Macron's strategic vision for Europe
President Emmanuel Macron’s February 2020 speech at the École Militaire, ostensibly about French nuclear policy, was also a major strategic statement about France’s role in Europe and the world. His primary message, directed towards Berlin in particular, advocates for an ‘awakening’ of Europe as an autonomous actor in the defence and possibly nuclear realms.
On 7 February 2020, France’s President Emmanuel Macron delivered a major foreign-policy and defence speech in Paris. While its primary purpose was to focus on nuclear-deterrence issues, it also allowed him to clarify his vision of the world, after several months of provocative statements and initiatives. The speech sought to reconcile Macron’s essentially Gaullist vision of the world with his strong European commitment – offering dialogue and cooperation with interested parties – and to reaffirm transatlantic solidarity. It was a further modest step by Macron in the long-standing French flirtation with the idea of transforming France’s national nuclear deterrent into a broader European deterrent. The principal targets of this message were in Berlin, where government officials guardedly welcomed the language, with the important proviso that it should not call into question the centrality of the United States’ nuclear guarantee.
A geostrategic speech
France’s possession of nuclear weapons helped mould the institutions of the Fifth Republic. Direct election of the president was instituted in 1962, four years after the birth of the new regime and two years after the first French nuclear test. Charles de Gaulle, the first president so elected, believed that only election by the people could afford the national leader of a nuclear power the domestic legitimacy and international credibility required to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. It has become a tradition of post-Cold War France for each president to give at least one major speech devoted mainly to nuclear deterrence. The goals of such speeches are to remind the electorate about what France’s nuclear weapons are for, as encouragement for those working in the nuclear-weapons complex, to inform adversaries and allies about French nuclear policy, and to present France as a model of transparency in the nuclear domain.
Macron’s speech was much broader in scope than the last major presidential nuclear speech, delivered by his predecessor, François Hollande, in 2015. Only about a third of the presentation, which was almost 8,500 words long in English, discussed nuclear issues specifically. The rest focused on Macron’s strategic vision of the world in which French nuclear policy has been evolving. The speech expanded on his interview in The Economist in October 2019. Macron cast great-power rivalry as the salient strategic feature of the contemporary world and warned against ‘a global uninhibited strategic competition that could generate risks of incidents and uncontrolled military escalation’. He noted the new ability of regional actors – Iran and North Korea, for example – to reach European territory with missiles, and how ‘the taboo of using chemical weapons has been broken multiple times in Syria, Malaysia and even in Europe’. He noted two additional ‘paradigm shifts’: the crumbling of multilateralism and international norms and the disruption caused by scientific and technological advances.
Macron called for an ‘awakening’ of Europe, advancing the view that Europe should be an autonomous actor in several key areas of international security, including ‘digital sovereignty’, infrastructure, defence, arms control and possibly nuclear weapons. The implicit strategic context for this recommendation is the retrenchment of the US under President Donald Trump from its traditional role leading international institutions such as NATO. According to several credible reports, Trump has advocated among his advisers for the withdrawal of the US from NATO altogether, undermining the credibility of the Alliance’s security guarantee. As Macron said, ‘Our norms cannot be controlled by the United States, our infrastructure, our ports and airports owned by Chinese capital, and our computer networks under Russian pressure … At [the] European level, we need to control our maritime, energy and digital infrastructure.’ His new insistence on digital sovereignty and ‘technological independence’ is perhaps an under-appreciated aspect of the speech. He also promoted arms control, but with a cautiously realist emphasis: ‘For too long, Europeans have thought that it was enough to lead by example and that if they disarmed, others would follow. This is not so!’ He warned Moscow and Washington against negotiating new agreements without taking European interests into account.
‘Macron called for an ‘awakening’ of Europe, advancing the view that Europe should be an autonomous actor in several key areas of international security.’
Macron aims to advance a ‘gradual rebuilding of confidence with Russia’. At the same time, he sought to reassure allies that France remained committed to NATO, which he had characterised as ‘brain-dead’ in The Economist in October. But he did voice concerns about the broader solidity of the Atlantic alliance, which he saw being tested in Libya and Syria. He reiterated that a stronger European defence effort was an effective response to US calls for a greater European contribution, since ‘NATO and European Defence are two pillars of European collective security’.
Back to basics
While Macron has been outspoken and even provocative in many of his policy pronouncements, his February speech showed that his views in the nuclear domain are as conservative as those of his predecessors.
He is eager to present himself as de Gaulle’s heir, choosing to deliver the speech at the École Militaire, the site of de Gaulle’s now-famous 1959 address declaring France’s independent defence posture. According to Macron, French deterrence continues to be based on the ability to inflict ‘unacceptable damage’ on a state’s ‘centres of power: its political, economic and military nerve centres’. Paris continues to take the position that if France is attacked with conventional or nuclear weapons in a way that threatens its vital interests, it may respond with a limited nuclear attack in order to restore deterrence. Macron specified in a way that his predecessors, former presidents Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, did not that a limited ‘warning’ strike would occur one time only, not multiple times, before France would inflict unacceptable damage on an adversary’s territory. He also apparently endorsed a traditional view of escalation, emphasising that ‘conventional and nuclear forces constantly support each other’. France has always been keen to remind observers that when it makes any significant commitment of military assets – especially dual-capable ones such as fighter-bombers from the Air Strategic Forces – it is acting as a nuclear power.
Informed by extended discussion in the French strategic community, Macron has taken a considered position on ethical opposition to nuclear deterrence, as embodied by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Vatican’s strong stance against nuclear weapons. To protect French firms, in particular those involved in the nuclear-weapons industry, he insisted that this so-called Ban Treaty ‘will not create any new obligations for France, either for the State or for public or private actors on its territory’. That said, he stressed the restrained nature of French nuclear deterrence and called on others to adopt the same posture: ‘it is essential to limit the role of deterrence to extreme circumstances of self-defence. Nuclear weapons must not be designed as tools of intimidation, coercion or destabilization. They must remain instruments of deterrence, with the objective of preventing war.’ In an apparent barb aimed at Beijing and Moscow, Macron issued a ‘call on the leaders of the other nuclear powers to show the same transparency in their doctrine of deterrence and to stop any attempts to exploit this strategy for the purposes of coercion or intimidation’.
Finally, Macron’s position on disarmament reflects France’s traditional view: it ‘cannot be an objective in itself’ and the parties ‘should first improve international security conditions’. The size of the French arsenal remains ‘under 300’ weapons. Macron emphasised the importance of the country’s ongoing work on verification and disarmament confidence-building measures, placing them alongside other long-standing French priorities such as upholding the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, launching Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations and achieving the near-universal ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
France, Europe and nuclear weapons
Macron’s strategic attitude is both Gaullist and European. The language used in his speech was less groundbreaking than some French and German commentators had expected, but by French standards it was non-trivial. The speech had three distinct components. Firstly, it affirmed that the European dimension of the French deterrent is now stronger than ever, entailing a commitment to the defence and security of European allies that ‘is the natural expression of our ever-closer solidarity’. Secondly, and most substantively, the speech offered dialogue with European partners on questions related to deterrence and the role French forces play in the continent’s security. This offer was carefully drafted, with several options reportedly under review until a few days before the speech. Officials in Paris have noted that France is now the European Union’s only nuclear power, given the departure of the United Kingdom; however, Macron did not mention the UK, except to reaffirm the customary view that the two countries share vital interests. Thirdly, Macron raised the possibility of European partners participating in some French nuclear exercises.
‘Macron’s strategic attitude is both Gaullist and European. The language used in his speech was less groundbreaking than some French and German commentators had expected, but by French standards it was non-trivial.’
Macron’s overarching goal is to develop ‘a true strategic culture among Europeans’. Given that Paris is sometimes suspected of seeking to weaken NATO – and Macron reaffirmed that France would remain absent from the organisation’s Nuclear Planning Group – his statement that ‘our nuclear forces also significantly contribute’ to the ‘strengthening of the Atlantic Alliance’s overall deterrent’ is noteworthy, as it added the word ‘significantly’ to the 1974 Declaration on Atlantic Relations (the so-called Ottawa Declaration) language typically used in NATO statements. In addition, Macron stated that Paris would ‘continue to contribute to political-level discussions aiming to strengthen the Alliance’s nuclear culture’.
In his speech, Macron attempted to reconcile national, European and transatlantic interests in the strategic domain, including nuclear deterrence. Some pro-disarmament countries such as Austria and staunch ‘Atlanticists’ such as Norway rejected his European nuclear offer. To the consternation of the French government, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg registered scepticism about France’s nuclear contribution to the Alliance, presumably based on his desire to avoid a transatlantic clash or a belief that French claims are overstated. Stoltenberg noted that ‘we already have a European nuclear deterrence capability, with a doctrine, and it is an active one. It is institutionalized and has existed for decades. It is the Europeans’ ultimate security guarantee and we must do nothing that could weaken or compromise it.’ Some European commentators also voiced suspicions about France’s motives, suggesting that this was essentially a way to enhance French prestige and power on the continent rather than share capabilities with partners.
Still, Paris could take satisfaction in the open interest expressed in Germany, Poland and the Baltic states. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer publicly declared their support for strategic nuclear dialogue with France on the condition that any French initiative would not be aimed at replacing the US nuclear umbrella. Germany’s receptiveness, however constrained, was important for Macron. At the Munich Security Conference a few days after his speech, he clearly hinted that his offer was primarily directed at Berlin in suggesting that Germany’s traditional view ‘that one could talk about US nuclear deterrence but not about European or French nuclear deterrence’ was inconsistent with the contemporary idea of ‘a sovereign Europe, a Europe that puts itself in a situation to protect its own citizens’.
To that effect, perhaps Paris will seek to create, with interested countries, some informal grouping such as the French-led European Intervention Initiative, which is also aimed at fostering the emergence of a common strategic culture. An alternative could be to emulate the bilateral nuclear-deterrence dialogues established by the US with its allies Japan and South Korea. A key question is whether Paris will seek to engage the post-Brexit UK, which continues to have an important role in European security through multilateral consultations, or whether it will prefer to maintain a strictly bilateral nuclear channel. Anglo-French bilateral cooperation will be reaffirmed – and perhaps enhanced – when Paris and London commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Lancaster House treaties in November 2020.
European allies are unlikely to embrace the offer to take part in French nuclear exercises immediately. It is plausible that aircraft from non-nuclear nations – especially those already contributing to the NATO Support of Nuclear Operations with Conventional Air Tactics (SNOWCAT) programme – will eventually participate in the French Air Force’s quarterly nuclear-strike exercise (known as Poker). This, of course, would be a small step. Indeed, nothing yet proposed by Macron heralds the creation of a separate European nuclear deterrent.
Editor: Paul Fraioli
Fonte: Newsletter from International Institute for Strategic Studies, em 12 de Maio