Q. - Does the announced reduction in external operations mean that France no longer has the financial means to act as the world’s policeman?
THE MINISTER - If it costs less, it’s better. It’s a Norman talking to you [known for watching the pennies (dimes)]. The main criterion wasn’t the cost of the operations. What’s important is knowing whether we need to maintain this level of forces. If at the same time we can save the country some money, so much the better.
Q. - The Defence White Paper sets the number of troops for external operations at 30,000, i.e. more than double those currently deployed. At the same time, you announced the axing of 54,000 military posts. Is this compatible?
THE MINISTER - The 54,000 posts being restructured are mainly in general administration and support services. So the prime target for the cuts isn’t force projection. For example, in every area of France we’re bringing military HQs together to form joint services HQs, allowing us to shed 25% of general administration jobs, this doesn’t reduce the country’s projection capability. At the same time, we’re enhancing this capability by putting the money saved into improving equipment. In 2009, the defence equipment budget is up 20% - I’m sure that’s a first in the entire history of the Fifth Republic.
Q. - Concretely, in what operations are you going to look at reducing expenditure?
THE MINISTER - I think the operation in Bosnia no longer makes any sense. I said this publicly during the French European Union presidency. And curiously, a fortnight later, I began receiving reports from secret services all over the world explaining that the situation in Bosnia was becoming strained. Perhaps we now need to deploy operational mentors and liaison teams, or civilians. (…)
Q. - All in all, by what percentage do you expect to reduce the number of French forces serving abroad?
THE MINISTER - The idea is to move in 2009 towards reducing them by around 20%. We could cut them from 13,000 to 10,000.
Q. - How much money would that save?
THE MINISTER - France’s total external operations cost nearly €900 million. The operation in Afghanistan costs €300 million, which is immutable. With a reduction of around 20% in the number of troops serving abroad, we could save around €100 to €150 million a year. (…)./.