France’s military hub to Europe – Carnegie Europe | Popgen Tech
French President Emmanuel Macron has a knack for irritating his European counterparts.
Germany, traditionally France’s closest ally in the EU, often complains that it is not consulted when Macron makes ambitious speeches about Europe. Not that Berlin, either under former Chancellor Angela Merkel or her successor Olaf Scholz, has spelled out any original proposals for Europe.
Then there is the view from Poland and the Baltic States. They believe that Macron has not done enough to support Ukraine militarily. More than that, they suspect that Macron still wants to strike some kind of deal with President Vladimir Putin to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Central Europeans along with other strong Atlanticist countries also often think that when Macron talks about strategic autonomy for Europe, it is about the gradual weakening of NATO or the creation of a defense structure in competition with the US-led military alliance. Indeed, Macron once dubbed NATO “brain dead,” a description that persists.
Above all, there is a sense that France, the EU’s sole nuclear power, cannot be trusted, as its view of the world – and of Europe – is a Gallic one, in which France is the decisive, strategic actor that the union’s future.
Well, if Macron’s new national strategic review is anything to go by, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be the start of a major rethink of France’s military role in Europe and its relationship with NATO.
In this draft review, which will be worked on over the next few months and which aims to outline France’s military posture until 2030, Europe’s security, NATO’s goals and Paris’s nuclear deterrent go hand in hand.
Given all the old and new threats, ranging from conventional military aggression to hybrid warfare, and including disinformation, cyber attacks and new weapons, Macron knows that no country can do it alone. Russia’s invasion exposed Europe’s vulnerabilities and low level of resilience. There are too many unknowns and too many challenges that not only require a wide range of abilities; the economic cost of addressing all these threats is prohibitive.
Against this background, for Macron, Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine “could foreshadow wider geopolitical rivalry and a future that we have no reason to accept with fatalism.” Not only that. The president emphasized that “[…] because this war makes clear the state of the world we live in, the collapse of norms and taboos, the abuse of power, it qualifies that dangerous moment where the old balance is contested, but the new one is not yet established.”
Macron is not prepared to wait for that new order to emerge – something that China (which gets no mention in the draft outline) is trying to shape.
Instead, with the new focus on Europe, he confirmed France’s withdrawal from the Sahel, thus ending the Barkhane operation in which Paris deployed around 5,000 troops in Mali to help fight Islamic extremists. In the future, France will create a new organization based on cooperation between France and local armed forces.
Shifting to Europe, Macron has no illusions about the important role of NATO and the United States. “France intends to maintain a unique position within the Alliance. It has a demanding and visible position because of the specificity and independence of its defense policy, especially because of its nuclear deterrent,” he said.
At the same time, France intends to strengthen its influence and that of the European allies to weigh on the major changes in NATO’s attitude and the future of strategic stability in Europe.
Strategic stability is the core element of Macron’s national strategic review. As Russia has challenged the stability of Europe and overturned the post-Cold War era, NATO and the Europeans must recognize how and why the continent must be defended. A “credible, modern” nuclear deterrent is key, Macron said. “Our nuclear forces, by their very existence, contribute to the security of France and Europe,” he added.
“Macron reaffirms France’s position on nuclear deterrence,” said François Heisbourg, senior adviser for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Indeed, defense experts in Europe often raise the possibility that France, with its nuclear capability, will provide the Europeans with a special security umbrella. Atlanticists may shudder at the idea. But Russia’s war in Ukraine is forcing allies to think about the future strategic direction of the EU and NATO.
The conflict highlights “the need to maintain a robust and credible nuclear deterrent to prevent a major war.” this deterrent must be “legal, effective and independent”, Macron said.
So while he wants France to be an “independent, respected, agile power at the heart of European strategic autonomy”, he has reassuring words for NATO and several European countries. France will maintain strong ties with the Atlantic alliance. The strategic partnership with the United States “will remain fundamental and must remain ambitious, clear and pragmatic.”
France will also deepen its relationship with Germany and forge defense partnerships with Italy and Spain while strengthening the European pillar in NATO.
“It is good that Macron refers at least several times to France’s sovereignty, but puts it in the context of a strong alliance within the EU, NATO and the United States,” said Eugeniusz Smolar of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw . However, as Smolar points out, Macron does not specifically refer to Poland, but mentions the strengthening of ties with Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia and Belgium. Even Moldova and Georgia are mentioned.
In short, the review does the rounds of NATO, the EU, Eastern Europe and Africa. Perhaps it is too comprehensive and general in scope about how to deal with the sheer scale of the challenges ahead.
The details and financial costs of preparing France for 2030 will become clearer in the coming months. And perhaps Macron’s throwaway line will be further elaborated: “When peace is back in Ukraine, we will have to evaluate all the consequences” through a “new security architecture” in Europe.