Emmanuel Macrons says Europe can no longer rely on the US for its security. He is calling for a European defense initiative which could sideline Nato and has begun bilateral talks with potentially willing EU members. He is even ready to discuss a separate security partnership with Russia. But so far the response is cautious. Europe does not seem ready for France to lead another Grande Armée.
“Europe can no longer put all its security in the hands of the United States,” Emmanuel Macron said on Monday. He said Europe is “aware of its need for autonomy in this domain.” In the President’s annual foreign policy speech before French ambassadors assembled in Paris, Macron called for talks among Europeans, including Russia, on how to face the new security challenges of the twenty-first century.
Macron seemed to be calling for a new military alliance of willing EU partners which would compete with Nato: “It is up to us today to assume our responsibilities and guarantee European security and thus European sovereignty.“ Macron added extra drama by saying it is a question of ensuring “Europe’s preservation.”
But Macron’s wishes for a European Grande Armée hit a bump in Denmark which he visited the next day. The joint statement Wednesday insisted on reinforcing cooperation within Nato which would indicate Macron was unable to convince the Danes Europe should go it alone. However, on Tuesday the Danish Prime Minister, Loekke Rasmussen, admitted that the US President’s behavior at the last Nato summit means “we have to take greater responsibility for our own security.”
Political Power Grows Out Of The Barrel Of A Gun
In Macron’s world, the multilateralism inherited from the last century has been turned upside down by the unilateralism of people like Donald Trump. Macron wants a Europe, in his multilateral world view, to be in a position of strength to make new alliances with countries like China, India and Russia. But for this, Europe needs to be militarily strong and independent while politically and diplomatically united.
Europe is a confederation which works together on some things and not so much on others. Germany will not accept a federalized European budget for fears Germans would end up financing the debts of southern EU countries (including France). But German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas echoed Macron’s remarks the previous week in an interview with Handelsblatt newspaper, saying Europe must “take an equal share of the responsibility” and “form a counterweight to the US.” I don’t think Maas was referring to a Grande Armée under French command.
Timid First Steps
Last year, 25 of the EU’s 28 countries (1) agreed to reinforce military cooperation in a new treaty called Europe of Defense which would include developing arms and equipment for operations outside Europe. The new initiative will have a modest one billion euro budget in 2020. Although few have shown enthusiasm to follow France’s lead, Germany has sent military support to Mali to help French troops fighting Islamic forces there.
Macron has repeatedly called on Europeans to play a bigger military role in Africa in fighting Jihadi rebels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has visited six African countries since the 2015 migrant crisis, has shown willingness to help those nations financillay if they do more to keep their citizens from trying to get to Europe and accept to take back those who made it.
French Armed Forces are everywhere
France is a global military power, as Macron reminded ambassadors on Monday, with a military presence around the world through its overseas Departments and Territories in the South Pacific (Wallis & Futuna, Tahiti), to the Caribbean (French Guyana, Martinique, Guadeloupe), to the North Atlantic (Saint Pierre & Miquelon), to the Indian Ocean (Mayotte & Réunion) and New Caledonia.
France is also a nuclear power with an estimated stockpile of 300 warheads with ballistic missiles, along with sea and air forces capable of delivering them. Macron has repeatedly demonstrated he is not shy about employing military force.
French troops are based in several Francophone African countries and carrying out military operations in Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Central African Republic. Macron, in his speech, said France will further its military role in Nigeria and Cameroon to fight Boko Haram. France is also present in Peace Keeping missions around the world, including in the Middle East. In his speech, Macron warned Syria he would strike again if they used chemical weapons.
Under pressure from Donald Trump, both Germany and France said they will increase their defense spending in the years to come. France in 2016 spent $55,7 billion (2,26% GDP) on defense and Germany $41,1 billion (1,2%GDP). By comparison, Russia spent $66.3 billion (4,3% GDP), far behind China’s $228 billion and even behind Saudi Arabia’s $69,4 billion.
Many German politicians, the military and experts would love the pretext to invest more in their military and give their troops some trigger-time overseas. The saying goes: “Pushing Germany to arm is like offering a drink to a dry alcoholic.” But German public opinion remains largely opposed to militarism and intervention and always suspicious of the French.
Will France be able to lead a small nucleus of European countries to form a strong, independent military alliance as a counterweight to the US? Macron made it clear he is ready to do without newer EU arrivals, who he accuses of not following the rules, in order to build his Grande Armée.
- The UK, Malta and Denmark did not join the 2017 Europe of Defense initiative.
- The joint Franco-German Brigade (5,000 troops) is the only permanently active part of Eurocorps which also counts troops from Belgium and Spain. It can deploy 50,000 troops.