France Wants Military Cooperation With Europe, but Not America

In the wake of the Brussels attack, France is launching a renewed push for a combined European military force, and President François Hollande is making it very clear that he does not want to rely on the United States. George Friedman described the latest efforts in his article for Geopolitical Futures on April 8, titled “France Confronts Germany on Defense”:

One day before a joint meeting of French and German officials on April 7, French President François Hollande said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild, “Our two countries must agree to a budgetary effort on defense. And to act outside Europe. Let’s not rely on another power, even a friendly one, to do away with terrorism.” This is a statement that requires serious consideration. … The attacks in Paris and Brussels have posed a fundamental question for France. It cannot simply accept this threat, but must do something about it. … For the French, building a European military force around France and Germany is the necessary precondition for any solution to Europe’s growing challenges. …

Hollande specifically said that France and Germany could not depend on a third power, no matter how friendly, to fight their battles. He clearly was referring to the United States. Collaborating on defense budgets, with each nation contributing based on economic size, would mean that Germany would be both the leading economic and military power in Europe. Within the EU, Germany is first among equals. Creating a substantial military force would cement that. And that raises for Germans the specter of a return to what must never be again.

In another article, this time published at Mauldin Economics on April 11, “Europe and NATO,” Friedman described how Europe is being scared into action by America’s retreat: This year, a major topic at Globsec will be nato. The choice of topic has to do partly with Donald Trump’s statements that Europe isn’t paying its “fair share” and, further, that it would be fine if nato broke up. Such remarks by U.S. presidential candidates are regarded with great care and concern in Eastern Europe. On a broader scale, Russia and the Middle East both present national security issues for all of Europe. Europe has no integrated military capability except for nato, and nato is now, to my mind, a shambles. It is a military alliance, but Europe has allowed its military capability, limited to begin with in the wake of World War ii, to weaken dramatically.

As Europeans come to realize that Russia has not gone away and the United States has not actually overreacted to Islamist terrorism, Trump’s words on nato are raising alarm. … Many Europeans see nato as the guarantor of their national security. In other words, they depend on the United States … the only nato member with a global military capability. …

The Europeans celebrated a concept called soft power, which involves the use of sanctions, the mobilization of public opinion, and other strategies that avoid military action. They wanted an option that cost less than becoming a global power costs. Frankly, from my point of view, their embracing soft power was simply a way to evade reality. As the Russians loomed larger and the Middle East spilled over into Europe, the Europeans discovered that soft power was … soft. And that they needed hard power, which the United States had (and to a far lesser extent Britain and France), but no one else did. Suddenly the world seemed out of control to the Europeans, since they lacked the hard power to shape events. …

The total population of the European Union is just over 508 million people. The population of the United States is about 320 million people. The gdp of the European Union is $18.45 trillion. The gdp of the United States is about $18.3 trillion. In other words, Europe and the United States are equal in wealth, while Europe has almost 200 million people more than the U.S. does.

There is therefore no reason why the Europeans should not have a military capability equal to or even greater than that commanded by the United States. Though Europe was understandably the junior partner in the 1950s, neither demographics nor economics show the Continent to be a junior partner now. …

The structural problem is that the European Union lacks a defense dimension. European unification is a complex quilt of relationships, and defense rests in the hands of individual sovereign states. The largest state, Germany, which should be devoting the most to a European defense force, devotes little even to its own force. …

Now, the Russians are reasserting their place in history, and the Islamic State is targeting European capitals. It is not clear how the threats they pose are to be countered, but the challenge will demand military force in some capacity. Friedman, however, believes that nothing will come of this, that the Europeans will be unable to make the tough choices necessary, and that French and German positions are too far apart to form a united force. There is a lot of truth here. Becoming a military power again is a big change for Europe and for Germany, and not one they will make lightly. But with terrorists planning more and bigger attacks, these are changes Europe will be forced to make in time.

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