Monday, June 25, 2018
At the end of this April, leaders from Japan, France, and Germany visited the White House one by one. Among them, President Emmanuel Macron of France gave an outstanding impression to the American and the global public over Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, because he addressed a message to remind the core value of American leadership of the world in his speech at the Congress, against the background of anti-globalization populism. Actually, Macron has not had a nasty confrontation with Trump, unlike Merkel. Nor has he taken seemingly favor-asking attitudes to Trump, unlike Abe. Instead, he sent a clear and strong message that Western democratic values and multiculturalism were the anchors of world peace and prosperity. It appeared that Macron is the real President of the United States, rather than Trump. His handling of Trump is well-balanced, and his visions are forward-looking. But can Macron take moral leadership in a world of increasingly intensified geopolitical rivalries in an era of populist nationalism?
To begin with, let me talk about the speech. Though Macron did not criticize Trump by name, he differentiated his position on global policy from that of the White House. He mentioned wide ranges of policy issues from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris accord on climate change, and most importantly, he stressed America’s role as the leader of multilateral diplomacy that has been the anchor of the liberal world order. He received bipartisan applause as Democrats anticipated him to persuade Trump to embrace globalism, and Republicans respected French contribution to American military operations (“How Macron distanced himself from Trump’s policies in his address to Congress”; PBS News Hour; April 28,2018). Macron refuted America First through the following steps. The underlying assumption of his speech was that global challenges which Western democracies faced were so critical and complex that isolationism and nationalism could inflict a fatal blow on the liberal world order. In order to rebuild this situation into a 21st century world order, he argued that we should tame excessively inhumane globalization, explore low carbon economy furthermore, and promote democracy (“Emmanuel Macron and the Franco-American Ties That Bind”; CFR Blog; April 26, 2018). That is to say, Macron spoke on behalf of Western moral universality that any American president was supposed to do. This is the foremost reason why American pundits such as Anne Applebaum paid the highest compliment to his speech. Having invited Trump to the Bastille Day, Macron succeeded in cajoling him. He even embraced Trump’s dominance gesture to brush dandruff off his shoulder. However, once he delivered an address, he articulated that he denied Trump’s views of the world, such as anti-globalism, anti-environmentalism, and most importantly, Lindburgh styled nationalism and isolationism. Both Europeans and Americans applauded Macron, even though Trump was coaxed too much to understand the real intention of the speech. Trump may not change America First from climate change to the JCPOA and trade, but Macron delivered a message to save the trans-Atlantic alliance from virulent effects of Trumpism (“Macron embraces Trump - and then elegantly knifes him in the back”; Washington Post; April 25, 2018).
But if we were to make an adequate assessment of Macron’s leadership potential in international politics today, we need to understand his foreign policy directions. Despite the impressive address at the Hill, François Heisbourg, Chairman at the Institute for International Security Studies and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, regards Macron as a neorealist who dares to make a deal with notorious autocrats like Donald Trump, along with Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, and Abdel el-Sisi of Egypt. Anyway, Trump does not seem to care Macron’s political values, and just exhibited bromance with him, without making compromises on the JCPOA and climate change. Meanwhile, Macron tried to act as a connecting bridge between America and Europe, particularly mitigating bitter relations between Trump and Merkel (“Macron to put 'Trump whisperer' skills to test on state visit”; Guardian; April 23, 2018). For an overview of Macron’s foreign policy, let me mention the IFRI (Institut français des relations internationals) report, “Macron Diplomat: A New French Foreign Policy?” (“Macron, an I. Quelle politique étrangère ?” in French), which was published this April. This paper discusses a broad range of multilateral issues like climate change, migration, and terrorism, and also, French strategic interests like the digital industry. At the beginning of this report, two premises are mentioned. First, Macron is firmly committed to European integration, as he insisted this more steadfastly than any other candidates during the last presidential election. But paradoxically, his victory does not mitigate the rise of rightwing populism in Europe. The AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) won 94 seats in the German federal election in September last year, for the first time in history, and the Euroskeptic coalition claimed victory in the Italian general election in March this year. Second, in response to the deteriorating strategic environment, France leads European defense cooperation to pursue strategic autonomy from Trump’s America, and to manage more multipolar and less multilateralist world as increasingly assertive Russia and China challenge the current world order. In the short term, Iran and Syria are critical. Besides Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran’s ballistic missiles and terrorist sponsorship still pose grave threats in the region. Also, repeated use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime requires prudent humanitarian intervention in Syria. From these points of view, I focus on the following issues in the IFRI paper: French foreign relations with Germany, Russia, the Middle East, Asia, and most critically, Trump’s America.
In view of Brexit and Trump’s America First, the Franco-German axis has become more important than ever. However, France and Germany do not necessarily act on common causes. Along with those divergences, the decline of Merkel's leadership since the German federal election last September has slowed down European integration led by France and Germany. While Macron urges further integration, the German Budestag is reluctant to cede the national sovereignty to Brussels. Also, Germany is stricter on fiscal austerity of the Eurozone. Regarding European defense cooperation, France wants to make it a strong and cost-effective partnership for defense policy, while Germany wants to make it more inclusive one for regional integration. Actually, Germany is not so much interested in European defense autonomy as France is. Also, we should not dismiss that Macron’s penchant for defense cooperation comes from Gaullist tradition, despite his globalist reputation. Considering this, Germany remains more Atlanticist, despite Merkel’s icy relation and Macron’s “bromance” with Trump. In addition, France and Germany have different priority in military operations outside the Euro-Atlantic area. The Franco-German axis needs to overcome these strategic gaps. Regarding European security, the relationship with Russia is another key issue. Despite Macron’s firm determination to promote democracy and reject election intervention, French-Russian economic ties are strong in foreign investment, aerospace, civil aviation, and energy. Politically, Macron pursues pragmatic relations with Russia in the De Gaulle and the Mitterand eras, but Putin wants to weaken Western predominance, which is completely at odds with Macron’s aspiration to strengthen Western democracies. Notably, there are some hurdles between both countries, such as the spy poisoning in the UK, the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and security around Ukraine. The IFRI paper shows us that Macron needs to overcome so many problems in relations with France's most vital friend and foe in Europe.
To be a real global leader, Macron’s France needs to increase security and economic presence beyond Europe and the Francophonie, particularly in the Middle East and Asia. In the Middle East, Macron keeps an eye on business opportunity in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE for their globalization reform, and in Egypt for her success in curbing terrorism. France is promoting infrastructure and civil aviation sales in this region. Furthermore, During the GCC crisis in 2016, Macron even sold arms to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, while exporting them to isolated Qatar as well. But this sort of omnidirectional and economy-oriented diplomacy is critically challenged by Iran that still tests ballistic missiles and sponsors proxies, and Syria that uses chemical weapons against civilians. As to Turkey, Macron makes a compromise to soften his criticism over human rights abuse, as he needs Erdoğan’s cooperation in Syria. Meanwhile, in Asia, France insists on rule based multilateralism on key regional issues such as the nuclear problem of North Korea and territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The most vital partner and adversary in this region is China. At the beginning of this year, he visited this country to impress the French leadership in Sino-European relations. On one hand, Macron explores reciprocal economic partnership in the Belt and Road initiative, but on the other hand, he leads a European initiative to watch Chinese investments that could jeopardize the security of Europe. Japan, Australia, and India are security partners to France as she joins the “free and open” Indo-Pacific initiative launched by Japan and endorsed by the United States. Still, Macron’s visit to Japan is anticipated to clarify his policy in Asia. In both the Middle East and Asia, the IFRI paper tells us that Macron gives priority to economic diplomacy with major regional powers, but his capitalist-realist approaches needs to be balanced with national survival and moral considerations in relations with some autocracies like Turkey and China.
In a world as mentioned above, how will Macron manage relations with Trump’s America? Currently, Merkel’s leadership is weakening in Germany, and Britain has failed to boost the special relationship with the United States when Theresa May succeeded the Cameron administration, following the Brexit vote. This is an unprecedented opportunity for Macron’s France to act on behalf of Europe in trans-Atlantic relations. However, Trump has no intention to return to the Paris Accord and the JCPOA, no matter how hard Macron tries to persuade him. Also, he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster to appoint more nationalist Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. The IFRI paper even thinks of the worst scenario that Trump would be reelected in 2020, as the research team assumes that Democrats are not strong enough, Republican opponents are virtually nonexistent, and the impeachment is not likely to come so soon. If such trends were to continue, America would fall into a bête noire in the global community further and further, as typically seen in the G7 Charlevoix.
Considering the overview of the French foreign policy direction in a world of growing great power competition, I would like to talk about ongoing diplomatic challenges and Macron’s job performance. Above all, domestic stability is a prerequisite for global leadership. A failure to manage labor protests against his deregulation of employment (“Left-wing protesters say 'enough' to Macron's French reforms”; Reuters; May 6, 2018) could make him another Merkel. At the moment, Middle East crises, notably Iran and Syria are critical. Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, Trump’s abrupt withdrawal gives an opportunity for Russia to have more leverage in the Middle East, and the E3 should fill the vacuum. Also, the EU can fall into America’s sanction target, as Trump is willing to punish Iran unilaterally (“Iran nuclear deal set to test Macron-Trump ‘bromance’ on historic visit”; France 24; April 23, 2018). Though Trump’s deal breaking is severely criticized at home, he is firmly determined to repeal Obama era achievements. While Macron makes every effort to keep the JCPOA, he needs to strike a delicate balance to avoid a fatal clash with the United States. Some experts worry that Trump would pursue a regime change in Iran to charm pro-Israeli evangelicals for the midterm election. But I am skeptical of it, because Trump is obsessed with cost performance so much that he has been reluctant to get involved Middle East affairs as shown in his criticism to the Iraq War. Bolton may endorse that idea, but he is not a real neocon, and thus, he is not clearly determined to install democracy in Iran.
Meanwhile, Europe is making use of perception gaps with the United States over the nuclear deal. While the E3 tries to keep the JCPOA, they use American pressure to contain Iran’s ballistic missile program and terrorist sponsorship in the region. However, the E3 explores to implement these measures through rearranging geopolitical balance of regional stakeholders and working with the UN Security Council, as opposed to Trump’s favorite go-it-alone approaches (“America Is More Than Trump. Europe Should Defend the Iran Deal without Burning Bridges to the US”; IFRI; May 2018). As to Syria, Macron barely managed to persuade Trump not to pull out troops prematurely, but American Middle East strategy swings incoherently between post-Iraq War disengagement and counterterrorism engagement. Macron’s advice to Trump was effective to compromise domestic noninterventionism of his base and anti-terrorism strategy of national security circles in America, when the repetitive chemical attack by Assad raised humanitarian concerns (“Macron Tries to Nudge Trump on Syria Policy”; New Turkey; May 1, 2018). However, neither Macron nor Trump has a long-term strategy in Syria. In both cases, it is difficult to implement French Middle East policy without giving consideration to American foreign and domestic politics, even though Macron wins more moral support than Trump in the global community.
The vital point is that France is just the 6th most powerful country in the “Best Countries 2017” ranking of the US News & World Report (“RANKED: The 23 most powerful nations on earth”; Business Insider; March 15, 2017), and therefore, Macron needs democratic partners in Europe and Asia for global leadership. In Europe, the severest problem is deteriorating trans-Atlantic relations. In addition to disagreements over the JCPOA, the trade war intensifies tensions between Europe and America, as the Trump administration treats the EU like state-capitalist China. More problematically, trans-Atlantic communication has dwindled substantially under the current administration (“Can the U. S. -Europe Alliance Survive Trump?”; Foreign Policy; May 18, 2018). Actually, as French Ambassador to the UN François Delattre comments, the United States often acted unilaterally before Trump, and therefore, Europeans assume that American isolationism will continue to be dominant. Consequently, Europe explores autonomous collective defense and united diplomacy (“RIP the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, 1945-2018”; Foreign Policy; May 11, 2018). But the problem is political instability in Germany. In addition to the weakening leadership of Merkel, Germany is less enthusiastic to the common defense and more inclined to Atlanticism than France, despite a harsh personal feud with Trump.
Therefore, post-Brexit partnership with Britain is a vital issue, particularly in defense. British defense officials are keenly interested in Macron’s initiative for the European Intervention Force (“UK ‘very keen’ to support European intervention force”; UK Defence Journal; May 8, 2018). In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine news paper this June, Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington commented that the United Kingdom and the European Union needed strong defense ties, and a complete divorce would simply benefit Russia (“UK seeks 'closest possible' security pact with EU after Brexit – minister”; Reuters; June 16, 2018). Actually, only a few countries are enthusiastic with Macron’s coalition of the willing. Particularly, Germany is reluctant to join overseas activities outside Europe, as shown in Mali and Syria. Therefore, Britain is the vital partner (“Emmanuel Macron’s coalition of the willing”; Politico EU; May 2,2018). From this point of view, it is quite odd that Britain is excluded from the FCAS (Future Combat Air System) fighter project (“Airbus and Dassault Launch a New FCAS—without BAE”; AINonline; April 25, 2018) and the Galileo satellite plan (Ashley Fox MEP; Twitter; 14 June, 2018). British defense contractors such as BAE systems and Rolls Royce have provided high tech components for American weapon systems like fighter, bombers, war ships, and so forth for decades. The EU defense projects deadly need British technology, if they were to rival against the United States, Russia, and China, in terms of the quality of weapons and competitiveness in world arms export. Macron has to take a leadership to arrange the UK-EU defense cooperation more consistent.
In the Asia Pacific, Japan is the key country to strengthen Macron’s global leadership and define his Asia policy, though China is by far the largest trade and investment orientation. While China is more inclined to geopolitics to edge out American influence to found a Sino-tributary system in her neighborhood, Japan launches the Indo-Pacific security initiative, which is based on equal partnership and burden sharing in accordance with the capability of each stakeholder. Most importantly, Japan poses no threat to Western allies, and her investment in France creates more jobs than Chinese investment does. As to trade, France’s deficit with China is five times as large as that with Japan. In other words, economic relations with China is not so lucrative as commonly thought (“The Missing Piece in Macron's Asia Vision: Japan; Diplomat”; May 18,2018). On the other hand, as the G7 Charlevoix was called “G6+1” (“Trump turns the G-7 into the G-6 vs. G-1”; Washington Post; June 10, 2018), Trump has isolated America from major Western democracies, and it has become an imperative for both France and Japan to defend the liberal world order from his vandalism. Particularly, both nations share common security and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific initiative, but the overview of this is not clear yet. Though Macron has met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at multilateral meetings like the G7, bilateral talks are necessary to define and strengthen mutual cooperation in this region, since France is a Pacific nation to have overseas territories like New Caledonia and Polynesia. Foreign Ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Taro Kono agreed that both leaders would meet in Paris in July, on the occasion of Japanese cultural events there and the Bastille Day (“Abe plans July visit to France as Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono requests reciprocal trip by Macron”; Japan Times; April 23, 2018).
As noted above, France herself is not strong enough as a single actor, and thus, Macron needs democratic partners to take leadership to reboot the liberal world order. Also, it is necessary to take a delicately balanced approach to Trump’s America, that is, not to appease his high handed demand, but to avoid the fatal clash with the superpower. Bu we must remember that the total economic scale of the G6 is bigger than that of the G1. However, there are some problems that undermine the solidarity of the G6. Besides the erosion Merkel’s leadership in German domestic politics, the Franco-German discrepancies on defense are bigger than commonly understood, as stated in the IFRI paper. What matters is not just postwar pacifism and geopolitics. Like Japan, Germany is not in a good position to uphold the moral universality confidently, and to join global law enforcement operations, because people are repentant of misconducts during World War II. Japan is a more passive pacifist, and she has not even reformed the constitution yet, though her security environment in the neighborhood is turning worse. From this point of view, post-Brexit policy coordination with Britain is critical, as shown in the cases of the JCPOA and free trade. Prime Minister Theresa May is on the tightrope to balance Europhile and Europhobe within the Conservative Party. A successful Brexit deal is essential for both sides. Today, America is in paranoia populism that people see themselves victims infested by foreign economic competitors, allies, and immigrants. As long as they are infected with the virulent effect of Trump, the world needs a coalition to represent Western idealism led by a visionary leader. Macron’s globalist idealism that was addressed at the Hill was so impressive. But it remains to be seen whether such moral universality is compatible with neorealist, capitalist-realist, and Gaullist aspects of his foreign policy.