Timofey Bordachev: Here’s why Macron’s call to break away from US control is just meaningless posturing
Today, the words spoken in public by Western leaders, even the most senior, have no strategic significance but are merely an element of tactical maneuvering. So, it’s impossible to draw any far-reaching conclusions from them.
This is also true of recent urgings from French president Emmanuel Macron, who declared that Western Europe “must fight for strategic autonomy.”
These words have little value. The French leader’s speech should not be seen as a sign of some kind of “sovereign awakening” from the NATO Europeans at a time when, for objective reasons, they are fully signed up to the united community of countries led by the US. The Western coalition has not been this divided for a long time, and all the events around Ukraine confirm this.
It is interesting to note, however, that this empty verbal posturing is not just the work of an EU official but of a man accompanied by an officer with a ‘nuclear suitcase.’ France, it should be remembered, has the fourth largest stockpile of atomic weapons in the world. But, unlike Russia, America or China, membership of the club of the world’s most powerful military states does not give the Fifth Republic any real foreign-policy advantages.
Not so much in terms of its formal status – here it is just fine, as the size of the red carpet during Macron’s visit to Beijing confirmed. However, Paris cannot influence the content of international policy. And while in the case of Germany we can speak of a formal ‘dissolution’ of its sovereignty, in France we are talking about its de facto, self-imposed disappearance. This makes the French case even more grotesque.
The amazing thing is that we are not just talking about a country that once miraculously built its own nuclear weapons. France, for all its problems, is a highly advanced modern economy, producing commercially viable civilian aircraft capable of intercontinental flight – something that even super-successful China cannot yet do. Or today’s Russia, which has the technology, and did in the past but currently isn’t building such planes.
The Fifth Republic’s armed forces are also generally regarded as pretty good – at least the best in continental Western Europe. However, this is of little use when it comes to the state of international politics in general. Being part of the community of Western countries devalues all the advantages that would otherwise make France a much more important player than, say, India or Brazil. Not to mention Turkey or Iran, which are inferior to France in every respect but are more independent in their foreign policies.
France could have avoided the situation by following the path taken by Charles de Gaulle after the end of his presidency. But, more than 50 years after his departure, the statehood created by the general has gradually lost most of the trappings of autonomy. The finale of this long process was the return of Paris to the NATO military command structure in the 2000s, which, as we know, is dominated by the US. At the same time, the French decision drew a line under all attempts to think about an independent European defense, which became a thing after the victory of the West in the Cold War. Whatever anyone says, the question of control over military planning is the most important of the signs of a sovereign state.
With the end of the period of ‘Gaullism’ in French defense policy, this question has finally been answered for the whole of NATO Europe. And it is not a problem for the West that empty talk by the French president can’t be taken seriously.
Will such statements be made in the future? Undoubtedly, yes. Even the closest intra-family relationships, where the powerful patriarch stands at the head of the clan, allow for arguments over which of the children will occupy the most comfortable seat at the table. But it would be profoundly wrong to take these disputes, for even a moment, as an indication that any member of the friendly family of global parasites might commit treason against their patron across the ocean.