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Peace Destroys the French Army
by James Dunnigan
July 4, 2008

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French Defense Ministry readiness documents were leaked to the media, revealing what a lot of people in the military already knew. That is, the French armed forces are largely a hollow shell. Most of the money goes to the payroll and procurement, and not enough to maintenance. As a result, half the armored vehicles, and over half the aircraft, are not fit for service. Spare parts, and maintenance personnel are in short supply. This can be most easily seen by comparing how much is spent each year per person in the military. In the United States, it's $350,000. In Britain (which also has maintenance problems), it's $194,000, while in France it is $84,000. The money goes mainly for show. Lots of troops, with modern weapons that look good, but break down if you try and use them. The leaked report listed numerous breakdowns during a recent operation against Somali pirates. It was only the skill of the troops, and luck, that prevented this from turning into a disaster.

The French problem is a common one throughout Europe, where the post Cold War military is as seen more of a jobs program, to keep unemployment down, than as a serious attempt to maintain military power. To solve that problem, newly elected French president Sarkozy is proposing a unified European military, or at least a common foreign intervention force. This would be funded more generously than the regular armed forces, so that equipment would be ready for action. If that proposal fails, France wants to shrink its armed forces, so as to provide more money for maintenance and logistics, and a force that will not always be operating on a shoestring.

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