• France: more bucks for your bang

    When presenting the budget plan, Parly noted that “the world is more uncertain and the threats are more and diffuse”, and added that France needs to maintain its global influence, intervening where its interests are threatened and where it’s needed for global stability.

    The Macron government’s announcement will mean a serious boost to France’s defence capacity. But it is much more than that.

    For a start, the Trump administration will welcome the announcement very warmly; it positions France more directly as a reliable and relevant partner for the US in Europe and globally. The increased spending sends a strong signal about the seriousness of France’s commitment and leadership.

    As it happens, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was in Brussels on 14–15 February for a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. One item on their agenda was to review progress towards NATO’s 2% of GDP target. Mattis continued to argue that other NATO members should shoulder more of the defence burden, something that US President Donald Trump has been pushing aggressively since taking office.

    Mattis reportedly told NATO members (behind closed doors) that they needed to show the same commitment to spending more on defence that the US had shown through its own very significant defence budget lift. NATO members, he apparently reiterated, needed to do more, or risk a reduction of US military support.

    In fact, the US point is well made. Very few NATO members have reached, or are anywhere near reaching, the 2% of GDP target. On 13 February NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said only eight NATO members are expected to reach the target this year, and very few (15, leaving aside the US, of NATO’s 28 members) are likely to reach it by 2024. France is now on track to join that club.

    Stoltenberg put a brave face on these statistics, noting that NATO members as a whole had increased defence spending. But it doesn’t alter the fact that several members are unlikely to meet the target.

    One of the worst offenders is Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the fourth-largest economy globally. Although Germany has indicated it will lift the defence budget by around €250 million a year, the fact is German defence expenditure is only around 1.24% of GDP, and considerably more funding will be required to achieve NATO’s target. Even that modest ambition is up for discussion.