Paris (CNSNews.com) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion in a recent speech that Europe should focus more on taking care of its own security – and a hint that France’s nuclear deterrent could assume a broader European role – has raised little enthusiasm in Brussels.
In his speech at the School of War, Macron described a Europe in which France would take a leading position given that, post-Brexit, it is now the only country in Europe with a nuclear deterrent.
He invited those E.U. member-states that are interested to discuss “the role of French nuclear deterrence in the collective security of the E.U.”
“Let us be clear: France’s vital interests now have a European dimension,” said Macron. “Europeans cannot confine themselves to a position of spectators at a moment when nuclear arms race is resuming in the world,” he added, likely in reference to recent weapons-related developments in Russia and the United States.
Earlier, a senior German politician suggested in an interview that France place its nuclear arsenal at the disposal of the broader E.U.
“Berlin must consider cooperation with France on nuclear weapons,” said Johann Wadephul, deputy chairman of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) parliamentary group.
Benjamin Hautecouverture, a specialist in international security issues at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), a leading French think tank, said France would in the coming months invite European countries that wish to do so to “enter into a strategic dialogue that might lead to a probably stronger form of integration of the European states in the French nuclear deterrence.”
But Corentin Brustlein, director of the Paris-based Institute of International Relations, noted that “there have been a number of French attempts to dialogue with European partners on deterrence which have never been successful.”
This may now be changing, he said – even in Germany, where anti-nuclear sentiment runs deep.
In an article published after Macron’s speech, the Le Monde daily wrote that his common defense idea is not one that is widely shared in the 27-member union.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s office told the newspaper that the E.U.’s main objective remains to pursue nuclear disarmament, in line with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The NPT recognizes as nuclear weapons states the five countries that possessed nuclear weapons at the time the treaty was opened for signature in 1968 – the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France. Those five nuclear weapons states, and all treaty parties, 191 to date, undertook to pursue negotiations on effective measures leading to eventual nuclear disarmament.
The push for a common E.U. defense project is driven in part by concerns in Europe about the viability of future dependence on the United States, at a time when many also remain worried about Russian ambitions.
At the same time, few E.U. member-states favor the idea of relying on a French defense umbrella.
Writing in The Washington Quarterly last summer, FRS deputy director Bruno Tertrais said there was “no reason to believe that the debate that has been going on for decades on European deterrence will end in the near future.”
“The persistent feeling of uncertainty vis-à-vis the American guarantees of security could lead to a more asserted French role in the protection of its partners – provided that Paris finds an receptive ear in Berlin and elsewhere.”
Germany is not alone when it comes to strong public feeling in favor of nuclear disarmament. Two E.U. member-states, Ireland and Austria, have signed the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Austria is also one of just 35 countries to have signed and ratified it. (The U.S., Britain, and France jointly declared in 2017 that they have no intention “to sign, ratify or ever become party to” the treaty.)
“Macron is trying to take over NATO’s role a few months after having said it was brain-dead,” commented France 24 TV network correspondent Gauthier Rybinski. “But it’s not about expanding the nuclear deterrent or sharing it with the other E.U. members. Instead, he is trying, although it would be difficult, to replace the U.S. in the E.U. defense.”
Rybinski noted that E.U. countries don’t even see eye-to-eye with France over its counter-terror mission in the Sahel, and said it was difficult to see Europe ever agreeing with Paris on the nuclear deterrent issue.