Country Overview: France


By Ms. Nora Ljubojevic, Analyst, IB Consultancy, Netherlands

Security Situation Overview

France enjoys a privileged position in the international fora, being one of the leading countries of the EU institutions, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the only one from the EU since Brexit) and therefore one of the five states that are allowed to possess a nuclear arsenal.

It also stands as one of the main negotiators of the JCPOA with Iran, and its role at NATO and in the overall geopolitical and defense realms remain crucial, despite the public frenzy regarding the Australian snub and Macron’s much-vaunted statements on NATO’s “brain death”.

France has lost its preponderance in this new political scenario only suitable for great superpowers. For instance, businesswise, its decaying leverage power in Africa in favor of China is quite remarkable, and Mali’s termination of all military agreements with France after accusing it of attacking its sovereignty has been a reputational blow. Nevertheless, the country’s defense industry remains the third biggest in the world in terms of income ($59 billion as of 2022) and the country stands as the 7th largest economy in the world. Indeed, the French state has renowned defense companies such as Thales, Airbus Group and Dassault under the close surveillance of the French state due to their strategic value. Especially since the pandemic, the French state authorizes who can invest (to varying degrees) in industries deemed as key to state safety and security, be them EU nationals or not. This is performed in coordination with EU authorities as per EU Regulation 2019/452.

Cyberattacks and cyberespionage are increasingly affecting France, with the financial sector on high alert since the war in Ukraine erupted, the government being a sought target for all purposes. The incidents of Centreon services, the presidential campaign in 2017 and Pegasus software stand out.

On a domestic level, the French state system is stable and highly centralized. France’s main security threats come from terrorist networks attacking its military forces and civilians, both within French soil and abroad. The antiterror operation ‘Sentinelle’ involving civil-military cooperation in surveillance tasks is still active, ensuring the safety of all strategic points of French territory. Casualties of French army officers deployed in Sahel countries as a response to rampant terror groups are often reported, showcasing the high cost of these operations that run the risk of becoming widely unpopular, especially due to social media misinformation. Like the broad majority of EU countries, France will stuggle with energy security issues (17% of its energy supply comes from Russia), although its reliance on nuclear energy and Spain’s leading regasification capacity help to cushion the blow of any potential Russian gas shortages.

CBRNe Foundations

France has signed and ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Biological and Toxin Weapons convention, the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty. It is a party to the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Zangger Committee, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, and to the Hague code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.The National Point of Contact for the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 is the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, and the Sub directorate for Disarmament and Nuclear within the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

Due to its status as a nuclear state, France did not sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and consistently votes against the UNGA Resolution that welcomes the adoption of the TPNW and calls upon all states to sign, ratify, or accede to it, arguing that that would jeopardize global governance.

Domestically, France has passed the governmental plan Pirate-NRBC, which overtakes former Biotox, Piratome and Piratox plans and aims at preventing terrorist attacks using CBRN agents. Due to the importance of fighting terrorism within the country, France adopted two texts between 2017 and 2018 to strengthen the fight against CBRN threats at sea. In light of the 2015 terrorist attacks, the Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (CEA), a public research body, was tasked with fostering the creation of French start-ups and tech innovators in the field of detection, diagnostics, medical countermeasures and decontamination of CBRNe agents.

To act in case of a CBRN incident in Paris involving a high number of casualties, the Prefet of the Parisian police can activate a CBRN plan (Plan Blanc) that takes over the Piratome and Piratox plans so that Fire Brigades could intervene.

Overview of CBRNe and IED Stakeholders

The Secretariat for National Defense and Security (SGDSN in French), the guarantor of state policy coherence in the defense domain accountable to the Prime Minister, coordinates inter-ministerial responses in the security and defense field, including CBRN. It gathers its members – the authorities appointed by each stakeholder ministry such as defense, economics, interior, health, agriculture and foreign affairs – and the division of responsibilities is thoroughly explained in the 2022 report.

The Ministry of the Army reorganized itself in 2019 in regard to CBRN defense, allocating the research tasks to the General Directorate of the Armaments (DGA), the capabilities to the Major state of the army (EMA), international relations to the Directorate General for international relations and Strategy (DGRIS), and the security and defense affairs under the responsibility of the Directorate for the protection of facilities and defense activities (DPID). The DGA undertakes armament operations which seek to authorize and provide CBRN equipment to the Armed Forces and partners with the Agency for Defense Innovation (AID) in conducting research on defense technologies.

The Land branch of the Army only has one unit fully devoted to CBRN threats, the 2nd Dragoon Regiment, trained at the Military School at Saumur, and specialized in decontamination and reconnaissance.

The Health Services of the Army (SSA in French) participate in European and international mobilization campaigns against the proliferation and terrorist activities linked with CBRN threats. The SSA is in charge of the functioning of an early warning system, diagnostics, stockpiling antidotes, launching vaccination campaigns, casualties’ management and developing medical capabilities.

Biological threats are mainly overseen by the Ministry of Health, most concretely by the CNR Hospitals. On top of that, all French military hospitals possess rapid testing kits and the main virus and bacteria that could be used in bioterrorist attacks safely stored in level 3 biological security laboratories. All those laboratories, together with those of Grenoble and Marseille, form the national Biotox-Piratox network. The Grenoble and Marseille laboratories also act as the basepoints for the Armed Forces’ Institute for Biomedical research (IRBA). For instance, the IRBA and the Army’s Central Pharmacy (PCA) developed an auto-injector with a dual chamber (AIBC in French) in order to inject three antidotes against nerve agents such as sarin, soman, tabun, VX. A P4 laboratory belongs to the DGA-dependent laboratory to master CBRN threats (DGA Maitrise NRBC), where experts can evaluate the agents’ behavior after decontamination and when changing environmental conditions.

Regarding the protection of victims in the event of a disaster involving chemicals, every Hospital for the Instruction of the Army (HIA) is equipped with a mobile unit for chemical decontamination. CBRN decontamination for military officers, Ministry of Interior officials, and public officials on a foreign mission, is carried out using the Army’s Medical Decontamination Units (UDMA), which can be attached to deep decontamination sites for the army or to operational medical units.

As for patients contaminated by radiological particles, France is relatively well equipped as over 75% of the military hospitals possess a unit to treat them. The expertise in radiological protection within the Ministry of Defense lies within the Radiological protection service (SPRA), in charge of dispatching medical teams to proportionate technical advice on the ground, sending mobile laboratories (which can be transported in an aircraft) in an emergency situation, and measuring radioactivity before troops can be deployed in a risky area.

Ordnance, explosive devices, and demining are dealt by the Army’s Land and Navy division. Concretely, the Ministry of the Army has a Pôle Interarmées de traitement du danger des munitions et explosifs (PIAM), created in 2011 to merge the Centre for countering improvised explosive devices within the Army’s Land division and the body for the neutralization, removal and destruction of explosives (EC-NEDEX), previously within the Army’s Air division. It envisages the deployment of EOD and demining missions abroad. It is under the authority of the Brigadier General commanding the School of Engineers.

The French Navy excels at mine warfare, deactivating 2,000 explosive devices on average per year. They are almost permanently deployed at the Arab-Persian Gulf to prevent any disruption of French strategic supplies delivered through that zone (e.g., Strait of Hormuz).

The Land division deals with EOD matters through its 1st Foreign Engineer Regiment, which is divided into six companies. The Combat Support Company hosts a platoon called Liaison and Direct-Action Reconnaissance Platoon (SLRO in French) that has an EOD team at its disposal.

The Gendarmerie Nationale (DGGN) has a military status as it is part of the Armed Forces, although attached to the Ministry of Interior and it is technically responsible for small towns and rural areas and some concrete military missions. Its elite tactical unit is the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), an ATLAS Network member responsible for counterterrorist and VIP protection operations, among other tasks. The GIGN candidates undertake training in EOD techniques and CBRN device neutralization. The Gendarmerie also includes a CBRN Unit (Cellule Nationale NRBC or C2NRBC) that shares its expertise with the GIGN and prepares the Biotox-Piratox portable laboratory to intervene in bio-chem contaminated sites.

On the civilian level, the French General Directorate of Civil Protection and Crisis Management (DGSCGC) operates under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, planning and coordinating rescue measures and emergency resources on a national level. It manages the Fire and Rescue Departmental Services network. The DGSCGC also has at its disposal over 300 demining experts, among other civil security military formations (the FORMISC).

The Paris Fire Brigade is the largest in Europe with 8,700 firefighters, who carry out rescue, disaster relief, medical support and CBRN decontamination missions in Paris and its neighboring areas. Its work is divided in three civil protection units.

The French Police, fully under the command of the Ministry of Interior, possesses RAID unit (Recherche, Assistance, Intervention, Dissuasion), an elite tactical unit whose tasks mirror those of the GIGN. It has CBRNe capabilities as it had a major role in unfortunate special operations involving explosives and hostages. The Brigade Anti-Commando, a temporary police unit dependent on the Paris police Prefecture and ultimately dependent on the RAID, is only deployed to crisis scenarios and counts on a specialized CBRN unit (Celulle CNRBC). The Central Laboratory of the Police Prefecture (LCPP) is a particular body, which joins efforts with the national police, the Paris police and the Fire Brigades of Paris in their quest against fires, demining, explosives and chemical risks.


Historically, the French military expenditure as a percentage of its GDP has steadily decreased since the 1960s, from 5.5% back then to reach 2.1% in 2020, although tremendously compensated by the ensuing prosperous decades in terms of GDP growth. Thus, France approached its record highest in military expenditure in current USD – 56.44 bn in 2009 – in 2020, pouring 52.75 bn and an estimated figure of over 58 billion euro for 2022.

France is placed among the top 3 nations in terms of defense sales. It won arms export contracts worth 4.9 billion euros in 2020 (mostly made up of small and medium-size contracts), coming from an astounding figure of 8.3 billion euros in 2019. 7.5 billion euros are forecast for 2021. Saudi Arabia is its biggest importer (buying 703 million euros of arms in 2020, mostly Thales’ air defense radar, ECA maritime anti-mine robots), followed by the US (433 million, mostly sonars) and Morocco (425 million). The European market accounted for the largest portion of all French arms sales (25% of the total), with many European partners – including the Netherlands – purchasing Naval Group’s antimine sweepers.


The Vert-le-Petit located Centre for the Expertise in CBRN (DGA Maîtrise NRBC) is dependent on the DGA and develops chemical and biological defense systems, including the destruction of chemical weapons, the analysis of suspicious samples and the evaluation of chemical and biological risks in simulated scenarios. To do so, experts use the OXER-BC simulation software to forecast the impact of a biochem incident.

The other center dependent on the DGA, the Center of Terrestrial Techniques, is located at Bourges and focuses on radiological threats. Land, Air and Naval forces are able to train there for six weeks every year and keep their CBRN reconnaissance, sampling, neutralization and decontamination techniques up to date.

The Civil and Military National Centre for CBRN training, in French the CNCMFE, was created in 2014 under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, specifically under that of the Director General of Civil Security and Crisis Management. It nonetheless provides its training services for several ministries, namely Defense, Interior, and Health. It also develops optimized intervention strategies and offers solutions to improve the administrative management of CBRN incidents. The Gendarmerie’s C2NRC receives training at the Groupement blindé de gendarmerie mobile in Satory.

The civil protection units from the fire brigades can be trained in the training units of Nogent le Rotrou, Brignolles and Corte (Corsica).

Programs and Joint Operations/Exercises in the field of CBRNe

France just participated this summer in joint NATO trainings using live CBRN agents in the Canadian Forces Base Suffield with the goal to enhance the readiness of NATO Response Force’s CBRN Defense Battalion. Also this summer, French troops participated together with American EOD in the joint African Lion drills (Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Tunisia) in support of the Southern European Task Force-Africa, which also have a CBRNe component. In Spring 2022, France Counter CBRN Task Force, part of the 2nd Dragoon Regiment, participated in Exercise Brilliant Jump in southern Norway, focused on recon, identification, analysis and decontamination of suspected chemical agents. Last summer, within the framework of the Middle East Operation CHAMMAL, the crew of the Air Defense Frigate (FDA) received CBRN training oriented towards countering nuclear weapons. For instance, guaranteeing the airtightness of facilities, calculating the trajectory of the nuclear cloud, minimizing the impacts through gas turbines.

Additionally, French and Spanish Protection and Rescue Services were trained by the TRASTUN project partners in 2020 and 2021, upgrading their CBRN protection, detection and decontamination equipment.

About the Author:

Ms. Nora Ljubojevic is an Analyst at IB Consultancy. Her prior work experience includes the EU Delegation to the UN in New York, the Council of Europe, the Centre for European Policy in Belgrade and the Human Rights Foundation. She holds an MLitt. in Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia Security Studies from the University of St. Andrews and a BA in Political Science from the Complutense University of Madrid.

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