Tuesday, June 17, 2008

French President: Terrorist Attack Main Threat

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

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.

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.

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.

Read it all here.

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