France’s message to Europe on how to deter aggressive behavior from great powers and counter terrorists requires investment in security and operating abroad, the French defense minister said on Friday.
“Europeans are doing more” to pay for their own security. Canada and the Europeans have “raised defense budgets by 24 percent since 2014,” Florence Parly said during an event at the Atlantic Council. As for France itself, “we’re on target” to reach the defense spending goal of 2 percent of France’s gross domestic product by 2025.
“Our immediate challenge today is to be able to face … international and regional powers,” she said.
Parly said that for France the lessons to spend more on security and be able to act arose from Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, in addition to the wave of terrorist attacks that swept over Paris and its suburbs the following year.
Eight nations, including Estonia and the Czech Republic, have joined France in sending forces to Africa’s Sahel region to work with militaries and police battling terrorist groups. These groups claim links to al Qaeda and ISIS. Nine more European nations are willing to join in the effort.
“Sahel is the southern border of Europe” and future terrorist threats Europe faces may come from there, not Syria or Iraq.
During her meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday morning, Parly said she stressed the need for continued American support in providing expertise in counterterrorism and “particularly useful” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets for operations in the Sahel.
“We continue to rely on these very specific assets,” she said.
At the Pentagon, Austin and Parly spoke about working with coalition forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger to bring peace and security to the region. “The United States is proud to support our French and African partners,” he said.
Although France has announced intentions to cut its forces in the Sahel from 5,100 to possibly 2,500 hundred, “we will keep on fighting there” with more support from other European nations. Parly said the assistance is welcomed by the African nations’ governments. ON?
Parly added the U.S. and France just signed a new agreement extending cooperation arrangements between the two nations’ special operations forces. Likewise, she said her tour of U.S. Cyber Command earlier in the day and a meeting in France with American Space Force officials demonstrated new shared interest in cooperating more fully in those domains.
She said the “obvious facts” are that France and the Europeans in NATO and the EU “welcome the Biden administration.” The minister said Europeans believe it is more open to discussion about ways to cooperate on shared security challenges than the Trump administration.
In addition, there is greater recognition in Europe itself of having the EU and NATO work more closely together on security matters. “Seeing European [EU] efforts on one side and NATO largely on the other side is not the best way to improve cooperation.” Parly said it was “good to have the U.S. aboard” as EU nations work out details to improve mobility of forces in a crisis. She added for the French it’s important that EU nations have also stepped up the investment in their own defense industrial base, so they don’t rely solely on U.S. manufacturers.
Parly, in her opening remarks, said France and the United States are acting together as a “strong and clear deterrent” against great power aggression in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. In the Middle East, with the United Kingdom, the western nations were crucial players in dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2018.
“We’re your best allies because we show up,” she said.
She added that when it comes to China’s ambitions globally, “we share analysis and issues.”
“In the Indo-Pacific in particular, France is an ideal partner for the United States as we work to bolster our shared interests in the region,” Austin said.
France has 1.6 million people living in island territories it holds in the Indo-Pacific, Parly said.