With no military parade happening in the nation’s capital this weekend, President Trump instead departed for a trip to France on Friday morning, following a contentious meeting with reporters. There, he and dozens of other world leaders will celebrate the centenary of the signing of the Armistice, which officially ended the land, sea, and air fighting in World War 1.
Shortly after arriving in Paris, the President did what the President does best.
President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
“President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia,” the President observed, adding that he found such a comment to be “very insulting” and renewing his calls for European countries to meet agreed-upon amounts of funding for NATO.
President Macron’s statement to which Trump was referring was made on Tuesday.
The French president made the statement in his first radio interview since his May 2017 election while discussing the merits of a joint European Union military service. Appearing on France’s Europe 1 radio, Macron argued that “We need to protect ourselves from China, from Russia and even the United States. When I see President Trump announcing a pullout from a big disarmament treaty that was taken in the middle of the 1980s in the middle of the missile crisis which had affected Europe, who is going to be the main victim? Europe and its security.”
The “pullout” Macron mentions here is a reference to the White House’s announcement last month that it intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. As The News Blender reported at the time, a number of countries, including China and Germany, expressed concern over the withdrawal, while the Kremlin warned that it would interpret such a move as a resumption of US nuclear development and would act to protect its interests accordingly. Several experts and former officials have commented that the end of that treaty would constitute a victory for Russia as it seeks to disrupt international relations between European countries and the United States and aggressively expand its own influence.
Anticipating continuing uncertainty, Macron spearheaded the formation of the European Intervention Initiative, a joint military force designed to function within the framework of existing agreements, such as NATO and the defensive arm of the European Union, known as the Common Security and Defence Policy. The initiative, first proposed by Macron in September 2017, was launched on Wednesday as Finland became the tenth country to join (along with Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal).
Although the agreement does not supersede current EU defensive policies, it has led to uneasiness within NATO, where some officials believe it may contribute to the growing divide between the United States and Europe. However, NATO’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg offered support for the initiative, noting that it may augment the readiness and capabilities of NATO forces: “I just see this new initiative as something that can complement and actually reinforce the work which is ongoing in Nato to strengthen and increase the readiness of our forces.”
France currently hopes to also secure the UK’s membership in the agreement, which it views as crucial to the plan’s overall success, owing to the similar cultures and philosophies in handling crises.
Why It Matters
There are obviously several problems here.
First, words matter. President Macron did not “just suggest” building a European army to combat the United States, as President Trump stated in his tweet. It has been a plan in the works for well over a year now and is designed to ensure the continued stability of a Europe that finds itself increasingly alienated from the United States as a result of Trump’s nationalist “America First” agenda.
If anyone “just suggested” anything here, it was Trump himself, who “just suggested” that a close European ally was engaged in hostile activities immediately before a summit of world leaders celebrating a hundred year-old peace accord.
Second, the joint initiative proposed by Macron stands to benefit the United States and reduce European dependence on American protection, two goals Trump has loudly and repeatedly championed for the past 3 years.
But the plan is still in its relatively early phases, and European countries already skittish of a new coalition of defense forces will likely be even less eager to join should they believe that the President of the United States would construe doing so as an act of aggression. Sabotaging the initiative at this point would be to no one’s advantage but Russia and China.
And thirdly, as a fellow “outsider” candidate and a political centrist, President Macron’s relationship with President Trump is a vital one to maintaining strong European ties. Macron and Trump share a “very direct relationship” that is beneficial to both parties, particularly in the realm of national security and counterterrorism. Also, Trump has aided Macron in his endeavors to promote a stronger, more secure France in his calls for 2% GDP defense spending, and Macron has served as an “interpreter” for Trump while negotiating Europe’s political terrain.
The two leaders have managed to remain on good terms so far despite widely differing views on many issues, but adding unnecessary strain is unwise.
With that said, this weekend is not the time for petty squabbles between countries. It is a time for remembering exactly where an unwillingness to put aside differences can lead us – all of us. The President would do well to bear this in mind going forward.