic country, this question has its rightful place at the heart of public issues to be discussed.
• The public and media must have access to the information necessary for a democratic debate in order to fulfil its role in monitoring government actions. To understand the issues surrounding employment and the arms industry in France, it is necessary to be able to quantify them.
• However, it is difficult to obtain these figures, particularly because industry classifications specifically covering arms production does not exist as such. In statistical data, weapons production figures are divided between aeronautical, naval, space and other sectors which may include civilian products and employment. Hence it is impossible for analysts to verify the available published data without access to the original figures.
• Thus this lack of transparency and information on the real size of the French arms industry impedes any meaningful debate. The figures given by the Ministry of the Armed Forces, which seem to be conjured up without any precise scientific methodological basis, do not provide a credible account of reality.
• Even the 2021 report of the Cour des Comptes on the Ministry of Defence's 2020 budget pointed out this lack of transparency, particularly with regard to the origin and use of the funding of the Defence Innovation Fund, created in September 2020 by the Ministry of Defence.

Mapping French industry : social issues, access to employment

• Apart from any putative economic benefits being claimed for the arms industry, it is important to evaluate the armament sector in the wider context of its potential qualitative societal contribution. It is not a sector that provides civil society with positive sustainable outcomes, unlike education, for example, unless you count extremely expensive obsolete weapons as a long-lasting positive societal contribution. In these times of economic, social and health crises, it is clear that investing in these sectors would facilitate the objective of achieving a resilient and peaceful society.
• Arms production also raises a significant moral and ethical question ; employees should have the choice of whether or not to work in industries specialising in producing items that cause destruction and deaths. However, its dominance, which is thriving to the detriment of other decaying industrial sectors, sometimes makes them the only possible employment option for skilled workers.
• Moreover, parts of France are dominated by a single local industry and the armament programmes represent one of the few local employment opportunities. The fact that the only employment being offered entails contributing to conflicts and wars raises the question arises of whether or not citizens should have a choice of working in sectors which may be ethically repugnant? Surely such an option should be possible.

Security

• Another argument widely used to justify French arms production is its overriding
significance in terms of national security.
• Moreover, this vulnerability raises another fundamental question ; what does national security actually mean? In the context of a pandemic, can we really imagine a national future that does not prioritise the collective safety of its citizens over the unchallenged and vague notion of 'national security' ? Surely the intensification of climate, health, food and energy threats are clearly showing the limits of the current national security paradigm.

Rethinking employment in France

• A study by the US research centre, the Political Economy Research Institute, has demonstrated that the military- related industries create fewer direct jobs than do other sectors. For every dollar invested in education, 2.4 times more jobs are created than for every dollar invested in military spending. For every dollar invested in clean energy, 1.5 times more jobs are created than for every dollar invested in military spending. Investing in the educational and clean energy sectors therefore creates more jobs than does the defence industry.
• According to a study by the British NGO CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade), a potential alternative solution to employment creation would be to transform jobs in the arms industry into ones in renewable energy. These two sectors are industries that require highly skilled workers and are therefore comparable in terms of the skills and know-how required and can therefore be considered as areas of national excellence. Furthermore, French geographical diversity allows for different energy potentials to be exploited in terms of solar and wind power. This would enable French workers to contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable future rather than participate in an industry that produces death.
• The defence industry produces tools to kill and contributes to increased world insecurity. For example, Leclerc tanks made in Roanne were used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen against civilians. Allocating these funds to a more sustainable industry such as renewable energies would also enhance energy security by reducing greenhouse gases instead of fuelling insecurity and the dynamics of armed conflict.
Solutions exist. However, before any informed democratic policy debate can take place, it is essential to know precisely how big a sector the French arms industry actually represents; it is also essential to factor in economic and social benefits rather than focussing solely on a vague justification based on 'national security'. It is necessary to reformulate these policy questions and incorporate them into a public debate between citizens, parliamentarians, the military and the government. Such an approach is essential in order to guarantee not only French human security but also of the future safety of all human beings. The pandemic and climate change have shown us that human security encompasses global rather than just being limited national threats ; these are issues that weapons producers prefer to ignore.