France to ax thousands in defense review
A long-term plan worked out to defend France better
France will slash 54,000 defense jobs and push for a stronger European defense policy, according to a new strategy aimed at adapting French forces to evolving threats -- from terrorists at home to insurgents in Afghanistan and beyond, according to AP.
President Nicolas Sarkozy will present the plan -- the biggest review of France`s defense posture in 14 years -- to military and security officials on Tuesday.
The long-term plan seeks to defend France better over the next 15 years, and its effects may take years to be felt.
The strategy, nearly a year in the making and released Monday, foresees leaner but more high-tech fighting forces that can quickly deploy to battlefields in evolving conflicts around the world.
France has about 12,000 troops already deployed or set to join peacekeeping or other forces around the world, from Afghanistan to Chad and Congo.
"There is no risk of an invasion today. But on the other hand we need to be able deploy forces to participate in the stabilization of regions or zones in crisis," Defense Minister Herve Morin told Associated Press Television News at an arms show near Paris on Monday.
"Weapons always need to evolve," Morin said. "We are adapting our defenses against such new threats as, for example, terrorist threats, the risk of nuclear proliferation."
The document confirms France`s interest in returning at least partially to NATO`s military command on condition that French leaders retain a free hand in their decision-making, freedom about French troop commitments and "total independence" with France`s nuclear arsenal -- an indicator that France may not join NATO`s nuclear planning group.
The paper puts France`s international emphasis on a stronger European Union defense policy -- and Paris has been at pains to assure the United States that EU defense doesn`t conflict with NATO.
The strategy, which will be discussed in parliament later this month, foresees no expansion of France`s nuclear forces, though says they will remain the country`s "life insurance." The document will play a key role in shaping France`s five-year military planning law expected to be passed later this year.
France has one of the world`s major military forces, but the average age of its ships is 21 years and its Puma helicopters and Transall airplanes are "worn down to the tread," Morin wrote in an editorial in the daily Le Monde published Monday.
He called for more investment in anti-terrorist intelligence and technology to prevent cyber attacks. He warned of shifting "centers of gravity" in the fight against nuclear proliferation.
Morin defended the new strategy against criticism that it would weaken France by cutting personnel and closing little-used military facilities.
The plan foresees 54,000 job cuts over the next six or seven years, largely from support and logistics teams. The total French military force today, including gendarmes, is believed to be about 350,000.
The plan counts on $581 billion in military spending until 2020 -- slightly more than the current annual Pentagon budget. Annual defense spending would stay at about 2 percent of GDP.
The plan would nearly double investment in space intelligence, including spy satellites, to $1.07 billion in 2020. Military intelligence also would be boosted by more surveillance drones and other new equipment.
The plan puts off a decision on whether France will build a second aircraft carrier until 2011-2012.