by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) April 29, 2013
France plans to axe nearly 10 percent of all jobs in the armed forces as it battles a financial crisis, a government review showed Monday, in what critics said would reduce the country's military clout.
The white paper, which sets the general direction of France's defence policy, seeks a balance between the need to protect France from high-level threats and budgetary constraints as the country teeters on the verge of recession.
While reducing France's deployable forces, the review calls for better cyber-defence and intelligence, with a particular focus on drones of its own.
France's deficit of surveillance drones was highlighted during its recent intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, where the United States deployed several Predator drones in support of French forces.
"If there is one common theme in what we wanted to implement with the white paper, it is to ensure the best training, the best equipment and the best possible intelligence for our armed forces. They deserve it," French President Francois Hollande said.
The white paper, officially submitted to Hollande, recommends that 24,000 military posts be axed by 2019 on top of the 54,000 job cuts already announced by former president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.
It also calls for a reduction in the number of soldiers able to be rapidly deployed abroad, from the current 30,000 to between 15,000 and 20,000.
But the military will still have a budget of 179.2 billion euros ($234.9 billion) between 2014 and 2019, maintaining France's position as the country with the second-largest defence budget after Britain in the European Union.
Jean-Marie Guehenno, who presided over the commission that drew up the white paper, said France's allies did not expect it to be able to "do everything everywhere".
"The world of defence only gradually became aware of the magnitude of choices made necessary by financial constraints," he said.
But the review drew criticism from several politicians and experts.
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, an opposition member of the parliamentary foreign affairs commission, said the white paper's proposals would endanger France's security.
"This is real madness... We have already reduced the army's size a lot over the past five years," he said.
Vincent Desportes, the former director of the Ecole de Guerre, a military school, said the proposed reduction in deployable forces "makes France a really minor actor in coalition operations".
France's armed forces count around 280,000 staff, both military and civilian.
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