We Need to Talk About France
On paper and in theory, one would think that a nation who love-hates NATO only slightly less than she love-hates the USA, and is always looking for an opportunity to - now that the UK yeet'd itself out of the EU - nudge Germany out of the way so she can be seen as THE leader of Europe, would take the lead in supporting Ukraine in the Russo-Ukrainian War.
Of course, I'm talking about France;
If France wants to lead Europe to a new era of military self-reliance, how come its contribution to the war effort in Ukraine is so small?
That is the awkward question being posed by some of the country's top strategic thinkers, who are pushing President Emmanuel Macron to make an urgent decision on more arms to Kyiv.
Recent analysis conducted on the ground in Poland and Ukraine shows that the French share of foreign arms deliveries is less than 2%, way behind the US on 49%, but also behind Poland (22%) and Germany (9%).
"I was concerned about the reliability of the statistics which showed France low on the list of contributing countries," says François Heisbourg, who is perhaps France's most influential defence analyst.
"So I went out to the main distribution hub in Poland to see how much in tonnage was actually being delivered, rather than just promised.
"Unfortunately the figures bore out my fears. France is way down the list - in ninth position."
We hear the same old excuses that we are used to hearing from other nations (FRA actually spends a bit over 2% GDP on defense), who free-ride in NATO;
...defence officials say the true measure of military help is quality not quantity. Some countries are delivering masses of outdated equipment. France has given 18 Caesar self-propelled artillery units, which are now celebrated along the Ukrainian front-line.
France, they add, is like other Western countries in having run down military stocks as part of the post-Cold War peace dividend.
You know there's a "but" on the way ... and this is the point I raised to surprising response over the weekend on twitter;
Ukraine's Caesars are fully one quarter of France's entire mobile artillery. It cannot offer much more without making itself vulnerable in regions where it is already committed, like the Sahel and the Indo-Pacific.
18 = 25%. Yikes.
Yes, the nation that pretty much invented modern artillery on the battlefield is that short. Amazing, and she desires to be a major player on the stage? She's a continental power...but in theory only.
How to fix on the whole? That is a great question with a complicated answer I'm not sure we can do justice to here.
How do you possibly fix her relative lack of support to Ukraine?
"When I was in Kyiv, everyone was very polite. I had no sense that the Ukrainians disapproved of us," he says. "In a way it was worse. I had the distinct feeling we were becoming irrelevant."
For Mr Heisbourg the equation is simple. Ukraine will talk to countries who it knows are likely to deliver the weapons it needs. France at the moment is not one of them.
The French have a very flinty ego. They don't like to be dismissed. They like to be important. They lust for a seat as a player.
Treat her like a 3rd-tier nation, and that might get her to up her game.
Yes, France has long-standing interests in Russia ... but she, like many, seems to be missing her moment on history's stage.
France has been and could be a strong and responsive ally ... but at this moment in time, cracks in her very real military capability are being brought in to focus, and larger cracks in her ability to understand place and time are even more pronounced.