Wednesday, July 18, 2007

PARIS — With the murmur of a “new cold war” spreading throughout Europe, President Nicolas Sarkozy has emphasized that France intends to develop its nuclear deterrent and improve conventional forces.

“You are the life insurance of France,” he told the crew of a nuclear-missile submarine during a visit before Saturday’s spectacular Bastille Day military parade in Paris.

His defense minister, Herve Morin, pledged to “revive the defenses massacred by the Socialists” during their tenure in power. France, he added, will maintain its military budget at 2 percent of the gross domestic product and build a second aircraft carrier.

The statements coincided with an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was withdrawing from the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which imposes a form of control over non-nuclear defenses. Mr. Putin argued that the treaty dates to the time when NATO faced the communist Warsaw Pact, which no longer exists, while NATO has since expanded its membership.

Commentators across Europe speculated on the effects of the announcement, which NATO described as “disappointing.”

Many pointed out that earlier Mr. Putin had threatened to target European cities with Russian missiles if the United States proceeded with a planned nuclear shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

While NATO officials concede that relations between the alliance and Russia are at an exceptionally low ebb, its secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, merely said that such relations were “based on partnership and discussion and the targeting of missiles will not fit in the discussion.”

It is against such a background that Mr. Sarkozy, elected president in May, has set out to improve France’s defense and build a more effective, though somewhat ignored, joint military force of the European Union.

To stress his point, Mr. Sarkozy had invited all 27 EU members to send contingents to join the 4,000 French troops and military schools marching on the Champs-Elysees on July 14, the national day.

Military attaches watching the parade noted that a number of freshly painted armored vehicles following the parading troops were old and that a planned new tank will not be ready to parade until next year.

The Paris conservative daily Le Figaro wrote that “after a review of the troops will come a review of accounts and orders for weapons,” pointing to a report by the parliamentary commission on a need for an additional $8 billion a year to pay for all the new hardware.

As far as the European Union’s fledgling joint defense force is concerned, the European Defense Agency wants to streamline plans and the bloc’s defense capability with “some degree of market force and some degree of consolidation.”

The union now spends $218 billion a year jointly on defense, which has drawn criticism because of the duplication with NATO’s spending. According to one recent report, there are 23 different national programs for armored-vehicle construction in Europe.

A number of EU members consider defense spending to be a “sovereign issue.”

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