As for the issue that stirs the younger generations on how France must update its perception of freedom in a global process of de-Occidentalization, the answer is murkier. For our part, we value the idea of working towards a "foreign policy for youth", aimed towards the youth of both Europe and the wider world.
The need for strategic choices
The lessons of the last four years - in particular, France’s relative isolation combined with a detailed evaluation of its real weight in the world - indicate a need to make strategic decisions in four key areas:
- A national vs. European approach: If France is to achieve its objective of European sovereignty, it must abandon the habit of working alone. For Emmanuel Macron specifically, his ability to unite rather than impose his own preferences will be the primary challenge of the French presidency of the EU Council of the first half of 2022. This requires relegating the ongoing dialogue with Russia to the background while also seeking to sensibly deal with the potentially divisive themes of "European defense" and "strategic autonomy." A priority could be to take joint actions to stabilize crisis zones in Europe’s neighborhood (the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Africa).
- Burden sharing, or risk sharing, with the United States: This is a dilemma that concerns all Europeans. Should we spend more on the defense of Europe simply to allow the Americans to relocate their forces to Asia-Pacific? Or is a new role sharing conceivable, one that involves redefining responsibilities both within Europe, as well as in foreign theaters like the Middle East, Africa, and the Indo-Pacific? France’s natural role should be to seek different forms of cooperation with the Americans, depending on the theater, in order to rebalance the transatlantic relationship. The climate of hostility between the United Kingdom and Europe, and particularly France, is a potential disadvantage at the moment.
- Dilemmas vis-à-vis China: One option stands out amongst all others with respect to China. The time has come for a form of containment - economic, political, technological, military - which implies the need for close coordination between European and American strategies. However, the logic of power in which the Americans are engaged does not allow us to exclude the possibility that they eventually decide to compromise with Beijing on their economic and commercial relations, to the possible detriment of their allies’ interests. Such was the case under Trump. Is this another reason to seek close coordination with Washington? What are the chances of cooperation with China on global issues, particularly the environment? Is it realistic to try to distance Russia from Beijing?
- Political-military power vs. civil power: France’s military projection capability, as well as its defense industry, are important assets internationally. However, it must avoid appearing to have a foreign policy solely based on where it sells arms. The next few years will be important in reaffirming a posture of full promotion of multilateralism (such as on vaccines), promoting political solutions to crises, and defending certain principles. Most important of all is to avoid playing the "lone wolf."
The conclusion is that it is in France’s interests to escape the relative "strategic solitude" in which it finds itself. The populist part of the French political class continues to propose various alliance changes (exiting NATO or the EU, a rapprochement with Russia, equidistance with China). On the contrary however, we call for a consolidation of European unity and a renewed relationship with the United States, however difficult that may prove to be. Eventually, reconciliation with the United Kingdom will be necessary as well.
The AUKUS affair revealed the weaknesses of France’s position. However in hindsight, it should show the Americans that discrediting their main European military ally in the Indo-Pacific was not a good idea. The French commitment to the Indo-Pacific contributes to the containment of China, and its capacity to educate the EU on the area is positive. Therefore, an effort must also come from Washington to coordinate its global strategy with that of its allies, including France, taking into account those allies’ interests and specific sensitivities.
Copyright: Ludovic MARIN / AFP
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