PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron promised an "unprecedented" hike in defense spending next year and vowed to safeguard the country's nuclear deterrent, as he tries to show his commitment to the troops amid a crisis over the military budget.
Macron flew in a C-135 military jet and visited nuclear forces at the Istres air base in southern France on Thursday a day after the head of the French military quit in a damaging dispute with Macron over budget cuts.
His replacement as chief of staff of the armed forces, Gen. Francois Lecointre, was at Macron's side for much of Thursday's event.
Macron promised to boost spending by 1.8 billion euros ($2.1 billion) to 34.2 billion ($39 billion) euros next year. He has also pledged to bring defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2025 to fulfill pledges to the NATO military alliance, from about 1.8 percent of GDP currently.
"This increase in the budget, in a year where no other budget except the army's will see an increase, is unprecedented, and I want to you to understand how important this is," he told officers gathered at Istres.
He called France's nuclear arsenal "the heart of our defense."
France's youngest-ever president, Macron has sought to establish his authority over the military, notably by touring a nuclear submarine and overseeing last week's military parade for Bastille Day alongside U.S. President Donald Trump.
But Macron ran into conflict with former armed forces chief of staff Gen. Pierre de Villiers, who resisted 850 million euros in cuts announced last week to this year's budget.
Villiers' departure Wednesday rattled the normally quiet, loyal French military and exposed simmering concerns about neglected facilities and dwindling resources. Villiers notably argued that France's military is being stretched more and more to fight Islamic extremist threats at home and abroad.
But the dispute was as much about Macron exerting authority as it was about money, with Macron lecturing military leaders "I am the boss" and de Villiers cautioning that "no one deserves to be blindly followed."