France is one of the founding members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and hosts several NATO agencies such as the NATO Helicopter Management Agency, the NATO Hawk Management Office, the Research and Technology Agency, and the Central Europe Pipelines Management Agency which is responsible for the movement, storage and delivery of fuel in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. In 2009 France ended its 40 year break in participating within the NATO command structure, but France has been a faithful ally by committing its troops to NATO operations. For IFOR (Implementation Force), France committed 7400 troops, one of the largest contributions of troops for the KFOR (Kosovo Forces) mission. France has taken part in Operation Endeavor, but their most recent contribution to the NATO mission has been the contribution of over 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. NATO is not the only organization for which France participates. Currently, 1,850 troops are participating in UNICIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). France abandoned the conscription concept in 1996 and its armed forces of 260,000, comprised of the Army, Navy, and Air Forces, have been professionalized since.
Five brigades of Engineer, Artillery, Signal, Special Forces, and Intelligence with one French-German Brigade and one airmobile brigade make up the French Army. Three main commands lead France's Air Force with Strategic Air Force (SAF), the Air-Defence and Air-Operations Command (CDAOA) and the Air Force Support Command (CSFA). The main air assets are the Mirage 2000 and the Rafale. France's Navy covers the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the English Channel with a commander in chief on each coast while territorial and operational organization is controlled in Mainland France. The French Navy also has territorial and operational organization in overseas territories such as the West Indies, Djibouti, Cape Verde, French Guyana, and French Polynesia. Completely independent from its armed forces, France has developed its own nuclear deterrence capability that is a modernized strategic nuclear force made up of the Oceanic Strategic Force and the Strategic Air Force.
France looks to its armed forces to use specialist units to respond to natural disasters, at home and abroad. Asked about public opinion in France regarding support for its armed forces and support for NATO, Chief Military Mission, Major General Maurice Lony says, "…they do support their armed forces and they have a very good opinion of their effectiveness. Moreover, since the end of the conscription, we have not encountered any special difficulty in recruiting. But we do, of course, invest in communication efforts towards the French public opinion so as to show how the military protects them and ensures their security.”
In order to support NATO's goal to transform its forces into a more expeditionary one, France began its first phase in 1984 when it created a Rapid Reaction Force of 50,000 troops, mostly made up of professional units. "Giving up the conscription and designing a more reduced armed forces format was the next step,” says Major General Lony, "This format was entirely professional and only made up of operational units that can all be deployed. The last stage consisted of taking part, very actively, into the NATO Response Force concept.”
For more information about France's military forces visit their national webpage or contact the National Military Representative for more detailed information.