“They learned nothing and forgot nothing,” the French foreign minister Talleyrand is reputed to have complained about the country’s Bourbon monarchs, exiled after the French Revolution.
If President Emmanuel Macron’s pointless trip to Beijing and the anti-American undertones of his musings about Europe’s “strategic autonomy” are an indication, similarly few lessons have been drawn by France’s current leadership from the experience of the past 14 months.
Predictably, Macron has failed to convince Xi Jinping to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine. And although he was accompanied by the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the “Jupiterian” leader could not resist making himself the center of attention, as if speaking on behalf of the entire European Union.
Nobody should fall for it: Macron represents only his tenuous parliamentary majority and his supersized ego, not Europeans at large.
On the presidential airplane heading home, Macron asserted that Europeans should not be “just America’s followers” and “get caught up in crises that are not ours” – namely being expected to help defend Taiwan against a prospective Chinese aggression.
Repeating the US President Joe Biden’s blunder in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when he ruled out US boots on the ground, Macron essentially reassured Xi that France would not lift a finger for Taiwan should China press ahead with an invasion.
Besides sidestepping a growing cohort of European voices which are expressing solidarity with Taiwan – like the governments of Lithuania or the Czech Republic – Macron’s ad-libbing undercut von der Leyen’s recent warnings against Beijing’s “show of military force in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” which in her view “directly affect our partners and their legitimate interests.”
In fact, it undercut even the message of Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz to Beijing on his recent visit, which was to urge China not to try to change the status quo by force.
In another, unprompted, jab at the United States, Macron called for a reduction of Europe’s reliance on the US dollar lest the continent become “a vassal” of Washington.
Talking as if US assistance to Ukraine or the accession of Finland (and Sweden) into NATO played no role in Europe security, Macron called for Europe’s “strategic autonomy,” as a way of avoiding siding with the United States on important geopolitical questions of the way.
The idea of “strategic autonomy,” as conceived by Macron, is a textbook example of “motte and bailey,” perhaps the oldest trick in a demagogue’s toolbox. In rhetoric, “motte and bailey” consists of conflating two vaguely related propositions: an reasonable and easily defensible one (“motte”), and a more extreme, controversial one (“bailey”).
The radical version of “strategic autonomy,” or the “bailey,” consists of arguing that Europeans need to act separately from the United States on the big issues of the day and ignore Washington’s interests. That is obviously a no-go for countries on NATO’s Eastern flank – including Lithuania, the Czech Republic, or Poland – whose very survival depends on America’s security guarantees.
Indeed, when pressed on this point by a journalist, Macron retreated immediately into the “motte,” arguing that Europe’s strategic autonomy can be seen in its efforts to secure its supply chains in the area of semiconductors, sourcing critical raw materials, subsidizing its green transition, and reviving its defense industrial base to meet the needs of Ukraine’s defenses.
Those, to be sure, are worthy goals. Yet pursuing them does not require Europeans to act “autonomously” of the United States – quite the contrary.
Since NATO’s inception, Americans have been asking Europeans for to invest more into their defense capabilities, and that includes beefing up its defense industries through government contracts. Broadly speaking, Europe’s and US interests are aligned when it comes to supply chain security and protection against extortion by our adversaries.
Macron’s loose talk about the expansive, “bailey”-like, version of Europe’s strategic autonomy may be a good way to get the French president the limelight he craves. Yet, airing such ideas in the open is also the easiest way to prevent a real split between the United States and Europe.
The French might enjoy the luxury of thinking that their alliance with United States is optional. Very few European governments – with the possible exception of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary – share that view.
Source: New York Post