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Bantamweight Bonaparte

Macron is right in the wrong way about “European” strategic autonomy.

(Photo by AURELIEN MORISSARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a great tragedy of our times that France, despite its culture being unabashedly the most beautiful ever to have existed in humanity as well as being on the “right side of history” (at least most of the time, if there was ever such a side), gets the blame for everything. 

To channel William Pitt, during the French Revolution France doomed herself by exertion, and thereby saved Europe by example. Unhinged Jacobinism has since become a buzzword for not just the horrible entirety of the forced secular liberalization process and concomitant ideological warfare, but also a reminder to historians about what happens when malformed, envious mediocrities lead degenerate mobs to destroy everything that a civilization holds beautiful and sacred. 


And as a result, every unhinged revolution that is built upon social envy masquerading as an ideology often ends with a tyrant, who then dooms the country even further by inviting a coalition of great powers to cut it to size. France, in reality, was the lead architect towards the formation of a concert of great-power peace in Europe, perhaps the greatest peace model to have ever been produced, just not the way she envisaged. 

In modern times, France was correct about, well, Germany. Paris realized earlier than anyone else that the unification of the entirety of Germania would lead to the creation of a massive power in the heart of Europe that is far too big for Europe to manage, yet too small to control Europe—not to mention humorless enough to start two catastrophic world wars. Both Mitterrand and Thatcher realized late that the adage that Germany was beautiful enough not to be unified so that there remains a fair few of them, is historically true. But tragically, they were rolled over by unipolarity. 

Germany and Gaullist France in recent years were correct about naively attempting to secularize and feminize the Middle East. But they were mocked as “surrender monkeys” by those who would in turn proceed to lose trillions, suffer thousands of deaths, and gut their relative power in one of the single stupidest acts of self-destruction of this century. 

Not content with the ideological win, Atlanticist France since then reversed that Gallic realism to lead the ever-gullible Anglo-Americans to pursue another misadventure in Libya—one that forgot that realism of “tyranny being a better ally than anarchy”—which led to the destruction of a Mediterranean buffer, induced a migration crisis that continues to this day, and effected a permanent alteration of European politics. France then unilaterally proceeded—as a matter of honor among great powers—to have her own failed “war on terror” in Africa. 

In light of that, President Emmanuel Macron’s recent comment regarding Europe’s vassalage (increasingly a regular European concern) to the United States is another case of being right in the wrong way. Macron, who for some reason, cannot walk around his own capital in the evening due to incessant riots, went to China and gave a barnstorming interview identifying “Europe” as a third superpower, balancing both China and the U.S. According to Politico, he said, “The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers...the question Europeans need to answer…is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.” 


“If the tensions between the two superpowers heat up…we won’t have the time nor the resources to finance our strategic autonomy and we will become vassals” Macron added. 

Strong statement in and of itself. But as (and I cannot believe myself for writing this) Senator Marco Rubio rightly pointed out, does he speak for Europe? It’s an old Kissingerian question. If one has to call “Europe,” whom should one call?

As ever, Macron is half right. As long as Europe (and really, it’s just France) talks about “E.U. strategic autonomy,” this paradox will persist, as the harshest truth is that there is no European Union without America. European unity is an artificial construct, willed by American conquest. The ridiculous flag and mediocre bureaucracy loosely tied together, without a common binding language and with an ever-shrinking Christendom, is only preserved due to American hegemony and protection. 

Europe only ever was united by hegemony, whether temporary or long-term: Roman, Napoleonic, or Nazi. After the Second World War, Europe was conquered and partitioned by Russia and America. Post-Cold War, American hegemony dictated the current shape and form of institutionalized peace. No matter how many times European think-tankers LARP about “European founding fathers," it will remain an artificial construct, divided between nation-states with varied interests. 

For as long as it is mutating and growing, it will never have a common united realm, the primary requisite for common united interests. “Strategic autonomy” is a good principle in theory. It makes little sense in practice, as both strategy and autonomy demand a sovereign who can decide independently. As the old British Yes Minister clip shows, the expansion of irredentist, perpetually paranoid, and militaristic Central and Eastern Europe made it impossible to pursue a common strategic interest. When, if ever, in history did expansion not lead to dilution? 

One wonders whether Macron identifies the problem but cannot say it out loud. Surely, for someone this comfortable with grandiloquent Jupiterian circumlocution and the uncomfortable lessons of history, Macron understands that the union once thought a vector to amplify French and German power across Europe is now determined to hollow out the historic great powers. 

What is stopping France from re-arming as quickly as Poland? France, with the only intact state and research capacity among Western powers, with a major economy, with independent naval and nuclear-deterrence capacity—not to mention a hierarchical, Sorbonne-educated “realist” elite looking out for French interests couched in the language of “European federalism”—can re-arm quicker than any power in Europe. Surely they understand that the old continent at the end of the day understands only one language, that of martial power and subservience. The French-Greek alignment against Turkey was a great model of bilateral security pacts and naval deterrence. Why not encourage more of the same? Without hard power, there is clearly no point in being correct in historical assessments. Macron is not writing a university essay. Knowledge is nothing without wisdom, power, and the will to impose that power wisely. 

The current arrangement is clearly not working. As I wrote earlier, “a Euro-Atlantic pivot to Asia with NATO patrolling the Pacific; and second, a relatively self-sufficient Europe and burden shifting so that America, along with its Pacific allies such as Japan and Australia, can focus on balancing the rise of China. The first will not happen. An occasional lone German frigate in the Indo-Pacific as a solidarity gesture notwithstanding, it is foolish to divide resources in such a way.” A better option then is to leave European security to Europeans and let independent European great powers seek and conduct their own security arrangements and mini-ententes, under a broad, detached American nuclear umbrella, instead of perpetuating an unnatural institutionalized peace at the cost of American overstretch and decline. 

If Europe needs independent foreign policy, it must come from independent nation-states and great powers. The tragedy of France, the land of Richelieu and Talleyrand, of iron hands in velvet gloves, is that France is uniquely capable of taking an overnight leading position on European security but is often led by bantamweight Bonapartes, who know what to do but lack the will of a great man. 


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