Can the president commit our country to war?

In these troubled times, as war rages in Ukraine, the question deserves to be asked coldly. In France, the President of the Republic, Head of the Armed Forces, has significant capacity for action in military and defense matters. But he cannot, alone, engage the country in a war. Under Article 35 of the Constitution, “the declaration of war is authorized by Parliament”.

On the other hand, it can decide on “Opex”, external operations, that is to say the sending of troops abroad, when a State requests help from France, for example. This was the case in Mali, with Operation Serval launched by François Hollande in 2013. If, like Serval, the intervention lasts more than four months, Parliament decides on its extension. Important point: the government has a say because it “has armed force” (Article 20 of the Constitution). With consequences in cohabitation: Matignon can then oppose the deployment of troops desired by the Head of State.

The president’s room for maneuver is no less great. He chairs the Defense and National Security Council – pure emanation of the executive – whose missions are set by decree in 2009. He “defines the guidelines for military programming, deterrence, conduct of external operations, planning of responses to major crises, intelligence (…) and the fight against terrorism”. A central body in the event of a crisis: since the attack on Ukraine by Russia, the meetings of the Council are very regular. Parliamentarians are absent.

The Head of State is also the only one who can trigger the “nuclear fire” – when handing over power, he must transmit the codes for the firing to his successor. The “PC Jupiter”, a command post which allows the order to be issued, is located at the Elysée Palace, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces being responsible for monitoring its execution. “This situation is the result of the policy of nuclear deterrence (of) General de Gaulle “recall Isabelle Flahault and Philippe Tronquoy (read For further p. 31). The latter considered that, to be credible, the threat had to be in the hands of the elected president. In 1983, in the midst of the Euromissile crisis, Mitterrand declared: “The centerpiece of the deterrence strategy in France is the head of state, that’s me. »

A word, finally, on Article 16 of the Constitution, the scope of which is immense if you look closely. This article allows the Head of State to concentrate executive and legislative powers, and could, according to several law professors interviewed, “open the door to a dictatorship”. Admittedly, the conditions seem drastic – a threat “serious and immediate” on our institutions, the independence of the nation or the integrity of the territory – but the president is the judge… The only safeguards: the Assembly cannot be dissolved and the Constitution revised. To date, Article 16 has only been used once, in 1961, by de Gaulle, after the generals’ putsch in Algeria.


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