PARIS — The French chief of defense has called on the country to inject from next year an extra €10 billion (U.S. $10.8 billion) in military spending, a funding boost that would reach NATO's budget target of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2022.
Army Gen. Pierre de Villiers insisted France hit that budgetary target by 2022 rather than 2025, as the security threat is complex and rising, and because the services are quickly wearing out equipment due to intense operations, which will last for "a very long time."
The top military officer was a keynote speaker at a March 22 Circle of Economists' conference focused on whether the defense industry is an asset for the economy.
De Villiers' remarks come at a politically sensitive time, as the French presidential election campaign opened on Monday, with voters going to the polls April 23 and May 7 in a two-step selection.
In the presidential campaign, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday declared his long-awaited support for Emmanuel Macron, an independent candidate, in an interview with Ouest-France, a regional paper for Brittany, northwest France.
De Villiers called for the 2018 defense budget to be set at €35.5 billion, a remarkable €2.8 billion increase from the €32.7 billion for this year, with the figures at 2017 prices and including pensions and overseas deployment.
Annual increases will result in €39.5 billion in 2020 and €42.5 billion in 2022, he said.
That compares to the United States' $54 billion increase for 2018 requested by the Trump administration; a 7 percent rise to €143 billion in China; and an 8 percent rise in German defense spending in 2017, he said.
"The world is rearming," he said.
Berlin’s commitment to hit the 2 percent target in the next decade will see an annual funding of €65 billion, said Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office.
"We should pay attention," he said. "We should hook on to the German train."
De Villiers called for an adoption of the multiyear military budget in the first half of next year, bringing the funding in line with the presidential five-year term. The present budget law covers 2014-19.
Paris has deployed 4,000 troops in the Barkhane mission across Sahel, Africa's sub-Saharan region, making France the second-largest nation after the U.S. to send armed forces abroad, de Villiers said.
That high level of deployment — which calls for faster renewal of equipment including tanker aircraft, transport planes, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance kit — exceeds by 30 percent the operational contract set in the defense white paper, he said.
French 2016 defense spending was an estimated 1.79 percent of GDP, according to NATO.
That includes pensions, while the amount excluding pensions was around 1.5 percent.