Donald Trump wants a military parade in Washington: US set to join France, Russia and China with show of strength

Aashray Hariharan

Donald Trump, that most Russian of all US presidents (allegedly), has a new idea, one which seems straight out of a closed door meeting at the Kremlin during the height of the Cold War: Holding a military parade to showcase the armed forces' muscle, and to underscore his role as commander-in-chief.

Trump, who has toyed with the idea of a parade in Washington since before being sworn in, made this request to top brass, media reports said. And flaunting American muscle seems like a good fit, given the fact that the US spends more on its military than the next 19 biggest spending countries put together do.

Sources told The Washington Post that it's "being worked at the highest levels of the military", and a White House official has confirmed that is being planned. Memorial Day on 28 May, American Independence Day on 4 July, and Veterans' Day on 11 November, are likely to be the days officials are considering, with the latter being preferred given its association with World War I and because it has less to do with politics and Trump.

The genesis for Trump's grand plans seems to have been France's Bastille Day celebrations in September last year, where he was invited as a special guest. "It was one of the greatest parades I've ever seen. It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France," Trump is believed to have told French president Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of the celebrations.

But then came the kicker: He had to top it. Because be it a nuclear button or be it a military parade, Trump is determined to ensure the US will have the world's biggest. "We're going to have to try and top it," CNN quoted Trump as telling Macron. "But I came back (from France), and one of my early calls were, I think we're going to have to start looking at that ourselves. So we're actually thinking about 4 July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength."

But it might be easier said than done. Military parades aren't very common in the US, one reason being they don't come cheap. The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run into millions of dollars, The Washington Post reported in a separate copy, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.

Holding it in Washington DC would pose separate problems as well, with the Council of DC, the district's legislature, not appearing too keen on the plan.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent Republican voice on defence matters, said he favoured highlighting the country's armed forces, but not its weaponry. "I think a parade showcasing the military and the sacrifices they make for the country would be appropriate, it would be a way to say thank you, but I'm not interested in a military hardware display. That would be cheesy and project weakness," Graham told reporters on Wednesday.

Washington has been a Democratic stronghold, and voted overwhelmingly against Trump in 2016's presidential elections. "A military parade in DC would shut down the nation's capital and waste taxpayer dollars just to feed Trump's ego," said Eleanor Holmes Norton, a non-voting delegate to the US Congress for the District of Columbia.

Washington mayor Muriel Bowser's spokeswoman said the district had no formal request for a parade, but "just like the wall, he will have to pay for it", a reference to Trump's plan to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it. The Mexican government has insisted it will not do so.

But while the city could take symbolic measures to oppose the parade, it has little power to dictate what the Pentagon and the federal government do. "The reality is that we can't stop the president from marching," David Grosso, Washington DC council member, said.

>Military parades around the world

The idea of holding elaborate parades that showcase a country's military might is a Soviet-era tradition, and most of the countries that hold large-scale parades today are heavily militarised countries or those under authoritarian dictatorships. A few of these include:

>North Korea: If Trump felt insecure about France's Bastille Day celebrations, he won't be happy to know North Korea, Public Enemy No 1 at the White House, also held a military parade in Pyongyang on Thursday. This move comes ahead of the Winter Olympics to take place in South Korea.

About 13,000 troops participated while 50,000 spectators watched the event, Bloomberg quoted the Yonhap news agency as saying. And though images and videos from the parade weren't broadcast live, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is expected to have showed off his latest military hardware. Footage from the parade may be broadcast at a later date.

>China: China's military parades have become larger and grander since Xi Jinping ascended to the presidency in 2012. Beijing's parade last year included 12,000 troops, tanks, missile launchers and other military vehicles. Aircraft, including H-6K bombers which had been patrolling near Taiwan and Japan, the J-15 carrier-based fighters, and new generation J-20 stealth fighters, were also on display.

The parade, ostensibly meant to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), turned into a public spectacle for China to flex its muscle before the world, and show just why the PLA is considered the world's largest armed forces. It was the first time China marked its Army Day, which falls on 1 August, with a military parade since the 1949 Communist revolution.

>Russia: Russia observes 9 May as 'Victory Day', to mark the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II, and modern day Russia's most important annual holiday. Russian marines, arctic vehicles and artillery were all on show on 9 May, as well as historic T-34 tanks that were influential on World War II battlefields.

A number of missile launchers also trundled across Red Square, as well as a fly-past by military aircraft and display teams. And when weather threatened to play spoilsport, the defence ministry said cloud-seeding planes would be deployed to disperse the overcast skies above Moscow, The Independent reported.

>France: Among western democracies, the only country which diligently follows a military parade every year is France, which deploys thousands of armed forces personnel marching on 14 July every year in Paris, while smaller parades are also held in French towns of Marseille and Toulon.

Bastille Day, marked to celebrate the anniversary of the end of monarchy in France and the establishment of democracy, is celebrated in France with a show of military might, with the French motto of 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity'. It's the oldest military parade in the world, running continuously for over 120 years. The first one taking place in 1880.

Military parades around the world

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