Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron provoked a wave of criticism surrounding a published interview he gave to “Politico” during his state visit of China. After having spent nearly six hours schmoozing with President Xi Jinping, he made a number of statements that may have surprised some of his allies in the West. To summarize, he expressed his desire to pursue a foreign policy agenda placing France, and Europe in general, in a strategic position that would allow for multilateral relations with the various developing superpowers of the world. Seemingly departing from the unipolar, “Western” hegemony promoted by the U.S., he even called into question France’s unconditional support for an independent Taiwan, drawing a conclusion from the West’s failed strategy in Ukraine:
“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…Europeans cannot resolve the crisis in Ukraine; how can we credibly say on Taiwan, ‘watch out, if you do something wrong we will be there’? If you really want to increase tensions that’s the way to do it.”
More abstractly, he warned of France’s potential over-dependence on the U.S., stating that “The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers…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.” Surely, Macron does not intend to renege on France’s economic and military obligations to the Western bloc, however, his rhetoric sheds some light on an internal fissure deepening between Europe and the U.S. that, in my opinion, will eventually reshape how we think about “The West”.
Many Europeans have begun to question their commitment to U.S. foreign policy as a result of what has transpired in the Ukraine over the past year. Many see themselves as caught in between the U.S. and Russia and blame corrupt American interests for dragging them into an unnecessary conflict. Similarly, the alleged American sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines this past September, which severely crippled Western Europe’s energy supply, has introduced a profound distrust of America’s continued presence in the region.
Ironically, when made aware of Macron’s latest comments, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, echoing other leading voices in the American public sphere, decided to double down by threatening to advocate for the U.S. to shift its focus from Europe to Asia in order to shore up its defenses against an expansionist China, bluntly saying: “Maybe, we should basically say we are going to focus on Taiwan and the threats that China poses, and you guys handle Ukraine and Europe.” Whether it be self-righteous ignorance or opportunistic vice, politicians in the U.S. fail to apprehend the increasing volatility of the situation in Europe, preferring to fall back on the tried and tested bipolar model for world hegemony, using the Cold War as an historical paradigm. However, Xi’s recent trip to Moscow would seem to prove that, while ostensibly neutral, China has begun to entertain the possibility of collaborating with Putin against Western interests if provoked by U.S. actions in Asia. According to Macron’s logic, if Europe does not proceed cautiously, it could find itself sandwiched between not just two, but now three major powers!
To better understand France’s unique position among other European powers, one must consider its military strategy throughout the latter half of the past century. Specifically, on March 7, 1966, President De Gaulle ordered the withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from French soil, resulting in the evacuation of at least 50,000 troops from at least eleven major military bases and installations, including NATO HQ, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), located in Paris, through 1968. He also withdrew France from the NATO Military Command Structure, downgrading France’s commitments and thus allowing for more independent strategic maneuvering (curiously, this may have facilitated the imposition of an arms embargo on Israel following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War). Only in 2009 did France, led by President Sarkozy, reintegrate back into the NATO Military Command Structure, but not before President Chirac embarrassed President Bush by refusing to participate in America’s illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Thus, in many ways, Macron’s comments do not actually mark a significant departure from traditional French policy but merely a friendly reminder that France will continue to pursue its own self-interests, even in the face of American opposition.
Israel, then, faces a difficult decision. Throughout the period of Pax-Americana, America’s unipolar hegemony following the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., and particularly in response to the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel invested many of its limited resources in its political ties to the American establishment. It’s relinquished some of its security independence, developed a hi-tech industry highly reliant on American capital, and feels itself increasingly isolated diplomatically on account of its headstrong approach towards the Palestinians. While Israel’s formal diplomatic relations with the E.U. may project an illusion of relative complacency (barring a few hiccups regarding some problematic NGOs), beyond the iron curtain of Brussels lies an institutionalized framework of well-established, state-sponsored resistance to Zionism that calls into question the very legitimacy of any “Jewish” state. Without taking sides in the ideological discourse surrounding Zionism, I sense that the resurgence of French assertiveness may spell trouble for the future of Israeli-European relations. On the one hand, Israel needs Europe in order to remain economically viable (more so than the U.S. on account of its physical proximity), but on the other hand, any genuinely democratic European representation (i.e. not Brussels) cannot dismiss the difficult question of true Palestinian independence. Thus, while the U.S. currently intermediates between Israel and Europe, imposing strict censorship on criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, its commitments elsewhere, specifically in the Pacific, may leave Israel to fend for itself amidst an increasingly hostile environment.
In order to limit the damage, Israel must be willing to make painful compromises, including relinquishing some political sovereignty to Western powers in order to mitigate the potential security disaster of a full-scale war. In my opinion, Israel’s best option is to apply for full membership of the E.U. (but not necessarily NATO) while maintaining some autonomy regarding matters of immigration and security. This would surely be hard to swallow for many Israelis, who prize their country’s independence in the wake of the Holocaust, however, Israel’s current political instability, and America’s heavy-handed intervention, has demonstrated to many observers that any of the hard-fought “independence” it currently possesses is pyrrhic at best, illusory, counterproductive and dangerous at worst. Owing to Israel’s infantile obsession with fickle American public opinion, and its corrupt addiction to U.S. foreign aid, it proves difficult at times to even distinguish between U.S. and Israeli interests. In many ways, Israel serves the U.S. just by existing, as President Biden has said on a number of occasions: “if there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one”)!
Still, Israel must retain some autonomy regarding security matters in order to defend its efforts to deal with Islamic terror and surveil systemic antisemitism. To that end, Europe stands only to gain from increased Israeli cooperation with their own counterterrorist organizations, even in exchange for diplomatic concessions on the part of Palestinians (e.g. not evacuating most settlements). Nevertheless, Europe would only accept such an arrangement if the Palestinians would be granted a real state of their own, loosely based on the Oslo Accords, in addition to an internal framework that would allow for the respective freedoms of movement, residency and employment, subject to coordinated security approval. In a way, the resulting configuration could be construed as a one state solution, however, joint E.U. membership would work to defuse the tension, delegating many contested political decisions to neutral intermediaries in Europe while maintaining the respective sovereignties of both states. Just as the E.U. has eliminated much of the tension between independent European nations, it promises to resolve, to an extent, the longstanding conflict between the Jews and Palestinians. Surely, not all enmity will disappear, mostly on account of the background ethnic and religious tensions indigenous to the region, but violent civil strife can be avoided.
Additionally, Israel could serve as a key diplomatic middleman between Russia, China and Europe, with Europe providing critical leverage against Iran and its Arab allies. The U.S., of course, stands to lose some ground if the E.U. manages to settle with competing powers, however, as I’ve noted in previous posts, the U.S. lacks the domestic political clout necessary to openly engage with European state interests. European governments, unlike Israel, are firmly grounded in America’s political and economic system, and any direct American aggression would threaten to destabilize the entirety of the West from within. Instead, Israel’s admission to the E.U. would offer the U.S. at least some consolation, as it would provide the U.S. with some additional back-channel access to Europe, if only through covert, secure channels.
Israel’s current predicament leaves much to be desired. In an increasingly chaotic world, Israel finds herself isolated and despised, criticized and hounded. Without some skillful strategizing, it would seem that the future does not bode well. Even so, I must submit to what some may consider a naïve vision of future prosperity, peace and stability. I fear the worst–I fear war–but I cannot in good conscience “go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” (Dylan Thomas)
“Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep.”