France Faces Greater Threats as U.S. Pulls Back, Hollande Says

Continued threats from Africa and the Middle East at a time when the U.S. is pulling back from its engagements led to France’s decision to spare its military from spending cuts, French President Francois Hollande said.

“The U.S. is disengaging from theaters where it had been active these recent years,” Hollande said in a speech at a military college in Paris today. “Europe is confronted, country by country, by budgetary problems that have led many of its members to reduce their military efforts.”

The French government said last month that it was maintaining military spending at about 30 billion euros ($39 billion) a year through 2019, rejecting proposals from some in the Finance Ministry that defense spending play a greater role in efforts to trim the budget deficit. France will spend 371 billion euros this year, and Hollande has said he wants to cut 12 billion euros a year over his five-year term.

“Defense is a heavy investment for the country,” Hollande said. “I made my choices with the sole criterion the national interest. I must prepare my country for the challenges it could face. The world is not safer than it was yesterday.”

Hollande said military spending will focus on “adjusting to the threats of today and tomorrow,” with greater spending on drones, spy satellites, cargo aircraft, refueling tankers and multi-role frigates.

Military Size

The army will be reduced in size to about 66,000 deployable soldiers by 2019, down from about 80,000.

Hollande said none of France’s major arms programs will be halted, citing Dassault Aviation SA’s Rafale fighter jet, Eurocopter SA’s Tiger and NH-90, Barracuda submarines and Felin battlefield systems, though he didn’t say how many would be ordered.

Hollande said 100 countries have “saluted” France’s intervention in Mali earlier this year.

“More than ever, France needs strong defense to stay what she is: an independent country, a reliable ally and power whose military has been called upon without break for 10 years,” Hollande said.

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