France is marked Bastille Day Saturday with its traditional display of military might — a veritable assault of troops, helicopters, fighter planes taking over the skies and the famous Champs Elysees avenue of Paris. France’s defense budget is getting a sizeable boost that will meet NATO’s two percent spending commitment by 2025— and reverse a decade of budget cuts. But it may not be enough for Washington.
Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump was at the Bastille Day parade here in a visit that forged a personal bond with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. This year, President Macron attended the festivities with another leader — the prime minister of Singapore. But Macron and Trump met days earlier— at a fractious NATO summit that saw the U.S. leader criticizing allies for not spending enough on defense.
France’s new military spending bill is a step toward meeting that goal. Signed by Macron hours before the Bastille parade, it sees boosting military spending by several hundred billion dollars over seven years, to hit the 2 percent NATO target by 2025. What it doesn’t do is double that amount — as Trump demanded of NATO allies and suggested they agreed to.
“There’s no way this multi-year budget would meet this 4 percent request for NATO which caught everyone by surprise,” said Pierre Tran, Paris bureau chief of Defense News.
He says even signed, the bill’s spending increase is not a sure deal.
“It not only depends on the next administration which will have to win the elections, this present multi-year defense budget also requires each year’s budget to be approved by the finance ministry,” Tran said. “This multi-year budget can be adopted…can it be implemented? ”
President Macron earlier rejected Trump’s claims that NATO allies had agreed to more than a 2 percent increase. Still French military chiefs will be happy. Last year, Macron announced defense budget cuts — triggering the resignation of the armed forces chief.
“There are 2 major areas where spending will be allocated,” Tran said. “One is greater spending on intelligence services …and that is in response to terrorism or unconventional fighters in the field. The other large increase will be in equipment.”
France’s military has been pressured to respond to multiple threats in recent years, including at home following a number of terrorist attacks. Overseas, France has about 4,000 troops deployed in an anti-terror mission in the Sahel, working with regional countries. A poll published Saturday in Le Figaro newspaper finds high public support of the military, with nine out of 10 French confident in its ability to fight terrorism.