For a few days, a form of opposition seemed to be displayed between Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic and therefore Chief of the Armed Forces, and General Pierre de Villiers, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (CEMA), it is say the highest placed in the French military hierarchy outside the gendarmerie. There was talk of dismissing the CEMA, the decision should be made public by the end of the week and, finally, we learn this morning that the general has chosen to resign. The reason ? In committee, Pierre de Villiers sharply criticized new budget cuts and highlighted their inevitable impact on the operational capability of the forces. Let us add that the criticism was made in terms which made its public dissemination inevitable.

Of course, that a country, hit by terrorism and plagued by networks of fanatics and criminals with weapons of war, chooses to reduce its defense budget at the same time as it prepares to finance the Olympic Games leaves pensive. But without even talking about the appropriateness of the budgetary choices, the analysis of such a situation must go beyond the classic “submit or resign”, in particular because it concerns a high-ranking soldier.

The "Wonderful Trinity"

At first glance, obviously, an army commander cannot afford to see his decisions publicly challenged by one of his senior subordinates. Any crack between the state and the armed forces would be a weakness that our enemies will be tempted to exploit. Clausewitz theorized it with the formula of the "marvelous trinity", a triangle whose vertices are the army, the government and the people who must be united to ensure the robustness of a nation. Before him, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and many others had also analyzed it.

The responsibility for this harmonious union does not fall, however, solely on the military, and their duty of reserve is preceded and supplanted by a duty of loyalty – it is still necessary to know towards whom, or what.

A soldier is subject to exorbitant constraints of common law because his functions are themselves and by nature non-standard, ie outside common standards. Although the necessities of war do not give all the rights, without which war is no longer just a drama but becomes a monstrosity, the usual law cannot apply as it is to situations of war.

Macron is not Caesar

Soldiers risk their lives in combat, but that is not their specificity. Police officers, firefighters, first aiders among others may also risk their lives in the performance of their duty. But only soldiers are led to kill within the framework of their missions (excluding self-defence). Their head, the CEMA, is therefore not an administrative director like the others.

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To whom should his loyalty go and, with it, that of all soldiers? To the president? In government? In the state ? To the nation? To the French people? To all the inhabitants of France? To France itself, or to “a certain idea of ​​France”?

No offense to Emmanuel Macron, it was not for him that Pierre de Villiers had to order the men and women under his command to risk their lives or take those of their enemies. Their loyalty should not be to him. Even elected, no one can declare himself Caesar, only the being. And the Emperor himself had to serve Rome.

Sovereignty belongs to the people

As our constitution affirms, sovereignty belongs to the people. It is therefore him, and him alone, that the armies must serve, obeying the decisions of his legitimate representatives, namely parliamentarians.

However, if this loyalty imposes to submit even to the budgetary decisions, it also imposes to inform the Parliament as honestly as possible of the foreseeable consequences of the decisions that it projects, so that these are lucid and assumed.

Furthermore, subject to not making sensitive information public and therefore accessible to our enemies, this same duty of loyalty requires the military to inform all citizens as clearly as possible about the consequences of political choices in terms of Defense. Our soldiers are experts in their field. Of course, technical expertise should not replace democratic debate or political choice – in the noble sense of the term. But it must fuel the debate, it must be an element of political reflection and decision-making. To deprive oneself of it, as we have done too much, leads to discussing positions of principle without knowledge of operational realities. The cases of Libya and Syria are disastrous examples. Emmanuel Macron, ex-minister of a president wanting to form an alliance with what is now the Islamic State for fight Bashar al-Assad, should know…

You can't blame Pierre de Villiers for anything

What right, then, to reproach the CEMA for having given the sovereign people and their representatives the means to decide in conscience and with full knowledge of the facts?

It will be objected that General Pierre de Villiers was also a senior civil servant, bound by this fact to another duty of loyalty towards his administration. That's true, but to stop there would be to ignore another specificity of the military state: the strict limits imposed on the freedom of association.

Let's be clear: many of the recent CEMA statements would not have shocked anyone if they had come from a union official. But the military do not have unions, and are not allowed to have one.

Should we therefore give up informing the citizens of the state of our armed forces other than through the official declarations of the ministry and the agreed answers to parliamentary questions? No, because a simple solution exists.

Let the great mute speak

Recently, the military have the right to establish professional associations, but they only gather for the moment a small percentage of our soldiers.

However, the military also have “staff representatives”, called consultation advisors, some of whom sit on national councils called Military Service Councils (CFM).

Contrary to full-time trade union delegates, they essentially continue to exercise their operational functions, and cannot therefore become “advocacy professionals” with a more or less veiled political agenda. In addition, they represent all of their comrades, and not just potential members. Among the armies, the Gendarmerie went even further to recognize their legitimacy and chose to have them elected by their peers. Where the hierarchy carries the official word of the armies, these CFM, composed of soldiers of all ranks and all specialties, carry the word of the soldiers. And as a social body, paying the price of blood for the security of all, they cannot continue to be excluded from the democratic debate.

Alas! To date, the CFMs are only supposed to formulate opinions on statutory and military condition issues. The organization and employment of the forces are excluded from their theoretical field of competence, and they are only informed of budgetary matters. Above all, whatever their opinions, they cannot make them freely known through the press. These therefore remain without effect on public opinion and the electorate, and therefore have a limited impact on elected officials...

The military, full citizens

Chief of the Armed Forces, Emmanuel Macron is entitled to demand from his strategic collaborators a sincere adherence to his decisions and the absence of public criticism. However, he cannot wait for the CEMA to condone shameless lies about the situation of our armed forces and our defense capability.

The choice of General de Villiers is honourable, skilful, and undoubtedly a choice of the heart. When he had just been reappointed for a year, he was asked to approve a major budgetary degradation. How to accept it without having the feeling of having been bought, and trapped? Rather than ending his career by bending over a decision he considers unfair, which would have betrayed both his subordinates and the very reasons for his commitment to military service, he decided to get out of it by high, with panache, to alert public opinion and leave.

This choice, too, forces Emmanuel Macron to very quickly clarify his position vis-à-vis the military. He cannot afford to send them the signal that they are "just good enough to keep quiet", sent to the front in the name of a population that knows nothing of what they are going through and refuses even to be told. . It must recognize them as full citizens, which is a necessary condition for the cohesion between the armies and the nation, more necessary than ever.

We must quickly give the military community the means to bring its expertise to the public debate, in a factual manner, without partisanship or controversy. The means, in short, to account sincerely and loyally to the sovereign people.

And the best solution to achieve this would be to finally grant total freedom of expression to the Councils of the Military Service of our various armies.

Article updated on 19/07/17 at 12:00 p.m.