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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Thawing Ice and French Foreign Policy: A Preliminary Assessment
While literature on defense and security issues in the Arctic remains very limited in France,
well-known French analysts Richard Labévière and François Thual (2008) were inspired by
the 2007 Russian flag-planting incident to write a preliminary strategic assessment on the
emerging ‘geo-strategic’ situation in the Arctic. In their book entitled “
La bataille du Grand
Nord a commencé
” (2008,
The Battle for the Great North has Begun
), Labévière and Thual draw
interesting conclusions, arguing that the Arctic region is a highly sensitive strategic space
where regional and external state actors have now engaged in a race for natural resources. In
their view, the Arctic is undergoing a geo-strategic shift where states are aiming to control
new maritime routes. Thus the rush for northern maritime spaces is redefining shipping
patterns and creating lucrative opportunities for TNCs. While we do not imply that their
analysis has any direct influence on French policymakers, it is interesting to point out for this
assessment their views that often correspond with an alarmist evaluation of the evolving
the Arctic region. Differing perspectives are hard to find in French
Labévière and Thual’s assessment portrays the Arctic in a way that, for a nuclear and
maritime power like France, is almost impossible to ignore. Their perception of an
increasingly “unstable” vast maritime zone with bordering nuclear/G8 states (Russian
Federation; United States) surely has the potential to influence agenda setters and policy
makers in Paris (indeed Brussels). If not, it has an analytical merit – through its authors’
standing – to attract serious attention from the highest levels of government. Since 2007,
observers have noted, “France in particular has publicly stated its intentions to provide its
military with some Arctic capabilities” (Huebert et al., 2012: 21). And if France decides to
modify its strategic posture in the Arctic, this will certainly have implications on its foreign
policy and for international affairs.
Considering the growing strategic value given to the Arctic over the past years, the French
Ministry of Defense (
Ministère de la Défense
) began to look at the Arctic differently with
corresponding (albeit preliminary) policy orientations. Since March 2009, French infantry
battalion members have partaken in Norwegian-led multinational ‘Cold Response’ exercises
that involve several thousand soldiers from NATO countries. These invitational exercises
have been taking place in the counties of Norway’s Nordland and Troms (2006, 2007, 2009,
2010, 2012). The 2012 edition included over 16,000 soldiers from 14 states, of which 420