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France to slash 24K military jobs, seeking savings

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[April 30, 2013]  PARIS (AP) -- France will cut a further 24,000 military jobs by 2019 as it faces up to its decades of deficit spending while still trying to maintain a force ready to deal with global threats, the government said Monday.

Uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, France's war in Mali and the civil war in Syria are among the events shaping France's defense outlook that were unforeseen in the last version of its defense strategy five years ago. But the effects of the global financial crisis and in particular Europe's ongoing economic stagnation are also major factors, according to the defense ministry's "White Book on Defense and National Security."

This is the only the fourth time in the past 40 years that France has undertaken such a top-to-bottom review of its defense posture, although the broad lines of the country's defense strategy -- maintaining its nuclear deterrent and its place in NATO -- are unchanged in the new review.

The previous review already decided to cut 55,000 jobs, most of which have gone already. The government says that France currently has 228,000 military personnel, with 10,000 jobs due to go soon. The cuts announced Monday will be in addition to those.

The government insisted France will remain the second-largest defense force by spending in the European Union. And France is far from alone in making defense cuts.

France has begun withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Mali, where it intervened in January to combat radical Islamists threatening to overrun the capital. It also keeps troops in Chad, Ivory Coast and Djibouti. France spends around 10 percent of its annual budget on defense, or around 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product.

President Francois Hollande underscored the need for the review, saying that all the threats identified five years ago -- nuclear proliferation, terrorism, cyberattacks -- "far from diminishing, have increased."

The plan foresees overall defense spending for the 2014-2025 period of 364 billion euros ($474 billion). That compares with the 377 billion euros that the previous plan forecast for the 2009-2020 period. The equipment budget, which had been forecast to reach 18 billion euros annually, is only 16 billion euros now, almost flat compared with the 2003-2008 average.

Actual decisions on what to cut and by how much will only come later this year when the government presents its military spending bill for 2014-2019. "We are going to see an extremely bloody set of discussions over the next few weeks between the defense and finance ministries," said Francois Heisbourg, an international analyst with the Foundation for Strategic Research.

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According to Heisbourg, the United States' "pivot to Asia" and away from a front-line role in Europe is another strong motivator for France's new defense outlook. "That's a big change from 2008, and defense planning has to change accordingly," Heisbourg said.

But already Monday's white paper gives some insight into the French military's priorities and strategic outlook.

Smaller, more reactive forces are one area of emphasis, with a capability to field up to 7,000 troops in three separate zones concurrently.

The white paper puts particular emphasis on France's intelligence-gathering and cyber defenses, and calls for corporations in militarily strategic industries to step up their own protection against cyberattacks.

France is far from alone in making defense cuts. Across the Channel, its historic rival, Britain, is also in the midst of cuts that are expected to see the size of the army shrink from 102,000 troops to 82,000 by the end of the decade. Last year the government announced the scrapping of 17 major defense units. Plans for a new fleet of military jets and an aircraft carrier have been axed, while the introduction of new attack submarines has been put on hold.




[Associated Press; By GREG KELLER]

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Raphael Satter in London contributed to this article.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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