Macron’s submarine spitting reminds why Australia should move closer to France, not alienate from it
Emmanuel Macron foresaw a world beyond the United States long before his anger erupted over the canceled submarine deal.
The French president calls it strategic autonomy; it could just as well be called “Europe first”. Macron says Europeans must stop being naive and develop the power to defend themselves.
And it can now go so far as to rethink NATO, an alliance Macron previously called “brain dead.”
Would France leave NATO? Well, he’s already done it – sort of. In 1966, President de Gaulle withdrew his country from the NATO command structure, while remaining an active member of the alliance. It only “joined” NATO in 2009.
The spitting of the submarine makes one wonder if Macron can make a de Gaulle. It’s unlikely, but the fact that it’s being speculated reminds us that a significant geopolitical shift is underway.
Macron is adjusting to life in what has been called a “post-American world”.
As Donald Trump, during his presidency, questioned the value of NATO and accused European nations of not paying for their place, Macron warned that Europe cannot depend on US military support.
Now you can add betrayal to that. Macron feels cheated, accusing America and Australia of lies, duplicity and contempt for France.
It’s not just the angry words of an abandoned partner. It goes much further. France is not a country that is easily ignored or lightly despised. It is a powerful nation: equipped with nuclear weapons, it has the sixth defense budget in the world and the largest in Europe. In some ways, it has the largest army in Europe.
France is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. And it is an economic powerhouse – the seventh largest economy in the world.
The shadow of France
It’s fair to say that France casts a bigger shadow than Australia. France projects its power and its influence beyond Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa and in the Indo-Pacific.
France is a serious Pacific power. It has 8,000 troops in the region, more than any other country except the United States. It has up to two million citizens here and controls the territory.
If we want a more stable region, France must be at the table. Rather than alienating France, Australia should move closer to it. Former director of the Defense Department and Federal Vice President of the Navy League, Mark Schweikert, said we need to give “more thought and attention” to our relations with France.
Writing in the journal The Navy, he asserts that French territories could be “key anchor points to influence / control the South West Pacific”.
All of this, of course, is designed to blunt China’s rise to power in the region. But does France, or even the EU, see China as the biggest threat?
France says it is a “stabilizing power”. The Center for Strategic and International Studies affirms that France wants to find “a balance between the essential balance against China and the need to avoid a posture of escalation towards Beijing”.
Simply: beware, be prepared, but don’t be provocative.
France led Europe in developing an Indo-Pacific strategy. Until recently, the EU had no plan for the region. Remarkable when you consider how our neighborhood will determine peace and prosperity for the 21st century. Today, the 27 EU foreign ministers signed a security plan.
The EU is cautious. However, there is no question of confronting or containing China. Where the United States refers to China as a “strategic rival”, European nations prefer the word “inclusiveness”. They want to incorporate China – it’s all about cooperation.
Europeans don’t see China as an enemy
The EU has a lot at stake; China has overtaken the United States as the biggest trading partner of the European bloc.
European states themselves are divided over what the Indo-Pacific strategy means. Writing for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Frederic Grare and Asia Program Coordinator Manisha Reuter point out:
“Western European states tend to view the prospect of an EU Indo-Pacific strategy as both a means of managing the transatlantic alliance and an assertion of strategic autonomy; Eastern European states see it as a way to manage the transatlantic alliance and align with the United States. . “
Europeans generally don’t see China as an enemy. An ECFR poll of European states shows that a majority think a new cold war is underway, but they don’t think they’re part of it. According to the survey, Europeans do not see the world as a big battle between authoritarianism and democracy.
Very few respondents see China as a threat to their way of life and most see Russia as a bigger challenge. And while Australia doubles up on the American alliance, Europeans are questioning America’s need as a great defender.
It probably reflects geography. Europe is a far cry from what some see as the emerging Indo-Pacific battlefield. Europeans may well be complacent; they would do well to wake up to China’s assertiveness and bullying.
But all of this reminds us that the world is much more complicated than the simplistic narrative of China against America “with us or against us” that is taking hold in Australia.
Which brings us back to France. Of all the European nations, the French have the most skin in the game. Macron’s strategic autonomy does not mean that he does not value strategic alliances. France is close to India, the two countries have conducted joint military exercises.
France is keen to join similar three-way exercises with India and Australia, and in April this year the French Navy participated in maritime exercises with the Quad countries – India, Japan, the United States and Australia.
It is no exaggeration to speak of a Quad-plus-one.
It was before AUKUS. Thus flouted, strategic autonomy must look pretty good to Macron at the moment.
It may make China a lot happier, but it makes our region a lot less stable.
Stan Grant presents China Tonight Monday at 9:35 p.m. on ABC TV and Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ABC News Channel.