On February 22, President Jacques Chirac announced a comprehensive plan to reorganize French defense. Reform is necessary because France no longer faces a threat of "invading hordes" but challenges to its interests, and peacekeeping missions around the world. Measures include:
In what some believe could be the most important initiative of his presidency, Jacques Chirac announced on February 22 defense reform to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. France will scrap its only plant for manufacturing fissile materials, close its nuclear testing site in French Polynesia and dismantle the Hades short-range mobile missile, as part of a campaign to promote a global test-ban treaty. It will move from conscription to an all-professional army, cutting the size of French forces from 500,000 to 350,000, over the next six years. And it will modernize the defense industry by merging aircraft makers Dassault and Aerospatiale and privatizing electronic titan Thomson S.A.
In a television interview explaining the plan, the most drastic change in strategic planning in 30 years, Chirac emphasized that France would continue to rely on its nuclear deterrent for defense against any outside threat.
After more than two centuries of conscription, Chirac has acknowledged that to possess a modern defense, the army must be made up of professional soldiers. "France must have the capacity to deploy abroad in a rapid and organized fashion a significant force of about 50,000-60,000 men. Today it can only manage 10,000." Rapid deployment is essential to meet more diffuse threats to the country's global interests.
The overhaul, Chirac said, was aimed at "a military objective, but also has an economic goal, involving our defense industries, and also financial aims because we live in a time when we have to cut our spending." According to the government, the cost of a professional army will remain the same as today as far as operational expenses are concerned, but will cost 15 percent less for equipment. Meanwhile, money will be saved on subsidies by merging Dassault and Aerospatiale and earned by privatizing Thomson S.A.
The president told military authorities that he expected their "unconditional support in implementing the reorganization" of the National Defense. The plan has raised questions from the opposition, but received widespread approval from the majority.