Vive l’Alliance! Perhaps…

Vive l’Alliance! Perhaps…

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Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan met with French Defense Minister Florence Parly during the defense ministerial at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 14. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON — France’s defense minister said Monday that the NATO alliance “should be unconditional” and called out President Donald Trump’s disparagement of the alliance as well as his mocking of European efforts to construct an autonomous military force.

“We will call it ‘autonomy,’ and we will count on you to hear in this word nothing (more) than the bonds of a healthy, independent, and robust friendship,” Florence Parly, France’s defense minister, said during remarks at The Atlantic Council.

Parly said the autonomous military force being considered by several European nations is actually what Trump has been browbeating NATO allies to do — increasing their share of defense responsibilities.

“We need to step up to help without waiting for the U.S. to always foot the bill,” Parly said.

Parly was to meet Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later on Monday at the Pentagon.

France is the U.S.’ oldest ally. French support for the United States started in 1775, when France shipped supplies to the Continental Army during the U.S. war for independence and later sent some of its navy to engage the English in the climatic showdown at Yorktown.

Parly agreed that European nations should continue to increase their share of defense spending. However, she said Washington should not consider it mandatory that NATO allies must buy U.S.-made equipment.

France is also a major weapons producer.

“NATO’s solidarity clause is called Article 5, not ‘Article F-35,” she said, referring to Germany’s decision not to purchase the U.S.-led F-35 fighter — a decision that drew complaints from the White House.

“I’m personally more concerned at the notion that the strength of NATO solidarity might be made conditional on allies buying this or that equipment,” Parly said. “The alliance should be unconditional, otherwise, it’s not an alliance.”

On Thursday, NATO reported that alliance members have increased their defense spending for the fourth consecutive year. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said then that seven nations meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending threshold agreed upon at NATO’s Wales Summit in 2014, with Romania on track to meet the spending minimum in 2019. France is not among those nations.

The U.S. now provides roughly 91 percent of air tankers, 92 percent of its medium- and high-elevation unmanned aerial vehicles, and 100 percent of its strategic bombers and missile defense systems to NATO, Parly said.

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