Objectives and research hypothesis

The main objective of PolisInWar is to revisit the conditions of use of military force by the state in the contemporary period, starting with an analysis of the French case. It aims to resolve the puzzle that the French state constitutes in this area. Indeed, post-Cold War Western societies have often been described as « post-military » (Shaw, 1991), and there has been talk of a decline in « hard politics », during which states appeared less structured by war (Mann, 1997). However, during the same period, France has distinguished itself by a particularly strong recourse to its armed forces in the framework of operations aimed at ensuring its security, both internationally and internally (Serfati, 2017; Chapleau, Marill, 2018; Goya, 2022). To the point that this recourse to military operations could be described as a « French passion » (Serfati, 2017).

In line with the thoughts of K. Orren and S. Skowronek (2011) or D. King and P. Le Gales (2017) on the « policy state, » we believe that this use of force is not simply a function of the characteristics of the military institution available to these state, but also depends on the capacities of the latter to produce public policies and policy tools in line with this use.

From this perspective, our first hypothesis is that one of the main issues that Western states have faced in the use of military force in recent years is the question of its financing. To do so, we draw on recent findings by economists (Stiglitz, Bilmes, 2008 ; Droff, Malizard, 2018, 2020) who emphasize the challenge that the cost of military interventions abroad represents for countries such as the United States, France or Great Britain. But also on the more general observations made about the effects of budgetary constraints on the defense policies of a number of Western states (Irondelle, 2011; Larrieu, 2017 ; Hoeffler, Joana, Mérand, 2021; Faure, 2021).

Our second hypothesis is that the budgeting of state military operations, i.e. the modalities of their inclusion in the state’s budget, may constitute a privileged way of observing the problems posed by the financing of the use of military force and the modalities by which it is covered. From this perspective, we draw on the research agenda defined by fiscal policy analysis and the political sociology of public finance (Wildawski, 1974; Lalumière, 1974; Bezes, Siné, 2011; Siné, 2006).

Our third hypothesis is that this budgeting results in a redefinition of the conditions under which the political authorities can have resort to military force, but also of the relations of power that can exist between the different actors – political and administrative, civilian and military – associated with it. PolisInWar is devoted to assessing these changes.

These three hypotheses will be tested empirically through a comparison of the financing methods of three types of military operations conducted by the State in France: external operations, internal operations – based on the case of Operation « Sentinelle » to fight terrorism, and « cyber operations » implemented by the Armed Forces General Staff since 2017.

To do so, the PolisInWar project combines in a unique way a multidisciplinary team of political scientists and economists, and the use of both quantitative and qualitative methodology (see below).

The PolisInWar project is part of the scientific axis « institutions and organizations, legal frameworks, norms, governance, international relations » by shedding light on the conditions under which contemporary states can resort to military force. A question to which the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has given a tragic actuality. PolisInWar is the first political science research project devoted to the budgetary financing of military operations. In addition to providing first-hand knowledge of this phenomenon, the expected results are twofold. First, by mobilizing a public policy analysis approach, it will provide a foothold in the debate – important in French and International Political Science in Recent years – on France’s Military interventions (Chafer & ali, 2020 ; Goya, 2022 ; Henke, 2020, Smith, 2017). But it will also be a much-needed contribution to the discussions that animate public policy specialists and political sociologists about the reconfiguration of the State in the contemporary period (King, Legalès, 2011, 2017; Birnbaum, 2011, 2018, Pouvoirs, 2021). The analysis of the concrete modalities by which the French « strong State » ensures the budgetary financing of what constitutes the core of its regalian functions – military operations – will allow us to take stock of the transformations that characterize its structures and capacities for action and, more broadly, those of European States.