“What we are currently experiencing is the brain-death of NATO. You have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None.”
President Emmanuel Macron
Alphen, Netherlands. November 15. Is NATO suffering “brain death”? President Macron of France certainly thinks so. In an interview for The Economist last week, the transcript of which I read carefully on two planes to and from Rome, Macron suggested the US can no longer be trusted to defend Europe, and effectively called on Europeans to defend themselves. Clearly, Macron’s one-time ‘bromance’ with President Trump is now mired firmly in ‘la merde’. So, what is motivating Macron? Is it another French attempt to generate Europe puissance, or just more Macro-Gaullisme, the applied and sustained hubristic application of a weak French hand in pursuit of French interests through more ‘Europe’ and less America?
The Economist interview reveals three strands of Jupiter-sized frustration. He is clearly frustrated that President Trump signalled his intention to withdraw US forces from Northeast Syria without informing his close allies. This is understandable angst given the exposure of both British and French Special Forces to the White House decision. His second frustration is that Europeans (for that read Germans) remain lukewarm to his idea of a high-end, projectable, robust European military capability – the European Intervention Force. This is even though nine European states have signed up, including the still-vital British, there is profound disagreement about the level of strategic autonomy from the Americans implicit in French ambitions. St Malo redux? However, it is the third strand of Macronian frustration that is at the heart of his concerns and pose the most fundamental of questions. Are the tensions in the transatlantic relationship simply due to one US president, or is there a deeper structural change taking place that will inevitably lead to the allies drifting apart? More of that later, but what of Macron’s prescriptions?
The six paradoxes of Macro-Gaullisme
The Macronian solution is for ‘Europe’, however Paris defines it, to generate far greater “strategic military sovereignty”. There are six paradoxes the European defence of Europe would need to overcome:
1. The Franco-British strategic defence partnership: Any such sovereignty could only be generated, to the extent it could, by Paris re-committing to a close military-strategic partnership with nuclear-armed London. That would mean building on the 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty. And yet, President Macron also wants to make Britain pay for Brexit by insisting on the hardest of trade ‘deals’ in any future ‘strategic partnership’ between Britain and the EU. For Macron to think he can attack Britain at one level and forge a close strategic partnership at another is less Macro-Gaullisme, more Macro-fantasie.
2. Less America, more Russia: As Macron wants to distance himself from the US, he also wants to move closer to Russia. There is a strangely ‘zero sum’ quality to strategic Macronianism. The paradox here is that only though the strong presence of the US in Europe would any rapprochement with an inherently unstable and aggressive Russia be at all safe. Moreover, if less America, more Russia is really the basis for Macon’s future ‘strategic sovereignty’ very few other Europeans would ‘buy’ into it, and absolutely no-one east of the Oder-Neisse line.
3. The sheer cost of European military sovereignty: To replace the US-funded military-strategic architecture under which Europe’s deterrence and defence shelters would be immense. It would also likely require the complete restructuring of the European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB). The recent experience of Galileo, Europe’s hugely expensive and alternative ‘GPS’ system, is a chilling example of the likely outcome of strategic Macronianism. Any such ambition would, and necessarily so according to Macron’s own time imperative, demand a rapid and massive taxpayer-funded investment in a raft of high-end European strategic defence enablers from satellites to air and fast sea lift. During a disastrous July software upgrade Galileo crashed. It is still not working properly. If one listens hard enough one can hear the European establishment trying to keep this quiet. Galileo, like the absurdly high-maintenance A400M military transport aircraft, is but another example of high-cost, low return European defence-industrial projects that have more political benefit than military. Plus ça change?
4. Common or collective? The only way for the architecture implicit in Macron’s vision to be afforded would be a much more integrated European defence effort, along the lines of the European Defence Union that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen favours. In fact, neither Paris nor, more importantly, Berlin are willing to countenance the loss of the national defence sovereignty Macron’s European military sovereignty would demand. And yet, deep military sovereignty is the essence of Macron’s vision, and the only way to balance the strategy, capability, technology and cost required.
5. Public or private? Given the pace that new civilian technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are entering the battlespace, much of it American, transatlantic defence-strategic public private partnerships will become more not less vital to European defence. And yet, what Macron is proposing reeks of yet another of those French statist, protectionist European ‘solutions’. Given the sorry state of Europe’s collaborative defence research and development and the uncomfortable relationship between defence policy and industrial policy in Europe, the likely result will be a Europe more not less vulnerable to twenty-first century warfare. The European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund? Amateur hour.
6. Anglosphere versus Eurosphere: Perhaps the most hubristic of Macron’s ideas, and the greatest paradox therein, is Macron’s implicit suggestion that Europe could defend itself in the complete absence of ‘les anglosaxons’. Such an idea is utter and complete nonsense, and the reason why Berlin immediately dismissed Macron’s demarche.
Right analysis, wrong solutions
For all of these paradoxes President Macron is essentially correct to demand Europeans do more for their own defence. It is time. However, he is dangerously wrong to believe that by doing more for their own defence Europeans should, or could, distance themselves from the Americans. No, the reason Europeans should do more for their own defence is because that is the only way NATO can and will survive as a meaningful deterrent and defender. It is also the only way the Americans will, over time, be able to maintain their security and defence guarantee to Europeans. The US is facing a growing challenge to its military power across the globe, most notably from an emergent, autocratic China. Like all the democracies it is also facing a growing threat across the 5Ds of twenty-first century warfare – disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction.
Macron’s problem is that he confuses his strategic mission with his political mission. Gaullism sought to forge French political unity at home by talking France up abroad. Macron is doing exactly the same by demanding other Europeans commit to an overtly French need for the Elysée to be seen to standing up to America in the name of Europe puissance. This, whilst privately French diplomats reassure the Americans about the vital importance of the Franco-American strategic partnership. What is the French word for ‘hubris’ again?
The real strategic paradox is that the Americans will need capable European allies almost as much as Europeans needs Americans. The ‘West’ is now a global idea, not just a Euro-Atlantic place which Europeans need to help secure and defend. A truly capable high-end, fast, first responder European Intervention Force that could operate to effect across twenty-first century multi-domain warfare would represent a real sharing of transatlantic strategic burdens. It is how best to realise more equitable burden-sharing between Americans and Europeans which Macron should address, rather than offering Macro-Gaullist European defence fantasies. Indeed, more equitable burden-sharing is the surest route to strategic autonomy.
Here’s the cruncher, the real reason for greater European military ‘sovereignty’ is the precise opposite to the prescriptions of Macro-Gaullisme. Europeans need to become militarily stronger to the US to remain close to the Americans, increase their importance to DC, and thus exert the very influence over Washington’s strategic choices, the lack of which clearly frustrates President Macron.
Europe puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?
President Macron is right to try and shift Europe out of the defence no-man’s-land in which it has been mired for too long. However, whilst his analysis is essentially correct, the solutions he offers are doomed to fail. If France really wants to lead the way towards a more strategically autonomous Europe France must, at the very least, put its ‘argent’ where its ‘bouche’ is, and increase French defence expenditure to, say, 3% GDP. Don’t hold your breath! Perhaps the ultimate Macronian paradox is that the only way to begin realise his vision will be to make the 2019 NATO Military Strategy work. That means Europeans fulfilling the defence planning Christmas wish-list the Pentagon has suggested. Do that and the NATO Defence Planning Process might finally cease to be the greatest work of European fiction since Dickens, or do I mean Flaubert and his masterpiece about unfulfilled bourgeois aspiration, Madame Bovary.
Is NATO suffering “brain death”? No, but it does (again) have a French headache. Does Macron’s vision promise Europe puissance? Non! It is Macro-Gaullisme on the road to Europe faiblesse! Is Macron right to push Europeans to become strategically serious, militarily-capable and to better understand their place and role in a dangerous world? As the Americans would say, ‘hell yes’!