by Janusz Bugajski
September 22, 2021
Following the signing of the trilateral “AUKUS” security pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, the voices of “European strategic autonomy” are again echoing in parts of the European Union.
Led by an angry French government, whose submarine contract with Australia was aborted, Europeans are being told yet again that the U.S. is an unreliable ally and that trans-Atlantic relations are broken. Such statements are both mendacious and hypocritical.
While the U.S. military’s muscle holds NATO together and deters any direct Russian aggression against EU states, Germany conspires with Russia on energy deals over the heads of its EU neighbors. At the same time, France has been pushing for a summit with Vladimir Putin that has outraged all of Central Europe.
Australia’s decision to purchase U.S. nuclear-powered submarines instead of diesel-electric French vessels has exposed the hypocrisy of French government officials who regularly complain about Washington’s role in Europe. In reality, it was France that created one of the most notable crises in NATO history by unilaterally removing itself from NATO’s integrated military command between 1966 and 2009. And the notions of “strategic autonomy” and the creation of a “European army” have been parroted by successive French administrations. Still, the concepts lack substance, practicality, resources, and pan-European support.
France is not viewed as a reliable ally in the Central European capitals that directly face military threats from Moscow.
France has tried to punch above its weight since the U.K.’s departure from the EU, but French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to replace German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Europe’s primary leader are widely dismissed as arrogant. If France is to gain support among the most pro-American countries, such as Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania, then it must cease its gullible overtures toward the Kremlin and demonstrate to Central Europeans that it will defend them as resolutely as the U.S. does. France’s contribution to NATO defenses is dwarfed by that of Washington, and France has failed to reach the required 2% of GDP on defense spending .
Unfortunately, Paris has regularly demonstrated its disdain for the EU newcomers. It did not initially support their NATO membership, fearful of upsetting Moscow. It wanted NATO to wind down its operations at the end of the Cold War in the belief that Russia would become a partner for Europe. And in 2019 Macron dismissed the alliance as “brain dead. ” It is also worth remembering that France did not embrace EU enlargement to
include the new post-communist democracies. Without the U.K., Germany, and other allies, the EU would probably still be debating whether to bring in new members.
France’s proposal that the EU should reassess its relationship with the U.S. because of the submarine deal is also playing into Russian hands.
The Kremlin tries to leverage the larger EU and NATO states against Washington and exploits any opportunity to widen rifts within both organizations. Macron’s naivete about a partnership with Moscow serves Putin’s ambitions and removes some of the spotlight from his own consolidation of the KGB dictatorship in Russia. The Kremlin is counting on France to be a persistent troublemaker that will weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance.
EU hypocrisy goes beyond the French submarine debacle. The EU failed to censure Berlin for its collusion with Russia over the Nord Stream II gas pipeline, a project that undermines Europe’s energy security. If the EU now follows the French agenda to limit links with Washington, it will be engaged in strategic suicide by helping forces who seek to dismantle the Union.
For instance, France wants to delay the EU-U.S. Trade and Technology Council meeting in Pittsburgh at the end of September. Such a move would further damage trans-Atlantic relations and undermine the emergence of a common Western front that can resist a resurgent China. The meeting is dedicated to aligning U.S. and EU regulatory and trading positions toward Beijing. The more Paris pushes to sabotage EU-U.S. cooperation, the more it will reinforce the view among other member states that France, rather than America, is untrustworthy on trans-Atlantic security.
Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C. His recent book, Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks , is co-authored with Margarita Assenova. His upcoming book is titled Failed State: Planning for Russia’s Rupture.