May 27, 2008 / 11:06 AM / 9 years ago

ANALYSIS-France seeks more value for money in defence

By Tamora Vidaillet

PARIS, May 27 (Reuters) - An independent nuclear power with troops deployed around the world, France is determined to remain a significant military force for decades to come.

But shrinking budgets and shifting geo-political patterns are forcing Paris to redesign its defence parameters for the first time since 1994, with the government looking to get more value for money and placing greater emphasis on home security.

The defence directive, ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy when he took office last year, will be published on June 17 and establish French military strategy for the next 15 years.

Analysts expect the document will demand a more streamlined, effective defence machine and seek deeper links between France's domestic and foreign security capabilities.

"The overall idea is to have less tail and more tooth," said Yves Boyer, deputy director of security think-tank FRS.

"We may have less deployable forces but they may be perfectly equipped, available and have everything they need to do the job," he added.

At the time of the last directive, France spent 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product on defence. That figure is now down to 2.5 percent, about the same as neighbouring Britain but well below the U.S. level of around 4.0 percent.

Sarkozy has said that in future France will spend around two percent of GDP on defence, warning that some big ticket armament programmes might be scrapped, administration costs squeezed and under-utilised bases shut down.

"The French people have a right to expect that state money will be used efficiently," Sarkozy told French radio on Tuesday.

"I won't lower our guard, especially on France's nuclear arms. I will give the army ... the necessary means to let it remain a global force at the disposal of international diplomacy, but there is a whole restructuring that is needed."

LESS PLANES AND SHIPS

Few have seen a draft of the government document, but Defence Minister Herve Morin has hinted it will probably include a cut in the number of troops deployable abroad to 30,000 from 50,000.

This would come as France looks to cut more than 40,000 military jobs -- likely to largely involve support functions -- as part of a separate government cost-cutting programme.

Press leaks suggest the air force will have to make do with 70 combat aircraft for operations abroad versus 100 now, while the navy could have 20 frigates, compared with the 25 hoped for.

A decision on whether France needs a second aircraft carrier will be put off yet again to 2011/12.

For some analysts, reducing the size of the army will inevitably force France to limit its overseas operations.

"We'll end up promising to send forces here and there ... because we think it is in our interest, but France won't have the resources," said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of IRIS, a think-tank for international and strategic studies.

As France downsizes its military, it will look to boost intelligence efforts to deal more efficiently with contemporary threats such as pandemics and terrorism, prompting the need for better satellite equipment, a boon for the space industry.

"What is the point of having a powerful military apparatus if we don't have information?" Sarkozy said on Tuesday.

The paper, which will include the term "national security" in its title for the first time, could call for more synergy between civil security and the military. This may spur the creation of a crisis cell involving the military and police.

"French security is just as likely to be played out far from our borders as from inside the country," the president said.

REACHING OUT TO ALLIES

In an effort to make the French defence budget go further Sarkozy is eager to share some of the costs with leading allies, and he has become one of the greatest advocates of a European defence force -- something the directive may pick up on.

"EU defence is not a theological debate, it should be a practical debate about capabilities," said a Sarkozy adviser, adding that France and its allies could share Atlantic patrols, create joint military colleges and divide research projects.

"If we don't put our resources together we will achieve nothing of importance," he added.

While seeking alliances, France might use the document to signal its readiness to scale back some of its overseas operations -- not its recently announced reinforcement of NATO forces in Afghanistan but rather some of its African outposts.

France has bases in Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti, as well as operations in the Ivory Coast, Chad, and Central African Republic. Closures could be announced in June or July, while France's network of bases at home will certainly be pruned.

Whatever the doctrine, implementation will be key.

"What really matters is the delta, how much difference there is between what has been said and what really happens and that delta has grown over the years," said Etienne de Durand, head of the Securities Studies Centre at Paris-based Ifri.

* For some facts and figures on the French military, double click on [ID:nL26108051]. (Reporting by Tamora Vidaillet; editing by Crispian Balmer)

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