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French plan to cut military causes concern

By David Kashi -- Medill News Service   |   April 30, 2013 at 5:06 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, April 30 -- France’s announcement that it plans to cut 24,000 military jobs by 2019 is causing concern in the U.S. about commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Europe’s only defense block.

“This is very disappointing news,” ,” Nick Burns, former undersecretary of state for political affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, said in an email. “NATO is still in Afghanistan and has major responsibilities in the Balkans.”

This decision, announced Monday, comes at a time when Europe is facing economic crisis and reductions members defense budgets. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) from 2008 to 2010; at least 16 European NATO members reduced their military spending by 10 percent.

“Further defense budget cuts by France,” Burns said “and other European allies puts all the more pressure on the U.S. which is already providing the majority of NATO’s military strength in Europe and beyond.”

Last year, concerns were raised by U.S. officials over newly elected Prime Minister Francois Hollande’s campaign promise to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan earlier than planned.

France had promised at the Lisbon Summit in 2010 that it would abide by a withdrawal date of 2014.

The U.S. has always spearheaded NATO actions from the conflict in Kosovo to Afghanistan and is encouraging NATO to take more responsibility.

“We are definitely seeing retrenchment cuts in number of personnel that could be deployed abroad and we are seeing them [France] buying fewer fighter aircraft and so froth,” said Clara O’Donnell a non resident fellow at the Center on the U.S. and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “This means we will have less capability…but the news could have been much worse.”

O’Donnell said U.S. concerns may be “overblown,” and that defense cuts could have been much worse. She pointed to France taking the lead in recent action in Mali.

“It could’ve been much worse,” said Nicholas Dungan, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Program on Transatlantic Relation, echoing O’Donnell. “The U.K. defense review in 2010 was slashed much further into the U.K. capabilities than this does into the French.”

Still, Dungan said he understands Burns’s concerns even if he does not share them completely.

“It may not be satisfying for the point of view of burden sharing, and I completely understand that,” Dungan said, “but considering what the potential alternatives were it shows a fairly robust determination to maintain France’s place in the world and the military clout that goes with it.”
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