Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 12:43 UK

French defence to counter terror

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
President Nicolas Sarkozy wants a leaner fighting force

Terrorism is the main threat facing France and its defence system needs to change to reflect that, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said.

He was announcing a major overhaul of the military which includes cutting more than 50,000 defence jobs and boosting intelligence resources.

Mr Sarkozy confirmed France would soon rejoin the military command of Nato that it left in 1966.

He was outlining his new strategy to some 3,000 senior officers in Paris.

There is no doubt that France's new defence policy bears the stamp of President Nicolas Sarkozy himself, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

He is the most Atlanticist president to occupy the Elysee Palace since the late 1950s, our correspondent adds.

The threat is there, it is real and we know that it could tomorrow take on a new form, even more serious, by nuclear, chemical and biological means
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

In 1966, Gen Charles de Gaulle pulled French troops out of Nato's integrated command structure as a gesture of independence from Washington.

Mr Sarkozy said that despite France rejoining Nato command, the country's nuclear forces would remain under strict national control and that France would not relinquish command of its own forces.

"We can renew our relations with Nato without fearing for our independence and without the risk of being unwillingly dragged into a war," Mr Sarkozy in an address on his new defence strategy.

French forces already operate and train alongside their Nato colleagues, but are not part of the integrated military command.

Nato spokesman James Appathurai said the organisation's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, welcomed the move.

Intelligence boost

His speech follows the release of France's first major defence review in 14 years, in a paper called the White Book on Defence and Homeland Security.

54,000 jobs to be cut from 320,000-strong workforce
50 military bases and facilities to be closed
From 2009 to 2020, 377bn euros to be spent on defence

Mr Sarkozy wants to create a smaller, more mobile army that will be better equipped to respond to terrorist threats.

"Today, the most immediate threat is that of a terrorist attack," he said.

"Thanks to the effectiveness of our security forces, France has not been attacked in recent years. But the threat is there, it is real and we know that it could tomorrow take on a new form, even more serious, by nuclear, chemical and biological means."

He said the intelligence budget for new satellites, drones and other surveillance equipment would double, and that up to 10,000 soldiers would be assigned to internal security duties ranging from pandemics to cyber-attacks.

A new national security council will be set up at the Elysee palace. A former ambassador to Iraq and Algeria has been named to hold the newly-created post of national intelligence co-ordinator.

Pared down army

Under the proposals, some 54,000 military and civilian defence jobs will be cut, and some 50 military bases and other defence facilities will be closed in a move that is thought likely to spark protests in towns where the closures will take place.

France will trim its army - the biggest of the European Union - navy and air force from 271,000 troops to 224,000.

The new policy will also see the number of combat-ready troops reduced from 50,000 to 30,000.

Making those kind of changes to UK military would not benefit the UK in the same manner it may for France
Beth, South Shields

The country's defence spending will total 377bn euros ($584bn) from 2009 to 2020, including 200bn euros that will be spent on equipment, Mr Sarkozy said.

As of 2012, the military budget will increase, he added.

Some of France's four permanent bases in Africa will be shut down.

More than 9,000 French troops are based in Africa, including in Djibouti, Dakar in Senegal and Libreville in Gabon.

The new military strategy will be discussed in parliament later this month.

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