France boosts defence spending to hit NATO target

France on Wednesday announced plans to hike defence spending by more than 40 percent, bringing it into line with NATO targets after complaints from US President Donald Trump that Europe is not pulling its weight.

France boosts defence spending to hit NATO target
Photo: AFP
European NATO members have come under pressure from Trump to relieve the burden on the US, which currently accounts for about 70 percent of combined NATO defence spending.
The French government unveiled a bill that increases spending on the armed forces from 34.2 billion euros ($42 billion) in 2018 to 50 billion euros in 2025, taking the defence budget from 1.82 percent of GDP currently to a NATO target of two percent.
Nuclear-armed France and Britain are the biggest military powers in the European Union.
The French spending hike under new centrist President Emmanuel Macron marks a shift after years of belt-tightening in defence, which caused tension in the ranks.
Last year, the head of the armed forces resigned after a row with Macron over cuts to defence expenditure in an interim budget for 2017 agreed after his election victory in May.
Photo: AFP   
Macron is France's first commander-in-chief to have never served in the military, having come of age after compulsory military service was scrapped in 1997.
But he has repeatedly stressed his commitment to the armed forces, which are battling jihadists in West Africa and in the Middle East and are mobilised on the streets of France due to the domestic terror threat.
“Previous planning laws put the burden on the military. This time, we're asking for the country to take the burden for the military,” a source close to Defence Minister Florence Parly said.
The defence ministry plans to raise its spending by 1.7 billion euros a year between 2019 and 2022, increasing to 3 billion a year between 2023 and 2025.
Deficit problem
A chunk of the funds will be spent on replacing ageing armoured personnel carriers, adding more refuelling aircraft and ships and upgrading France's nuclear arsenal.
The bill also sets aside more money for the troops, in the form of better training, improved accommodation for military families and new equipment, including new bullet-proof vests and night-vision goggles.
The increase in funding will have to be balanced against commitments by Macron to tackle French overspending, which has seen the country repeatedly break European rules on deficits.
Macron comes under fire from all angles after French military chief quits
General Pierre De Villiers who resigned last year after a row with Macron. Photo: AFP
France's public finance watchdog urged Macron to go further in reducing the country's debt which is among the highest in Europe.
The budget deficit is forecast by the economy ministry to dip to 2.8 percent of GDP in 2018, while the public debt is estimated at 2.2 trillion euros, the equivalent of 96.8 percent of GDP.
The French armed forces are in action on multiple fronts.
They have been taking part in strikes against Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq and around 4,000 troops are hunting Islamist extremists in west and central Africa.
Meanwhile, at home, 7,000 soldiers are deployed to patrol the streets after a series of terror attacks since 2015 that have claimed over 240 lives.


France recruits 1,800 extra staff to cyber warfare unit

The French defence ministry on Wednesday announced plans to significantly boost the country's four-year-old cyber warfare force, citing the "growing number and gravity" of hacking attacks on the country.

France recruits 1,800 extra staff to cyber warfare unit
French defence minister Florence Parly. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

The government had already planned to add an additional 1,100 recruits to a unit created in response to the growing number of cyber attacks on the West, mostly blamed on Russia and China.

Defence Minister Florence Parly told a cyber security conference in the city of Lille on Wednesday she had decided to go further to try make France “a cyber security champion”.

Warning of a “Cold War in cyberspace” she said she would hire an extra 770 cyber combattants on top of an additional 1,100 already planned, bringing the force’s staffing level to 5,000 by 2025.

France and other Western countries are alarmed over a growing number of increasingly aggressive cyber attacks, including data breaches and ransomware attacks, which typically see hackers encrypting victims’ data and then demanding money for restored access.

Recent high-profile targets have included a US oil pipeline, Ireland’s health service and India’s flag carrier Air India.

Parly said that the French army needed to increase it use of the “cyber weapon”.

“Our opponents do not shy away from doing so, whether state powers, terrorist groups or their backers,” she said.