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France to Overhaul Military, May Rejoin NATO

By Lisa Bryant
17 June 2008

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a major overhaul of the country's defense to better meet new threats like terrorism. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports Mr. Sarkozy also announced France was ready to rejoin NATO's military wing, after a four-decade absence.

President Sarkozy presented France's new defense strategy in a much awaited speech, outlining a leaner military that he argued would be better equipped to respond to terrorism, missile attacks and other modern-day threats.

Mr. Sarkozy said that six or seven years from now, French forces will total 225,000. He acknowledged that amounted to a steep cut from their current level of 270,000, and that bases would be closed. But he vowed to make France even stronger militarily than it is today.

While Mr. Sarkozy said the government was looking for cost cutting measures, he also said it would spend roughly $4.6 billion more annually to equip its forces.

The French president also said France aims to soon return to NATO's military command after pulling out in 1966.

Mr. Sarkozy said those who authored the defense report saw no reason why France should not participate in NATO's defense wing. He said France would retain complete freedom on deciding whether or not to participate in military operations and officials say it would remain in control of its nuclear-defense program.

Mr. Sarkozy has also emphasized building up the EU military capabilities, and had been expected to push this when France takes over the bloc's rotating presidency next month. But he may now face a roadblock, since Ireland rejected the EU treaty that is aimed to further integrate Europe, including its defense strategy.

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