Obsolete NATO, chimerical European defense: what military strategy for France?

First, there was the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then the masterful slap of the cancellation of submarine contracts by Australia. As the United States prepares for China, what should France’s strategic vision be?

Shortly after the signing of the North Atlantic Council Treaty in 1949, the outbreak of the Korean War precipitated the creation of an integrated military command, which became the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) . However, from 1950, France opposed the United States. Hostile to the FRG’s membership in the organization, she campaigned for the creation of a European Defense Community (CED) which ultimately did not see the light of day. Anxious to regain national independence, General de Gaulle slammed the door in 1966. It was not until 43 years, in 2009, under the leadership of Nicolas Sarkozy, for France to join the alliance. For 70 years, the country has oscillated between the impossible exercise of its sovereignty within an alliance dominated by the United States and the temptation of a common European defense. NATO, a product of the Cold War, is no longer adapted to the new geostrategic realities, and European defense is a pipe dream. To reconcile its ambitions and the means of its ambitions, France must now pursue an original path.

NATO is obsolete

Judged in a state of “brain death” by Emmanuel Macron in 2019, NATO is however in full health. With nearly a trillion dollars in annual spending, it is the most formidable military alliance in history. But it is also an organization without a clear strategic vision, without collective will, a mastodon devoid of ambitions and faith in its own existence. To understand NATO, one must imagine a collection of European nations happy to profit from the American military-financial umbrella, and reluctant to cover the costs of their own defense in the name of an outdated worldview.

The end of the bipolar world marked that of NATO. Not only has the alliance lost its raison d’être, the ambitions of member states have never been so divergent. For the United States, it is an “armed pied-à-terre” in Europe; for the United Kingdom, it is the military formalization of a “special relationship” with Washington, a condition sine qua nonof their place in the world, that of a fictitious mahout of the American “elephant”; for Germany, it is a certificate of good conduct; for the Baltic and eastern countries, it is the essential shield against the Russian threat; for southern Europe, it is life insurance allowing underinvestment in their own defense. Finally, for Erdogan’s Turkey, it is an object of military blackmail which gives carte blanche to the realization of their neo-Ottoman ambitions in Africa and the Middle East.

But for France, it is a marriage of dupes, that is to say the tearing between participation in an alliance incompatible with its ambitions for military and strategic independence, and the temptation of a common European defense whose Europeans do not want to. The maintenance of this illusion is a brake on a coherent and proactive foreign policy. It is urgent to move on.

Crises multiply and do not look alike

Donald Trump wanted to get out of NATO . His reasoning was simple: the United States is paying for the defense of Europe, it is unacceptable. Forced to maintain the status quo , he spent his summits sulking and threatening his European allies with reprisals if they did not increase their defense budgets to the level of 2% of GDP. At the same time, Erdogan buys Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defense systems, threatens his Greek and Cypriot “allies”, and repeatedly avoids the military incident with France, while in Libya the DGSE supports the same camp as the Russians, that of Marshal Haftar, and that the Turks and the Italians bring their support to Sarraj. All this no longer makes sense.

President Biden’s election was supposed to restore some semblance of normalcy to the chaos left by the Trump administration. If his first six months have shown that the arrival of “adults” in the White House was enough to bring the troublemakers (Putin, Erdogan, Netanyahu, MBS) to more restraint, the events of the last few weeks have cooled him down. enthusiasm of the European chancelleries.

First, there was the withdrawal from Afghanistan : no anticipation, no listening to the men on the ground, no consultation with the allies, obliged as always to follow in humiliating conditions. Even the British, yet desperate to win Washington’s favor, have allowed themselves to criticize the “cousins”. Then there was the masterly slap of September 15: not only did the French lose a $ 60 billion contract , dealing a heavy blow to the military industry, but they also learned that the new Biden administration, the “Brexiters ”Across the Channel and Morrison’s Australian government have been negotiating behind their backs for 18 months. For the French, it is the last straw that makes the alliance flow.

Towards a new geostrategic deal

After the Cold War, followed by 20 years of fighting Islamist terrorism, the White House is resolutely turned towards the Pacific. The economic, military and cultural rivalry with China has officially become the main axis of their foreign policy. Leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom is looking for a role in the world and will do everything to strengthen its multiple partnerships with the United States to give itself the illusion of being a “global power”. As for Germany, its interests are resolutely turned towards the east and towards the Asian markets. The reality is that the external issues of Europe and the United States are no longer aligned.

We are entering a more complex, multipolar, increasingly unpredictable world; a new era of Realpolitik, with shifting alliances, which demand a very clear alignment of political objectives and the military means at their disposal. In this new environment, consistency, voluntarism and military experience prevail over economic power and their corollary, the size of armaments budgets. Defining its place in the world and its objectives should be the “brief” of the next military planning law, and not the other way around. If the United States is above all looking towards China, Russia towards the reconstitution of its disappeared empire and its zones of influence, France must follow its own strategic vision,

But what vision? There is the fight against internal terrorism, which involves the management of zones of influence in Africa and the Middle East, the relationship with Russia, and the protection of its territories and its interests in the Indo-Pacific. . To develop traditional alliances while facing up to current strategic challenges, we need a diplomacy of variable geometry, and investments commensurate with the objectives: a) renegotiate its status within the integrated NATO command, b) despite the political tensions, strengthen cooperation between Western intelligence services, mainly in the fight against terrorism, c) Encourage the creation of a European rapid intervention force (concrete project, very different from an illusory integrated army),

The announced death of NATO represents a tremendous opportunity: the establishment of a coherent, proactive foreign policy that is long-term and that adapts to new strategic risks. Ultimately, Macron should thank the Americans.

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