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France - Military Personnel

Civilian and military defence personnel in 2004
Army 166 892
Air force 69 276
Navy 54 656
Gendarmerie 100 345
Joint services 64 008
Total 455 177
Paradoxically, the armies lost 60,000 jobs between 2007 and 2017 when the Franc saw its external operations increase and where it was necessary to implement the Sentinel device. So there was a scissor effect, with spending increasing and means down. France phased out compulsory military service between 1996 and 2001. Emmanuel Macron was the first French president not to have been called up to serve in the army.

By 2018 the French government was grappling Emmanuel Macron’s controversial election promise to reintroduce compulsory military service for young people to promote social cohesion. When first floated during the 2017 race for the presidency, all French citizens were to be compelled to have a "direct experience of military life" for a minimum of one month. Macron said in February 2018 that “universal national service” would include an obligatory period of between three and six months for all young people, who would take part either in the military or in a form of civic service. Macron conceded that the details of the scheme, which could be piloted from 2019, had not yet been decided.

The universal national service (SNU) wanted by Emmanuel Macron would cost about 2.4 to 3 billion euros per year. This "national melting pot" would be carried out by girls and boys aged 18 to 21 over a period of one month, which would involve 600,000 to 800,000 young people. This first phase would be a mandatory one-month placement with a focus on civic culture, which the government says will "enable young people to create new relationships and develop their role in society". Voluntary teaching and working with charities are among the options, along with traditional military preparation with the police, fire service or army.

The second phase would be a voluntary placement of at least three months and up to a year, in which young people will be encouraged to serve "in an area linked to defence and security" - though they could opt to carry out volunteer work linked to heritage, the environment or social care. A parliamentary defence committee report suggested any scheme should be purely voluntary, as it was neither possible nor desirable to force young people to take part. But government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux insisted that “it will be universal ... and it will be obligatory”.

French history texts of the next century will record 22 February 1996 as the beginning of fundamental changes in the nation's armed forces. On that date Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic and Chief of the Armed Forces, announced his intent to end France's tradition of conscription, and to reshape by 2002 the armed forces around volunteers. Additionally, M. Chirac decided to reduce the size of French military forces by 30 percent from current levels. His goal was to have the new structure settled, equipment fielded, and France's defense industrial base restructured by 2015.

Like other Western countries in the aftermath of the Cold War, France has undertaken a major restructuring of its armed forces to develop a professional military that is smaller, more rapidly deployable, and better tailored for operations distant from France. Key elements of the restructuring included phasing out conscripts in favor of an all-volunteer, technologically more intensive military force. The professionalisation of the armed forces and the end of armed forces combining career military personnel and conscripts announced in 1996 came into effect on 31 December 2002. Compulsory national service lasting one year for 18-year-old men has been abolished and replaced by a compulsory day of defence preparation for all young men and women aged between 16 and 18 years.

Despite the end of conscription, young people - both males and females - must still register for possible conscription. The age for voluntary military service is 17 years of age with parental consent or age 18. In 2005 males in the age cohort of 17 to 49 numbered 13,676,509, and those judged fit for military service numbered 11,262,661. Males who reached military age during 2005 numbered 389,204.

1995 2002
Army 271,000 170,000
Navy 70,400 56,500
Air Force 94,100 70,000
National Military Police 93,450 97,900
Joint Services 47,910 39,600
Total 577,360 434,000*
*excludes 100,000 reservists
In moving to a professional force, the French military was downsized by one-third between 1996 and 2002. By 2005 a total of 428,000 people worked for the French Ministry of Defense. This number included 81,000 civilians and 347,000 military professionals in four main branches. The army comprised 39 percent (134,000 active military); the navy, 12 percent (43,000 active military); the air force, 17 percent (61,000 active military); and the Gendarmerie Nationale (a branch of the national police under military statute), 22 percent (about 100,000). The joint services and strategic nuclear forces made up another 10 percent. The reserves number about 100,000. The Act for 2003-2008 set troop numbers at 446,563 in 2008.

The gendarmerie, 101,399 strong, including 7,250 women, is the only part of the military that has recently increased in size. From 1990 to 2004, France's regular military forces lost nearly 43 percent of personnel, while the gendarmerie gained more than 13 percent. Increasing the relative weight of the gendarmerie in the overall array of the uniformed armed forces reflects the growing priority that the government places on the nation's internal security and, in particular, on combating terrorism.

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Page last modified: 16-08-2018 15:28:22 ZULU