France to slash 24K military jobs, seeking savings

PARIS (AP) - France said Monday it will cut another 24,000 military jobs by 2019 as it attempts to maintain a force ready to deal with global threats at the time when the bill for France's decades of deficit spending is due.

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 new defense outlook that were unforeseen in the last version of its defense strategy five years ago, when it decided to cut another 55,000 jobs.

The government says that France now has 228,000 military personnel.

The effects of the global financial crisis and in particular Europe's ongoing economic stagnation are also major factors shaping the new defense doctrine, according to the defense ministry's "White Book on Defense and National Security," released Monday.

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 Djibuti. France spends around 10 percent of its annual budget on defense, or around 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product.

The broad lines of France's defense strategy _ maintaining its nuclear deterrent and its place in NATO _ are unchanged in the new review.

This is the only the fourth time in the last 40 years that France has undertaken such a top-to-bottom review of its defense posture.

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 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.

Across the Channel, France's historic rival, United Kingdom, is also in the midst of defense cuts which 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, including the Yorkshire Regiment's 2nd Battalion, whose history stretches back 300 years. Plans of a new fleet of military jets and an aircraft carrier have been axed, while the introduction of a new attack submarines has been put on hold.

The plan earmarks overall defense spending for the 2014-2025 period at 364 billion euros ($474 billion). That compares to 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 to 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.

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.

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Online:

http://www.defense.gouv.fr/english/portail-defense

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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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