French military chief: New threats require more spending

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PARIS (AP) — France's military chief is urging the country's next president to ratchet up defense spending to better confront Islamic extremists and authoritarian states that increasingly rely on military muscle.

Gen. Pierre de Villiers, chief of the general staff, said in an appeal published Wednesday in the business daily Les Echos that attacks on France and other European countries in recent years showed that "peace no longer happens by itself."

He called for upgrading France's nuclear arsenals and other equipment, and boosting defense spending over the next five years to 2 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 1.77 percent currently. France had promised such an increase to NATO by 2025, but de Villiers urged a faster effort.

France's military, among Europe's biggest, is active in anti-extremist operations in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

President Francois Hollande stressed Wednesday the defense budget has increased during his term.

"We now have the necessary resources to meet our goals," Hollande said following the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Following the attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris in 2015, the French government decided to increase the budget for defense by 600 million euros ($625 million) in 2016 million) and 700 million euros ($729 million) next year. The decision notably aims at financing the 10,000-strong Sentinel Operation of soldiers who patrol in French streets and sensitive sites like airports and train stations.

For the first time in two decades, the number of French military will slightly increase by about 3,000 people from 2016 to 2019, allowing the French military to keep more than 200,000 troops.

France's next presidential election is scheduled in two rounds in April and May next year, and Hollande has announced he will not run for re-election.

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