French military chief resigns over Macron budget cuts

The French chief of the armed forces, General Pierre de Villiers, resigned yesterday after a blow-up with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, over defense budget cuts.

De Villiers strenuously objected to the billion-dollar cut to the armed forces at a time when French military commitments are increasing.  The general appeared before a parliamentary committee and skewered the new president in his testimony.


In a statement, 60 year-old Pierre de Villiers said he had tried to maintain a French defense force with the ability to do an increasingly difficult job within the financial constraints imposed on it, but was no longer able to sustain that.

"In the current circumstances I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defense force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people, today and tomorrow, and to sustain the aims of our country," he said.

Macron had accepted his resignation, de Villiers added.

A fierce row broke out last week between the two men just two months after Macron was elected, and just as France prepared for the military pomp of a July 14 Bastille Day parade where Macron's U.S. counterpart Donald Trump was the guest of honor.

De Villiers, appearing before a closed-door hearing of parliamentarians - had used strong language to protest at the 850 million euro ($979.46 million) defense budget cut Macron was making as part of his efforts to rein in state spending.

"I won't let myself be [f-----] like that," he said according to two parliamentary sources. "I may be stupid, but I know when I am being had."

Macron had gone public with his rebuke. "I have made commitments, I am your boss," he said in a speech to dozens of top army officers and their families.

How much on defense would France be spending without the American security umbrella for Europe?  Throughout Europe, there are rarely serious disagreements between political and military leaders about defense spending because NATO countries are assured of the American commitment to their defense in case of war.  France, although not an official member of NATO, has always been involved in military planning with the alliance.  Its independent nuclear deterrent – force de frappe – contains less than 300 warheads, and some of its components need to be modernized.

But cutting the approximately $33-billion defense budget by 3% would be like cutting $21 billion from U.S. defense expenditures.  By any measurement, this is a steep cut, and de Villiers couldn't stomach Macron's sanctimony.

Macron may have won this battle.  But French commitments to the security of Afghanistan and central Europe may suffer as a result.