France looks to cut armed forces but keep military clout

PARIS (AFP) - France plans to axe nearly 10 per cent of all jobs in the armed forces but maintain significant spending as it tries to keep its status as a top military power, a government review showed Monday.

The white paper, which sets the general direction of France's defence policy, attempts to balance the need to protect France from high-level threats and risks with ever-decreasing financial resources.

While reducing France's deployable forces, it calls for better cyberdefence and intelligence, with a particular focus on drones of its own that it found would have helped in its military intervention in Mali.

The white paper, officially handed over to President Francois 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 15,000-20,000.

But the military will still have a total budget of 179.2 billion euros (S$289.29 billion) between 2014 and 2019, maintaining its position as the country with the second-largest defence budget after the United Kingdom in the European Union.

"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," Hollande said.

This is France's fourth security and defence white paper, after those of 1972, 1994 and 2008.

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