The question that has been asked in France since the announcement of the strategical agreement signed by AUKUS, the abbreviation of the names of three countries, Australia, the UK, and US, on Sept. 15 is "Would France withdraw from the military wing of NATO?"
The reason is that Australia has also canceled the contract with France on the purchase of 12 submarines from the French Naval Group by 2030, which it signed in 2016, signing another contract that provides for the purchase of eight American submarines by 2040 instead. For President Emmanuel Macron, who reacted by not getting on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's phone and by summoning the ambassadors of Washington and Canberra to Paris for consultations, this entente, secretly negotiated by the parties for 18 months, means that France will be “stabbed in the back” by two NATO allies, in the words of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
France has not only been reacting to the fact that the Naval Group will lose money, about £10 billion (over $13.6 billion), because of AUKUS, but also lead to the bankruptcy of the Indian Ocean/Pacific strategy, which was developed by Macron and which he began to believe in for good after the visit he made to Australia three years ago. Foreign Minister Le Drian clearly expressed that France’s official exclusion from this region by two NATO allies is destroying the dream of becoming a great global power again by tightening the self-dependence of its former colonies, which it administratively classifies as overseas departments (DOM) and overseas territories (TOM). In concrete terms, it is possible to say that the colonial power of AUKUS and France is stuck in La Reunion in the Indian Ocean, Polynesia in the Pacific, and the islands of New Caledonia, which will repeat the independence referendum in December.
- Reactions of US, UK over NATO
The main reason for raising the issue in the title is that President Macron and Jean Castex's government expressed their reaction to the exclusion of France by the US and the UK with AUKUS from the strategy of encircling China in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region through NATO. Speaking about NATO's brain death in The Economist about two years ago, Macron accused Turkey of its operations against the PYD/YPG (PKK) in Syria, and the US, which heads the international coalition, of withdrawing troops from the region without coordinating with other allies, and complained that its local allies (YPG) fighting in the region against the Daesh/ISIS were in a difficult situation. It is clear from these words that the US, under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, should somehow dissuade Turkey from its operations. However, NATO's brain death would have happened if Macron's proposal against a member state had been implemented, even if it had been done exactly in accordance with Article 5 of the North Atlantic Pact.
It seems that France has been targeting NATO in the last two years for not supporting its national/colonial interests in different parts of the world. However, we must admit that NATO, first of all, means the US. All NATO members, including former global powers such as France and the UK, should not forget that American interests are the priority in the alliance, and the first reaction to this distorted approach came from France again 56 years ago. As it will be remembered, former President Charles De Gaulle emphasized at a press conference on Feb. 21, 1966, that NATO had established an American protectorate in Europe, that the US had imposed American military strategies on Europe and France, and that it had forced the alliance members into wars they did not want to engage in. Then, he said the adoption of US hegemony in NATO was impossible, and stressed that France would not share its national sovereignty over its nuclear capacity with anyone, including NATO members. France, then, decided to withdraw from NATO's military wing. The return of France to the military wing of NATO took place during the former President Nicolas Sarkozy era. Sarkozy argued that France participates in many NATO operations, so it should also be included in the decision-making mechanism, and France for this reason reintegrated into the military wing of the organization at the Strasbourg/KEHL Summit of NATO in 2009.
- Strategic autonomy
De Gaulle's understanding of national sovereignty, although the US saved France from invasion, was at odds with prioritizing the national interests of the US in the Western world from 1945 onwards. In fact, at that press conference, the 20th anniversary of the founding of NATO was held. He even hinted that he might use Article 13, which provides for the right to completely leave the organization, starting from the year (April 4, 1969). However, if De Gaulle had not lost the referendum on Senate reform held in the same year and left power, France might have already left NATO.
France's defense policy is based on the approach of “strategic autonomy” in the context of the principles of independence and national sovereignty. This approach includes not only defending the country against external threats with its own resources, but also having the capacity to defend French interests and values all over the world. The strategic autonomy approach is also envisaged for the defense of the EU in the reports of the Institute for Higher Studies of National Defense (IHEDN), and France will also try to convince the EU members of this by using diplomatic and political tools.
As it turned out, it is not new for France to work towards the fact that Europe has strategic autonomy in the field of defense. But it is also a fact that President Macron is accelerating these efforts with AUKUS. Finally, the 27 members of the EU met for dinner at the Brdo Castle in Ljubljana, where this issue was the main item on the agenda. The news reflected in the media reveals that there is a consensus on this issue. However, this does not mean that an alternative European defense force to NATO can be implemented in a short time.
- Carrots, sticks from Washington
On Oct. 4, the US sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Paris, where he spent 10 years as a child, to soften strained bilateral relations with AUKUS, while President Macron accepted him the next day. The Elysee announced that the purpose of the visit was to “restore the atmosphere of trust with Washington.” Macron is expected to meet US President Joe Biden later this month.
As a result of this softening in bilateral relations, US Deputy Secretary of State Karen Donfried explained that it is in the interests of not only the EU but also the US to strengthen Europe's defense capacity, but it would be more appropriate to conduct work in this direction within the framework of NATO while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, visiting the US on the same dates, was loaded with Macron during a speech at Georgetown University. Stoltenberg, who was received in Washington by President Joe Biden, summed up his speech, stressing that he understands Macron's disappointment, but the creation of a European defense mechanism parallel to NATO, 80% of whose budget is met by countries outside the EU, risks dividing and weakening the alliance. There is no doubt that this opinion of Stoltenberg reflects Washington's approach to the issue.
After these developments, it may come to mind why the question of the title is still on the agenda. This is due to the fact that many presidential candidates, especially Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Unity party, who, according to current polls, is expected to be again opposite Macron in the second round of the presidential election in April 2022, are promising to pull France out of NATO's military wing. Although this issue has been advocated by Le Pen and the far-left Jean-Luc LMelenchon from afar, Xavier Bertrand, who is the candidate of the Republicans (LR) on the moderate right and is ahead of other names in the polls, shares the same opinion on this issue with a “Gaullist” approach.
As a result, it is possible to say that Macron and France will not withdraw from NATO's military wing with a high chance of re-election as of today. However, if Le Pen or -- if the party's candidate is elected at the LR congress -- Bertrand wins the presidential election, this withdrawal may take place.
By Akin Ozcer
- Akın Ozcer, is the author of books Agur, no more ETA (December 2018), Plural Spain: Constitutional System and Anti-Terrorism Model (2006), and Euskal Herria: Basque Nationalism in the Political History of Spain (1999), and a retired member of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
*Writing by Merve Berker in Ankara