- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

PARIS France has taken stock of its military cababilities in case of war with Iraq and found them suffering from years of budgetary restrictions.
Particularly affected are technological warfare, logistics and the strength of available manpower, say officials of the conservative Cabinet of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who blame the situation on "political neglect" by their Socialist predecessors.
Officials stress, however, that all military preparations have been tentative and that any French involvement in armed action depends strictly on the final assessment of Iraq's cooperation with arms inspectors from the United Nations.
Government sources said that if the French join any U.S.-led military action, it would have to be in consultation with other members of the European Union, particularly Germany.
Germany and France form a 40-year-old partnership and consider themselves the spearhead of European unity. However, in recent months the strength of their leadership has been eroded by Germany's economic difficulties.
Diplomatic sources say the French government basically agrees with the United States that Iraq has failed to "cooperate fully" with the arms inspectors and that it issued a "false statement" on its weapons programs.
This is a major departure from France's initial criticism of U.S. statements on Iraq but still falls far short of the support shown by France during preparations for Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
At that time, France contributed a combined army division in addition to air force and naval units, a commitment that caused the resignation of Jean-Pierre Chevenement, the Socialist defense minister.
After their sweeping electoral victory in June, the conservatives put modernization of the French armed forces among the government's priorities. They found that the military, which has been transformed into an all-volunteer force, had considerably reduced facilities for intelligence and long-distance transport.
After the last drafted forces left their barracks in November 2001, the strength of the ground forces was diminished from 236,000 to just 136,000 professionals.
An estimated 37,000 men and women of the three services army, air force and navy serve outside France, in such areas as Africa and the Caribbean. In recent weeks, a French contingent has been involved in a high-profile operation in war-torn Ivory Coast.
Critics say the new professional army has "distanced itself from the nation," becoming little more than mercenaries. A recent Defense Ministry report said that at the time of the Socialist electoral defeat six months ago, the army "was suffering from the indifference, if not disdain, demonstrated by the political powers."
Gen. Jean-Pierre Kelche, the armed forces' chief of staff, has since said that military reforms have prepared the country to face such contingencies as the international war on terrorism or rescue operations in limited regional conflicts.
Although promising "revolutionary equipment by the year 2006," he acknowledged that time was needed to "close the gap between the requirements and the means available" at present.
The 6-month-old conservative government has adopted the theory that "no credible foreign policy could be pursued without a strong army."
Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, the first woman to hold that post in French history, said the military's morale has suffered from a lack of means and contact with society.

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