France: the war economy and beyond

France: the war economy and beyond

Since Russia’s military operation in Ukraine launched on February 24, militarization in Europe has accelerated. Two countries are leading the way: Germany and France. French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaration on June 13 that France and Europe have entered a state of “war economy” can be seen as the naming of this process.

Macron’s plan of a self-sufficient and powerful military

Speaking at the opening of Eurosatory 2022, the international exhibition of the arms industry in Paris on June 13, Macron emphasized the need to further strengthen the European defense industry.

Macron stated that France should build a self-sufficient military structure. He opposed imports in this sector, as they would lead to dependency on other countries.

He argued that France’s decisions on the military were essential for the sovereignty and independence of Europe and France.

And in order to achieve all these goals, Macron reiterated the call he made when he was elected President in 2017, stating that they would allocate a budget of 50 billion for defense spending by 2025.

A war economy is defined as “a country reorganizes its industries during times of war to ensure a country’s production capacity is configured in an optimum way to aid the war effort.” One of the Directorate-General for Armaments’ plans is a good example of why the notion of a war economy should be taken seriously. Le Monde reports that the Directorate-General for Armaments is planning to propose a legislative text that would make it possible in some cases to seize equipment or civilian companies for military purposes. The structure of most defense companies in France is described as “dual”. These companies produce for military purposes as well as for civilian needs. The legislative text would allow these companies to mobilize their efforts for military production even when France is not officially in a state of war.

Macron and Merkels steps towards a European army

Although the tendency towards military policy and spending in France has increased dramatically with the war in Ukraine, the French leadership’s efforts in this regard are nothing new. Since taking office, Macron has consistently insisted that the European Union should build its own army and should be free in terms of defense.

In fact, the issue whether Europe will build its own army has periodically emerged as a serious question, especially since the end of the Cold War. Since the 1990s there have been a large number of meetings, agreements and actions (whether effective or ineffective, permanent or non-permanent) to establish a unified and coordinated military structure among European countries. Germany’s attitude was always considered to be the critical factor in determining whether France’s efforts in this regard would succeed.

Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel have taken serious steps in this direction. The two leaders signed a new German-French cooperation treaty (Aachen Treaty) on the 56th anniversary of the historic Elysee Treaty of January 22, 1963. It should be recalled that the signing of the Elysee Treaty on January 22, 1963 by then German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French President Charles de Gaulle was seen as a turning point for harmony and cooperation between the two countries.

Merkel referred to the “European army” in her speech at the ceremony: “With this treaty, Germany and France are committing to a common military culture, a common defense and arms industry. With the Aachen Agreement we want to contribute to the formation of a European army.” Macron emphasized very similarly to Merkel: “This treaty is important for Europe to become united again, and this is the spirit we need today.”

Is Macron trying to become the leader of Europe?

An essential part of Macron’s foreign policy is considered to be for France to lead the formation of a European army. France has long been the European country with the most influential policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. Macron does not hesitate to confront Turkey for its Eastern Mediterranean objectives, albeit with occasional detente. Many analysts believe Macron is trying to prove that he can lead Europe’s defense by controlling the problems with Turkey, the “westernmost country in the East” for Europe.

Macron’s statement that NATO is “experiencing brain death” triggered a long debate all over the world. In the same speech he warned European members that they could no longer rely on the US to defend the alliance. French leadership saw the AUKUS, which the US and the UK signed with Australia, bypassing France, as an example of how they could be sidelined. With these and similar statements, it is no longer a secret that the French leadership distrusts NATO.

De Gaulle: single-minded devotion to the French national interest

There are reasons why the strongest opposition (or at least the most distant opposition to NATO) in Europe comes from France today. After WW2, Germany was divided in two and was to a large extent deprived of being the decisive power in Europe. Britain, on the other hand, has always had a “special relationship” with the US and has never thought of distancing itself from the US, and therefore from NATO. However France went so far as to leave NATO’s military branch. On March 7, 1966, General de Gaulle announced France’s departure from NATO’s military wing and decided to close all NATO bases and facilities on French territory, including the NATO Commander-in-Chief’s Headquarters.

Henry Kissinger describes Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, who took that decision, as follows in the book Diplomacy:

“Single-minded devotion to the French national interest shaped de Gaulle’s aloof and uncompromising style of diplomacy. Whereas American leaders stressed partnership, de Gaulle emphasized the responsibility of states to look after their own security. Whereas Washington wanted to assign a portion of the overall task to each member of the Alliance, de Gaulle believed that such a division of labor would relegate France to a subordinate role and destroy the French sense of identity:

‘It is intolerable for a great State to leave its destiny up to the decisions and action of another State, however friendly it may be…. [T]he integrated country loses interest in its national defense, since it is not responsible for it.’”[1]

Kissenger writes about de Gaulle’s aim in Europe as follows:

“What de Gaulle had in mind was a Europe organized along the lines of Bismarck’s Germany—that is, unified on the basis of states, one of which (France) would play the dominant role, with the same function that Prussia had had inside imperial Germany.”

Kissinger also describes de Gaulle’s personality and the firmness of his principles:

“Our first encounter took place during Nixon’s visit to Paris in March 1969. At the Elysée Palace, where de Gaulle was hosting a large reception, an aide located me in the crowd to say that the French President wished to speak with me. Somewhat awestruck, I approached the towering figure. Upon seeing me, he dismissed the group around him and, without a word of greeting or other social courtesy, welcomed me with this query: “Why don’t you get out of Vietnam?”[2]

De Gaulle against the US and the Dollar

On January 9, 1963, de Gaulle told Alain Peyrefitte, his spokesperson from 1959 to 1969 and also a confidant of him, “After the Algerian case is settled, the big problem is now American imperialism.”[3]

In a conversation again with Peyrefitte in 1964, de Gaulle said the following: “NATO is an academy of empty words. It is an organization that weakens our defense power, instills in us the idea that defense is unthinkable without it, thus numbing our sense of national independence, weakening us. (…) NATO is a deception, a camouflage for the American seizure of Europe.”

De Gaulle’s problems with the US were not limited to the military sphere. He characterized the United States as “an occupying state that wants to control all economic, military and political developments in the world”. He stated that “the European leaders did not have the courage to say this” and that it is their duty to say it”.

De Gaulle also did not consent to the dollar becoming a reserve currency: “US imperialism leaves no space empty. It takes every shape, but the most insidious one is the dollar”. In the face of the US printing dollars to balance its budget, de Gaulle says, “We are paying the US to buy us. So every time we have dollars, we will convert them into gold. Everyone should do the same… Political pressures will no longer be able to manipulate money”.[4]

It is obviously not accurate to claim that de Gaulle’s policies are prevailing in French government today. Nevertheless, as problems with the United States and NATO grow, and the creation of a self-sufficient European security system is on the agenda, many leaders, politicians, intellectuals and a significant part of the public are inclined to reconsider de Gaulle’s actions.

The increasing military presence of the US and NATO in Europe

On the other hand, the United States and NATO are increasing their military presence and involvement in Europe, with a growing momentum since the war in Ukraine. At the end of June NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO will boost the number of troops on high alert by more than sevenfold to over 300,000 in eastern flank nearest Russia, especially the Baltic states. This means an increase from 40,000 to 300,000, an increase of 750%.

In the Madrid Summit Declaration, issued by NATO Heads of State and Government dated 29 June 2022, Russia is qualified as the “biggest threat”: “The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. … With determination, resolve, and in solidarity, Allies will continue to counter Russian threats and respond to its hostile actions and to fight terrorism, in a manner consistent with international law.”

Moreover, Sweden and Finland, two countries with “traditionally neutral foreign policies”, have accelerated their efforts to join NATO.

Joe Biden has announced before the NATO Summit in Madrid that the US will increase its military forces across Europe with more land, sea and air deployments. Biden said the stationing of a brigade of 3,000 combat troops in Romania, two squadrons of F-35 fighters in the UK and two navy destroyers in Spain. According to Biden’s statements the US fifth army corps will establish a permanent base in Poland, extra troops will be committed to the Baltic states and extra air defence systems will be stationed in Germany and Italy, and two additional squadrons of advanced F-35 fighter jets will be sent to Britain.

Distancing from the US or struggle against Russia?

On the one hand, the long-standing idea of building a self-sufficient defense system and a European army; on the other hand, the growing military influence of the US and NATO in Europe. In what direction and for what purpose will the increasing militarization in France and the rest of Europe be employed: Distancing from the US or confrontation against Russia?

[1] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster Rockefeller Center, New York, 1994, p. 604-605.

[2] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster Rockefeller Center, New York, 1994, p. 604.

[3] Vincent Jauvert, L’Amérique contre de Gaulle, Seuil, 2000., cited in: Ali Rıza Taşdelen, Aydınlık, 10.01.2022.

[4] Alain Peyrefitte, C’etait de Gaulle, Edition de Fallois, Fayard, Volume 1, s.350 ve 378, 1994. Volume 2, p.18 ve 78, 1997. cited in Ali Rıza Taşdelen, Aydınlık, 07.02.2022.

Şafak Erdem

Şafak Erdem was born in Istanbul in 1993. He completed primary and secondary school in Istanbul, then studied philosophy and sociology as an undergraduate at Boğaziçi University. He is currently doing a master's degree in philosophy.

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June 2024